No S.H.I.E.L.D. against cliches

The highly-anticipated Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series fails to capitalise on its strong cinematic legacy.

FANS of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (i.e. the world of the Marvel comic hero movies, starting with 2008’s Iron Man) were probably thrilled to hear that a TV series based in the same universe was in the works back in 2012.

And I’m sure their excitement rose even further when it was confirmed that not only would Marvel’s The Avengers director and writer Joss Whedon develop and produce the show, but that Clark Gregg would return as fan-favourite agent Phil Coulson.

Coulson supposedly died in The Avengers, but resurrection is such a common plot device in the comic book world that it’s no big surprise he didn’t stay dead.

In fact, it provides an interesting, ready-made subplot for the show: what exactly happened in between Coulson’s fatal stabbing by Loki and his subsequent memories of recovering in Tahiti? Are his memories even real? Is he really the same Coulson? (Internet fan chatter has it that he might actually turn out to be a Life Model Decoy – a type of S.H.I.E.L.D.-designed android.)

His is not the only over-arching subplot in the series, which otherwise functions as a case-of-the-week kind of sci-fi/secret-agent procedural. There is also the mysterious, troubled Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), aka The Cavalry, whose nickname was explained in the recent episode Repairs.

Resident strong-and-silent macho man Grant Ward (Brett Dalton, whose performance has been described as “walking cardboard”) has been revealed to have had a traumatic childhood experience – more details of which are forthcoming, I’m sure.

And of course, there’s newbie team member and hacker Skye (Chloe Bennet), who was first introduced as an idealistic “the public needs to know the truth” activist, but then turned out to be yet another orphan searching for the truth about her parents, who are connected to S.H.I.E.L.D. in some way.

Now, Skye is obviously supposed to be the emotional heart of the show – the regular-gal character who “sees the good in everyone” and provides the common-folk touch whenever the team gets too carried away with their orders. She’s also supposed to be the smart-mouthed, sassy yet vulnerable girl in search of somewhere to belong.

Which is all asking a bit too much of one character; especially one whose motivation has swung wildly from being anti-authority idealistic to the purely selfish aim of finding out about her dead parents. It may be meant to make her sympathetic, but how clichéd is the orphan-searching-for-the-truth-about-her-parents plot?

I know it’s difficult living up to the giant-sized expectations his past successes have generated, but I expected, if not something entirely original, then at least less clichéd from Whedon. Even the scientific duo of Fitz-Simmons (played by Iain de Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge respectively) – cute as they are, with great chemistry – are clearly there to fill the geek quota, with an underlying romantic tension any regular TV viewer could have seen coming from the first episode.

And that’s the main problem with Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. It had an interesting concept – highly-trained but non-superpowered secret agents dealing with those who do have powers – and a ready-made audience, eager to embrace it (including me).

But it has squandered a lot of that goodwill – at least for me. Each episode is just all right plotwise, although the occasional bad background CGI puts me off. There is an attempt at setting up a permanent nemesis in the form of a mysterious shadowy organisation named Project Centipede experimenting with the Extremis formula from Iron Man 3 and other Marvel Cinematic Universe components.

Although it seemed to have initially lost some steam, at least, that plot has picked up again in the latest episode, The Bridge. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that the show’s character development is marred by clichés – and in the case of Ward, bad acting (Dalton really needs to take notes from Wen on playing stoic and silent well). At this point, the only characters I’m even vaguely still interested in are Coulson and May. And unfortunately, they are not enough to sustain my interest in the show. I’ll watch it if there’s nothing else on, but a loyal fan I am not going to be – not unless the writers and cast up their game considerably.

>>Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs every Monday at 9.50pm on Fox (Astro Ch 710). Tweet us at @mystartwo. 

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