Agent Carter: Smoke & Mirrors – An Intense Cold (Review)

Agent Carter continues to walk that fine line between humor and some fairly intense characters. In Smoke & Mirrors Peggy Carter shows she can bluff, using “an intense cold” injection to break an unbreakable source.

HAYLEY ATWELL
Peggy Carter at that defining moment.

Agent Carter continues to walk that fine line between humor and some fairly intense moments. In Smoke & Mirrors Peggy Carter shows she can bluff, using “an intense cold” injection to break an unbreakable source. Jason Wilkes proves he is still top in his field, despite his weird distraction and Jarvis is willing but not always able.

This episode provides a double backstory element where the viewer learns of the humble (Whitney Frost), and not so humble (Peggy Carter), beginnings of the two main female characters.  The dual flashbacks for each character, that visit both Whitney, nee’ Agnes, and Peg at significant junctures of their lives explains much about each woman.

Whitney comes from the wrong side of the tracks, American tracks, and her mother sleeps with the landlord to keep a roof over her and Agnes’ head.  In England, Peg and her brother Michael play in the garden of a house that could belong to landed gentry.

Each memory shows how similar the two women are in temperament and attitude while their backgrounds are wildly dissimilar. Whitney (Agnes), is like Carter; intelligent and full of drive. The main difference is that Peggy’s life is shaped by war and tragedy while the young Whitney’s world is shaped by poverty and a mother who stresses that the world does not care how smart a woman is.

This focus on the build up of both character’s  past storyline, which has shaped them into the individuals they are today, seems to indicate that they will face one another.  It is interesting to note that the future Madam Masque was always more internalized than Carter. Not self-centered so much as just introspective and motivated more by her own needs.

Peggy on the other hand was set to live a life dictated by her soon-to-be husband, despite her brother Michael’s attempt to move his sister on a path more suited to her abilities and desires. It is his, her brother’s, death that motivates Peggy to stop the lie and take those first steps to becoming “Agent Carter.”

 KURTWOOD SMITH, HAYLEY ATWELL
KURTWOOD SMITH, HAYLEY ATWELL

Backstories aside, the episode also revealed just how influential the “Council of Nine” really is and that Vernon Masters (Kurtwood Smith) has been perfectly placed to play for the other side.  Whitney shows that coldblooded may be too tame a term for her pursuit of power and that SSR has a leak.

In Agent Carter, the cold war is ramping up, and Masters references the Hollywood 10 and makes a very unveiled threat toward “foreigner” Carter. (This appears to be the main thought process of the villains, later when Chadwick learns that Peggy kidnapped his lackey Hunt, he threatens deportation.)

Jarvis (James D’Arcy) and Hayley Atwell make a brilliant double act and their chemistry is spot on. D’Arcy is adept at comedy and his delivery is both perfectly timed and expertly performed.  As Carter’s “sidekick” Jarvis manages to be all manner of things to Peggy,  not least of which is being ready to take on all threats to his colleague. 

The fires of romance still smolder between Carter and Wilkes (Reggie Austin) as the scientist struggles to fix his “problem.” 

Whitney continues to do her own research, bringing in a cage of white rats to see if she can replicate making her director disappear. After one, inadvertent, success, the neophyte super villain goes on to do the same to the overconfident stool pigeon Mr. Hunt.

By the end of the episode, there are two memorable moments revealed via flashback. Peggy’s decision to enter the war as a field agent and pre-Whitney Agnes learning that in Hollywood one can be whatever they want.

 PRODUCTION SETS AND PROPS
Significant shot of Peggy Carter’s backstory…

Agent Carter also maintains that level of amusing moments, relying upon the atypical English delivery from Peggy, that makes this Marvel offering so much fun.

Example: As Carter and Chief Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) interrogate Rufus Hunt (Chris Browning) and Peggy gives him an injection she claims contains a deadly strain of malaria. Sousa questions her about this and Carter reveals that Howard Stark developed a cold injection. 

Sousa: “You gave him a cold?”

Carter: “An intense cold.”

It is brilliant to see Kurtwood Smith doing what he does best; portraying an absolute stinker of a baddy. In Smoke & Mirrors, Resurrection actress Samaire Armstrong  plays Agnes Cully’s mother Wilma opposite prolific character actor Chris Mulkey in Whitney’s flashback sequences.

Wynn Everett is disturbing as Whitney and she manages walk the fine line between delighted discovery (of her new power) and an underlying fear of this new ability.  Yorkshire actor Max Brown plays Peggy Carter’s older brother Michael with quiet conviction, in the limited time allotted his cameo appearance and Olivia Welch is spent on as the teenage Whitney/Agnes.

Agent Carter airs Tuesdays on ABC for 10 episodes. With six left in the second season, wise Marvel fans will opt to tune in “on the day.”

RoboCop (2014) Decent Remake Sans the Quirky Humor

Poster for RoboCop
Perhaps the most noticeable thing missing in the RoboCop 2014 remake, directed by José Padilha (Elite Squad, Elite Squad: The Enemy Within) are the quirky commercials, “I’d buy that for a dollar,” and the sunscreen that gives the user skin cancer are just a few of the adverts that made the first 1987 version, the Peter Weller starring Paul Verhoeven directed tongue in cheek thriller so beloved by its fans, that little bit special.

RoboCop the remake had a good amount of big names attached to it. Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, who would go on to give a brilliant performance in the oscar winning film Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) in the same year. The original did not rely so much on names to sell the film and Weller was shot to prominence as a result of his portrayal of Alex P. Murphy.

In RoboCop, Keaton plays the Ronnie Cox character and Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman is the Peter Weller in this updating of the cult classic film. In this telling of the man/robot crime fighter the female partner, played by Nancy Allen in the original, has been replaced by Michael Kenneth Williams and Murphy’s wife and child play a huge part in the film, too much so.

Added to the mix are Patrick Garrow as Kurtwood Smith’s replacement, and what a shallow replacement he turned out to be, and Jackie Earle Haley as a new, and totally arsehole-ish character not in the 1987 film. While the film entertains, it lack the humor and the pathos of the first one. Murphy feels different and does not have the same impact that Weller’s RoboCop had.

Having said that, the film is good. One still feels sorry for Kinnaman’s Murphy but from the very beginning when he wakes up as the “tin-man” this Alex is much more aware. In the first film, Murphy is in shock for a long time and it is only his former partner’s persistence that enables him to regain his humanity.

I personally missed the over-the-top villainy of Kurtwood Smith’s character. Clarence J. Boddicker is an icon as perhaps the most despicable bad guy in cinema history. Smith, who later went on to become the beloved Red in That ’70s Show, would most assuredly been a hard act to follow so it makes a certain amount of sense that the filmmakers did not even bother to try.

Gone too is the outright hostility and mistrust by the other Detroit police officers. Still, despite the differences, I enjoyed the film and found Samuel L. Jackson’s Pat Novak amusing. The overall storyline was satisfying enough and the only real complaint, apart from the missing “I’d buy that for a dollar,” was the arcade feel to the shoot outs.

RoboCop 2014 is available on US Netflix right now and definitely worth a look. 3.5 out of 5 stars. Points lost for lack of quirky humor and no Nancy Allen or Peter Weller cameos…