Both phases one and two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe began with ‘Iron Man,’ which in turn has afforded us the biggest spotlight on S.H.I.E.L.D. for its technology-based approach, and integral relationship with Tony Stark. And while Disney may have shellheaded out a sizable chunk of change to keep Robert Downey Jr. around for ‘Avengers’ 2 and 3, we don’t imagine an appearance on ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ to come easily.
That said, the world of ‘Iron Man’ splatters itself all over ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ from the very pilot, including everything from technology references to bus ads, making the presence of Tony Stark very much felt in spirit. We won’t reveal everything straight away, but an element of the ‘Iron Man’ films ties in very specifically to the pilot plot, and suggests the world around Tony Stark may in fact prove the the most convenient to pull from, particularly given the lack of a fourth ‘Iron Man.’
On the subject of guest appearances, we’re drawn to Sam Rockwell’s earlier words about reprising the role of Justin Hammer, given the character’s largely unresolved presence in ‘Iron Man 2’ ranked among the more generally agreeable aspects of the film. Rockwell isn’t known for his willingness to do TV these days, but then again, we hadn’t thought to see Gwyneth Paltrow on network TV before ‘Glee’ either.
There of course remains the matter of Agent Coulson’s unexplained resurrection, which we learn to have far deeper origins than those presented within the ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ pilot. We’d imagine playing out that arc would provide the richest dramatic soil, and the best potential to incorporate either Gwyneth Paltrow or Robert Downey Jr. in helping Coulson cope with the truth.
'Captain America: The Winter Soldier'
As common sense and Cobie Smulders would suggest, here stands our greatest chance of directly connecting the cinematic universe to 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' in the near future. Not only does ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ hit theaters around the same time ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ will presumably begin building toward its finale, but Maria Hill would seem to be the de facto link between the pair.
We’d be hard pressed to imagine that all the political intrigue and S.H.I.E.L.D. presence surrounding ‘The Winter Soldier’ wouldn’t at least merit an ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ mention, if not a direct tie-in. After all, 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' will have a quite a bit to prove within its first season, crafting a sustainable universe that needn’t rely on the movies, but ‘Captain America 2’ offers the best opportunity for the Whedon team to effectively strike that balance.
Not only that, but ‘Cap’ 2 offers up several new characters that could prove appropriate for the smaller screen, namely Anthony Mackie’s Falcon, and the already ABC-friendly Sebastian Stan. That said, the movie’s release date could delay any real appearances until Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s second season, but what better way to set up The Winter Soldier’s background influence than the first season, before finally unmasking him on film?
This one gets a bit tricky, as we know somewhat less about how much Thor’s Asgardian adventures against the Dark Elves will correlate to Earth, even with a faster approaching release date. The most recent trailers have shown a few attacks on London, with both Jane Foster and Darcy having more integral roles to the plot proceedings, but it remains to be seen if enough of the movie stands to plausibly impact the ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’
Instead, we’d imagine more of a character-based link between the film and ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,’ with overall Asgardian mythology providing a rich well for ABC’s drama to draw from. The big guy himself likely won’t drop into ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D’ anytime soon, but consider how Darcy (Kat Dennings), Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) or any of the other earthbound figures could conceivably tie into an ongoing story. Asgard and its associated realms remain something of a mystery to S.H.I.E.L.D., with plenty of peripheral characters to spare, so the TV-friendly Dennings and Skarsgard seem likely targets for consulting guest appearances, should CBS be willing to loan out another of its stars.
Tom Hiddleston has also expressed his openness to reprising the role of Loki on the small screen, so provided the character survives the events of ‘Thor: The Dark World,’ and given we know neither Coulson nor Loki to figure into ‘The Avengers: Age of Ultron,’ we doubt Marvel could resist the prospect of reuniting the two mortal enemies for a highly publicized event down the line, at least in some capacity.
Finally, Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye had first been introduced within the ‘Thor’ movie and could well prove an accessible guest star for ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,’ especially given Renner’s 2010 ABC presence in ‘The Unusuals.’ Unfortunately, the current state of both Renner’s contract and Hawkeye’s role within future films makes it difficult to ascertain if we’ll see the character again, let alone on a smaller screen.
'Guardians of the Galaxy'
A longshot at best, considering how little we know James Gunn’s upcoming outer space epic to connect to events back on Earth. Given the lack of public familiarity with the characters of 'Guardians of the Galaxy', we might imagine that Marvel would do well to drop in a few hints, or even establish a few names over the course of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,’ as we know both the characters of Peter Quill’s Star Lord (‘Parks and Recreation’ vet Chris Pratt and Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) to have origins on Earth. Our knowledge of the ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ timeline and Star Lord’s story within the film make it difficult to imagine if we’d ever see the character in the flesh, but it would certainly make sense to drop references or include file mentions of the character, given his NASA connections.
