Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD (1998 television film)

Posted: July 30, 2015 in Agents of SHIELD, Baer, Marvel, Nick Fury
Tags: , , ,

**Once, a loooong time ago, the Marvel brand was not the cinematic behemoth that it is now. Yes, youngsters, there was a time before X-Men, Iron Man and Blade. Novelist Brian Baer took a 90-minute look into that dark time recently and came back with this dispatch of what he witnessed.**

The 90’s was a weird period for Marvel. Between the chromium covers and bankruptcies, the company had found success in animated series, namely with X-Men and Spider-Man. They attempted to spin that momentum into live-action properties in 1996 with a made-for-TV movie/pilot for a Generation X TV series. That show wasn’t picked up, but in 1998, they gave it another try with an adaptation of their long-running super-spy, Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD.

Nick Fury tells the story of the title character coming out of retirement to stop SHIELD’s adversary, the ruthless terrorist organization Hydra, from re-forming and attacking Manhattan with a biological virus called Death’s Head. Fury is time-adjusted to be a “cold warrior” who is considered too undiplomatic after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Still, his new pencil-pushing diplomatic bosses seem more interested in bombing every potential Hydra base, so it’s up to Fury to save the day nearly single-handedly.
Yeah, THAT’S what Hoff looks
like shirtless…

On the story and character level, the movie is shockingly respectful. While some updates and tweaks are made, established characters like Dum-Dum Dugan and Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine act the way we’d expect them to. Screenwriter David Goyer (yes, THAT David Goyer) includes long-time supporting cast members like Clay Quartermain and Alexander Goodwin Pierce (later portrayed by Robert Redford in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) and villains like Viper, Baron Wolfgang Von Strucker, and Arnim Zola. There are even Life Model Decoys!

“Audible grumble”

Still, the movie is beyond lazy. It features nearly every spy movie trope – headstrong agent goes rogue, special guns only work for their owner, shooting control panels opens or closes doors, you name it. With the exception of the Helicarrier sets (which look pretty decent) everything seems to happen in a forest, an abandoned warehouse, or an empty subway tunnel. The dialogue is hokey and the plotting is asinine. I mean, at one point Nick Fury combats the effects of a fever-inducing poison by nearly freezing himself (and his teammates) to death. Further, the Hydra agents are nameless thugs in black face-stockings or bald, emotionless albinos. Are they clones? Robots? Who knows.

No, seriously, what the hell are you guys?
The film jumps off without a clear target and thuds down in the middle of “fun spy-action” and “goofy romp”. You’d think the biggest camp factor would be the casting of David Hasselhoff. Sure, he looks the part and channels the character surprisingly well, but even in 1998 audiences were conditioned to not take the man seriously. However, the biggest source of camp comes from Sandra Hess, whose faux-German accent is so amateurish that to call it that seems like an insult to genuine amateur actors. Other performances, and the Schumacher-esque mad scientist lair, add to the ridiculousness. Still, Nick Fury isn’t funny. It’s not over-the-top enough to be an espionage version of Baywatch Nights. And while it ends on a cliffhanger, it’s hard to imagine a Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD series or sequel TV movies after this.

Marvel has been carefully replacing the classic Fury with the “Ultimate”, Samuel L. Jackson version for years now. Even if this film had been better received at the time, it’s reasonable to assume Marvel would still keep it under wraps now. Despite a legitimate DVD release from Best Buy, Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD has largely been forgotten and is destined to stay that way.
Which is better? Eh…jury’s still out…
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