Created as a way of expanding the Marvel Cinematic Universe, these short films feature minor and/or new characters from said universe, and have been made with the aim of showing what can, and does, go on outside of Marvel’s feature films. It’s a clever, fun idea that allows fans of the movies a further glimpse of (mostly) established characters but in set ups that wouldn’t have fit in with the movies but provide a riff on them at the same time. To date there are five such short films, with Marvel planning more in the future.
The Consultant (2011)
D: Leythum / 4m
Cast: Clark Gregg, Maximiliano Hernández, Robert Downey Jr, William Hurt
Set mostly in a diner, Agents Coulson (Gregg) and Sitwell (Hernández) discuss the World Security Council’s plan to have Emil Blonsky aka The Abomination released to join the Avengers initiative. With both agents aware that Nick Fury has no wish for this to happen, they try to come up with a plan to sabotage Blonsky’s release. To do this Sitwell decides the best course of action would be to send the one man that General Ross (Hurt) would be so annoyed by that the whole idea would be stalled before it got started, namely Tony Stark (Downey Jr). Agent Coulson is reluctant but agrees. We then see the footage from the end of The Incredible Hulk where Stark meets Ross. Sitwell and Coulson meet again at the diner and we discover their plan has worked and Blonsky will remain in prison.
The Consultant is a neat, concise addendum to both Iron Man 2 and The Incredible Hulk and shows how S.H.I.E.L.D. orchestrates things from behind the scenes. With pleasing performances from Gregg and Hernández allied to witty, informative dialogue, the movie establishes a lot in a short space of time, and thanks to Eric Pearson’s tightly constructed script, makes a virtue of its brevity. Strangely, the inclusion of footage from the end of The Incredible Hulk actually undermines the cleverness of the movie’s structure (and besides which, we’ve seen it before).
Rating: 8/10 – a well-crafted, concise addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe that works on various levels and all to good effect; a great introduction to a series of movies that complement Marvel’s main features.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer (2011)
D: Leythum / 4m
Cast: Clark Gregg, Jessica Manuel, Jeff Prewett, Zach Hudson
Set before the events seen in Thor, this sees Agent Coulson travelling to Albuquerque, New Mexico. When he stops at a gas station, he finds himself caught up in a robbery attempt. Disabling the robbers with ease – and a couple of Matrix-inspired moves – he leaves and carries on with his journey, leaving the sales clerk (Manuel) still astonished at what’s just happened.
With Agent Coulson appearing a little nerdy in the previous movies, it’s fun to see him kick some butt, and with more than a little style. Gregg is obviously having fun too, and his dialogue is delivered in a dry, deadpan style that adds to the enjoyment. Of the five short films so far released, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer has the least relevance to any of the movies, and does come across as a bit of a throwaway piece. But it is entertaining, and again, Eric Pearson’s script is a model of economic storytelling.
Rating: 7/10 – enjoyable on a superficial level and providing Agent Coulson with the chance to show off his moves, A Funny Thing… hits the spot with the accuracy of a bag of flour; and true fans will have spotted that the gas station is owned by Roxxon, a name that may have some relevance in the future.
Item 47 (2012)
D: Louis D’Esposito / 12m
Cast: Lizzy Caplan, Jesse Bradford, Maximiliano Hernández, Titus Welliver
Occurring in the wake of the battle of New York, Item 47 introduces us to Bennie and Claire, who have not only found one of the forty-seven Chitauri weapons that fell out of the sky during the battle, but have also got it to work. Looking to make their life more comfortable, they use the weapon to rob banks. Naturally, the use of alien technology in these circumstances comes to the attention of S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents Sitwell and Blake (Welliver) are assigned to the case. Leaving Blake to his computer programmes, Sitwell reveals he has a lead on the couple and is about to apprehend them. When he tries to do so, the motel room they’re staying in is destroyed along with all the stolen money. Realising that Bennie having worked out to use the Chitauri weapon could be an asset to S.H.I.E.L.D. Sitwell recruits him, and Claire, who becomes Blake’s assistant. (There’s an advance nod here to Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series, with Bennie and Claire close matches for the show’s Leo and Skye.)
With its longer running time, and introduction of three new characters, Item 47 shows Marvel gaining confidence in its One-Shot “division”, and feeling comfortable about broadening the scope of its remit. With multiple locations and more acknowledgments to Avengers Assemble crammed in than seems feasible, the movie still manages to keep it simple throughout and again, thanks to a cleverly constructed script by Eric Pearson (give this man a feature-length movie!), is entertaining and grabs the attention from the start. Caplan and Bradford make a great team, Hernández stakes his claim to a larger role in a feature, and the humour is as well-played as in the previous shorts. The only stumble is a clumsy reference to Agent Coulson’s demise, but it’s a momentary lapse and more awkward than out of place.
