When trying to explain one of the biggest reasons the Marvel Cinematic Universe is as widely popular and successful as it is today, you have to go back to its’ initial roots. 2008’s “Iron Man” introduced fans to the world of Tony Stark- a world that was as grounded in reality as you could get from a movie based around a Marvel Comics character; Director Jon Favreau made it a point to keep the story based in technological advancement. But it was the inclusion of other-worldly elements such as the Tesseract and Asgard into the MCU that allowed the concept of the 2012 team-up flick, “The Avengers” to really pop. The idea of Iron Man’s tech world blending with Thor’s “god-like magic” were thoughts that initially boosted initial anticipation for the team-up, and in turn, giving this shared universe of films a chance to evolve its’ overall storytelling.
Eventually, we came to find that Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige prioritized the inclusion of “scientific explanations” into each character’s story, in an effort to maintain Favreau’s original vision of a science-based universe, which is why the character of Eric Selvig was so important to the introduction of Thor and the Tesseract. This grounded concept became the overall theme of “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD,” a series whose main heroes are some the top scientific minds and combat specialists the world has to offer to help defend us against superhuman threats. All of the other-worldly threats featured on the show, i.e. HYDRA, Deathlok, Inhumans, Kree, etc., were all grounded in some sort of fringe science. One could argue that this is both it’s appeal and, at the same time, it’s downfall. Sure, the show is very popular. But ratings showed a drop in average viewers (plus DVR) from 8.3 million for season 1, to 5.5 for season 3. The biggest reason for the drop, I believe as a viewer, is the lack of risk-taking in the choice of villains, supporting characters, and the story arcs they carry. While it was that same risk-taking that gave us the seasonal story arc of season 1, featuring the HYDRA infiltration, and in turn, the show’s best villain to date, Grant Ward, the following seasons didn’t exactly hit any home runs in the same regard. Fanboys appreciated the inclusion of the Inhumans, but Mr. Hyde and Hive were too little-known to be embraced. The reasons behind their inclusions was because the show was committed to a multiseasonal exploration of main character Skye/Daisy/Quake’s complicated backstory, and in the end, it just seemed that being locked into that angle prevented producers from taking a risk on more well-known characters.
This season, however, looks to be evolving the show in a different direction. The re-introduction of Ghost Rider into the MCU through “Agents of SHIELD” looks to take the series into new creative territory, which could be the shot of adrenaline the show’s been needing since it’s first season.
First, Ghost Rider’s introduction takes the series from a grounded world of spies and espionage into the realm of mysticism. “Agents of SHIELD” often takes its cues from films of the MCU, and no doubt the upcoming release of “Doctor Strange” had a hand in introducing that mystical world into the show. But it’s that collision of concepts that made the original idea of a huge, shared universe so appealing in the first place. Seeing these characters, who have always been able to logically explain and handle the extraordinary, meet a mystical entity that they can’t fundamentally explain is the direction the show needed to go in in order to evolve itself for the better. The main story arc now moves away from Daisy’s overdone backstory, and into forces that seem to be out of the team’s initial jurisdiction, which now opens up for more creative storytelling.
As most of you may already know, the character of Ghost Rider comes with a very loyal fanbase. Anyone who remembers reading Ghost Rider in the comics remembers one of the most visually stunning characters Marvel had to offer. It carries such popularity, that even the critically-panned Nic Cage film version and it’s sequel took home $228 million and $132 million respectively, both more than double their budgets. Ghost Rider is by far the most popular Marvel Comics character “Agents of SHIELD” has brought onto their show.
But it’s use of new Ghost Rider, Robbie Reyes (played by Gabriel Luna), instead of original counterpart Johnny Blaze, that makes this inclusion unique. Robbie Reyes’ story is that of a Mexican-American kid from East LA who is possessed by the demonic ghost of a serial killer, and satisfies it’s bloodlust by extracting vengeance on the gangs that infest the streets of his neighborhood. Instead of riding a flaming motorcycle, this version of the Rider drives a ’69 Dodge Charger, with obligatory flaming wheels. Reyes’ Ghost Rider, while maintaining supernatural origins, gives us a more gritty, street-based setting, one of the reasons Marvel’s Netflix shows are as successful as they are. Robbie Reyes also cares for his disabled brother Gabe, allowing for more of a relatable human story to be told, instead of Johnny Blaze’s stunt performer background. Blaze’s Ghost Rider also mostly told it’s stories from a Biblical angle, often doing battle with demons and other Hell-based adversaries, an angle which would have a hard time carrying over to “Agents of SHIELD,” at least for now.
Marvel’s primetime property has a real chance to breathe new life into it’s waning viewership. Introducing the Ghost Rider into the show’s canon is an opportunity to start fresh on new storylines that don’t have any ties to it’s previous seasons (there’s only so much HYDRA a man can take in 3 seasons). If the first 5 minutes of the season’s premiere is any indicator (watch the video below), this season should give us, the fans, the kind of characters and storytelling you come to expect from the Marvel brand.