Because I Hate Myself - Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D
From one of the writers of Batman Begins!
Hoooo boy…we’re in trouble.
Not that Batman Begins was horrible. Oh no, far from it. But it’s always a bad sign when the main selling point of a movie is something along the lines of “From the one guy who made this other movie that you like comes…this movie!” And even that’s not a universal warning sign…again, most times it can be the opposite. Example? Open any movie trailer with “From Christopher Nolan…” and every Bat-nerd will be there lickety split on opening night. Guaranteed. And me too. “From Steven Spielberg comes a film…” and you already know that it’ll mostly be a hit and will likely be considered for an Oscar. Still, you notice something there? They use the name! Looking over the DVD case for Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D again, nope, no name, just ”From one of the writers of Batman Begins!” Well, thankfully this doesn’t require Sherlock Holmes levels of deduction; it’s not Nolan…so it must be David Goyer.
So let’s start compiling what we know about Goyer in 1998, the year Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D hit the TV. Well, thanks to the Wiki, we know this is early in his career. There are a couple things I’d never heard of, but also the second Crow movie in ’96…which I didn’t hear anything good about, except for my college roommate developing an annoying obsession with Mia Kirshner. Still, his other films of ’98, Blade and Dark City…not too shabby! Blade is often pointed to as kick-starting the current generation of superhero films and Dark City was generally viewed positively…Roger Ebert being one of its most vocal admirers. (Granted, he really liked Spawn too, so we might be able to call Mr. Ebert into question here…but his approval of that stink-bomb was mainly for the visuals, even he said the Faustian story was forgettable.) And, hell, I was (and am) a big fan of it. But, to invoke the old phrase, “They can’t all be winners”…and so, we turn our sights to Nick Fury’s first TV appearance. Why would Goyer not want his name on this? Well, about 5 minutes in you can pretty much see why. Yes, it’s a pilot that Marvel hoped would get picked up as a regular series…but dear god is it formulaic. Fury plays the role of ‘loose-cannon-cop’…always pissing off the superior officer. But…wait a sec. Okay, in the comics, Fury is DIRECTOR of S.H.I.E.L.D. Yeah, he answers to superiors at like the UN or something…but within the organization, there’s no one above him. Not in this show. Nope, we’ve got our superior ‘hardcase that won’t tolerate loose cannons,’ I guess the director-director, and then we’ve got a supportive deputy director, Gabe Jones and Fury ends up being the Public director. Say what? Can’t think of a single instance where Fury’s dealt with the public…nor should he! Point is…that’s all mucked up just so they can stick with the formula. There’s the on-again-off-again love interest, the rookie agent that thinks he’s all that but a total klutz that might still make a great agent if he gets over himself…you know, all the tropes. The plot’s pretty standard, go fetch loose cannon that was put out to pasture, growing pains reintegrating, world’s in danger…blah blah blah. Honestly, I'm wondering why he didn't opt for the traditional origin story. Who is Nick Fury? Hell, in 1998, no one but comic store denizens knew who he was. Who are Dugan, Jones, Val, Quartermain and such? Do you go back to WWII and show Fury getting the infinity serum? Hell, the movie itself alludes to Baron Von Strucker taking Fury's eye...that would've been a more interesting story than what we got! I understand that sometimes 'en medias res' is a great storytelling technique...it just doesn't work here. None of the story we're given is written or done exceptionally well…in fact, serviceable at best. I mean, the par to sub-par nature of it all makes me wonder if he really did write it and only spent about a half hour on it, did he just write an outline or a treatment and someone ghost-wrote the screenplay…or is it a case where, like I said above, “they can’t all be winners”? Honestly, I’m thinking he did the treatment or an outline…but you know, all three are certainly a possibility. Fortunately for him and his resume, there’s plenty else wrong with this.
David Hasselhoff. Let’s just go ahead and get that out of the way first…but be sure to add points to your scorecard if you heard Norm MacDonald’s voice saying “Which helps to confirm my theory…Germans love David Hasselhoff”. I know I’ll be dating myself, but I remember liking him in Knight Rider. Then there was the Baywatch thing…never watched that…then the internet, being drunk and eating a cheeseburger video and so forth and “Don’t hassle the Hoff.” Obviously, since I wasn’t paying attention, at some point the dude pulled a Shatner…or an Adam West…in that he stopped “acting” (fair arguments can be made if any of the names just mentioned ever started) and became a living self-parody. Which, you know, hey, great…Shatner and West are hilarious…whether they’re pretending to be exaggerated versions of themselves or if they really are just that out of touch. But I have to admit, if Hasselhoff HAD opted to act in this, I’m curious how it’d have turned out. Because the image on the DVD cover…and if you pause the disc at various points through the movie, Hoff makes a good classic Fury. Really. No shit. He really looks the part. Yeah, they should’ve grayed his temples…but I imagine Hollywood ego or what-have-you got in the way of that. What we get on screen (when you turn on the sound and suffer through it) is more David Hasselhoff, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D…and it’s about what you’d expect. Lisa Rinna is as charismatic in this movie as plastic can be (I was going to make that joke even before I used the internet to find out that, wow, she really HAD had a fair amount of cosmetic surgery). Now, Aimee Mann as Viper/Andrea Von Strucker…fine, it wasn’t really her, in fact the name of the actress, well, I don’t remember and don’t care enough to look it up. All I can say is that every time she was on screen I found myself singing “ooooh shush, keep it down now, voices carry”. As for her performance…okay, there’s overacting and then there’s this…which is light-years beyond. Hell, this kind of overacting would even make Shatner say “maybe you should tone it down a bit”. One thing I have to point out...the closing scene, where she's standing with her revived father, Baron Von Strucker, did it seem to anyone else that she was seriously about to make out with the old guy??? Just....ew. Everyone else…sigh…do I have to complain about them all? I mean…really, they’re not even worth the effort. Okay…everyone else is delightfully bland playing the stereotypical roles they were assigned. Oh…except for Garry Chalk as Timothy “Dum-Dum” Dugan. Sadly they never call him “Dum-Dum”…and he never wears the trademark bowler, and yeah, I just can’t hate on the voice of Optimus Primal from Beast Wars. Still, he might be the only thing that actually works in this whole damn movie.
Directing? Well, I think the “director” of this must’ve gone to the Joel Schumacher Batman & Robin school of Comic Book film directing: “Remember everyone! It’s a COMIC BOOK!” Or, to sum it up a different way, the only direction offered was something along the lines of “Okay, do it again, this time with more ham.” Mmm…ham.
Effects. I gotta admit, the moment my mind drew the analogy, it was a thought that both intrigued and frightened me: What if Asylum Films (makers of such classic Z-grade films such as Transmorphers, the Almighty Thor, Alien Vs Hunter, Sharknado and so forth) made Marvel movies. This would be your answer. Now, granted, it’s a TV movie made for 1998…so, that considered…the effects aren’t TERRIBLE. I mean, by today’s standards, yeah, they’re shit…but remember the trailer to Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left? Where it says you have to keep telling yourself “It’s only a movie…it’s only a movie…”? (Well, I didn’t find it to be all that…but another review for another time.) It’s like that. You just have to keep telling yourself “It’s only a 90s TV movie…it’s only a 90s TV movie.” Once your expectations are suitably lowered…well, it’s like Wild Turkey; it burns going down, but at least it’s over and done with and you can move on to something else.
In fact, I’d say that sentence really sums up the movie in general...it burns, but you can get past it and move to something else. Hell, that’s what Goyer did…and it looks like everything turned out pretty well for him…even in spite of this stinker.