Instead, we’d wager a more likely bet that ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ would encounter aliens of other races, including some with ties to those featured within ‘Guardians of the Galaxy,’ perhaps even with knowledge of Thanos. It surprised us all to learn that Thanos wouldn’t feature as the primary villain of the first ‘Avengers’ sequel, so we have to assume Marvel has a longer game in mind that would do well to drop hints within ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ over the years.
Hulk may have the lowest standing within the Marvel cinematic universe for the moment, the ‘Incredible Hulk’ film having never quite made it to a sequel, and with zero standalone films plotted for the future, but it’s no secret the character as portrayed by Mark Ruffalo quickly became a fan favorite.
And while we’d never expect the jolly green giant to pop up directly on the series, given the expensive CGI work that could denigrate appreciation for the character, ‘Hulk’ would certainly seem a furtive world to explore within ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner would prove among the more plausible means to connect ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ to the outside world, and we’ve certainly seen the actor willing to make smaller appearances, as with the ‘Iron Man 3’ post-credits scene.
So while we’d imagine ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ to traffic in more scientific stories and supporting characters associated with ‘Hulk,’ there also remains the possibility of picking up threads not resolved by ‘The Incredible Hulk' itself.’ CGI on a captive Abomination would run a lower risk, as would featuring a re-humanized Emil Blonsky, given Tim Roth’s TV history. Lest we also forget, ABC also maintains within its stable Ty Burrell for ‘Modern Family,’ whose Dr. Leonard Samson would seem a natural fit for an ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ guest arc. And what of Tim Blake Nelson’s Dr. Samuel Sterns, last seen infected with gamma-radiated blood and leading with a pulsating cranium? Nelson too has appeared within ‘Modern Family,’ remember
All in all, we’d imagine the ‘Hulk’ franchise to be the most ripe for exploration, given the character’s cinematic short-changing, and all the unused real estate therein.
'Avengers 2: Age of Ultron'
Considering how little we knew of the film before Comic-Con 2013, and how much will be kept under wraps until we get closer to 2015, we have very few concrete ideas how ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ could potentially tie into the mega-blockbuster sequel. And if Joss Whedon is to be believed, Agent Coulson won’t have a role within the film, so as not to juggle another thread within the already jam-packed story.
Presuming that ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ doesn’t suffer any mammoth breakdown in ratings and lasts into 2015 however, we can’t imagine that the ABC series would ignore, or step around the world-altering impact ‘Age of Ultron’ would have. The drastic alteration to Ultron’s origins could easily do with a bit of setup in ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ season 2, as could the introductions of either Quicksilver or the Scarlet Witch, but we’d have to postulate the greatest impact an ‘Avengers’ sequel would have on the TV series to fall in season 3, much as the first season picks up loose ends from the first ‘Avengers,’ albeit in a more reserved manner.
No doubt Marvel realizes this synergy potential as well, and will plot its biggest ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ tie-ins for a few seasons down the line.
Marvel Cinematic Universe, Phase 3
Things get even more murky for phase 3, as Marvel continues its refusal to confirm ‘Doctor Strange,’ ‘Black Panther,’ a return to the ‘Hulk’ franchise, and even Edgar Wright’s ‘Ant-Man’ remains something of a mystery in its potential to tie into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. By that time, ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ would be well enough into its run for writer-producers Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen to have a stronger handle on incorporating a larger Marvel universe, but likely push the series to stand more on its own.
Instead, we’d have to imagine that ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ will tiptoe around the above franchises while their futures become more set in stone. Wakanda references, mention of (though unlikely an introduction to) Hank Pym and potentially Janet van Dyne, perhaps even a few supernatural stories to skirt around the weird world of ‘Doctor Strange’ seem likely.
If indeed ‘Avengers 3’ arrives in 2018, with ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ running alongside it, we’d have to imagine that to be the highest potential point of either franchise, and possibly the swan song for the Marvel cinematic universe. It’s too early to know exactly how Marvel or Disney will handle the future of that point, but we’d expect that the revival of the ‘Star Wars’ franchise would have taken the focus to become more fertile film territory. Inevitably, talk of an ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ movie could arise as well, but it will be up to us to decide if a film could do better what we’d seen for five seasons on TV by that point.
All (or at least some) will be answered when Marvel's 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' premieres on ABC September 24, though we know from all accounts that the series will look to establish itself as an independent entity before leaning too heavily on movie tie-ins.
You've heard our take, but what do you think? Could 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' effectively strike the balance of telling independent stories and setting up phases 2 and 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe? What characters have the best crossover potential? Tell us what you want to see from 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' in the comments!