Film Or more accurately I do. I was going to wait until the weekend, but the whole thing is still fresh in my mind's eye. So if you are planning on watching Captain America: The Winter Soldier at any time in your life and frankly why wouldn't you, it's a very strong entry in an epic superhero franchise, then stay away. I'll even put a Scarlett Johannson song, or Scarlett Johansson singing a cover version of a Tom Waits song in between this and the next block of text so your eyes can look away.
Right then. As I intimated, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is awesome, just as all of these Marvel films are awesome, yes, even The Incredible Hulk which entirely managed to capture the romantic aspects of the green goliath. If as some reviewers have noted, even Kermode, that the film begins like a riff on 70s conspiracy films (see the nod to All The President's Men, and I don't just mean the casting) before tumbling into supersoldier mythology and a generic action movie ending, you're missing the point.
It's a superhero film. Complaining that it does the thing superhero films tend to do is like complaining that a joke has a set-up and punchline. When reviewers have noted that it becomes less interesting when it returns to the mythology of the first film and an climax in which the hero has to put a thing in a thing to stop a thing, they need to remind themselves about what a genre is. This should be seen in contrast to Kick-Ass 2 which was an anti-superhero film which erred by trying to be a superhero film. You can't do both, and CA:TWS knows this.
But more than that it's epoch changing. It's a moment when MARVEL's shared universe does the spectacular thing, does indeed the thing which has been happening in comic books for years but has finally occurred in a cross media way, in way which admittedly looks similar to similar efforts, which I'll talk about in a minute but I can really remember seeing in this way. When I mentioned on Saturday how television and film are slowly becoming the same thing, along comes CA:TWS to offer a useful example.
It's a moment when, whilst sitting a cinema, half of my brain is considering the implications the story has on a television series. When Fury agrees that the only way to destroy Hydra is to take SHIELD with it, my thoughts immediately turned to the airplane buzzing around the world and what Coulson and his team might have to say about this and as The Triskelion tumbled began to consider exactly how the television series was going to deal with this. There is now a television series in the world whose entire premise has been dusted in a theatrical feature.
Let's rewind for a moment (not unlike the episode which aired in the UK on Friday probably). By any stretch, unlike the MARVEL films, Agents of SHIELD has not been awesome. With a first run of episodes which were at best sub-NCIS bordering on Torchwood in the MARVEL universe, they've been the place to go for obvious storytelling, poor humour and and a general sense of not quite gelling. The last couple since it returned have been an improvement, but when the only way to enjoy a series is to keep reminding yourself of the non-involvement of one of its creators, it's in trouble.
Now, without doing much itself, and indeed without even referring to its television cousin at all, CA:TWS has made it an exponentially more interesting series, especially for those of us in the UK who're behind transmission. Now it's become a show about a group of secret agents (somewhat) unknowingly working for an organisation which is not only riddle with evil intent but which will also cease to exist at some point in their future. Now it's about us waiting for the moment when they discover that they're effectively out of a job.
CA:TWS is AoS's Hitchcockian bomb under the table. Now, given the title of the episode which is due to air in the US, The End of the Beginning, it's possible that bomb's about to go off. How they'll do this, I'm very excited to find out. Hopefully they'll do something interesting with it, like reveal one of the team is Hydra (my money is on Fitz) or at the very least that Centipede is one of the freelance Hydra projects we see in the first of the closing credits scenes and like the Independence Day UK radio series, we'll see a portion of CA:TWS played out in parallel elsewhere.
Of course there's the usual shared universe problem. Where was Hawkeye (who is supposed to be a SHIELD agent) and why didn't Romanov have him on speed dial? Or for that matter any of the other Avengers. We're at risk of the "what Martha Jones and the Attic gang were doing during Children of Earth" discussion and like everything else it's a a facet of these films that we just have to assume they were otherwise engaged, but you could argue that it's a surprise that Coulson et al didn't have a cameo here (other than giving away Coulson's unmortality).
