Jeff details all the things that went wrong in producing this episode
discussion on recent conventions
Recent changes at Marvel Studios
DC’s 2 million dollar shortfall and what they are doing about it
Marvel is the wake of Secret Wars
Daniel talks about books
I did a review of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D at the beginning of the season and, as I did with Arrow last year, I vowed to do a follow up review at the end of the season to see how the show ended up. I think this is going to become a tradition here at Fanboy News Network.
If you want a refresher on what I said in the first review please go here. I’m going to assume you have read that review before going into this one. Be warned, I am not going to avoid spoilers, so if you have not seen the season finale you may want to hold off reading this.
So what changed on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D between the last review and now? Damn near everything.
The biggest complaint about the show was that for a TV extension of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D didn’t feel that connected to the movies or the comics outside of the occasional name drop. Of course, what seemed like a bizarre oversight turned out to be a high stakes gamble by the producers. Knowing the plot of Captain America: The Winter Solider in advance, the whole front end of the season was one massive build up to that story. While the price of that gamble was a major slip in the ratings and much rancor from the fanbase, the payoff was incredible.
It also allowed a build up to that event, starting with the return from the mid-season break, and for some real delving into the mystery of Coulson’s resurrection.
This level of coordination between a film and TV show is unprecedented, which is a word that gets tossed around in regards to the MCU a lot. It also took a show that was good and made it riveting, as the entire status quo of the series was obliterated.
Out of this you got a fresh look at the characters.
Grant Ward got a lot of this. In the early part of the season a major complaint about the character was how bland he was. In hindsight, this was brilliant as it was later revealed that Ward was an agent of Hydra. His blandness went from just a flaw to a cover that hid his true allegiance. I am also impressed by the dedication to this development. It would have been easy to write in a change of heart in the finale and have Ward attempt to redeem himself, and thus rejoin the team. Instead, they doubled down on the betrayal and simultaneously showed that Ward is, in his heart, a follower who is lost if no one is giving him orders.
Melinda May turned out to be a very interesting character, once the story really got going mid-season. The revelation that she created the team, and was tasked with monitoring Coulson, cleared up a lot of issues that hampered the show early on and allowed for some great character moments. It also allowed her to have complex relationships with Coulson, Ward, and Skye.
Fitz and Simmons were on the short end of the stick when it came to character development, early in the season, but their arcs have become interesting, as the show continued on. Fitz is a company man through and through, will follow Coulson whatever the circumstance, and is the one that struggles the most when Hydra strikes. Simmons is more interested in discovering the truth, and will go behind the team’s back if necessary. They also had the development that their feelings for each other were complicated. Early in the season fans couldn’t tell if their relationship was meant to be romantic or more like siblings. The reveal was that for Simmons it was sibling, and for Fitz it was romantic. The resolution of this is one of the cliffhangers at season’s end and it will be interesting to see how they deal with it next season.
Skye was an early source of derision amongst the fanbase. Because she was there to act as an audience proxy, she was a focus point for most of the early episodes. Due to this, she was declared a Mary Sue. Which the show decided to poke fun at by having her reveal that the orphanage she grew up in gave her the name Mary Sue Poots. Later episodes still had her as big part of the story, but gave more balance to other characters. Her big reveal was that she may not be fully human, and that her parents are described as being monsters. There is great potential here, especially if they make whatever she really is something from the comics such as an inhuman, or an eternal.
Phil Coulson always had the advantage of being the character everyone had already warmed to from his appearances in the MCU movies and one-shots. He also had the built in mystery story arc of how he managed to still be alive after the events in The Avengers. It was the revelation of how he was brought back to life mid-season that marked the shows turnaround from just ok to really engaging. It was also great to see Clark Gregg take the character and flesh him out. With an entire series to work with, we got to see more of what drives Coulson; his idealism and his doubts were both on display. I also want to touch on, for perhaps the last time, the article I wrote prior to the release of the Avengers where I mentioned that Tom Huddleston had said Loki would be up against 8 heroes, and I speculated on who the eighth Avenger was. In the finale, Nick Fury came out and said that he considered Coulson an Avenger.
