Farewell To Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The final episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. that aired last night marked the end of an era in Marvel Comics-related television fare. The show was the last TV show produced without the involvement of Marvel Studios guru Kevin Feige. Of course, there are a couple of other shows that are coming soon like Hellstrom and some animated fare, which are not spearheaded by Feige. But with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s conclusion a chapter has been closed in a time of shows not directly related to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Early Missions

When Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. debuted in 2013, there was a lot of anticipation for it. After all, Joss Whedon, the director of the hit film The Avengers, created it and directed the pilot episode, but more importantly it was supposed to be set in the MCU. It did star Clark Gregg, who played S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson, a recurring character in the MCU films. The complication was that Coulson was killed off in The Avengers so a big mystery in the early episodes was how he was resurrected. There were numerous other connections to the MCU such as guest appearances by Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Jaimie Alexander as Sif, Maximiliano Hernandez as Agent Jasper Sitwell, Powers Boothe as Gideon Malick and a few other actors that appeared in the MCU films. Not to mention, the early seasons of the show were directly connected to MCU films, notably Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Thor: The Dark World.

However, many viewers came away disappointed with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in that many episodes were bland, unimaginative and did little to satisfy the cravings for the MCU between films. That was not entirely the fault of the show’s producers. It turned out the show was the victim of a turf war between Kevin Feige and the head of Marvel Entertainment, Ike Perlmutter. The two men often clashed over the direction of the MCU and while Feige was in charge of the films, Perlmutter handled the TV shows and other media. As we all know, Feige ultimately was allowed to directly control Marvel Studios and the MCU without having to report to Perlmutter and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. began its slow divorce from the MCU.

Tenuous Connections

Even before the schism fans complained about how the show was never referenced in the MCU films. Meanwhile, for a time it seemed as if Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. namedropped whenever it could every single MCU character or incident. It was clear any connection to the MCU was a one-way street.

Still, despite its missteps, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. did find its legs and made the most of its tenuous connection to the MCU. This was best seen during the latter half of its first season which tied-in with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and that film’s plotline of the S.H.I.E.L.D. spy organization revealed as having been infiltrated by the terrorist organization Hydra. Agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), one of the core characters in the show, was revealed to be a Hydra agent and the show fully dealt with the ramifications of the film’s events.

A major story line that was supposed to be carried over into the films was with the Inhumans. Originally, Ike Perlmutter wanted a film made based on the characters since he wanted these superhumans to fill in the role of the mutant X-Men. At this time, Marvel Entertainment did not have the film rights to the X-Men and Permutter did not want to promote them in the remaining media. Thus, characters who were Inhumans popped up in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and took on prominent roles. It went so far as to retroactively make another major character, Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennett), to be an Inhuman (the Marvel superhero Quake). But once Feige was allowed to go his own way, he dropped any plans for an Inhumans film and the show was left holding the bag.

While this was frustrating, this gave the show the opportunity to find its own voice. It wholeheartedly embraced the Inhumans plot point and then embarked on season-long arcs that allowed the show to shine. It introduced other characters from the Marvel Comics such as Ghost Rider, Mockingbird, the Hive and the Aborbing Man, and they were well received by fans. At one point, Ghost Rider was to be spun off into a new series but those plans were cancelled.

Arguably its best arc was during its fifth season when Coulson’s team was hurtled into a future where Earth was destroyed and the remnants of humanity were slaves of the alien Kree. A new character Deke Shaw (Jeff Ward) a scruffy, goofy, Peter Quill-type character was introduced and became part of the team after he and the agents returned to the present to prevent Earth’s destruction. Another interesting character that joined the team was Enoch (Joel Stoffer), a Chronicom anthropologist (a race of alien androids). He was perpetually fascinated with humanity and the actor’s befuddled and whimsically befuddled mannerisms were often the highlights of episodes.

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The Captivation Of Inception

Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi classic film Inception continues to enthrall viewers ten years after its release in theaters (remember those?) in the summer of 2010.

When Inception was first teased, many were as intrigued by it as they are by Nolan’s upcoming film Tenet because the former film was so mysterious. The only thing shown to potential ticket buyers were images of people fighting in low-gravity conditions, cityscapes twisting and bending, and vague dialogue about dreams. This, along with Nolan’s filmmaking credentials, was enough to lure people into theaters and many were not disappointed by what they saw.

Inception stood out as a sci-fi actioner not just because of its mesmerizing visuals but for its complex plotline. For anyone who has not seen the film yet, the film starred Leonard DiCaprio as Dom Cobb, a corporate spy/thief whose specialty is to go into people’s minds while they’re dreaming and steal trade secrets or implanting suggestions. How this is done was not explained but Cobb and his team used a device that allowed them to enter the dreamscape of others. It was not important; what was notable was Cobb’s personal story and how he pulled off his latest and intricate caper.

Cobb was haunted by the death of his wife who was lost in the dreamworld and is desperate to return to the United States and reunite with his children. To do this, he has to complete one final mission, which is to enter the mind of his client’s corporate rival and influence him to break up his vast corporate empire.

