Monday, May 14, 2012

Tuesday Talkback - Agent Coulson and Boba Fett: Inexplicably popular characters

Spoilers for The Avengers below:

I don't get it.  What's with all the love for Agent Coulson?

I'm inclined to attribute this to his being martyred in The Avengers.  (And I'll give Joss this, he gave Coulson a few nice moments that were designed to make his death sting a little more.)  But I saw the Cult of Agent Coulson springing to life in the weeks leading up to release, and I just don't get it.  The guy's barely a plot device - he's basically just there to be some connective tissue between a few Marvel films.  We barely know anything about him, and until The Avengers, he really didn't get to do anything cool.

(Even the impact of his death was blunted by the fact I saw it coming almost from the instant we met Maria Hill, who bore all the telltale signs of being groomed to be Coulson's "replacement" as the Marvel Corporation's Synergy Player.)

While I'm sure his portrayer, actor Clark Gregg, is a nice guy I never feel like he has any presence.  He's got a milquetoast voice and delivery that often threatens to send me off to Dreamland no matter what he's saying or doing.

So what do you all like about him?

This is probably a good time for me to go all-in and confess that I never got the fan obsession with Boba Fett either.  For those not in the know, Boba Fett is the "badass" bounty hunter in The Empire Strikes Back who tracks Han Solo to Cloud City, then rats him out to Vader and lets the Empire do all the heavylifting of capturing him.

I've never watched Dog the Bounty Hunter, so tell me, is it normal for these "fearsome bounty hunters" to follow at a safe distance and then call the police to make the actual arrest?

When next we see him in Return of the Jedi, this fearsome bounty hunter is hanging out in Jabba the Hutt's palace.  Because nothing says "tough guy" like hanging out in a gentleman's club, hitting on the dancers.

Yet for some reason, Fett made such an impression on Star Wars fans that they've complained since 1983 about Fett going out "like a punk."  During a battle on the Sail Barge, a blind Han Solo accidentally triggers Fett's jet pack, which results in him falling into the Sarlaac Pit to be digested over a thousand years.

Of all the minor characters to get elevated to demi-god status by the fans, why Fett?  You might as well start a fan club for Sy Snootles or Salacious Crumb!

So are any of you fellow "non-it-getters?"  Or are there perhaps other film or TV characters whose popularity astounds you?


  1. I don't get it either.

    My best guess is that it has something to do with their proximity to actual badassness -- Darth Vader in the case of Fett, Nick Fury in the case of Coulton. These legitimately badass characters anoint the smaller characters by giving them their trust and respect. And we take their word for it. Because if Vader needs this guy's help, he MUST be badass.

  2. I really don't have an explanation for Agent Coulson. Excuse me, Phil. I shed a few tears during The Avengers but I attributed that a lot more to Joss' tendency to rip my heart out in everything he does than to Clark Gregg. I'm sure the guy's nice but I don't get it.

    As for Boba Fett, I love the character but I didn't actually love him until I started reading all the extra Star Wars books. He (or Wedge Antilles as another small part onscreen) are both favorites within SW canon. But I never fell for the character based on the films alone.

    The only possible guess I could throw out for Coulson is that as soon as info about his death leaked, rumors started following that he'll become The Vision in future Avengers films. I could go into a whole other set of issues on that but maybe that's why there's more interest. Otherwise I'm baffled.

  3. Coulson's death me left me completely non-plussed. Didn't see it coming, but I honestly didn't care because I'd made NO emotional connection with the character.

    Fett? At a guess I'd say it's the mystery. He was barely sketched as a character, blank enough to imprint your own ideas on within an implied framework: no visible face, no past, and an odd-looking ship. Plus he looks like he's been through the wars.

  4. Xander has a point. There's a great throwaway line from Vader to Fett; "NO disintegrations".

    Two words, and yet they imply that
    A) These two have some kind of history because Vader knows his M.O.
    B) Fett disintegrates people. Which, let's be honest, is pretty cool.

    And I just realised I used the same kind of device in my last script. It's shorthand, and not clunky enough to be labelled expository dialogue while doing a similar job.

  5. I was wondering how long it would take someone to bring up "NO disintergrations." That actually another reason I see Fett as more of a thug than a master bounty hunter.

    It takes skill to take someone alive. Effort. Cunning.

    What does it take to disintergrate someone? A blaster set to "fry." You can disintergrate someone from a distance without having to get your hands dirty. And if Fett was an assassin, maybe I could see it as being cool in a sniper sort of way.

    But he's a bounty hunter. So when I hear that line, my mind pictures Fett's M.O. as "Well, I could set a trap for him, match my skills against his, outwit him and take him alive. Eh, fuck it, I'll just follow him at a distance and blast him while he's on the john."

    1. But he *doesn't* do that. He does exactly what you suggest; sets a trap, matches skills, and outwits the heroes. He's devious. The disintegrations line just adds colour, suggests he's more than capable of taking the easy route if necessary, whilst simultaneously suggesting Vader has at least a passing knowledge of him. As Xander suggested, Vader's knowledge of him bestows legitimacy.

