Sandboxes and Universes

 Weirdly, I just rewatched Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man 3 this past weekend after spending the previous few days talking about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. with people. Remember when the Marvel Phase 1 movies were coming out, how amazing it was to be playing in this sandbox? Hawkeye showing up in Thor, Howard Stark being a lovable scamp in Cap, and then the wonderful Marvel One Shot with Peggy Carter on the Iron Man 3 disc?

It was one of the things that Chris and I spent hours talking about after watching Iron Man 3 in the theaters (a movie on which my opinion is pretty well known,  that I was a bit disappointed). Aside from a small mention of Thor in passing conversation, there was no universe-building, no sandbox playing. You can call it fan service, and look… I can totally understand why writers/directors (Shane Black in particular) may actually want a movie like Iron Man 3 to stand on its own legs, not weighted down by the entire weight of a multiverse of characters and canonical history. But I don’t agree that it’s simply fan service. The Marvel Universe is a big, wonderful world. One that Marvel and Kevin Feige has forced us to live in (not that I’m complaining at all, mind you); and it’s to your benefit to build the world up around the characters, as it is to tell a compelling story about the characters themselves. That’s why Avengers worked so well. And look, if I have to sit through a couple of above average superhero movies to have another experience like The Avengers, I will gladly watch another The Incredible Hulk (which to be honest, I thought was pretty good) or whatever to get that feeling again.



Which brings me to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. If you read this in any timely fashion, then the second episode is tonight. I liked the first episode well enough, even though I have to admit, I don’t really understand why everyone was so smiley at the end of the last episode. Did they feel like they really won that battle? After that dude had this grandiose speech about why S.H.I.E.L.D. is, or could be a bad thing, a dude shoots him in the forehead with a concussive whatever. “Yay, look. We took a blindside shot at a dude who maybe Agent Coulson was getting through to, but at least we didn’t MURDER HIM!” High fives for everyone.

But seriously, I liked the episode well enough, but I’ve read numerous accounts of Whedon saying that the show will not be an easter egg-filled romp through the Marvel universe. Why not?  Not that I want there to be something in every scene for me to find, but why not make it about the bigger Marvel universe? Why can’t S.H.I.E.L.D. be the binding glue that ties in things from the movies and this new TV universe, where smaller, lower-tier heroes can be developed and thrive? A sort of television development league. Why not debut a character in the TV show, that would go to the movies eventually, or why not talk about plotlines that can be taken down to a granular level, fill in the blanks that the broader strokes a two-hour movie couldn’t accomplish?

This isn’t to say that this show WON’T eventually be that, which is why tonight’s episode is really important to me. A pilot is usually already hamstrung with a lot of responsbility: introducing characters, setting the tone, developing the stakes and main storyline. But it’s also usually spent developing the world that these things happen in; and in this case, you literally have a world that millions of people are not only already familiar with, but have some emotional connection to.

But I guess that in a lot of ways, that’s what Iron Man 3 was, wasn’t it? We spent how many movies with Tony Stark, and already knew JARVIS, already knew the little hand robot thing that he always razzed. And ironically, I think watching it only the second time since I’d seen it in theaters, it was a LOT better than I remembered it to be. Maybe when you strip away the expectations of the bridges and the gaps in an already-developed universe, when you don’t need to worry about what you’re missing and who’s going to be who, or desperately listening for a clue for a reference to something, you can enjoy it for what it is. Maybe that’s what Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. should be allowed to be?

Rap game Hulkbuster armor out.



  1. Jim McClain

    They were all smiles because the “concussive whatever” had the Extremis cure in it. The biochem agent and the tech guy teamed up and delivered an effective cure at range just in time and no one else was seriously harmed.


  2. Euge

    Oh, huh. Guess I didn’t catch it. Still seemed a bit weird to be all smiley in slow motion after literally having shot a dude in the forehead when he was talking about how he wasn’t a bad guy. Just a tone.


  3. Travis Meidell

    I agree with you completely… except that I wasn’t disappointed in Iron Man 3 but I digress. I have been telling everyone that the second episode of Shield is perhaps more important than even the first because in many ways this will give us a preview of what the show is really going to be like. I am hoping for more easter eggs as well because, like you, I love that kind of stuff but at this point I will settle for a good show in that world. If for no other reason than to hope that with the success of this show they make Agent Carter into a TV show. We need more Peggy Carter in our lives.


  4. Ryan C

    For what it’s worth, I felt like there WERE quite a few breadcrumbs in the pilot… Maria Hill, obviously, plus mentions were made of Iron Man, Black Widow, Extremis, Chitauri tech, gamma radiation as a superpower vector, and I’m sure others I missed on first viewing. Plus Coulson has one of Fury’s old flying SHIELD cars, which was a new addition to the universe. I agree that the tone of the pilot (especially the climax & denouement) were a bit off, but I’m willing to forgive that as a side-effect of the nature of pilot construction. I’m interested in tonight’s episode, but *really* looking forward to next week’s appearance of the show’s first potential supervillain (assuming the Graviton thing isn’t a swerve).


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