I have a weakness for cheesy, "so bad they're good" low budget horror, sci-fi or action movies. I watch'em so you don't have to!
"Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D."
TV Movie, 1998
Starring: David Hasselhoff, Lisa Rinna, Sandra Hess, Neil Roberts
Directed by: Rod Hardy
The heroes of Marvel Comics have been raking in box office gold for so long now that it's hard to believe that Marvel once lagged way behind DC Comics at bringing their characters to the silver screen. While DC took Superman and Batman to the cinematic bank during the '80s and '90s, Marvel's film slate at that time consisted mainly of Saturday morning cartoons and low budget, direct to video adaptations of The Punisher and Captain America.
In the mid 1990s Marvel farmed out several of their properties to the FOX television network (home of The Simpsons and The X-Files) with hopes of turning them into weekly TV series. Pilot films were produced for Generation X, a teen-themed offshoot of the X-Men franchise (1996) and Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (1998), starring David Hasselhoff of Baywatch fame as the two-fisted, cigar chomping, one eyed super-spy. FOX aired the pilots as part of their weekly "Tuesday Night at the Movies" slate of original films, but neither scored high enough ratings to convince the network to commit them to series.
X-Men eventually became a successful theatrical franchise, of course, and the character of Nick Fury, as played by Samuel L. Jackson, became an integral part of the ongoing Marvel Cinematic Universe, appearing in nearly a dozen MCU films so far.
Poor David Hasselhoff's version of Fury, however, was quickly forgotten by all but the most dedicated members of the Merry Marvel Marching Society. After revisiting the film recently, I'd say there's probably a good reason for that.
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Sci-Fi Channel TV Spot (2002)
The Plot (Warning: Spoilers!)
As the film opens, Hasselhoff's Fury is living a solitary life in the Yukon, having quit (or been forced out of) his position at S.H.I.E.L.D. at the end of the Cold War. One fine day a S.H.I.E.L.D. aircraft lands on his doorstep containing agents Countess Valentina Allegra De Fontaine (future "Real Housewife" Lisa Rinna, then of Melrose Place) and the dorky Alexander Pierce. The pair delivers troubling news: the terrorist organization HYDRA is back, and they've stolen the frozen corpse of Fury's former arch-enemy Baron von Strucker from a S.H.I.E.L.D. storage facility. It is believed that the Baron's daughter Andrea (Sandra Hess), aka "Viper," plans to retrieve the formula for HYDRA's lethal Death's Head Virus from her Dad's blood and use it against the free world. Thus, Nick is re-activated to full Colonel's rank and sent off on a globe trotting trek to stop her.
Nick and crew's first encounter with Viper, at a secret HYDRA safehouse in Berlin, doesn't go very well. Viper plants a Death's Head-laced kiss on Nick's lips before she escapes, leaving Nick with about 48 hours to live unless S.H.I.E.L.D. can recapture her and synthesize an antidote.
HYDRA contacts S.H.I.E.L.D. and proclaims that they will launch Death's Head missiles into the heart of New York City, which will kill millions of people, unless the government pays them a $1 billion dollar ransom. While Nick and Pierce jet off to Viper's island hideout, the Countess searches Manhattan for the bad guys' missile launching device. Eventually, of course, everything comes together in an action packed finale as Nick leads a S.H.I.E.L.D. strike team into HYDRA headquarters, with lots of bullets flying, terrorist butts getting kicked, and stuff blowing up. Viper makes a last minute getaway, of course, opening the door for more battles to come, and as the film ends, a now cured Fury snuggles with the Countess on the deck of the S.H.I.E.L.D. Heli-Carrier, looking forward to further adventures... of which there were none.
Trailer (En Espanol!)
Overall there's nothing terribly wrong with Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. - it's just not terribly interesting. It reportedly had a $6 million budget, and the script was penned by future comic-movie guru David Goyer (who would later write the Dark Knight trilogy, thus proving that everyone's gotta start someplace) yet in spite of its Marvel pedigree, the film looks and feels like just another cheap made-for-TV action movie shot in Canada (of which there were many during this era).
On the good side, Hasselhoff is an absolute hoot as Fury. He definitely read some of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's old school Nick Fury comics to prep for this role, because his snarl, stubble, and cigar handling skills are on point. Sandra Hess is also fun to watch as the vampy Viper, chewing the scenery for all she's worth in cleavage-baring outfits and heavily-accented English. As the Contessa, Lisa Rinna certainly fills out a skin tight S.H.I.E.L.D. cat suit nicely, but she isn't given much to do besides look moony-eyed at Fury. The rest of the cast, which includes Neil Roberts as Pierce, Garry Chalk as Fury's pal "Dum-Dum" Dugan, and Ron Canada as Gabe Jones, is basically wallpaper.
After its initial airing on FOX, Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. aired on the Sci-Fi Channel (now known as SyFy) and eventually received a belated DVD release (sold exclusively at Best Buy stores) in 2008.
Perhaps in some future Marvel movie, Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury will meet an alternate-dimension version of himself... which of course would be The Hoff, thus making this film part of MCU canon. Hey, a fanboy can dream, can't he? If the Guardians of the Galaxy can dig up Howard the Duck, anything is possible!
© 2021 Keith Abt