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Why Clark Gregg's Agent Coulson is the world's biggest Avengers fan

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He's just jazzed to be here, man...

Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), world's biggest Avengers fan, trying to play it cool

It's The Avengers (aka Avengers Assemble) writer-director Joss Whedon's birthday today, so what better way to celebrate than by geeking out over the guy who geeks out over The Avengers the most? No, not Joss Whedon, but one of the film's characters.

In the Marvel movies, he’s Agent Coulson, snarky SHIELD agent and enthusiastic fanboy of the Avengers; in real life (well, Twitter), he’s Clark Gregg (@clarkgregg), snarky tweeter and enthusiastic fanboy of The Avengers (especially Agent Coulson). Worst secret identity ever.

Maybe the real reason for The Avengers’ astonishing box office success is because Agent Coulson made all of SHIELD go and see it multiple times…

@clarkgregg is entertaining to follow on Twitter. It seems like he’ll retweet almost anything to do with Agent Coulson. He’s effectively dining (or tweeting) out on that role, lapping up all the attention. In Galaxy Quest terms, he’s a bit like Jason Nesmith at conventions at the beginning of the film, only self-aware rather than arrogant about it.

He got the chance to be a part of the Marvel universe, and his role has expanded much further than originally thought due to fan response (even earning him a voice role in the upcoming Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon, and the rare honour of getting written into Marvel comics despite originating in movies), so who can blame him for relishing the opportunity? To use another Galaxy Quest analogy (Why not? Joss Whedon is a big fan, after all), Agent Coulson’s a bit like Guy / Crewman Number 6: he’s just jazzed to be here, man…

But if you’re reading this without having seen The Avengers yet, you’re probably thinking something along the lines of, “Let’s get out of here before one of these sentences spoils the movie!” (Yes, if you paraphrase lines from Galaxy Quest and haven’t seen The Avengers yet, the Avengers thing is the only one you need to change.)

But don’t worry, any spoilers will be preceded by a big spoiler warning. So here it is:

SPOILER WARNING FOR THE AVENGERS

When Nick Fury says “I still believe in heroes.”, it’s not just a cool Samuel L. Jackson line for the trailer that sums up the old-fashioned, reconstructionist intent of the movie. It’s also ironic, because Nick Fury is an ends-justify-the-means-style pragmatist. When he says “believe in”, what he actually means (in practice, whether he consciously thinks of it this way or not) is “manipulate”.

Agent Coulson, on the other hand, genuinely believes in heroes. And that means that since he works with them, despite his attempts at snark, he can’t help but geek out about them, in adorably awkward over-enthusiastic fashion. He’s a stand-in for the audience. And what does Joss Whedon like to do to the audience? Stab them in the heart.

Or the chest, at least; the specific nature of Coulson’s wounds are ambiguous. On that note, hopefully Coulson will return for future Marvel movies, and there’s at least the possibility that the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon and the comics with him in will want to tell stories set post-Avengers. But a comic book-based universe has plenty of science fiction possibilities, so they could just bring Agent Coulson back as a clone army or something.

There’d be lots of Agent Coulsons, all the same, like the Agent Johnsons from the Die Hard films, only amusing rather than obnoxious. Or like the Agent Smiths from the Matrix sequels, who are kind of both. (Maybe they could call Thor “Mis-ter Odinson…”?)

Being a hero has a cost, but it’s worth it. Coulson’s (presumed) death spurs the Avengers on to set aside their differences, team up, and defeat Loki once and for all. Though Fury’s manipulation was involved, that doesn’t diminish Coulson’s (or the Avengers’) bravery and sacrifice.

SPOILERS FOR GALAXY QUEST ALSO

Tony Stark / Iron Man’s line to Loki at the end: “…His name is Phil.” is essentially the Avengers / Joss Whedon equivalent of Doctor Lazarus’ line: “By Grabthar’s Hammer…you shall be avenged!” in Galaxy Quest. Setting aside the dubious morality of revenge for a moment, it calls back to a comedic line earlier in the film, giving it dramatic weight and awesomeness. The death of a sincere, arguably ‘naïve’ character results in another character becoming less self-absorbed and learning to value others more, spurring them on for the final battle.

Coulson is inspired by heroes, and he inspires them.

Interestingly, Agent Coulson is snarkier in the individual heroes’ films than in The Avengers. Maybe it’s because he realises (or at least has some inkling of) the significance of what’s going on, whereas for Director Fury, it’s merely pragmatic. For Nick Fury, the Avengers are pawns; for Agent Coulson, they’re real live action figures. (But not Dolls; that would be more in keeping with Fury’s style, that of manipulation.)

The main reason for The Avengers’ success is love. Joss Whedon is a big fan of the comics, so it was a labour of love. And Joss Whedon often imprints parts of himself on his characters, so it’s not surprising that Agent Coulson geeks out so much in the movie about finally getting to hang out with the Avengers.

Agent Coulson is not a superhero, but in some ways, he’s the biggest hero of them all. He’s straightforward, human, vulnerable, limited, yet he shows great bravery. Almost like a Hobbit from The Lord of the Rings.

This article’s referred to Clark Gregg’s character as Agent Coulson, but really…

His name is Phil.

See also:

Top 23 things that Joss Whedon should do post-Avengers

Andrew Garfield wants to play Spider-Man in The Avengers 2


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