Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Yes Men

I was skeptical going into last night's installment of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I knew this was going to be a big episode steeped in comic back story that I only hoped would be sufficiently explained to "the rest of the audience." Worse, it was tied in to the Thor movies, the most boring and scatterbrained of the Marvel films so far. (Disclaimer: I didn't see either of the Hulk films.)

So imagine my surprise when the show pulled off a "Thor" story better than either of the films did.

The galactic scale of the action, relative invulnerability of the main characters, and stoic and largely emotionless nature of the hero -- all that is what made the Thor movies a slog for me. I found them so dry, in fact, that I don't even clearly remember the character of Lady Sif from the movies. I'll just take it on faith that she was there. Comic relief from Loki was just about the only bright spot. But "Yes Men" addressed nearly all of this.

First, it brought the action definitively down to Earth. In fact, it narrowed the scope even more than the average episode of the show, cutting down on the globe-hopping that usually marks the stories. Yet at the same time, the show opened up visually by actually filming a couple of scenes on location in Las Vegas.

The relative invulnerability of the characters? Well, can't do much about that. That's superheroes for you, Asgardians especially.

But as for the emotion? Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. made all kinds of strides here beyond the Thor movies. First, much of the tale was grounded in our regular human characters. And even though we still aren't as connected to them as an audience as we were to, say, the crew of Serenity or the Scooby Gang, things still mattered. It was compelling to see the normally unflappable May be somewhat... uh... flapped by Ward's defection (under Lorelai's control). It was interesting to watch Coulson try to pump Lady Sif for information about aliens, following his discovery from last week. Even Lady Sif had a nugget of an emotional back story, certainly one more accessible than Thor's spoiled brat character history; her personal stake in coming after Lorelai made her easier to root for.

Perhaps the budgetary constraints of a television show did them some good here, forcing them to tell a better story rather than throwing money at the big screen as in Thor. (Not that they didn't have any visual effects here, but you could tell they had to pick and choose their moments.) However it came to be, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. managed to pull off a coup and make me care an Asgard-centric story.

They even got the post-credits tease right, in my book. Rather than tossing another meaningless comic reference our way, we learned that May is a double agent of some kind, informing on Coulson to... Nick Fury? Someone else? Now that's something that can grab my interest.

Overall, I give "Yes Men" a B+.

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