The Marvel Cinematic Universe contains five short films to go along with its television shows and feature films. Most people wouldn’t even go to the lengths of including these films in an MCU countdown, for one because they are clearly marketing materials designed to increase DVD/Blu-Ray sales, and for two because they are mostly pointless and of questionable quality. This fails to recognize the nature of the MCU as a universe though. These stories exist in that universe. So, they must be included.
Nor is it totally fair to knock them merely because they are marketing materials designed to increase home-video sales. The entire MCU is one meta-marketing material designed to increase ticket sales. And for a generation obsessed with all things “meta,” might this be a point of acclaim rather than derision?
And, I believe, that for the most part, these films are well-done. As a matter of fact, these short films are probably better than some of the feature length ones, if only because they don’t have some of the glaring weaknesses present in a handful of those movies (see Iron Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World). But, one cannot ignore the fact that they are all less than 15 minutes long and, therefore, are pretty pointless to the overall universe.
It’s not like they’re completely pointless, though. This logic would mean that the television shows are pointless too, since most of the movies are designed to be watched as standalone films anyway—for the benefit of those select few who may have to “jump in” mid-universe without any context. Joss Whedon, the man who produced and created the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television show, has admitted that, as far as the movies are concerned, the television show has never happened. (Note: contrary to the opinion of many others that Whedon treats these as different universes, it is important to note that he is reiterating that you don’t have to watch the TV shows to enjoy the movies and vice versa. There will always be little connecting factors tying them all together, but those connecting factors will never be more than fun tidbits or resolutions of small plot strings that seem, at first glance, to be left untied. For example, the only real contribution to that Avengers: Age of Ultron that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. provides is a little more explanation as to 1] why the Avengers got together at the beginning of the movie in the first place and 2] how it is that Nick Fury was able to save the day with a hellicarrier at the end of the movie.) So why have the television show? The same reason why we have the short films.
Instead of providing elemental plot points, the short films were designed, according to producer Brian Winderbaum, to act as “a fun way to experiment with new characters and ideas, but more importantly it’s a way for us to expand the Marvel Cinematic Universe and tell stories that live outside the plot of our features.”
Of all the Marvel One-Shots, “The Consultant” is the weakest. The reason why should be obvious, even if you’ve never seen the short film before. First of all, while it’s the shortest at only four minutes long, it seems to have the most going on. Agents Coulson and Sitwell (the former being someone you’ve been introduced to already in the first Iron Man movie, the latter being someone you’ll get to know a little better in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the television show), sit at a diner table and discuss a disturbing issue: the Word Security Council—whom you will get to know better in The Avengers— wants to recruit the Abomination, not the Hulk, to the Avengers Initiative. That’s right, the crazy killer that would have destroyed all of Harlem…had Hulk not shown up to limit him to destroying only half of Harlem. Supposedly, the Security Council felt that Hulk was the one to blame for the destruction. Someone had to stop that from happening.
So, they agree to send “The Consultant,” none other than the great Tony Stark to try and “convince” General Thaddeus Ross to hand over the Abomination for a part in the Avengers. The actual goal is for Stark to completely turn Ross off to the idea by utilizing all the snarky, antagonizing narcissism he has in his metaphorical ammunition bag. The hope here is that Ross will refuse to hand over the Abomination, and the World Security Council won’t be able to get its way, through no obvious fault on the side of S.H.I.E.L.D.
The problem with this One-Shot as opposed to the others is that it plays out more like a deleted scene than as a short film. The other problem is that, instead of operating as a stand-alone gag or cool story, it actually details important plot elements that, to this day, go unknown to the general viewing public. On top of all that, it’s pretty boring. This boredom element comes from the fact that—other than the scenes of Coulson and Sitwell at the diner—everything in the film has already been seen in The Incredible Hulk. Fortunately for us, it’s only four minutes long.
Stark’s appearance at the end of The Incredible Hulk is one of the most iconic plot-twists in movie-dom, particularly over the last twenty years or so. To ruin it by saying that when Stark was “putting his team together” he was actually trying to discourage the bad guys from, in essence, putting a team together, kind of takes the wind out of it. There is no shock value, no comedic value, and no excitement. Certainly, hearkening back to my analysis of the previous chapter, there is no art.