After commandeering the Marvel train with last year’s super ultra mega turbo hit The Avengers, Joss Whedon directed that locomotive towards television last night with the pilot episode of Marvel’s newest series: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Now you’re probably wondering how good it was, but asking that question is like asking if RDJ plays Iron Man. Joss Whedon’s name is attached, so it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that it’s going to be worth watching. No the real question is how great it is, and to answer that, we’ll have to dive right in.
Picking up after Loki decimated New York in The Avengers, AOS focuses on the mysteriously back from the dead Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) as he heads up a S.H.I.E.L.D. team responsible for dealing with strange threats and phenomena that have been made more commonplace since the aforementioned film put “superheroes” and extraterrestrials in the public eye. Filling out the necessary fixtures of this team are gruff black-ops specialist Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), sardonic ace pilot Melinda May (Ming Na-Wen of Mulan fame), and an adorably awkward pair of tech specialists played by Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge. There’s also a wise@$$ hacker named Skye (Nashville’s Chloe Bennet) who’s forced by Coulson to work with the team, but given that she’s listed as a regular cast member, it’s safe to assume she’ll join S.H.I.E.L.D. willingly in some capacity.
Right from the get-go, Joss demonstrates his uncanny ability of balancing a large cast of characters: developing and establishing them quickly yet carefully in the first act before jumping headfirst into the meat of an episode. In this installment, the “case” involves an everyman turned metahuman (played by Angel’s J. August Richards) attempting to rebuild his life and care for his son using these new abilities. Of course it wouldn’t be a Joss Whedon show if Murphy’s Law didn’t arrive to kick Richards in the groin, and as such we’re treated to some solid plot twists, tender moments, and a host of action sequences grounded in some surprisingly spectacular special effects.
Not lost amidst this intensity is the humor that made The Avengers such a treat, as the cast (Clark Gregg especially) lovingly embrace a tongue-in-cheek approach to the material. Whedon and his cast know full well not to take things too seriously, and this relative light-heartedness allows for a great deal more fun than we would have had if AOS had been headlined by inferior writers and talent. That being said however, I must admit some curiosity towards what it might’ve been in other hands as the humor doesn’t work all of the time and the episode can be a bit too referential to Marvel at points. A play on the famous “with great power” line in particular feels especially forced and more than a little grating.
That nitpick aside though, this is a very good start for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and one that did not disappoint in the slightest. The action sequences are stunning, Clark Gregg is a very charismatic lead, and the story manages to stand solidly on its own while maintaining strong connections to the Universe that spawned it. All in all, it’s a quality pilot episode and if you have even the faintest of interest in Marvel, Whedon, or the always magnificent Coulson, check it out.