The film spent a lot of time with explaining how Cobb and his team would enter their target’s mind and it involved going into dreams within dreams. Admittedly, this was quite complex and demanded careful attention, yet it made sense and was quite exciting. There were many complications as Cobb’s team stayed one step ahead of their foes. This involved perfectly executed car chases, stunts and an unforgettable fight scene in a hotel hallway between Cobb’s right hand man, Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and a henchman that had them literally crawling along walls and defying gravity. This occurred because the dreamer at that moment was falling…don’t ask, it still looked great and this type of fight has been copied by other films and TV shows.

Other visual standouts were sequences where entire city blocks twisted upwards into sky as Dom Cobb explained how to navigate the dreamscape to his protegee, Ariadne (Ellen Page). Of course, this feat would be duplicated years later in Doctor Strange. This demonstrates how influential and revolutionary Inception was for its time. In some ways, the visual tricks it pulled off were the next step to those seen in The Matrix.

One reason as to why Inception was so captivating was the brilliant, Oscar-winning cinematography by Wally Pfister. It was best appreciated when seen on a large movie screen or better yet an IMAX screen. Another was the pounding music by Hans Zimmer, which was one of the composer’s best film scores.

As many wait for Christopher Nolan’s next film Tenet to come out, Inception will be re-released to pump up theater goers for Tenet and to herald the reopening of theaters. Of course, this will be muted because the coronavirus is still spreading and will probably keep most theaters closed at least in the United States. Be that as it may, no other film is better suited to be a companion piece to Tenet (from what we’ve seen in the trailers) as is Inception.

Bringing The X-Men Into The MCU

When Walt Disney Entertainment acquired 20th Century Fox the entertainment giant gained the rights to several Marvel Comics properties, particularly the mutant superheroes, the X-Men. Ever since then fans of the comic book and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) have speculated into oblivion over the possibilites of bringing the X-Men into the MCU.

Aside from the logistics of finding and hiring the right people (actors, writers, directors, etc.), there is the hurdle of making the mutants fit logically in the  intricate MCU. Consider the fact that the mutants in the comics and the Fox X-Men films have been a part of their societies for many years and were widely feared and distrusted. When watching an older MCU film, it is clear that mutants are not anywhere to be found (aside from a deleted clip from Iron Man where Nick Fury references mutants). Where are they? The simple answer is that mutants do not exist and the closest thing to the MCU had were the Inhumans who only appeared on TV shows and it’s murky if they are actually part of the MCU. That is a debate for another time, but looking closely at the TV shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. it can be said that most shows are part of the MCU. Otherwise, where were the mutants during the calamitous events of the Avengers films? The heroes could have used their help!

On a related note, the same headache is going on with the Eternals. If they existed in the MCU throughout history why were they MIA during Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame? We’ll find out how this is explained when their film comes out next year.

Now, Marvel Studios is free to bring the X-Men into the MCU, so how can it be done? There are a few options and hopefully, Marvel Studios will find the best one. Here is what can be done:

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Recasting The X-Men

With Disney and Marvel Studios now having regained the film and TV rights to the Marvel Comics property, the X-Men, it is inevitable that a reboot of the film franchise is coming. There is a ton of speculation and fan lists out there over who should be cast in a rebooted X-Men team that will appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). An issue with these lists (and this one, too) is that casting films and TV shows is more complicated than saying “Bryan Cranston is bald so he should be Professor X!” Complicating the casting is the crowded plate of upcoming MCU films, some of which are not in production yet, and these have been delayed.

At this point, it is hard to tell when an X-Men film will be made, so many acting choices will not be available or no longer suitable for the roles. By the time Marvel Studios gets around to casting Wolverine, fan-favorite Tom Hardy may be too old. But for fun, let’s imagine if everything was cleared up and Marvel Studios gave the X-Men a go to begin preproduction tomorrow. Who would be the best candidates to play the iconic X-Men and associated mutants? Take a look and feel free to add your opinions in the comments on these picks and of other mutants not included in the list.

The Original Team

Cyclops

While the previous two actors who portrayed Scott Summers were fine, their roles were rather limited. In an MCU version of Cyclops, he has to be shown as undeniably the team leader, not Wolverine or Mystique or a mutant played by some other A-list actor. A true leading man is required for this role, which is why Chris Pine would be perfect for playing Cyclops. With his role as Captain Kirk, good looks and charm, Pine could believably come off as the leader of the X-Men and go toe to toe with Canadian upstarts with healing powers. Other candidates: Armie Hammer, Charlie Hunman, Matt Lanter, Garrett Hedlund

Jean Grey

The tortured telepathic member of the X-Men has to be portrayed by someone who can evoke sympathy, yet fear and dread when she transforms into the deadly Phoenix. In her role as the rebellious and complex artificial person, Dolores Abernathy, in Westworld, Evan Rachel Wood has demonstrated the acting range to bring us a Jean Grey struggling with her immense telepathic powers as she becomes the Dark Phoenix; which should happen in the third or fourth film of the rebooted franchise. Other candidates: Felicity Jones, Emilia Clarke, Rebecca Ferguson, Rosa Salazar

