Friday, 29 November 2013

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: A Predictable Letdown

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D launched on Channel 4 back in September. After the show’s pilot managed to acquire an opening figure of 3.1 million viewers, recent statistics had seen its audience halve after only 3 episodes. But is this a surprise?  

Marvel’s The Avengers or Avengers Assemble smashed the box-office back in 2012 and brought back some solidarity to the Marvel Universe’s rather hit and miss “filmography”. Proving both to be a financial success and an enjoyable film, Joss Whedon managed to carve out the team dynamic, whilst also developing them as individuals. Its success has seen a substantial growth in Marvel’s audience and expectation both towards the comic book culture and their new cinematic endeavours. 

The fact that they had decided to continue the franchise via a TV series had always puzzled me. I guess why stop at films and comic books when television has found its modern calling and major audience. But to make a series about S.H.I.E.L.D is one that has the potential to go into different paths, to expand Marvel’s Universe and continue to construct the Avengers mythos. From a comic book perceptive, S.H.I.E.L.D has always been an interesting organisation. While I can’t declare myself as a comic expert, Nick Fury, Captain America, Black Widow and Hawkeye’s narratives have all hinted or explained a varied picture of S.H.I.E.L.D. What are it’s true intensions? Secrets? Who’s genuinely in charge? What are it’s diplomatic and “worldly” limits? There’s an X-Files or Torchwood quality that the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D could have utilised. Whether it would be to unfold its ulterior motives or simply introduce new superheroes, there is already a wealth of television that has similar traits and narrative structures to be inspired by. But after watching every episode so far, the series has failed to really employ it’s material and resources into any genuine quality. 

One area that has remained a persistent blight on the Marvel Universe is Agent Phil Coulson. While many have heralded him with cult status, I don’t quite understand it. If it’s his charming personality, I’m not seeing it. Is it because he’s funny? To me his character always ruined the tone that a particular scene was attempting to portray. His dry smile and monotone deliver may fulfil the shallow notions of a “secret-agent”, but in all honesty there isn’t anything remotely interesting about him that justifies his popularity.  And when a lead character has initially left a sour impression, there isn’t much hope for 6/7 episodes of him.

This problem doesn’t stop at Coulson. Simply put, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D is void of any absorbing characters. Whether it be the cliched, Scottish tech guy, or the stern, tough dude there’s a blasé attitude to the show’s idea of a “team”. If you’ve read any of my reviews then you will have noticed my emphasis on creating interesting, engaging and realistic characters. Both a film and especially a TV series rely on creating a thread between the audience and those personalities on the screen. In terms of a TV series, the dynamic remains largely the same but over a differing timescale. For example; Heroes accomplished this challenge perfectly. It carefully crafted a varied and interesting bunch of 12 leads and threw them into a set of new situations and exposed them to certain circumstances. It understood the limits of it’s budget and it’s overall scale/ capacity. Yet it had the necessary narrative elements to encourage persistent character development. S.H.I.E.L.D has neither the engaging, intense plot or the sheer presence in its performances to achieve those sorts of results. In a very blunt statement, if that crucial connection between the audience and the team isn’t developing within 2/3 episodes, then you’re going to struggle to maintain interest. 
Another gripe revolves around the show’s tone. Marvel had managed to regain an essence of seriousness back into its franchise, while maintaining an undercurrent of humour. Yet Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D suffers from a conflicted disposition. Marketed as a sophisticated and “exhilarating” look into the secret organisation, it’s been nothing but lame one-liners, cheesy dialogue and a haze of monotony. There are moments when the show achieves some of its intended serious notes, whether that be an action sequence or an intense negotiation. But there’s an incessant need for some smug remarks to soil those brief glimmers of something good. 

This lack of balance unfortunately affects each episodes’ stories. With only Coulson’s “hazy past” after his death in The Avengers acting as the bridge through the series, the thought would be that they would have the manoeuvring space to flesh out individual plots.  A great example is The X-Files, more precisely its one-off cases. While it constantly got sidetracked by the whole Mulder’s sister/ Scully abduction narrative, the series had a great understanding of writing unique and intense stories that both focused on the main duo and the bizarre events that transpired. S.H.I.E.L.D attempts to mimic this, but in a rather superficial capacity. Episodes feel redundant and the lack of creativity is bewildering under the circumstances. I can understand the budgetary pain of cameos or introducing some of Marvel’s other characters, but everything is far too narrowed and centred on the “Battle of New York”. Logically it’s an understandable concept, but S.H.I.E.L.D shouldn’t simply be portrayed as just a “clean up team”. 

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D had definite potential, without a doubt. But the manner in which creator Joss Whedon and the various TV Studios have taken has been rather questionable and disappointing. With a wealth of material, characters and story-lines available from S.H.I.E.L.D’s comic book roots, it’s a shame that some of that creativity couldn’t have transferred into a fully-fledged TV series. Yes the visuals are impressive and the production design is stellar, but those can’t measure up to the superficial nature of the show. Terrible characters, and tired, uninteresting stories bring a barrage of questions over its intended purpose, outside financial gain. There’s nothing here that screams second season and on the basis of viewing statistics, I’m struggling to see the benefits of another. 

Thursday, 14 November 2013

RespawningCouch Podcast: Audio Review: Gravity

This week: I review/ waffle  Alfonso Cuaron's latest sci-fi thriller Gravity. Has his time away from the director's chair further developed his grasp on thematic and visually stunning story-telling? And is it worth paying extra for 3D? 

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

RespawningCouch Podcast: Game Review: Batman Arkham Origins

This week, Nick and Jack give their thoughts on the third instalment of the "Arkham" franchise. Does this build on the stellar nature of the previous two? Or is it suffering from a lack of innovation?