Movie Review – Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD, pt1

Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD (1998)–wait, yes, I can hear the mental brakes squealing, please finish the paragraph–may just be the best comic book ever. Yes, comic book movies existed way back in the dim days of the dawn of time–before the beginning of the Marvel Universe, before the X-Men came, when woolly mammoths roamed the Earth. Granted, most of them weren’t all that good, but when they were, you get a masterpiece like this one.

Masterpiece? Welllllll….yeah. It’s a word I will stand by. This movie has the all-to-rare blend of cheese, competence, gusto, earnestness, cool, and attempted depth that makes it genuinely watchable, enjoyable, and even rewatchable. Most of all: it tried. It kept trying all the way through. And most of it? Hits the mark.

Hasselhoff is excellent as the cigar-chewing (…and smoking, I guess), gives-no-darns tough guy, leader, and Father to His Men. He goes whole hog on the role, gives it his all, growls, scowls, grins, menaces, and muscles his way through with enormous success. It also helps that he’s got the physical build to play a larger-than-life character. Hasselhoff is 6’4 and consistently paired off with shorter actors, his costumes emphasize his shoulders, and, yeah, he looks good. Just about everybody else is well-cast, too: from the scrawny but he’ll-grow-into-it Rookie to the utterly punchable supercilious bureaucrat, to the slavering villainess.

The only real weakness is the action sequences. They’re extremely small-scale, and pretty darned flat. A little more money and a few dozen more stuntmen would have done wonders. I’d also point out that Lisa Rinna, Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine, “an old hand at the sexpionage game” and second in command on the strike team, appears not to have been informed that she’s in a comic book movie. She and her hairdo appear to think differently.

So, plot:
“Ooo! He’s gonna shoot him!…who shot him?”
“Ok, so, that guy–”
“No, no, I know who got shot, it was that guy who was talking. Why?”
“Because the other guy is a traitor.”

HYDRA infiltrates and then attacks a SHIELD base to steal the corpse of Baron von Germanname, last of the global bogeymen. As to why there is a corpse on ice and not a pile of ashes in an unmarked urn somewhere, well, no clue. There is some slight resistance–

“Who this? Oh, the guy who was shot. Is he not dead?”

–A little bit of action–
“I don’t know what is going on.”

–Our first one-liner–
“That was a stupid saying. ‘Lets rock and let’s roll.’ For what?”

“What is going on? Still don’t know.”

–and a reveal of our female villain. The almost-dead-guy gasps out some dying words…
“What? What? He thought she was a boy? A man?”
“No, he was talking to Nick.”
“Like, just in general. Like, his last words. Like, ‘Mama!’ Only, he says Nick.”

And we are introduced to Nick Fury, a retired badass who is for reasons known only to himself spending his days in an abandoned mine in the Yukon, whaling on a rock wall with a pickaxe. Hey…wonder if he knows anyone else up there….


However, duty calls in the shape of a slightly-gormless new recruit who doesn’t even mind that Fury’s first response to the intrusion is a rather resentful beatdown.
“Is that Nick? Nick Fury? Why is he doing that?”
“He didn’t know who it was.”
“He had no call to beat the man!”
“It could have been an enemy!”
“You look first, and then you beat people! You do not beat them first! This is not a good Nick Fury.”

“I didn’t hear what he said.”
“They want him to come back.”

Fury, it turns out, is rather bitter about having been put out to pasture, and isn’t interested, until he’s told about SceneOne McDeadGuy.
“They killed who?”
“That guy.”

After exchanging barbs with Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine, “an old hand at the sexpionage game,” and yes, that is a direct quote from the movie, matters proceed.

“What is this girl’s name? Pretty girl.”


“I am not impressed with this Nick Fury. He’s…he’s too much of himself.”

“The eyepatch is not necessary.”
“He only has one eye!”
“Right. They didn’t have to have him that way.”
“He was that way in the original.”

Onboard the Helicarrier, we are introduced to PaleFace MindReader, an mind reader, who introduces herself by reading Fury’s mind.
“Did she know him?”
“No. She’s a mind reader.”
“She is?”

The Helicarrier set is quite a nice one. Yes, it’s a leftover from whatever submarine flick was released that year, but it has excellent set dressing and depth of field or whatever that sort of thing is called. And having background chatter, PA announcements, lots of extras moving around, so on and so forth, is also good for setting up verisimilitude. I mostly just like the fact that it’s not 110% CGI.
Notice the depth of the set on that second image: the heroes have already gone through one set of airlocks, the current space they’re standing in, and then the Contessa in the background is opening up the elevator, which they enter on camera in a single tracking shot. That’s cool! (Fury is grinning because he can’t hear the No Smoking sign over the sound of how awesome he is)

So Nick Fury, un-retired badass, gets straight to the butting of heads with his supercilious, obstructive, and petty supervisor. We know this guy is obstructive and petty because he tells Fury to put out that cigar.

“He shouldn’t be smoking! Breaking the rules is when you do good to break the rules. He is not a hero. That is an anti-hero….no matter how many people like him.”
“Nicotine is addictive.”
“That is not an excuse.”
“Look, he has to have the cigar when he says those lines, because they’d sound stupider if he didn’t have it.”
“I bet it helps him keep a straight face!”

