I “met” Agent Phil Coulson when I saw Marvel’s first Iron Man movie. I saw Iron Man a day late and a dollar short, catching it on television instead of at the box office.
Yes, yes, I know. I was a traitor, yada, yada, yada. But after being disappointed with Marvel’s X-Men films, I considered Marvel movies to be something of a joke at the time (more on my disappointment with the X-Men films another day). After viewing Iron Man, which was my first in-depth introduction to the character (more on that later, too), my appreciation for Marvel movies went up. After The Avengers, it skyrocketed – though I still hate the X-Men films.
Watching Iron Man, I initially had no idea Coulson was even with S.H.I.E.L.D. Having never learned what S.H.I.E.L.D. was short for, I thought Coulson was nothing more than your average, creepy film MIB. He certainly dressed like one!
Fast forward to 2012. A friend urged me and some of my compadres to view the new Avengers film. By that time, I had gotten my hands on a few old comics and begun researching the Avengers. So I went to see it, and the rest is history. My interest in the Avengers went from mild, to “need more input,” to “must – Have – MORE!” in very short order.
That obvious aspect of the film aside, viewers of the films between Iron Man and The Avengers could have told me that Coulson had grown over the course of those movies. Having jumped from Iron Man to The Avengers, however, I had missed a fair bit. So I worked at catching up on the Marvel films between these two movies.
In doing so, I found Phil Coulson to be a complete puzzle, and that has not changed much. Even with the coming of the ABC live action TV series Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, I find him to be one of the most complex characters I have yet encountered.
Coulson has more facets to his character than a diamond. Although portrayed early on as a loyal S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who gets the job assigned to him done, Coulson shows that he has a tendency to be polite to those he is told to deal with.
This is not something most viewers expect from film MIBs. Never once has Coulson sworn; cursed, or snarled at any of the superheroes he meets in the films leading up to and including The Avengers. Yes, he does tell Tony in Iron Man 2 in no uncertain terms that he will make sure the billionaire genius does not fly off the handle and act like an idiot while he’s ‘babysitting’ him, but I think Tony more than earned that rebuke.
One of the more striking elements of Coulson’s character, to me at least, is his almost unshakeable calm. Even when facing the Destroyer in the first Thor film, Coulson never seems to lose his cool. From Iron Man to Iron Man 2, to Thor, to The Avengers, Coulson meets enemies that scare even the superheroes he stands beside. Yet he shows hardly any real emotion during these encounters. Even when he is ‘dying’ in The Avengers (I never bought that idea even as I was watching the scene in the theater), Coulson is unnaturally placid.
Another paradox in Coulson’s character is that, in the films, he is never seen wearing anything but a business suit. Here is a man who is dodging everything from a maniacal CEO, to a Russian genius with a decade’s old vendetta, to a giant alien robot, to an Asgardian psychopath, yet not once does he think to change into attire more suited to combat. In The Avengers he still wears the type of suit that he was introduced in, which feels completely out of place amid flying flak.
I have seen very few episodes of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. all the way through. But even with the few I have seen, I can tell Coulson has begun to break away from the typical government/S.H.I.E.L.D. lackey model he appeared to be from Iron Man to The Avengers. By far, this breakage is most notable in his relationship with one particular character in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the young hacktivist turned rookie SHIELD agent known only as Skye.
Though still unnervingly composed in many situations (and still wearing that business suit nearly 24/7), Coulson has demonstrated the ability to work autonomously from S.H.I.E.L.D. He comes to no longer blindly trust the secretive agency but to question his orders, the right and the wrong of what he is told to do. More to the point, some emotion finally begins to show from behind that professional facade Marvel movie goers have come to expect from him.
Whether or not Coulson makes it back into the Marvel cinematic franchise (I am not betting he will not), he has been a character worth “knowing” all the same. While I have yet to cease viewing him as one of the biggest “Rubik’s Cubes” of the Marvel Universe, I think I like him better now than I did when I first “met” him during the course of Iron Man.
I wonder where he will go from here, don’t you?
The Mithril Guardian