MARVEL ONE-SHOTS: The Consultant, A Funny Thing Happened … and Item 47

Marvel One Shots – Part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – “The Consultant” – Directed by Leythum – Starring Clark Gregg, Maximiliano Hernández, Robert Downey Jr., William Hurt, and Tim Roth; “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer” – Directed by Leythum – Starring Clark Gregg; “Item 47″ – Directed by Louis D’Esposito – Starring Jesse Bradford, Lizzy Caplan, Maximiliano Hernández, and Titus Welliver.

The Marvel One-Shots have been a nice treat for purchasers of the Blu-ray/DVDs, as Marvel has used them to further the Marvel Cinematic Universe in small ways. THE CONSULTANT (released on the THOR Blu-ray) and A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THOR’S HAMMER were short, lasting only a few minutes and serving mostly to make Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) look even cooler than he already was in the films. What appeals to me about these first two shorts (and the idea behind them) is that they have a vaguely MARVELS-esque vibe to them. (MARVELS being the legendary Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross mini-series about how normal people viewed the early days of the Marvel Universe from inside the universe.) When Marvel is at its best, there’s a sense that all of the stories under its banner are taking place in the same world, that it is truly a shared universe, and Kevin Feige and Company have done a great job teaching moviegoers about this shared universe mentality by having Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Tony Stark (Rober Downey Jr.), and Agent Coulson pop up in different films in order to link them together. For comic fans, of course, it’s not terribly surprising to see Tony Stark pop up in the HULK comic, but for movie fans, this was something relatively new.

Ben Affleck reprised his role as Daredevil/Matt Murdock for a brief appearance in Elektra but appears only as a deleted scene, there’s a picture of Christopher Reeve’s Superman in Supergirl, and Metropolis gets a mention in Batman and Robin, but for the most part, superhero movies have existed as solitary creations.

One thing I always tell my students about reading literature or watching movies is that the stories will tell you how to read or watch them, and that’s what these one-shots have done, albeit in a small way. They signal to fans that this is all one big connected story, and it’s nice to see that with ITEM 47 (included on the AVENGERS Blu-ray) is a significantly longer piece, and I can only hope we’ll be getting more of them as we move forward.

THE CONSULTANT – Set after the events of THE INCREDIBLE HULK, THE CONSULTANT is short and sweet. Opening and closing with Agents Coulson and Sitwell (Maximiliano Hernández) meeting at a diner, the film reveals that the World Security Council wants Emil Blonsky/Abomination as part of the Avengers Initiative. Coulson and Sitwell think this is a horrible idea, and reveal that Fury wants nothing to do with Blonsky, either. The WSC sees Banner as to blame for the incidents in INCREDIBLE, and still views Blonsky as a war hero. In order to sabotage the pick-up, Coulson sends “the Consultant” in to talk to General Ross (William Hurt). The Consultant is Tony Stark, and we see the early stages of his meeting with Ross, which are simply lifted from THE INCREDIBLE HULK. After the repeat (there’s no new footage here), we’re back in a diner (this time with Coulson doing the eating) to learn that Stark did his job and Ross refused to hand Blonsky over to them.

It’s a nice, quick film, with Coulson the star of the piece. It’s disappointing not to see anything new from Stark or Ross, but as a first One-Shot, THE CONSULTANT proves that, if nothing else, dipping the company’s creative toes into the larger Marvel Universe makes a nice bonus feature.

A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THOR’S HAMMER – Agent Coulson stops to get gas on his way to, well, Thor’s hammer, which had fallen out in the New Mexico desert. Sticking the nozzle in his car, Coulson heads inside to the convenience mart. He’s kneeling down, trying to decide whether to buy a package of Little Debbie’s powdered donuts or Little Debbie’s frosted donuts when two robbers enter. There’s a very funny exchange between Coulson and the robbers, as Coulson is the calm one who has to, in essence, walk the robbers through their robbery. When they ask for his keys, he tosses it to them, but then they forget about him, so he has to inform them, “I also have a gun.” He slides it to them, then breaks into action, hitting one of them in the head with some flour, then running at the other robber, kicking the top of his shotgun down, and then disarming both of them before casually paying for the donuts.

“I couldn’t decide which one I wanted,” he says calmly to the store clerk, whose hands stay up the entire time, handing her a bill. When she doesn’t make a move to ring him up, he says, “Keep the change.”

Seeing the action side of Coulson is different and cool, of course (he is a trained SHIELD agent), but what’s impressive about him remains his calm demeanor.

ITEM 47 – A decided and confident attempt to offer something more than just background for the theatrical releases, ITEM 47 tells the story of the 47th alien artifact that fell to Earth after the Battle of New York. It is the one item that was not recovered and the one item that has been activated. Credit for that goes to Benny (Jesse Bradford), who somehow got the arm gun to work. His girlfriend Claire (Lizzy Caplan) convinces him they should start robbing banks, which puts them on SHIELD’s radar, where Agents Sitwell and Blake (Titus Welliver) are still coping with the loss of Agent Coulson in AVENGERS.

It’s Sitwell who goes after them, and Hernández does a good job playing Coulson-Lite, but … yeah, it would have been nice to see Coulson Prime instead of Coulson Lite. Still, it’s a nice sequence where he tracks them to a hotel in Florida and ends up making them SHIELD agents; Sitwell has a bigger sense of humor than Coulson does, so I don’t mean to imply this is a case where Hernández is reading Coulson’s lines. He’s a slightly different character filling the same role, and his decision to recruit Benny and Claire into the fold is a nice touch. His presentation of them to Blake, done with a big smile on his face and a joyful approach to his work makes him a fun character to watch, and I have no doubt that if Sitwell takes on a larger role in Phase 2 of the AVENGERS cinematic franchise, I’ll grow to like him a whole heck of a lot.

At roughly 12 minutes, ITEM 47 is three times the size of the previous two efforts and the new length is just long enough to be a bit disappointing. Benny goes to work reverse engineering Chitauri tech and Claire becomes Blake’s assistant, which consists of nothing more than sitting in her chair, spinning aimlessly, and staring at the ceiling. What’s here is good (a disgruntled Blake asks her if she can make coffee and she replies she can’t), but I was just starting to get invested in these characters when suddenly, it’s over. Still, ITEM 47 is a decided step up in terms of attempt and style, and it ends up being slightly disappointing only because the promise for it being something more is so clearly in evidence.

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