      I'm not au fait with bounty hunting but surely it includes delivering the quarry dead as well as alive... Although how you deliver someone who's been disintegrated (outside of a vase) is a logistical problem the writers clearly hadn't imagined.

      Ultimately I'm not sure it matters if he's a thug or a master bounty hunter. I'm not a Fett fanboy but I can see the attraction because he's barely sketched, he's mysterious and he looks cool. Plus he's actually a little cheeky to Vader later on: "He's no good to me dead".

      When you try to imagine what kind of man has the balls to do that, I think it's quite easy to get carried away.

    2. In the cloud city when he brings up, 'He's no good to me dead', Vader actually offers compensation to him should Han die. Everyone else he just tells to hope the deal doesn't get any worse. He must carry a lot of weight for Vader to keep him onside like that.

    3. Jeremy - That's actually one point I don't think I've heard anyone bring up before. And I'm just now realizing it's odd that in their first encounter, it's Vader who's concerned about getting them alive, with Fett offering a seemingly begrudging "As you wish."

      And then later, Fett's all, "Whoa, whoa! Make sure you don't kill him!"

    4. Lucas never was the most coherent writer was he.

  6. Clark Gregg is a fine actor in other roles. Particularly State & Main. Seems to me that he gives this role all he's got, I just don't think there's that much meat on the bone.

    Also, in regards to his popularity, I would argue that like Boba Fett, the cult develops from their lack of personality and character development. People think it makes them unique to say that their favorite character is the one who says nothing, does nothing, looks cool, and merely 'exists.' And slowly, personal favorite becomes cult favorite becomes fan favorite.

  7. "What's with all the love for Agent Coulson?"

    My guess, Agent Coulson is everyman, our door in. And he was such a nerd about the cards, how could you not feel a fondness for him after that.

    Maria Hill was the other everyday human, but she's way too fierce (could you talk back to Fury, to superheroes, as a peer?) for real folks to aspire or relate to. And she's a chick, so, yeah, she has that going against her, "everyman" she ain't.

    I know of three (and I'm sure there are more), characters who began on the screen and jumped to the page (H.E.R.B.I.E., umm, no comment, Harley Quinn, she's fun, and now, Coulson). I think Gregg in the role is what gave that character traction, he embodies smart, effective, loyal, nerd, all rolled up into one amiable package.

    I suspect we haven't seen the last of Agent Coulson.

  8. I like Coulson; my guess is he's supposed to be the sympathetic character, the one the audience members most identify with as just a regular guy doing his job (and kind of being a fan boy of the big shots he works with). I'm also not 100% convinced he's dead, since we all know Nick Fury is a big, fat liar.

    I don't get the Fett thing, though.

  9. Coulson? He's totally cool in the presence of power. He has no superpowers, but nor is he in awe of them.

    And he's totally cool, watch this:

  10. Boba Fett was initially introduced as a special action figure that you could order from... Kenner?... if you had enough proofs of purchase. That's all you knew about him -- from that little picture on the back of the SW action figure packages, and that to get him, you had to send in X number of proofs of purchase.

    Naturally, kids were obsessed with this character -- who was he? What did he do in the next SW movie? Did anyone actually have him? And then when a few kids DID have him, they were instantly more cool than anyone else.

    So then when the movie comes out, it's like a guy in your neighborhood is on screen -- that's him! That's Boba Fett, and look how cool he is, look at what he does!

    From that point on, the cult of Boba Fett was on. Even kids who weren't alive when the first movies came out were contaminated by the obsession.

    But as for Coulson? No idea. I know why he was in the movie, and I thought he did his job admirably, but that's as far as I'm willing to go.

  11. @ - "He does exactly what you suggest; sets a trap, matches skills, and outwits the heroes."

    He's smart enough to track them, but then he pretty much turns over everything - including the capture - to Vader and his minions after tipping off the Empire.

    Clever? Possibly. Badass? No. Not unless we've expanded the definition of "badass" to encompass those people who phone in tips to America's Most Wanted.

  12. Bitter, remember that Vader's primary goal had changed towards the end of Empire. He was looking for Skywalker.

    Somehow Vader ALSO KNEW that strand of force "fate" that Skywalker saw him and Vader fight on Bespin in the near future. Guess there was some sort of psychic link created after Luke fought the "Dark Side" Vader image in the cave on Dagobah.

    The whole Bespin setup was to capture Skywalker alive, and Solo and the Princess and Wookie were just bonuses. The Empire was already in Bespin for some time, well BEFORE Solo and Co. arrived.

    Since Boba Fett was following Solo, he couldn't really give the Empire a totally accurate destination till ALL of them arrived at Bespin.

    Remember, Lando said, "They arrived right before you did. I had no choice."

    It's kind of a convenient plot hole that everyone just ignores because it's not egregious.

