FURY: AGENT OF SHIELD (1998)
Director: Rod Hardy
Not every comic book hero has to wear a fancy costume or have superpowers. Others can get by just by being themselves. One of these characters is Nick Fury. Created by industry legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Fury first appeared in 1963 as the leader of the Howling Commandos, an elite unit of Army Rangers fighting in World War II. The book was a solid seller, but Marvel Comics saw the popularity of The Man from UNCLE and James Bond's villainous SPECTRE and couldn't help but capitalize upon it. Fury was reimagined as in 1965 as a super-spy in charge of the government-endorsed espionage agency SHIELD. Fury and SHIELD have been mainstays within the company ever since, often having an influence on many of the characters within Marvel's fictional universe. Though Fury's headlining books have rarely lasted long, he's been such a stalwart supporting character that he even got to star in his own motion picture. Okay, so it wasn't a huge movie. It didn't even go direct-to-video. Instead, the movie aired on the Fox Network on May 26, 1998, as the pilot episode of a potential television series that never materialized. One of the most obscure movies to be based on Marvel's characters, Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD is really one of those flicks that earned its obscurity.
Colonel Nick Fury (David Hasselhoff) is retired, having left SHIELD five years earlier for a solitary existence in a remote location in the Yukon. He'd really rather be left alone, but he just might have to come out of retirement. His old enemies, the terrorist agency known as HYDRA, have surfaced once again. Leading this new incarnation of HYDRA are Andrea von Strucker (Sandra Hess) and her brother Werner (Scott Heindl), who have acquired the cryogenically frozen body of their villainous father, Baron Wolfgang von Strucker (Campbell Lane). Their intent: to use their father's DNA to create a sample of the lethal Death's Head Virus. Despite his initial hesitation to return to active duty, Colonel Fury is prompted to rejoin SHIELD after the Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Lisa Rinna) passes along the information that the von Strucker siblings killed one of his closest friends when he attempted to thwart the theft of their father's body. Kill one of Nick Fury's friends, and he's gonna get pissed.
SHIELD has deduced that Andrea, now answering to the name "Viper," has packed the Death's Head Virus into four missiles pointed at Manhattan. And unless HYDRA receives one billion dollars, they're going to launch those missiles. The only person alive who could possibly give SHIELD the cure for the virus is Arnim Zola (Peter Haworth), a Nazi scientist who helped Baron von Strucker develop the virus in the first place. But just their luck, Viper has planted herself within SHIELD as a spy, using their information to find Zola and take him into HYDRA's custody. It also presents her with the opportunity to infect Colonel Fury with a poison that will kill him within 48 hours. SHIELD is now stuck in a race against time to not only locate HYDRA's missiles, but find a way to save Colonel Fury's life.
Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD is a movie made during a really weird time. Its first airing back in 1998 came just three months before Blade completely revolutionized the way Marvel Comics properties were approached. It still bears resemblances to the cheesy, forgettable Marvel movies that came before it. However, perhaps it is unfair to judge it as a legitimate motion picture. After all, as I noted in the opening paragraph, it is actually the pilot episode of a television series that was never picked up. And when looking at it from that angle... yeah, it's still not all that great. If it actually had become a full-blown series, I doubt it would have lasted more than a handful of episodes, let alone a full season. It probably would have ended up going the way of other action shows like Thunder in Paradise, running for so many episodes before fading into complete obscurity following its cancellation.
The man in charge is veteran television director Rod Hardy, whose work here is competent yet somewhat underwhelming. He does the best he possibly can, but Hardy seems hampered by his apparently meager budget. This leads to sets and studio backlots that look second rate, the occasional lackluster costume, and special effects that could have used a little improvement. With a larger budget, the effects would surely have looked more impressive. But instead, you can tell what's green-screen work and what isn't. None of it is 100% convincing, but for the most part, it's at least forgivable. Hardy does, though, manage to keep things rolling at a steady pace, and he also gets some ambitious cinematography from James Bartle and a good musical score from Kevin Kiner. All in all, Hardy's direction turned out better than it should have been.
Handling the script is David Goyer, the same guy who wrote the Blade trilogy and Chris Nolan's Batman movies. No, I'm not joking. Goyer's script is where the movie really starts to become flawed. Outside of Fury, Vallegra, and Viper, the characters all seem to blend together and become forgettable. Granted, this is most likely due to the movie being a pilot for a TV show, thus necessitating the need to really emphasize the primary characters. But still, you'd think Goyer would have tried to do something to make the supporting characters indistinguishable from one another. However, he does at least try to overcome this with some particularly good moments, like one funny scene where Fury uses his pistol to handle a troublesome elevator control panel. But these scenes end up becoming fewer and far between as the movie progresses, and unfortunately starts rendering the script kinda dull. The whole thing is really inconsistent, which ultimately brings the movie down.
Last on my list is the cast. David Hasselhoff stars in the lead role, and I think he was only hired due to his name. He'd had something of a career resurgence a few years earlier thanks to the initial popularity of Baywatch, and I guess the producers felt that if they could get him, they'd be set. The problem is that he seems to have decided to do his best impersonation of Kurt Russell's "Snake Plisskin" character for the entire movie. That is, if Snake Plisskin was more prone to make the occasional corny pun or witty quip. Don't get me wrong, he doesn't do a completely horrible job, but "The Hoff" doesn't really seem like he's on his A-game. His whole gruff, macho thing ends up becoming silly after a whole. And then there's our villain, as played by Sandra Hess. She apparently couldn't get a handle on her German accent she took on for the character. Sometimes it's barely there, and at other times, it's so thick you can practically see it. Even when overlooking the flaws in her accent, Hess's acting is really hammy. The character is written as if it were hearkening back to the goofy spy movie villains of the '60s, and Hess goes out of her way to give a performance to match. She's over the top, but it's unfortunately not in the fun "Frank Gorshin as Riddler" kind of way. Her performance is just "bleh" if you ask me. Rounding out the hat trick of important characters, Lisa Rinna was okay. I mist admit that I almost didn't recognize her, as Botox, collagen injections, and plastic surgery have made her look a wee bit different between 1998 and now. But looks aside, Rinna's performance isn't bad. She's likable in the role, but the bad part is she's kinda forgettable.
That's really the problem with the entire movie: it's forgettable. I just watched the thing and I don't remember half of what happened. As I said earlier, I doubt a Nick Fury TV show would have lasted very long had it become more than just this movie. It's not as bad as the earlier Marvel movies, but it's not that great either. I think if I was absolutely forced to give it a standard star rating like I usually do, I'd give Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD two stars out of the usual five. It's a rare movie to find, but unless you're an absolutely devoted fan of Nick Fury or Marvel Comics, it's really not worth the effort to find it.
Final Rating: **