The standard debriefing/cool toys scene follows:

“James Bond! He is M…? Q, no, he’s Q.”

“Heh, heh, heh, did you get that? It’s his W4. They’re trying to get him to sign his W4.”
“And he should!”
We are also introduced to the Life Model Decoys, a concept which plays quite an important part in the comics and also (HINT HINT FORESHADOWIIIIIING HINT) in this very movie. We also get a pretty cool line: “I don’t know whether to congratulate you or put a stake in its heart.”
“Why would it repeat what he says? They trying to get his voice? They cloning him?”

Meanwhile, The Rookie is asking leading questions so the senior agents can explain the plot to him. The scene is a bit on the nose, but it serves its purpose to a) provide exposition for the audience, b) make it clear that the senior agents know what they’re talking about….so it really isn’t Rookie’s fault he’s a bit gormless.


“This guy…is he gonna be a crook?”
“He looks like a crook.”
“He’s a rookie. That’s why they have him chasing the W4s around.”
“Well then why doesn’t he know this stuff? This is important history.”
“Because he’s a rookie!”
“He’s an agent, isn’t he?”
“He just graduated from spy school! He’s not supposed to know anything!…heh heh heh, did you get that, spy school? High school? Heh heh. That was funny.”

To be continued later on account of my notebook went missing.

Small minds write small stories

SuperversiveSF reports that some place called WisCon a) had a panel entitled “Killable Bodies”, which is about the stupidest possible topic to ever have to consider; b) flipped out when someone started to point out something obvious that the ideologically (Idio-logically?) blinded didn’t want considered: humanized villains are better villains.

What was the problem here?

The woman in question appears to have pointed out that in modern traditional fiction, the only “acceptable” villains are confederates and Nazis. If one of those two or allegorical versions are not used, this crowd freaks out and cries racist, making it nearly impossible to have any other villain archetype.

Zombies were really big a couple years ago. I theorized then it was a way of creating a politically-correct and non-offensive Other (since modern zombies are completely severed from their traditional, Afro-Caribbean roots), which it was then OK for the heroes to bitterly oppose, show courage and determination against, fear losing to, loathe becoming one of, and massacre with gory, glorious impunity. Taking this step was necessary, because none of those things are possible to display or even think of when your opponent is: Red Injun, White Russian, Inscrutable Oriental, Soul Brotha, Dirty Hippie, or even the Great Outdoors.

(This is why we don’t have Westerns anymore, damnit!)

This is why modern SFF lacks any ounce of scope or freshness. This is why The Force Awakens/The Last Jedi both returned to rehash the same Space-nazis versus La Resistance as the originals, despite logic and narrative structure indicating otherwise. Because no one trained to write in this current climate and this school, can IMAGINE anything else.

Great minds create great stories. Small minds create small stories. Which one are you?


“That’s a fine way to treat someone who came all the way out here, specifically to help you!”
“First off, you are an employee,”
“Yeah, and I didn’t have to work today. I came just to be helpful to you guys, because I am a helpful person.”
“–But you showed up because you are expecting to be paid–which I know you know, because that’s your mischievous smile.”
“I object to the word mischievous. It implies a combination of malice and whimsy–” [cracks up]

Cobra Kai – QuicReview

Cobra Kai is the Youtube Red sequel to the 1980-something Karate Kid movie. It did well–there’s a second season planned. (As was obvious from the TWIST TWIIIIIIST TWIIIIIIIIIIST SURPRIZEEEE ending.) It was surprisingly popular and gained legs from good word of mouth. I’ll contribute: Cobra Kai is quite good. No, it’s not great–although, bless its heart, it does try. And trying is half the battle.

But….not all of it. Cobra Kai starts off strongly, keeps swinging through the first half, puts its head down and bulls on forward for the last bit…and finishes weak.

The plot: Johnny Lawrence, the bullying blond punk from the original movie, has grown up. He’s a washed-out, borderline alcoholic, deadbeat dad with no prospects and no respect–or self respect. (Daniel LaRusso owns a successful car dealership. Motto: “We kick the competition.” And the bit with the bonsai trees had me in stitches). Nevertheless, Johnny’s fate changes when he intervenes to help a wimpy kid (Miguel) being bullied. He’s inspired to restart the Cobra Kai dojo and take Miguel as his first student. Other students join as well–fellow outcasts and bullied nerds from the local high school; as Johnny teaches them the the way of the fist, their confidence improves and his life as well.

Barring a few….hitches.

Complicating matters is the fact that Daniel LaRusso has not forgiven Cobra Kai or Johnny for his earlier days of hell, that Miguel ends up dating Daniel’s daughter, or that Johnny’s son ends up as Daniel’s pupil, and the tension is just racheting up….

It all comes to a head at the Tournament.

And there is where it all takes a sharp, nosedive back into derivative mediocrity.

