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Suit and Tie DVD Review: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: The Complete First Season

September 23, 2014Ben Mk


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Get on the Bus...

Marvel has what amounts to an unspoiled track record when it comes to their films. So when it came time to expand their cinematic universe to include the realm of television, it made sense that they'd turn to the man who helmed their biggest box office success to date: Joss Whedon. With such cult shows as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly under his belt, Whedon was the perfect choice to bring the Marvel brand to the small screen. But with DC already dominating primetime with Arrow, Marvel had some catching up to do. Luckily, the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are more than up to the task.

   

The Show It began with an almost blink-and-you'll-miss-it reference in 2008's Iron Man, but with each passing entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division has played a progressively larger and larger part, culminating in its pivotal role in 2014's Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

But let's rewind a bit, back to the Fall of 2012. Phase one of the MCU had just drawn to a close a few months earlier with the landmark movie event that was The Avengers, and the events of that film were still fresh in moviegoers' minds. It became evident that the scope of Marvel's cinematic ambitions had gotten so big that the silver screen alone could not accommodate all the stories to be told — something a little more episodic was in order. So why not seize the opportunity and turn viewers' attention towards the agency that had been the glue to hold everything together thus far?

And so, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was born. There was just one problem, though: the man who had become the unmistakable face of the organization, agent Phil Coulson, was indisposed.

It wasn't that actor Clark Gregg — whose everyman charm had helped make man-in-black Coulson an unlikely icon among his super-powered colleagues Iron Man, Hulk, Thor and Captain America — wasn't willing to return to the role. Rather, it was that his character had gotten the sharp end of Loki's sceptre and hadn't survived to tell the tale. But lest we forget, this is the world of comics, where death is but a minor inconvenience; and not only was Coulson destined to return to lead the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but his mysterious resurrection would become one of the show's central storylines.

Debuting on ABC in the Fall of 2013, season one of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. sees agent Coulson and his hand-picked team — field agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), combat specialist Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), engineer Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker), biochemist Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) and hacktivist Skye (Chloe Bennet) — embarking on a series of globetrotting missions (aboard their specially-equipped Quinjet, nicknamed "the Bus") to investigate dangerous situations that only S.H.I.E.L.D. is qualified to respond to.

Admittedly, the premise evokes a hybrid between The X-Files and Heroes, alternating superpower-of-the-week episodes with mythology episodes that explore the show's deeper mysteries, like Coulson's aforementioned resurrection or Skye's origins and her allegiance to an underground group of hackers known as the Rising Tide. However, it doesn't take long for the series to find its footing, thanks to the team's ongoing mission to unmask and apprehend an evil mastermind — the Clairvoyant — intent on creating an army of super-soldiers via a secret project codenamed Centipede.

Along the way, Whedon and his fellow co-creators/executive producers, Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon, also wisely leverage opportunities to interconnect Marvel's various properties — bookending the season with guest appearances by Cobie Smulders and Samuel L. Jackson (as Maria Hill and Nick Fury), bringing in Jaimie Alexander to reprise her role as Asgard's Lady Sif and throwing more obscure comic characters, like Deathlok (J. August Richards), into the mix — hence keeping viewers invested.

However, the real payoff to the season lies with its last six episodes, which were timed to coincide with the theatrical release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and has the team dealing with the earth-shattering fallout from the events of that film. Those final few episodes shift the tone of the show dramatically — upending alliances and radically altering character dynamics — and they tie in so crucially to the Marvel Cinematic Universe that it practically makes the show mandatory viewing for anyone who's been following the silver screen exploits of Marvel's superheroes.

Audio/Visual Fidelity Just like the show itself, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: The Complete First Season's standard definition A/V presentation gets more and more impressive the further we get into the season. The image features strong color saturation (making, for example, the red paint job on Coulson's prized Corvette, Lola, really stand out) and excellent contrast and black levels (which are doubly important, given the multitude of scenes set in low-light conditions on the Bus or in caves and underground bunkers). There are no observable instances of objectionable macroblocking, artifacting or banding either, and the image always looks quite sharp (whether the team is traveling the streets of L.A., trudging through the jungles of Peru or journeying across the arid Nevada desert). Audio-wise, the discs' Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack does a commendable job conveying the show's action-packed sound design. Elements like composer Bear McCreary's score and the sound of gunfire, explosions and body blows make an appropriate impact on the viewer, while the clarity of the dialogue is never compromised.

Special Features Disney's 5-disc DVD release includes 90 minutes of special features, beginning on disc four with Marvel Studios: Assembling a Universe, the 43-minute television special that charts the evolution of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, from Iron Man to Avengers: Age of Ultron. The special features continue on disc five, with Journey into S.D.C.C., a 13-minute behind-the-scenes look at the cast's first trip to San Diego Comic-Con. This is followed by 18 minutes of Field Reports ("The Malibu Jump", "The Bridge", "Asgardian Bar Fight", "Classified" and "Cello Duet"), which briefly look at the filming of sequences from episodes 3 ("The Asset"), 10 ("The Bridge"), 15 ("Yes Men"), 17 ("Turn Turn Turn") and 19 ("The Only Light in the Darkness") and 3 minutes of VFX Progressions (Lola Takes Flight and Free Falling), which briefly examine the visual effects behind key sequences from episode 1 ("Pilot") and 6 ("Fzzt"). The special features on disc five conclude with a 7-minute blooper reel, titled Bloopers of S.H.I.E.L.D., and 7 minutes of Deleted Scenes (Debbie's Alternate Demise, A Hacker's Kind of Life, I Shot Someone, Worried about Ward, Chopper Found, Simmons had Boyfriends, The Smartest Person and Only One Person).

The set also contains audio commentaries for three of the season's twenty-two episodes. Episode 6 ("Fzzt") is viewable with a commentary by co-executive producer/writer Paul Zbyszewski and actors Iain De Caestecker & Elizabeth Henstridge; episode 11 ("The Magical Place") is viewable with a commentary by supervising producer/writer Brent Fletcher and actors Clark Gregg & Chloe Bennet; and episode 13 ("T.R.A.C.K.S.") is viewable with a commentary by co-producers/writers Rafe Judkins & Lauren LeFranc and actors Ming-Na Wen & J. August Richards.


The Bottom Line Just as Iron Man marked the start of Marvel's dominance at the multiplex, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to their plans for fans' living rooms. With season two of the show now getting underway and a Peggy Carter series forthcoming, not to mention a slew of programming to be rolled out exclusively on Netflix (spotlighting the likes of Daredevil, Luke Cage and Iron Fist), Marvel is out to conquer the small screen. And if season one of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is any indication, they won't be pulling any punches. Likewise, Disney's 5-disc DVD release doesn't hold much back, with an impressive A/V presentation and a solid selection of bonus features, making Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: The Complete First Season on DVD something all Marvel fans will definitely want to check out.  Ben Mk

Disc Breakdown
The Show  —  
Audio/Visual Fidelity  —  
Special Features  —  








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