Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (1998) Dir: Rod Hardy
David Hasselhoff usually gets on so well with Germans…
Nick Fury (David Hasselhoff) is pressed back into service for S.H.I.E.L.D. when his former arch-enemy Baron Wolfgang von Strucker’s body is stolen by his children (most dominantly daughter Andrea, Sandra Hess), who plan to wage biological warfare on the world and finally achieve victory for HYDRA and the Fourth Reich.
Produced by Marvel figureheads Avi Arad and Stan Lee, this was written by David S. Goyer (though credited just as David Goyer), writer of so many comic adaptations including the Dark Knight Trilogy, and ‘Man of Steel‘. He’s now considered a bit of a ‘go-to’ man for comic films and TV shows, with around 20 such projects credited to him on IMDb. I suppose he had to start somewhere and hone his skills, though looking at this film in isolation wouldn’t suggest there was much promise ahead.
Immediately right from the opening credits it looks very dated and is clearly a ‘TV movie’ in so many senses of the term. It’s one of the comic films that’s not made it to Blu-ray yet, to do so it will need a little freshening up and I don’t think there’s sufficient call for that. The movie has got a very low rating on IMDb, currently 3.7, but for a fan of the genre it’s hard to deny that it’s still a lot of fun!
Key to the film having some limited lasting appeal is ‘The Hoff’ in the lead role, back when Nick Fury was white in the comics and on screen. The quote from Stan Lee that Hasselhoff is ‘the ultimate Nick Fury’ must surely be from before the Samuel L. Jackson days. The character and movie are so completely different from the recent Marvel Cinematic and Televisual Universe, especially ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’, yet it features some of the same characters and feels like a bit of a precursor to ‘Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’, with some similar material, such as the threats and its focus on S.H.I.E.L.D. agents rather than superheroes, so you can see how this could make a series, even if it did come 15 years later.
Marvel haven’t always managed to adapt their properties in ways that stood the tests of time, or quality, this movie in particular suffers from a campish tone and leather-cad styling. Worse than that, it’s laden with some truly terrible dialogue, a key example being “I feel like a bratwurst, get me out of here and get me some mustard”. Throughout the film there are so many seemingly tough statements that come across terribly, though these now are clearly good for cult fandom. It’s also incredibly predictable, both in dialogue (with many of the retorts being exactly what I guessed they would be verbatim) and plot developments working out in the most foreseeable ways, especially as even the biggest twists are foreshadowed.
In its defence, the effects are pretty bad but at least they try, where other tv adaptations (such as the 2010 ‘Human Target) just strip many elements out for the sake of simplicity and costs, here they show things like the Helicarrier, a number of explosions and a crazy wheelchair death.
They also incorporate many characters from the comics, though some are adjusted quite a lot. Villains such as Arnim Zola and von Strucker are shown and their crimes listed. S.H.I.E.L.D. characters such as Alexander Pierce have large central roles, though this earlier version of the character is completely different from the one presented in ‘Winter Soldier’ as played by Robert Redford. Timothy ‘Dum Dum’ Duggan and Gabe Jones who are best known as howling commandos, now in their later years are presented as high-up in S.H.I.E.L.D. command.
Main villain of the film is Viper (a character featured in ‘The Wolverine’ to much better effect), mixing two characters from the comics that of Andrea von Strucker and (one of a few called) Viper, but it doesn’t really work. Just being the daughter of a HYDRA leader and taking on his responsibilities is more than enough for the character in terms of motivation and ability, so making her also deadly Viper endowed with a poisonous kiss just overcomplicates matters. That’s not the only thing about her that’s mixed badly, her Germanic accent is a mess, Sandra Hess is really Swiss but her accent in this is so terrible it’s hard to take her threats seriously. Worst of all is the final scene in which she’s overly intimate with father, a brief moment that completely suggests something I expect (or at least hope) was unintentional, though there was an incestuous angle to her relationship with her twin brother in the comics, this vibe with her father comes across so strongly and feels completely misjudged.
Fury quips “That’s the problem with the third Reich, no sense of humour”, without a doubt you do need a sense of humour to watch this as it’s not favourably comparable with the recent Marvel output at all, but for a completist like me it’s an absolute must. The end of the film really sets things up for a sequel that never materialised, maybe that’s for the best as just 90 minutes of this is more than enough to enjoy seeing how far Marvel have come, and be glad they have.