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'Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' review: Super-sized expectations, potential

"Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." premieres with a heavy burden on its shoulders: ABC needs it to be a hit, while the geekdom expects to be blown away.

Spun off from one of the biggest films of all time, director Joss Whedon's 2012 "The Avengers," "S.H.I.E.L.D." (7 p.m. CT Sept 24, ABC; 3.5 out of 4 stars) already has a fan base to count on. Actually, two—the Whedonverse can't wait for another series from the man who brought them "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Firefly" and "Dollhouse."

Cool your jetpacks, people. "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." is good, but not quite great—at least not in its first hour. That doesn't mean it's not an entertaining ride with incredible potential. (I'm giving it the 3.5 stars based on that potential.)

Directed by Whedon and written by showrunners Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen, the pilot has that Whedon-esque wit and exciting action. But it feels maybe a bit restrained, like the high stakes meant too many cooks were in the kitchen. (I can just picture ABC and Marvel execs picking away at scenes and making "suggestions.")

Still, I thought the pilot did a good job of setting up the series for the handful of people who haven't seen "The Avengers," but then again, I saw the film—twice. I've already got the background in my head.

Agent Phil Coulson—movie spoiler coming!—is alive, even though he was killed in "The Avengers." This miracle isn't explained just yet, but the writers insert a deliciously intriguing mystery as to how Coulson survived—and whether he even knows why. "He can't know," a character from the movie says in a nice TV cameo. (At least I think that's what is said; ABC limited the pilot's availability for a rewatch.)

Resurrecting Coulson was a great move because Clark Gregg, the actor who plays him, is perfect for a Whedon series full of smart one-liners and dry humor. With his everyman appearance, Gregg plays Coulson as a man who has seen it all and still can flash a wry smile.

In the wake of the Battle for New York (again, from "The Avengers"), Coulson assembles a team of non-superheroes to investigate all forms of wrongdoing. Black ops specialist Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) isn't a team player. Pilot and fighter Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) has a troubled past. The sure-to-be fan favorite duo Fitzsimmons—Leo Fitz (Iain de Caestecker) and Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge)—are the science geeks.

Chicago native Chloe Bennet has a lot of fun as smart-ass hacker Skye, who is recruited by Coulson despite her mistrust of the government and agencies with so many damn initials. (S.H.I.E.L.D., by the way, stands for Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division.)

Even though the team's first assignment—involving an ordinary guy with strange new powers (J. August Richards)—is kind of average as adventures go, the actors seem to have found a snappy groove already.

Hopefully everything that's good about the pilot will gel into something marvelous and more relaxed (and fan-adored). It would be a shame if super-sized expectations killed "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D."

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Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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