Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD (1998) — Sorry Sam Jackson, but the Hoff was first

“Don’t you dare cut me off, you comic book coward!”

Justin’s rating: I’m stalking off in a Hasselhuff

Justin’s review: As the opening credits of Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD flash by with the camera skimming over the surface of the ocean, one cannot help but wonder if this will become Baywatch Presents: Nick Fury: Agent of STUD. Will hunky and German-adored David Hasselhoff bare his chest for us once more? Will we see the twinkle of leadership light up his remaining good eye? Will Marvel Comics be let down in yet another ’90s superhero bomb? Hope springs eternal, or so I’ve heard.

If Snake Plissken from Escape From New York somehow artificially inseminated laconic action heroes of yesteryear — and who’s to say he didn’t? — then the end result might be a one-eyed growling menace to… well, mostly just to himself. Just because Nick Fury wears an eyepatch and doesn’t give a flip for authority doesn’t make him a bad boy to love, just a kid who was a little too careless running around with scissors when his mom told him not to. As a fellow one-eyed marauder, I’m pretty sure I could take on Nick Fury in a fair fight. He’s a talker, that one, certainly not a lover or a fighter.

As the film begins, Colonel Nick Fury is in retirement in a wooded backlot somewhere, pounding away in a mine with his pickaxe. Why? Because he’s furious, that’s why. Barely restrained anger makes up for 90% of his character traits, with the remaining 10% or so saved for gross incompetence. Let’s just be glad he decided to retire to work in an abandoned mine and not in a kindergarten class or veterinarian clinic.

Slow and mostly dull events conspire to yank him back into the fray. In this case, it’s the children of his arch-nemesis Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, who’s all sorts of vague Nazi evil yet spends most of the film frozen in carbonite. His daughter Contessa Valentina “Val” Allegra di Fontaine gets the villainous spotlight instead, wearing one of those discount vampire gowns where it looks like she’s sporting a tanning shield around the back of her neck. Val’s master plan involves a lot of unnecessary antagonizing of SHIELD, a counter-terrorism agency that (in the comic books) pits humans toe-to-toe with super-powered lunatics, and (in the movie) is a squabbling committee of stereotypes who hang out on board a helicopter-aircraft carrier. Because when you’re a secretive government agency, you want to be flying something ten times larger than the Goodyear Blimp and about as fuel efficient as a rock.

In a weird sense, Val and Nick are scary, scary soulmates. They both live to rail against authority, and they both can’t resist pulling out all of the standard James Bond textbook plays. Val constantly utters a maniacal laugh that’s so forced you see something pop out of her midsection at once point, and Nick’s “go to hell” attitude only serves to endear his friends and team to him so much that they won’t stop rubbing up against his leg.

Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD is an obvious pilot for a possible TV series that never happened, which means that the plot points don’t so much get resolved as they take a five-minute commercial snack break. The six budgeted sets are used over and over again, forcing the action to largely remain still. For instance, Nick Fury gets poisoned with the “world’s most powerful neurotoxin” that will oddly take 48 whole hours to kill him. Why not stay on the helicarrier for ten more scenes before ever leaving, then!

Apart from a few special effects, like the helicarrier, it’s thoroughly awful, start to finish — and therefore goes hand-in-hand with most all superhero films of the ’90s. Hasselhoff really can’t pull off the raw edge that Mr. Fury needs, and while it might look pretty cool to have a comic book character constantly barking out orders while chomping down on a cigar, only Sargeant Apone from Aliens has pulled that off in film without looking like a nicotine freak. Hasselhoff’s expression, if I may read into it, says, “Oh geez, oh geez, this cigar’s all wet and the juices just WENT DOWN MY THROAT!!” No wonder he’s always spitting the thing out.

Yet Nick Fury is strangely endearing in its constant flag-waving of Testosterone Power. This is a movie that has its chest hair and ruffles it proudly, asking not what your country can do for you, but what dignity you can sacrifice for your country.

Didja notice?

  • Love the Miami Vice drumbeats here!
  • Okay, you know that movie device where they print on screen important-looking, pseudo-computer text, but they have to add this shrill repeating noise to it that sounds like a Furby dying? I hate that.
  • Ron Canada! Defending the Great White North against Paco Mexico!
  • Anybody who has “Baron” as part of their name, yeah, they’re not good. Trust me.
  • People with masks always love taking them off in movies
  • He’s so manly, he exercises while smoking a cigar!
  • A kick in the nuts is a fine way to say hello to a visitor
  • Sexpionage!
  • Radar shield! Good thing to have for a floating fortress.
  • Pistols are great elevator motivators
  • Everybody’s always trying to raise the Fourth Reich. Stupid!
  • Mmm… raw eggs and liquor
  • Hydra agents are in the phone book?
  • Hydra has a dorky logo
  • She sure loves her strong “T’s”
  • Her pistol has four barrels?
  • Shooting your fellow bad guys is a great turn-on
  • Should the “soldiers of anarchy” be so well organized?
  • Hasselhoff growling poetry around a cigar is not pretty
  • Rolling your eyes all the way back is a nifty trick
  • She psychically detects stock footage?
  • He’s so cool, he always has to fire his gun sideways
  • Do all commanding officers have to be jerkwads just so our heroes can have their sweet moment of rebellion?
  • If you’re slowly dying from “the most potent neurotoxin” in the world (and shouldn’t that kill you almost instantly instead of in 48 hours?), is smoking a cigar a good idea?
  • He was top of his class at “advanced silent killing”? And he lets us know that by talking during his attempt to kill someone, silently?
  • I want all of my henchmen to be bald with sunglasses. It’d be like we’re making a music video!
  • The multiple shots of missiles aimed at the Twin Towers is a tad uncomfortable to watch
  • David Hasselhoff beats up a girl. This is a great movie.
  • TWO countdowns to the doomsday weapon? That’s kinda milking it, don’t you think?

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