The point is, AoS's continuity is so tied up in the MARVEL cinematic universe that it has to happen. At a certain point there will be a show on network television whose entire premise is about to change in a very fundamental way due to something which didn't happen within its own narrative make-up. Did ABC television know this when they commissioned the series? Is that why they comfortably decided to order a string of new episodes when the ratings for the first few would have had many other series cancelled? As a Joss Whedon and My So-Called Life fan I know how this works.
What's especially exciting about this and why the film is pretty subversive is that MARVEL seem to have few shits to give about this. A less brave media operation would look at all of this and decide that SHIELD as an entity is too valuable an asset within that universe to destroy or make sure that the organisation survived the end of the film because they have a television series based on it and given how long it takes to make these films, it seems unlikely to have been based on ratings. This would still have happened even if AoS had been a smash hit. The film tells its own story.
As a Doctor Who fan I know pretty well about narratives and characters bulldozing their way across various media. Star Wars fans will too thanks to the Expanded Universe and The Clone Wars animated series which it can be argued makes Revenge of the Sith a better viewing experience. Plus comic books have been doing this kind of thing since inception, and some would say the line-wide events are one of the reasons that comic books aren't what they once were but in those cases it tends to be because of the expense of having to buy all of the issues.
It would be silly not to mention Buffy and Angel or some of the Star Trek series and the Tommy Westphall Universe at this point, especially the Whedon series were Angel's action were a response to Buffy's various death and mcguffins found in one series become super important in the other. You have to watch one for the other to make sense. Having seen the whole of MARVEL's Phase One at home, the only reason I'm see these at the cinema is because of potential spoilers for the tv series. But I can't think of an instance of a film potentially effecting in a major way the narrative of a television series.
AoS was built on the films to begin with. The Coulson arc began in the Avengers film (whatever its called in your end of the world), has featured elements of Iron Man 3 and it's already featured an episode that was a semi-sequel to Thor: The Dark World (I haven't seen the Sif episode (spoilers!) yet but I expect that will too). There's also some cross pollination in the other direction if we assume Bucky's arm uses the same technology as Deathlok's leg. The ultimate outcome of that has to be Ultron? Perhaps?
All of that. But, well, see above. Assuming AoS is renewed, what then? How does a series about agents of SHIELD exist in a universe where there is no SHIELD? A friend online suggested they'll become Fury's secret team or become part of some other rogue organisation. But they no longer have a base of operations or a hierarchy to report to. Perhaps that'll be the premise. They deny the loss of SHIELD and try to keep the organisation running under the radar like the Jack and Gwen in Torchwood's Children of Earth.
Here's my guess. I think that most of the season will run out with SHIELD in place. I think that they'll get to the bottom of Salamander, find the clairvoyant, uphold their promise and SHIELD agents and just as they're toasting their victory they discover that there is no SHIELD now anyway. The season ends somewhat like season three of Angel, with the Agent Hill filling for Willow bring the news, and the agents facing an uncertain future. Granted its similar to half a dozen season enders on The X-Files but it fits. Unless Fitz turns around and tries to kill them all.
Season Two opens with them in the wind, in new jobs, Coulson still dealing with his unmortality, Skye investigating her origin, Ward either in private security or tending bar, which is also admittedly is a version of the closing moments of CA:TWS and the first episode of 24 each year. Unfinished business draws them together and then well, see above for suggestions of how the show can exist from there. Perhaps the show's premise will become, how can we create SHIELD from the ground up building on the historic intentions before Hydra became involved.
Another interesting thought is what my parents will make of this, or rather people like my parents who have no interest in the films but love the television series. I tried to tell my parents about the stuff which happened in CA:TWS and they were weary that knowing too much in case it spoiled the television series. Will these sorts of people be driven to watch the films in order to fill in the blanks? Or will they simply, as has already happened to me, ask the people who've seen the films to explain the plot anomalies?
Either way, now it entirely makes sense that the next film would be set so far across the galaxy from Earth in a place where none of this will matter. That's how carefully planned out all of this is now making whatever Warners are trying to do with the DC characters look amateurish and ill thought through at best (which is disappointing). Lord knows how the Netflix series will tie-in. At this point I'm more excited about Guardians of the Galaxy than either X-Men or Spiderman 2. My hope is that it won't run out of steam. The box office suggests not.
Now, cue more Scarlett.