Rating: 8/10 – a winning mix of sci-fi and S.H.I.E.L.D.-related humour, Item 47 proves a quantum leap from its predecessors; bright, funny, with great special effects, this shows Marvel increasing in confidence and showing everyone else in the superhero field how it should be done.
Agent Carter (2013)
D: Louis D’Esposito / 15m
Cast: Hayley Atwell, Bradley Whitford, Dominic Cooper, Tim Trobec, Neal McDonough, Shane Black (voice only), Chris Evans
A year after the events shown in Captain America: The First Avenger, we find Peggy Carter (Atwell) working for the Strategic Scientific Reserve, a task force dedicated to dealing with similar threats to those encountered during World War II which led to Steve Rogers’ (apparent) demise. Stuck compiling data while her male colleagues are routinely given field duties – but not always succeeding in them – Peggy finds herself alone in the office one night when the case line rings. The mysterious Zodiac has been located but time is of the essence. Ignoring the recommendation that five or six operatives are required, Peggy heads off to retrieve Zodiac and show her misogynist boss, Flynn (Whitford), that she’s just as good, if not better, than the rest of the agents. She completes the mission, and when Flynn challenges her the next day, he’s forced to eat his words: the case line rings and Flynn has to relay a message from Howard Stark (Cooper) that Peggy is to come to Washington and help him run S.H.I.E.L.D.
Easily the best of the One-Shots, Agent Carter bristles with invention, wit, style, a great performance from Atwell, and yet another razor-sharp script courtesy of Eric Pearson (seriously, the man can do no wrong). With an attention to period detail that grounds the action without drawing attention to it, and a fluid camera style courtesy of DP Gabriel Beristain, Agent Carter looks and feels like it could be part of a feature-length outing. There’s been lots of talk about an Agent Carter TV series, but on this evidence a movie would be a much better idea (and allow a look at the origins of S.H.I.E.L.D.). With cameos from Howard Stark and Dum Dum Dugan to keep the fans even happier, Agent Carter is a joy to watch from start to finish.
Rating: 9/10 – a perfect example of Marvel’s ability to pick the right cast, and put them in a storyline that rewards its audience no matter how many times it’s viewed; superb on every level and perhaps the best Marvel movie so far… of any length.
All Hail the King (2014)
D: Drew Pearce / 14m
Cast: Ben Kingsley, Scoot McNairy, Lester Speight, Sam Rockwell, Matt Gerald, Allen Maldonado
Doing time in Seagate Prison, and happily affected by the perils of being a national celebrity, actor and one-time Mandarin impersonator Trevor Slattery (Kingsley) is being interviewed by documentary filmmaker Jackson Norris (McNairy). With help from his “butler” Herman (Speight), Slattery has managed to maintain his notoriety while in prison and many of the inmates regard him as a star; they even ask him to quote lines from the videos he made as the Mandarin (“You’ll never see me coming”). With the interview proving a hit and miss affair – Slattery is evasive and rambling and self-serving in almost equal measure – things begin to take a worrying turn when Norris starts talking about the Ten Rings terrorist group, and its links to the real Mandarin. Oblivious to the implication of what Norris is telling him, Slattery remains unaware of the danger he’s in even when Norris kills the guards with them and tells Slattery he’s going to meet the Mandarin in person.
And that’s where All Hail the King ends. It’s a little unsatisfactory, and while Kingsley returns to the role of Slattery with the same mischievous glint in his eye that he had in Iron Man 3, the structure of this particular One-Shot is not as effective as Item 47 or Agent Carter. The problem lies mainly with the content of the interview, which like its interviewee, rambles all over the place for around five minutes before abandoning its own agenda in favour of the unexpected twist that Norris is there to abduct Slattery so he can face the music elsewhere. With a script by director Pearce (who also co-wrote Iron Man 3) that isn’t as cohesive or sharp as those by Eric Pearson, All Hail the King isn’t as successful as its predecessors, and struggles to keep its focus. The expected humour is there, and there is a terrific cameo from Rockwell as Justin Hammer, bemoaning Slattery’s celebrity status (and in the movie’s best moment, likening him to the offspring of… well, I won’t spoil it, but it’s the best joke in the whole movie – hell, in all the One-Shots), but these two positives shine out while the rest of the short is more mundane. (And for the eagle-eyed out there, yes that is Captain America’s shield tattooed on the back of Slattery’s neck, and yes Seagate Prison is where Marvel’s Luke Cage was created.)
Rating: 7/10 – a misstep rescued by Kingsley’s performance and Rockwell in pouting mode; not as clever or as well thought out as the other One-Shots but, thankfully, not entirely a dud either.