Saturday, 1 November 2014

REVIEW: Marvel's Agents of SHIELD 2-1 & 2-2

The MCU's first TV series got off to an inauspicious start. For much of the first season, SHIELD seemed to be playing it safe for the first half of its first season. Unoriginal, uninteresting characters, actors failing to gel, no clear direction and a distinct lack of the joyful excitement of the Marvel movies. Things began to pick up mid-season, as the series started tying into the films and invited some supervillains on to play. With more mystery, rejigged characters and more enjoyable storylines saw a general improvement on the series. Things really kicked into gear with the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The series had been treading water up until the revelations of that film, with HYDRA's infiltration of SHIELD changing the nature of the series entirely and putting out heroes into genuine jeopardy. Suddenly, Marvel's Agents of SHIELD became required viewing.

Season two continues this revamp, hitting the ground running with a pacey two-parter. Beginning with a fun flashback to SHIELD's formative years, setting up the upcoming Agent Carter series (which Channel Four is not showing... sigh) and introducing seemingly immortal villain Daniel "Kraken" Whitehall. Then it's back to the future... and finally we're in a real superhero show. OK, so there's no sign of any actual superpowered goodies, but what we have got is promising. Skye, although still a tedious character, is no longer sat behind a laptop, instead kicking ass in the field alongside the always impressive Agent May. Coulson (the always watchable Clark Gregg), now Director of the Reduced SHIELD Company, is haunted by demons (or should that be aliens?) Ward is still under lock and key, going quietly insane and dispensing nuggets of intel as the plot requires. Most impressive is the new and un-improved Fitz. Suffering from brain damage after his extended trip to the deep, his prodigious intellect present but short-circuited, Fitz has some of the best scenes of the episode. It's a far cry from the dull individual we had before, giving Iain de Caestecker some strong material to work with. Even his interplay with Simmons is better now that she's nothing more than a figment of his imagination. 

The new additions to the cast are a mixed bunch, but ultimately promising. Somehow, the producers managed to find someone with an even butcher name than Lance Hunter to play the character. Nick Blood is pretty good as the untrustworthy merc, although in the first half he is reduced to irritating quipping. The second episode gives him some stronger material, as we don't know which way the renegade will turn, even given that we know he's a new regular. Lucy Lawless brings some real class as Izzy Hartley... then gets killed off. Which is a bit of a waste, assuming she really is dead (you can never be sure in these shows). It's good to see Adrian Pasdar back as Colonel Glenn Talbot, providing an excellent foil for Coulson, and with whom Gregg has some great chemistry. 

However, best of all is Brian Wade as Crusher Creel, the Absorbing Man. After teasing us with introducing potential supervillains early in season one, finally giving us the likes of Deathlok and Lorelei later on, the series goes all out with a proper, classic Marvel baddie. Understandably a TV budget is going to restrict which characters are able to be included, but we need a monster now and again. Wade is great as the simmering, barely controlled Creel, and the combination of stunts and visual effects used to create his attacks are top notch. Although he is taken out by the end of the story, it's pretty clear he's being set up for a return. Let's hope he brings some other favourite villains with him.

On top of this, we have several ongoing mysteries. The nature of the obelisk (aren't obelisks usually bigger?) is left unresolved; at first it seems like it might be one of the invaluable infinity stones, but on balance it seems more likely it's simply an extraterrestrial device. Presumably of Kree origin, tying in with Coulson's resurrection and his fascinating "episodes," scratching out alien glyphs seemingly against his will. Then we have the ever alluring Rayna, now answering to someone known only as "the Doctor" (not him), played with sinister relish by genre stalwart Kyle MacLachlan. This supposed "monster" has been identified as Skye's father, and we might finally gets some answers regarding her origins. The smart money is on her being an Inhuman, and god knows she needs something more interesting about her.

Not without its flaws, Agents of SHIELD continues the path of improvement it displayed in the latter part of season one. I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes from here.

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