Beast

Both actors who portrayed Hank McCoy ran with the roles and made them memorable. This role of the team’s brawny, yet eloquent scientist needs to be portrayed by someone who comes off as intellectual but able to hold his own in a fight. It would be great if Kevin Feige could look the other way and allow Nicholas Hoult to reprise his role, but since that will not happen let’s go with Chad L. Coleman, who can do the job well and bring something new to the role. Other candidates: Joel Edgerton, Cillian Murphy, Pedro Pascal, Josh McDermitt

Angel

In his previous appearances, Warren Worthington III aka Angel, has been largely delegated to a background character, despite some interesting setups. In an MCU X-Men film, Angel, along with the original lineup, should take center stage. For this role Liam Hemsworth should be hired to play the flying mutant. He has the good looks, lanky build and acting ability to stand out. Besides casting a Hemsworth in the MCU worked out before! Other candidates: Sam Claflin, Jack Reynor, Garrett Hedlund, Logan Lerman

Iceman

Many fan castings for Bobby Drake often pick Nick Robinson, and that is because Iceman is a homosexual and Robinson played a gay teen in Love, Simon. Robinson is a good choice, but there are better candidates and he may not want to be typecast simply because he portrayed a gay character. Justice Smith is an inspired choice; he’s younger than the other actors, and more importantly talented enough to make Iceman shine in a new X-Men film. Other candidates: Chandler Riggs, Nick Robinson, Dylan Minnette, Curran Walters

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X-Men: Herald Of The Modern Age Of Superhero Films

It was twenty years ago on this day that X-Men premiered in theaters. While many at that time knew of the film’s potential impact, its success was still surprising given how the superhero film has grown in stature.

Before the first X-Men film came out on July 14, 2000, there were many prominent and successful superhero films that made their mark in pop culture like Superman: The Movie, Batman and The Mask. However, the splash they made was not as intense as the one X-Men made. Yes, after those films made millions at the box office, superheroes were the craze with merchandising and copycat films and TV shows, yet X-Men heralded a new and lasting age of superhero films that continues to this day (well, coronavirus notwithstanding and causing most theaters to shut down and film studios to delay film releases). It was not that X-Men was a better film than say Superman: The Movie, it probably was that it was the first genuine hit based on a Marvel superhero IP. Before anyone brings up Blade, that film was marketed more as an action/horror film and most had not heard of Blade. The X-Men were different, they were prominent in geek culture and many fans were aching for a big-budget adaptation of the superhero mutants. They wanted to see how Wolverine would be realized in live action, how filmmakers could translate the complexity of the X-Men comic books. 

Director Bryan Singer did a fine job distilling and presenting a somewhat simplified version of the X-Men. This is not a criticism but rather a compliment in that he and the filmmakers (which included future Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige) were able to strip down what worked in the comic books, which were the best characters to bring forth, and knew what would resonate with audiences and fans. 

In their wisdom, they were nearly spot on with their casting. Starting with Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, which was ironic considering Jackman replaced the original actor cast in the role, Dougray Scott, after Scott was injured during filming of Mission: Impossible II. Some scoffed at Jackman’s casting because he was tall, good looking and lacked a filmography that screamed comic book action star. But from the moment that Rogue (Anna Paquin) met Wolverine in a Canadian bar following a cage fight, we all knew after witnessing Wolverine’s feral nature that the casting gods were generous. 

Another equally important casting choice was Patrick Stewart as Professor Charles Xavier, the leader and heart of the X-Men. Often, people mock fan casting for being ridiculous and unrealisitc. But time and time again Stewart was the fan favorite for a hypothetical X-Men film. Thankfully this proved to be perfect as Stewart brought gravitas and humanity to the role. We believed he was a kind and just mentor, who championed humanity. Needless to say. Ian McKellan as the villainous Magneto was a pleasant surprise given so many doubted his casting due to his age. However, McKellan displayed the same gravitas as Patrick Stewart and was able to believably match Hugh Jackman’s vicious Wolverine with his own cunning and hatred towards humanity.

For years, filmmakers were challenged by the idea of bringing the mutant team to life. Two reasons were because of budget and the complexity of the team. Their storylines were more mature than standard comic book stories as they tackled racism and related strife. It would not do to treat an X-Men film as a campy romp, nor could it be a mindless action fest. The villains were more nuanced with causes that audiences could sympathize with, namely the evil mutants’ actions resulted from humankind’s fear and bigotry. X-Men displayed this naunce splendidly, thanks to solid performances and Singer’s direction.

The film is not perfect, namely in the execution of the action pieces, which feel a bit pedestrian and low key compared to what filmmakers have been able to pull off in recent years. Some of those fights were cringe worthy! But no one should hold that against X-Men and the accomplishment of everyone involved with the film.

X-Men was not the biggest hit of that year, but it did well enough to excite fans and film executives who saw the box office potential of superhero films. Helping to cement the modern age of superhero films in the early years were Spider-Man, X2: X-Men United and Batman Begins. There were fits and starts in that decade but by 2008, the runaway success of Iron Man and The Dark Knight signaled that superhero films were here to stay and be a major influence in films. 

This was all due to X-Men; keep that in mind during the next viewing of this film.