Outside of the main cast you had some very interesting reoccurring characters:
First, I would like to point out Antoine “Trip” Triplett (played by B.J. King) who was introduced as a S.H.I.E.L.D agent working with John Garrett. Trip’s role on the team evolved into being their new specialist, after Ward was revealed to be a Hydra agent. Trip avoided the blandness issue that plagued Ward by being made the grandson of one of Captain America’s Howling Commandos. This gives him a connection to the MCU movies and he and Coulson are able to bond over their shared love of S.H.I.E.L.D’s history. He also flirts with Simmons, creating tension with Fitz.
Mike Peterson (played by J. August Richards) is a character that appeared in the pilot, and had the subversion of being made into Deathlok, thus retroactively becoming a character from the comics. Like that character, he starts out as a reluctant villain. In the finale, he is freed from Hydra’s control. My hope is he will be followed up on in season two, and we will get to see his redemption story.
John Garrett (played by Bill Paxton) is a subversion from the comics. Like his comic incarnation, he is a S.H.I.E.L.D agent that is made into a cyborg. But, like Alexander Pierce in the Captain America: The Winter Solider, he subverts those roots by being a Hydra agent. Garrett is an example of a well built character arc. He is friendly and helpful before he is revealed to be the bad guy, giving his heal turn some real bite. Once he is free from the need to pretend, he proves manipulative and self-serving. He turns into a great foil for the team and makes a memorable bad guy.
The biggest flaw of the series is that, even though they knew where they were going with the Hydra plot from day one, they so underplayed it that early part of the season seems disjointed and not at all connected to the MCU. While they made up for it in the second half, they had an uphill battle to regain the goodwill of the fanbase.
Based on all of this, I give Season 1 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D a final grade of B.
As the year comes to a close, it has been announced that Disney had broken a box office record. In 2013 its worldwide box office was over 4 billion dollars. This was achieved almost exclusively by the performance of this year’s two releases from Marvel Studios; Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World.
I’m sure every studio took notice. At this stage Marvel seems unbeatable at the box office and I’m sure that there are some very smart people trying to figure out how to duplicate that success.
There are, of course, several factors that have led to this success. But I want to focus on two that I feel other studios are going to have a hard time copying, and the sad thing is that one of those shouldn’t be a problem.
The one that is problematic to copy is the interwoven nature of the Marvel films. As far as most fans are concerned both movies were part of the same series, and they only had to wait months for them, not years. And next year we get two more. I’m sure studios would love to get something like that going, but only Warner Brothers with the DC franchises have a shot, and they seem determined to shoot themselves in the foot with regards to that.
The other, that should be easy to copy but won’t be, is how Marvel handles character arcs. In short, Marvel does not back track on their character development. Whatever changes a character goes through in one movie are still present at the beginning of the next. It seems simple but it is not that common.
To illustrate this point, I want to focus on Thor as he has one of the most dramatic arcs in the series. Warning, there will be some Dark World spoilers in here.
In the first Thor movie he is brash, headstrong, and hungry for glory. He nearly provokes a war needlessly and is punished by being stripped of his powers and exiled. During this exile he learns humility and, after seeing destruction from a human level, is more tempered in his approach, throughout this process he learns to care for people.
In the Avengers, he is no longer seeking glory and regrets the destruction he can cause, but he is still headstrong as shown in his first meeting with Iron Man and Captain America. Over the course of this film, he learns to not just rush in and be a team player.
At the beginning of Dark World we see Thor no longer rushes in, and even gives his enemies a chance to surrender. When the rest of the warriors are celebrating their victory, he is sitting quietly, no longer concerned with glory. By the end, he embraces his destiny as guardian of the nine realms, and chooses to live on Earth.
At no point does he lose any of the lessons he learned between movies and his character is constantly moving forward.
Let’s compare this to the rebooted Star Trek movies. In the first movie Kirk has to learn to not be bull headed and work with his crew, especially Spock, to save the day. In the end, he is awarded command of the Enterprise.
In the sequel, he starts off making a bull headed move that has him lose his command and he needs to find a way to work with his crew, especially Spock, to save the day, eventually getting his command back. Basically, in the second movie things were reset to how they were in the first movie in an effort to give the audience something familiar.