    Boba Fett got his stature because of his ACTION FIGURE. It was awesome, and the first prototypes/runs actually had a rocket that shot out of the back. He really doesn't do anything bad ass till Jedi, and then he gets a pussy death, thanks to Lucas; eaten by a sand vagina. But it was because of the action figure, especially the 12 inch deluxe model, that really cemented Fett as a "Bad Ass."

    Remember, Fett didn't do ANYTHING in Empire. He didn't even fire his gun. As a kid, we knew NOTHING about what Boba Fett's weaponry on his suit could do. Everything we knew was practically made up by the marketing department at KENNER, and then later by Lucasfilm. Fett and all of the other characters were NOT anything more than minor, bit parts. Most of the characters that had action figures didn't have a name at all; names that were made up by Kenner.

    Boba Fett had kids in 1978 and 1979 mystified because of his appearance on the Star Wars: Holiday Special (in cartoon form), as well as the Kenner Mail away in 1979, that promised Boba Fett with rocket shooting backpack.

    So Boba Fett was hyped up, even though hardly anyone knew anything about him, and he never did anything in Empire of note, except mouth off to Vader. In this case it was the audience (kids/teenagers at the time) that created what they thought Fett was in their OWN IMAGINATION.

    THAT is the reason why Fett has endured. WE created him. He evolved from a one off character, to one of the most recognized names in movie history.

    1. I agree on the toy issue. As for the plot hole, I'm not sure it's as big as you might think.

      Then we've got to find a safe port somewhere around here. Got any ideas?

      No. Where are we?

      The Anoat system.

      Anoat system. There's not much there.

      No. Well, wait. This is interesting. Lando.

      If there isn't much there but Bespin, it makes it kinda obvious where they'll go. Assuming Fett had access to the same star charts, he could extrapolate their most likely destination and get there before them because the Falcon has no hyper-drive at this point.

      Also, I'm not sure you're right about him never firing his weapon. I'm sure I remember him doing so at Luke as he makes his way through Cloud City, though it may have been just to push him in Vader's direction, and I can't find a video.

  13. Coulson is loved for his fanboyish nature towards Captain America. How can you not know this? Its all over tumblr :P

  14. I agree with Adaddinsane on Coulson. Also, as with a lot of the Marvel movies, a lot of the appeal for certain characters comes mostly from posturing and clever quips. As a writer, it's easy to see this as more of a device than actual character development, but it works for the fast-paced, action-heavy nature of the franchise.

  15. Agent Coulson was, in many films, the representative of SHIELD-- not literally (well sort of), but to the audience, he was the face and embodiment of the powerful organization that fans love (or at least were dying to see).

    And as extension, he represented what everything was building to-- the union of all of our favorite superheroes. Seeing Agent Coulson in every Marvel movie is how we all knew that someday, Iron Man, Thor and Captain America were going to meet up. They all existed in the same universe, and we were given proof and solid evidence everytime Coulson showed up. He was a reminder that The Avengers was coming.

    Don't overthink it-- it's not the character we love, the guy who whined when Pepper Potts blew him off... it's what he represents (with a developed character being created OUT of that love, after the fact)

    And Boba Fett? Well, Mandalorian armor looks cool, I guess. I dunno, when I grew up, Boba Fett was already made into an awesome character in the expanded universe. We already had stories of how much of a badass he was.

  16. I can shed some light here! Part of the reason people like Coulson so much is because he goes to being a smooth FBI agent to a Captain America fanboy in an instant. That's what makes him stand out. When meeting his childhood hero, Coulson's serious demeanor suddenly gave way to the bright-eyed, naive little boy that never stopped believing in his hero and all that he stood for. It can be assumed that this hero worship even influenced Coulson's choice of career.

  17. (Whoops, turns out I have more to add! Sorry for commenting again, you can choose not to include this if you like.)

    It's occurred to me that because of what we know of Coulson's fanboy-ish nature, we can almost start to envision a backstory for him, without a word of his origins ever needing to be spoken. If we believe that his idolization of Captain America motivated him to become an agent, we can imagine a few key events unfolding:

    - Whether or not Coulson's family, friends, or co-workers knew that he never outgrew his 'superhero phase', and if they looked down for that

    - Coulson's reaction when he found out Captain America was alive (and how he came across the information, if it was kept under wraps)

    - Coulson's first face-to-face meeting with the unconscious Steve Rogers, and what a powerful moment that must have been for him

    Once you find yourself thinking of scenarios such as these, what started as a minor character starts to become dear to you. Disregarding the speculation on his past, there were a couple of moments in The Avengers where Coulson formed a connection with the audience with just one line. His confession to Stever Rogers that he 'watched him while he was sleeping' immediately comes to mind. Who wouldn't stumble over their words when meeting their hero at long last? Everyone has been a fan of someone at some point, and we're painfully aware that when we're that excited we're not going to get our point across in the best way. We're going to be nervous, and probably embarrass ourselves trying to talk to them, which is what Coulson did, so we can relate.