The writers wanted to end the series on a bittersweet note, with a warning about the dangers of ambition/revenge, a warning about how violence really doesn’t solve anything, guys! Don’t try this at home!, some torque to the heartstrings from the family drama, and then the looming shadow of Daddy Issues Past coming to call…ps, pls renew membership so get a next season, thx.

All that is fine, those are valid story options, and each of them has had a degree of setup. Except that the writers went way overboard on every single issue. How do they accomplish their end? By turning the final fight into a carbon copy of the original Karate Kid fight, strategically ignoring everybody’s character development, and shoehorning in a hamfisted downer ending in by hook or by crook.

Ambition, revenge on the bullies? All of the Cobra Kai students are suddenly bloodthirsty, surly, cheating maniacs. Why? Because the narrative demands that a Cobra Kai student make an illegal blow against a Miyagi student, temporarily putting him out of the game until he and his teacher decide to reenter the contest, running on sheer will and grit. Why? Because the narrative demands that Johnny be the moral loser. Why? Because second season, pls. PS, “heroes” are losers. (Fighting through a dislocated shoulder? No.)

Violence really doesn’t solve anything! Look! All the kids became bullies once they learned karate! Except they didn’t. Yes, it’s quite possible that they could have gone on to do so, given time and once they realized that they are no longer the underdogs. But one singular “show no mercy” pep talk from the coach doesn’t do that. One incidence of slapping down a bully (or wedgie-ing a bully, or defending yourself and your crush from a bully), doesn’t make you villain material. Hollywood not recognizing this? Is part of the problem.

As far as the tournament goes, only one student was completely out of control and out of line–and Johnny and the referees should both have yanked up him extremely short, immediately, on the first offense (put that back tattoo away, boy). And once he made the illegal strike–in the back, dude?–Johnny should have laid him out cold for jeopardizing Cobra Kai’s reinstatement, and for dishonoring them. The chubby black girl was surly, and should have also been lectured for unsportsmanlike behavior. Two or three lines of dialogue or a backhand to the face would have fixed this.

Some yanking at the heartstrings…Johnny’s son Robby is competing against his students–especially, against Miguel, whom he has trained for a year, who is by now like a son to him. Robby is doing it all on his own, having broken  with his own teacher, Daniel, without anyone at all to support him. Miguel, meanwhile, is having to fight the guy that the girl he likes appears to like. (Teenagers, man.)–and he wants to impress his sensei and win the fight, not knowing that Robby is Johnny’s son. No matter who wins, Johnny is going to lose, and the victory is going to be incomplete. This is a good setup.

It could have stood on its own without stacking the damn deck.

With the worst of it noted, is the rest of the series good? Yep. It’s funny, it has action, nostalgia (not never too much of it), good characters (although I always wonder why no one ever just gets a GED rather than stay in the toxic environment of TV-High Schools), good pacing and, barring a few failures, mostly intelligent writing.

The cinematography and production appear smooth and well-done.

Also, this series was extremely funny. (After the bonsai trees, the competition offering All-American, low-water-using cacti? So funny.)

Rated: Four out of five. Second place is only honorable if you didn’t cheat–but check it out anyway.



  • Cobra Kai – Strike first! Strike hard! No mercy! I’m looking forward to this.
  • Quantez – 1950s western. Quite light-weight stuff, but with some good characters and horses. I have a theory that the difference between a mediocre fantasy or western and a good one is whether or not they pay attention to and take care of their horses. If they name their horses and their horses have plot-relevant roles, that’s a great one.
  • Marnie – Sean Connery and Tippi Hedren are great in this….and oh, hey. Horses.
  • Nick Fury – Agent of SHIELD. This may be the very best comic book movie EVER. No horses, though. Man, that would have pushed it all the way to the top.
  • Five Card Stud – 1960s western. Should be good. Not sure of its status vis-a-vis horses.
  • The Lion in Winter – O’Toole/Hepburn version. “What shall we hang, the holly, or each other?”


  • Young Men and Fire
  • Gordon Dickson’s Pro
  • Majyk by Accident – Esther Friesner
  • ….Nick Fury, Agent of Shield. Volumes 1-3. (Um. Hey, look! Cyborg-horses!)

Out of line

“I knew that you guys weren’t going to be happy about this. Particularly you. I suppose you had some thoughts about being required to train your replacement… Valentine?”
“Hm? Oh, yes. Sir. I did.”
“And your conclusion?” the Director prompted.
“Well, sir, I, uh, concluded that it was to be expected and that was that.”
“Interesting. Why did you reach that conclusion?”
Valentine had been studying the light-colored patches on the now-empty walls. She looked him in the eye. “We’re unpredictable. We’re too young and we’ve spent too much of our time not in Washington. I’m too young, too female, and too foreign. Cody is too young and too Texan. Ethan pissed off the Subcomittee when he arrested that Senator last year.
“The Subcomittee won’t take any of us without a fight, and you’re too close to losing your retirement package to put up one. So you picked someone they couldn’t object to on the surface, someone with backing from a different department, someone with enough connections and ties to take care of themselves when push comes to shove–and maybe make things comfortable for the person who set them up with a nice cushy job as the last line of defense for reality as we know it.
“That’s what I concluded, sir.”