Of the two, which do you prefer?
For me, the big test of this is going to be when Captain America: The Winter Soldier comes out. This is because it will feature the Black Widow, who is a character that has been moving around the Marvel Cinematic Universe rather than attached to one specific franchise. It will be interesting to see where she is after the events of The Avengers and how that has changed her.
Of course they could just give us a Black Widow centric movie.
Anyway, I look forward to where the Marvel movies are going, and can only hope that other studios learn this lesson.
I doubt any series this fall had more anticipation than Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. did. It had the best quality any new show could hope for, a pre-existing fan base. As an official part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe it could bring in the fans of those movies, especially The Avengers as it ties directly in to events from that film.
But tying in to one of the most successful films of all time is no guarantee of success. So how does Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. fare?
Let’s find out.
The best thing that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.has going for it is the character of Agent Phil Coulson played by Clark Gregg. Coulson has appeared in four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies and been the star of two short features. Two years ago I wrote an article called the Eighth Avenger that was speculation based on the fact that Tom Hiddleston had said Loki was going up against eight heroes, and I was trying to figure out who the eighth hero was. Clearly, after the events of The Avengers he was including Coulson in the count of heroes he faced.
Coulson has a huge fan base. Within days of the release of The Avengers there was a fan campaign to bring back Coulson, who was killed during the course of the film. The series is basically the fans getting what they asked for. Marvel even used the fan created hashtag #Coulsonlives in its ad campaign.
For those who have not tuned into the show, the premise is that S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury has given Coulson the go-ahead to form a proactive unit of hand-picked agents whose job will be to investigate strange happenings around the globe.
Making up the team are a mix of agents who Coulson needs to forge into this unit.
First is Melinda May (played by Ming-Na Wen), an old associate of Coulson’s who is something of a legend in S.H.I.E.L.D., but has to be coaxed back into the field after an as yet unexplained incident.
Next is Grant Ward (played by Brett Dalton), an agent who has been trained for solo work (which makes being part of a team uncomfortable for him).
Leo Fitz (played by Iain Caestecker) and Jemma Simmons (played by Elizabeth Henstridge) are the team’s scientific support, and work so closely together they are normally referred to as Fitz-Simmons.
Finally you have Skye (played by Chloe Bennet), a hacker who works with the anti-S.H.E.I.L.D. hacktivist group Rising Tide, who is brought on in part to convince her (and through her the Rising Tide) that S.H.I.E.L.D. are the good guys. This, of course, makes her the audience surrogate and the way the other characters can provide exposition.
Behind the scenes, the series is produced by Joss Whedon, with the show run by his brother Jed and sister-in-law Maurissa Tancharoen, with Jeffrey Bell and Jeph Lobe.
On the plus side, the series has the tie-ins with the Marvel movies, as well as a chance to bring in more characters and concepts from the comics. There have already been cameos in the first two episodes by Cobie Smulders and Samuel L. Jackson, reprising their movie roles and Maria Hill and Nick Fury. The third episode also hints at being the origin story of the Marvel villain Graviton.
You also have Coulson himself, who brings his character’s trademark dry humor to the role, as well as providing the show with the ongoing mystery of how Coulson survived being stabbed with the alien staff by Loki. So far, all we know is that the story Coulson himself has been told is false, and that little things about him are off. Fan speculation is rampant about what the real story is.
There are great performances from the entire cast, but this also points out a couple of the shows weaknesses.
One weakness is that we are not getting an even playing field in regards to character development. Most episodes have had a focus on Skye, and thus she has gotten the majority of that development. Fitz and Simmons, on the other hand, have had almost none and I can’t say I know more about them than at episode five than I did from the pilot.
There is also a huge disconnect in the idea that this is a hand-picked elite team. This idea works great with Coulson, May, and Ward. Fitz and Simmons on the other hand are great in the lab, but every time they take them into the field they come off as borderline incompetents.
Overall, the team has the feel of your standard Whedon show: a talented team of misfits who are great in some areas but terrible in others come together and ultimately form a makeshift family unit. Great in most cases, but this is supposed to be an elite government task force.
