Agents of Shield vs. Winter Soldier

You though this blog was dead, right?  Or was at least hoping?

Everyone else is either at T4G or writing about it; I'm about to uncork on the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).  This is why you people love me: I'm always doing the wrong thing.

Let me start with the part which is enjoyable:

Someone following me on twitter has said that this movie perfectly captures the spirit for the Wade/Garney run in the late 90's on Cap -- which is both exactly right and exactly wrong.  It's exactly right because the Wade/Garney run was such an arch-typical Captain America arc (cut infamously short by the abortive "Heroes Reborn" reboot at marvel in '96/'97) that in every sense, any really good Cap story will look something like these stories.  It's exactly wrong because somehow the movie is more or less based on the "Ultimates" Marvel Universe, or some iteration of it -- which is has to be to keep it even marginally contemporary.  But as wrong as the statement may have been, this movie is a winner for Cap fans as it gets almost everything right: the psychology of Steve Rogers, the real heroism of Nick Fury, the personal depth of Black Widow, the real friendship between Cap and Sam Wilson (I think the way the movie makes that connection is better than in the comics, FWIW).

For those who need the warning, Spoilers to follow -- don't read anymore if you don't want to read spoilers for Winter Solider or Agents of SHIELD.

The first thing I want to deal with is the people who say this movie was not as fun or entertaining as the first Cap movie.  Obviously, those people are new to the process of watching movies, and they need to do what Steve Rogers did in this movie, which was to start making a list of great movies to watch in order to get acculturated.  This movie was a very different movie than the first one -- which is exactly right from a development standpoint.  Who Cap is and must be is a huge leap forward from the idealistic and merely-patriotic Steve Rogers, and this movie takes us to that place.  He's not Indiana Jones who, frankly, has no reason to become more or better each time we see him.  Indy is just a costume for a kind of adventure.  Steve Rogers, in spite of having a much more flamboyant costume, is actually doing what a true hero does: he is choosing to do what is right, regardless of the cost, because it is right.

Some have said there's no journey here at all, but that's complete rubbish.  The question of whether or not he can trust Fury and SHIELD carries over from the Avengers; the question of whether or not he's a soldier who just follows orders or an agent of something great than even SHIELD is something he works out in this film.  Whether or not he will be Steve Rogers or Captain America (and whether or not there's actually a distinction that matter there) is worked out in this film.  I honestly want to see it again to see what I missed in the first viewing.

The destruction of HYDRA by destroying SHIELD is, frankly, a huge issue for all the Marvel properties.  SHIELD was plainly the way all the various settings were tied together -- it was the way the normal people of the MCU were able to relate to the Superheroes and Supervillains in their world.  With SHIELD gone -- I mean, they disclosed all the secrets to the internet and crashed 2 helicarriers into the TriSkelion -- that platform for sort of moving from one venue (Stark's tower, Asgard, London, Berlin, etc.) is completely gone.

But that's a writer's problem -- and since SHIELD doesn't really hold the "regular" Marvel Universe together, it shouldn't have to hold the MCU together.

The real problem, of course, is the disaster on TV known as Agents of SHIELD (AoS).

Now, look: I have been willing to give this show a chance for the whole season this year in spite of its lousy schedule and uneven casting.  I have been able to overlook its chaotic scripting and story-telling for the sake of seeing some sort of pattern emerging or a larger story getting told.  Unfortunately, the high point of the whole season is the graphic above, which is the only time anything about this show has looked like th marvel Universe is a substantive rather than superficial way.

Last night, this show proved it has no reason to live.

On Friday, Fury, Black Widow, Falcon and Cap have taken down Hydra's best attempt in 70 years to rule the world -- by completely decimating SHIELD, which it turns out is front for HYDRA.  That's a brilliant plot development, utterly right-scale for the organization founded by the Red Skull, and somehow that ought to have been the leaping-off point for the watershed moment of this TV show.

Last night, AoS demonstrated that, in the best possible case, they had no idea what was going to happen Friday night in the movie until about 4 weeks ago when they wrote the script for this episode, and now they had to scramble to pull the pieces together to make a showing with whatever they could think of at the last minute.  In the worst case, they were deeply connected to the MCU creative team, and in spite of knowing exactly what was going to happen last Friday since something like last August, and in spite of knowing those event radically change the nature of this show, they couldn't build a compelling set of circumstances that tied into the movie events.

Ward is really Hydra - really? Garrett is the "Clairvoyant" -- based on what?  There's simply no foundation for these developments -- and there's no foundation for linking the Clairvoyant to Hydra, either.  It's sloppy at best and haphazard at worst.

But here's the thing which is going get me blacklisted from the internet: this is classic Whedonesque dice-tossing.  It's the reason Firefly was not good.  It's the reason Buffy and Angel meandered around so much.  That is: the Whedon machine (especially in the hands of Jed, but also in the hands of the sainted Joss) tends to be a fortuitous Rube Goldberg machine of events and dialog which they hope will be clever enough to mask its utter pointlessness and lack of respect for the audience.

There was no way to piece together that robotic Ward had feelings for Skye; there was no way to know that Melinda May actually loves Coulson and cares for him; there was no way to guess how Garrett could be doing all his SHIELD stuff and still be sending messages to the people he had armed up with the eye implants -- and now there's no way to know what will happen to Mike Peterson a.k.a Deathlok when the person with his finger on the trigger of his brain grenade is on the run.  I mean: how does Garrett not call in Deathlok when he's about to storm the Hub?

I'll give this car wreck until the end of this season to buck up.


Mark said...

Yeah, much as I hate to say this, I do disagree with you re: AoS (haven't seen Cap movie). I actually thought the show was dying a slow death until last night's episode. Marvel's movies (and others: Lost, etc) seem to have set a standard for continuity. In the old days, there might have been a couple shows that were related, but the rest were "filler". AoS may not be living up to the continuity kings (much like my comment!). And, FWIW, I also did see some indicators of the various love interests in previous episodes.

FX Turk said...

Oh baloney.

There is no indication in the least that the wooden puppet known as Ward has any feelings for anyone. Even his interplay with May is utterly bereft of human emotions.

It could have been so much better. On a scale of 10, it's about a 3. The only reason it doesn't get a 1 is its version of the origin of Deathlok.

Doug Hibbard said...

I could see the May/Coulson affection better than any Ward affection. He's interested in Skye because she's young and mysterious and a conquest to be had, since he's testosterone with a gun.

As to the rest: AoS has been uneven, though I've enjoyed it more than you have. Probably because I've never delved beyond the movies on the Marvel Universe at all. Springing Garrett as the "Clairvoyant" is disconnected to me--there's just some parts missing there. It feels more like a "we needed a fancy actor for this."

But I must admit: the opening last night tells me SHIELD would be better if they just had more cowbell.

Jay T said...

Cap movie was AWESOME! I want to see it again.

Solameanie said...

Welcome back, Frank. Amazing timing that I should happen to look today.

What your post tells me is that there is a LOT on which I have missed out in the Comics world over the past um, well. I am solidly stuck in the 60s and 70s. I'll have to pry myself out of there someday. ;)

FX Turk said...

Not so much back as unable to contain myself. This post was not pyro-worthy.