Joss Whedon’s “Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Shimmies and Shines.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

After the all conquering success of Buffy and Angel, everyone in Hollywood was desperately praying for Joss Whedon to fall flat on his face. And sure enough, both Firefly and Dollhouse duly bombed.

But Americans do it seems have second acts after all. As a matter of fact, all of them do. It was just Fitzgerald who proved to be the exception. And sure enough, Whedon bounced back commercially with the spectacular box office smash Avengers Assemble – reviewed earlier here. And then, on a completely different scale, with the much admired Much Ado About Nothing – reviewed by me earlier here.

The ludicrously overlooked Firefly prequel "Serenity".

The ludicrously overlooked Firefly prequel “Serenity”.

And now he’s married those twin strands and has returned to television with yet another Marvel product from their perpetually revolving assembly line.

There was really only one of two ways that this could have gone. Either it would be one more depressing dilution of what was once an interesting idea in the never-ending pursuit of pointlessly amassing impossible to ever spend quantities of pieces of coloured paper with numbers on them. Yes Star Wars, we’re looking at you.

Or, somehow, we’d get a series that managed to marry the panache, wit and exuberance of Buffy to a whole new family of characters.

Remarkably, actually amazingly, he’s given us the latter.

It’s some time in the future, and in the aftermath of a disastrous War the world has been reduced to a primordial struggle between the forces of good and evil, but a world in which the technological advances have rendered that battle all the more perilous. And fun.

Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy.

Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy.

Impeccably structured, and plotted with the kind of confidence that produces regular surprises, as ever it’s the smart, fast and constantly witty dialogue that both propels the action forward and gives the show a gloss that completely sets it apart. You can get a good sense of all of which from the Agents Of Shield trailer here.

Whether or not they manage to maintain that dazzling quality throughout the rest of the show that they managed to squeeze in to the pilot only time will tell. But the first episode was flawless. And if you missed the Joss Whedon space age trip first time around, jump on board.

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Avengers Assemble: Superior Blockbuster, Disappointing Joss Whedon Film.

What you think of the new Avengers Assemble film will depend on whether you too are a fellow Joss Whedon groupie. Whedon was the brains behind the cult classic Buffy, which ran for 7 series from 1997-2003. Remarkably, the spin-off follow-up Angel was a pretty impressive stab at repeating the magic.

The latter tended to lose its way whenever it veered off onto other planets, but for the most part Angel was as airily confident and sure-footed as Buffy.

Consistently compelling stories about impeccably delineated characters who all spoke in effortlessly smart dialogue, and almost all of whom were given three glorious dimensions by the near perfect cast (not withstanding Drusilla and her accent, which clearly came from another dimension entirely).

Somehow, Whedon had managed to casually tap into the vein of that all-important demographic, youth culture. Inevitably what followed was, box office wise, something a of a disappointment. First up was Firefly, which was cancelled by Fox before it had even completed its first season – though not before he’d managed to shoot a feature prequel, Serenity. Then there was Dollhouse, which lasted just two seasons before being axed.

So Whedon was very much of the fallen variety and on something of a retrieval mission with his latest effort. Which certainly goes some of the way to explaining quite how safe Avengers Assemble feels. But the truth of the matter is, the very nature of the project prohibits narrative ambition.

What we are talking about after all is a film with (at least) six heroes. So on the one hand, you need to give six different protagonists equal weight and time. And on the other, the franchise demands of sequels and merchandising mean that they all have to survive and live to see another day. So necessarily, there can never be anything really at stake. Unlike then Buffy, or indeed Serenity, where it’s handled brilliantly, there can be no death.

If you want to see what Whedon is capable of when not shackled by the confines of a franchise, have a look at the ridiculously under-viewed Serenity.  Seriously, watch it.

The script brilliantly balances the personal and the universal, the big and the small, and the story powers forward with an electrifying pace (has anyone ever propelled narrative using dialogue with such gay abandon and devastating force?). Whilst the carefully placed fight scenes boast a balletic intensity completely alien to your run-of-the-mill, bog-standard, summer blockbuster.

And that ultimately is all Avengers Assemble really is. And as such it could comfortably lose 15 or so of the opening and closing 20 minutes. Unsurprisingly, all the reviews have raved about it. And undoubtedly, in a sea of mediocrity it clearly stands out (even more so if you see it in one of those fabulous new Isense cinemas, reviewed here). But there’s no getting away from it, as the new Joss Whedon film, it’s ever so slightly disappointing. Let’s hope all those brownie points he’s now accumulated can be used by him for something a bit more personal. 

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