This is not to say the show is bad; I am enjoying it very much. The problem is that, considering it is an official Marvel show, there are some pretty high expectations that are not being met and this is leaving people feeling disappointed.
However, I think it is fair to point out that only five episodes have aired. Whedon’s last show Dollhouse basically had similar complaints, but suddenly changed gears and really took off with its sixth episode.
So, for right now, I am going to give Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. a grade of C+. It is a decent effort, but it needs to pick up steam.
At the end of this season I will do another review of the series, and we will see what the final grade is then.
Disney has wasted no time and getting to work with the Star Wars Franchise now that they have acquired the rights to it. On the heels of the announcement that JJ Abrahams will be directing Star Wars Episode VII it was announced that they would also be producing standalone films set in the Star Wars Universe looking at individual characters. The official announcement includes the news that the first set of these will be movies focusing on Yoda, Boba Fett, and Han Solo.
A first glance a lot of fans are going “this is a blatant money grab”, and on some level this is almost certainly true. After all the goal of most Disney movies is to make money. The unspoken addition to this is “a side movie will suck.”
On that last one I disagree, at least with it being a given. After all they are really just following a business plan that is already working for them. Specifically this looks a lot like the model of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
With Marvel you have individual movies; Captain America, Iron Man 1 and 2, Thor, and The Incredible Hulk. These movies all lead to one big movie; The Avengers. Now they are back to the individual films; Iron Man 3, Thor 2, Captain America 2, and Guardians of the Galaxy, collectively known as Phase 2. These will lead to Avengers 2. After that Disney and Marvel have already announced Ant Man and Dr. Strange for Phase 3 with a rumored Hulk movie.
The advantage of this model is that the individual movies can introduce back story and concepts that feed into the big movie freeing that movie to pick up and run with them.
With as extensive a universe as Star Wars has built over the last several years there is no reason that the some plan could not work for them as well.
And don’t tell me there is no interest in explorer more of that universe. Just look at how well the novels, comic books, and video games have sold, and many of them do not even feature the original main characters.
Right off the top of my head I can see a lot of opportunity in this idea. You make movies featuring characters like Yoda, Boba Fett, and maybe some newer characters like Han and Leia’s kids, or members of the new Jedi order. You set the stage for episode VII by dropping clues in these individual films. The buzz builds until you have the release of Episode VII. On top of that you can almost certainly lure a lot of top talent to these side films, especially with the knowledge that they do not have the pressue of making the flagship film.
Is it a gamble? Sure, but at least it is following an already proven model. And I for one would be really excited to see where they take it.
This does raise another question. What other franchises could benefit from this way of making a film series? Imagine if they had done this with League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
The summer superhero movie season has come to an end. We have seen the release of the Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man, and The Dark Knight Rises. So how do these movies stack up against each other?
Let’s take a look.
First off, how do I, as a long time comic book and movie fan feel about each one and compare them?
Cutting to the chase here is how I personally rank them
The Dark Knight Rises
The Amazing Spider-man
When thinking about this ranking I used a simple model of rewatchablity (which I think we can agree should be a word.). This should be true of any Superhero movie ranking, how often do I want to watch it. I saw both Iron Man and The Dark Knight twice in theaters and have watched the DVDs repeatedly. I saw Green Lantern once but have not unwrapped the DVD my wife bought on sale.
With The Amazing Spider-Man I saw it once in the theater, and I do not think I will be buying it when the home release comes out. For the Dark Knight Rises, I saw it once, and I will be buying it when it is released. I saw the Avengers twice at the theater, would go again if they release the extended cut next month as they have hinted at and will buy it and watch it on September 25th. So from a “do I want to watch it again point of view” the ranking is really clear.
But the big question is why do I feel that way? What makes one Superhero movie better than another?
With Avengers it is simple enough. That movie spoke to the little boy in me whose imagination was set free by reading the comic books he bought at the corner drug store. It was a close to the four color experience as I have ever seen in live action, and the anticipation was built up over 5 previous movies. I fully plan to set aside a day in the near future, start with Iron Man at breakfast and watch all 6 Marvel films in one day. I still smile when I see pictures from the Avengers on-line.
The Dark Knight Rises works on a more mature level. It is a satisfying wrap up to the Nolen Dark Knight trilogy. But in the end it is not as good a movie as the Dark Knight. The Joker raised that movie from being simply very good, to being great. I doubt I will do a marathon of this series however. I also think that The Dark Knight Rises works extremely well as an intelligent action movie, but not as well as a superhero movie.
So what left the Amazing Spider-man holding the short straw? I certainly enjoyed watching it. I even felt it did some things better than the Raimi series, such as the more complex relationship Peter Parker has with Flash Thompson. The problem is that it doesn’t feel fresh. Spider-Man 3 came out five years ago. I know that Sony has to make a new Spider-Man film every so often to retain the film rights, but I doubt that time frame is five years (I looked but could not find the exact time frame). So when I was watching the origin portion of the film I was comparing it in my head to how the original Spider-man handled it.
But even without that I felt that in the end it was a good superhero movie, but not a great one. I smiled during it, but I never clapped or cheered like I did during the other two movies. So I can recommend seeing it, but I have no desire to go out and do so again myself.
So there is how I see it. Next year we get Iron Man 3, Thor: the Dark World, Man of Steel, and The Wolverine. It will be interesting to see how they stack up.
This week DC entertainment announced that they have hired Will Beall to write a script for a Justice League movie. There are also rumblings of trying to get a new Wonder Woman movie going again, as well as Lobo and Suicide Squad movies. This really isn’t surprising. I imagine that with the Avengers currently sitting as the third highest grossing movie of all time that there is a lot of pressure to get the DC properties steaming along.
I can only imagine what DC entertainment president Diane Nelson has to deal with right now. The success of not just the Avengers, but the entire Marvel Cinema Universe highlights how much the DC properties not about Batman have struggled. The DC characters are very powerful and prominent intellectual properties, yet they have not be able to gain any traction.
I think the problem isn’t a hard one to figure out. It’s DC entertainment’s parent company, Warner Brothers.
Last August I looked at the Green Lantern movie in comparison to Captain America. Captain America was a movie that reveled in its comic book roots and yet remembered that it had to be an enthralling action movie for the general audience. Rather than dumb down the character for mass consumption Marvel made sure to build up Steve Rogers so that the movie going public would love him as much as the longtime fans.
Green Lantern by comparison was a stock summer block buster that had a generic action movie plot and Ryan Reynolds playing a character much like he has in most movies he has been in. In other words Warner Brothers was playing it safe. I have a feeling that the production of the movie was very influenced by focus groups.
The end result was a hit of Marvel and an underperformer for DC.
The point I am getting at is that Warner Brothers isn’t playing to the strengths of the DC properties. Marvel has made six movies that know full well they are action hero fantasies and instead of trying to bring their heroes into the real world they are trying to create a believable version of their superhero universe. Disney bought Marvel part way through this and made the wise decision to leave them alone as the plan is working.
Warner Brothers on the other hand does not seem to trust that the audience will embrace a theatric version of the DC universe. The words that keep getting thrown around are “Dark”, “Gritty”, and “Mature”. That works great for Batman as Christopher Nolan has shown, but not so much for Superman, or Wonder Woman.
If you don’t believe me on that point I suggest track down a copy of the recent Wonder Woman pilot. Instead of the strong but compassionate hero she was created to be, Wonder Woman was portrayed as a grim badass who would torture a bed ridden mook for information and straight up kill a security guard who got in her way. Basically she was unsympathetic and the show was terrible.
Not to say that this approach won’t work for all heroes, for example Green Arrow. There is a new Green Arrow series coming this fall that looks pretty good. It is going the darker route, but Green Arrow being a non-powered hero like Batman can make that work. But even this one seems to be victim to focus group shenanigans. The show and the hero in it are just being called Arrow. Apparently due to the failure of Green Lantern the word green is now taboo in a superhero name.
I have an idea that I would like to suggest to Warner Brothers. Bring on Bruce Timm for your film efforts. Timm was the driving force behind the DC animated universe that gave us Batman the animated series, Superman the animated series and Justice League unlimited. These were great and comic and non-comic fans alike loved them. Let Bruce write up some script treatments and whatever you do WB, do not let a focus group anywhere near them.