James Bond. Jim Phelps. Jason Bourne. Johnny English. That guy Bill Cosby played in I, Spy. Who doesn’t like spies? Well, evil spies don’t like good spies (and vice versa), but we like watching them anyway. Even that lousy Ethan Hunt guy who lied and said Jim Phelps had turned evil. But there are two spies who are separated by nearly 50 years, yet seem to be so similar it’s scary.
Yes, it’s Phil Coulson, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Maxwell Smart, Agent of C.O.N.T.R.O.L.
Despite Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. being a weekly action/adventure/drama stemming from the Marvel comics cinematic universe, and the old show Get Smart being a comedy show stemming from the Mel Brooks comical premise, our two heroes have a whole lot in common, even if you don’t realise it. But let’s stack them against each other and see who wins out…
1) Chicks dig the car…: Both agents drive cool cars. Cool red cars. Cool red open-topped cars, to be precise. Coulson’s car is a classic ’62 Corvette called Lola, and it’s been pimped out by S.H.I.E.L.D. using Stark hovertechnology (thanks Howard, you drunken old letch), along with some weaponry that makes us remember the good old days when James Bond had Aston Martins that did things other than just go fast. Smart had a Sunbeam Tiger sports car that looked like it could handle any car chase, had a cigarette lighter grenade, machine guns, rotating license plates and more. But it didn’t have a name. What kind of spy car is that?! Winner: Agent Coulson.
2) That rings a bell…: In the spy game, communication is key. That’s why Maxwell Smart always had a phone on him to call his boss. He had a two-way radio built into his watch and a phone built into his shoe. It was ridiculous, but it worked. Agent Coulson has two-way wristwatches too, but they’re usually in his collection of antique spy gear, so he rarely uses them. Oh, and he carries a cellular phone in his pocket. More practical than a shoe, but not very spy-like. Winner: Agent Smart.
3) The Big Boss-Man…: Agent Coulson’s boss, no matter what, is Nick Fury. When he’s not yelling, Fury’s hobbies include shouting, bellowing, ranting and raving. He’s not a guy you want to piss off, even if he owes you one for saving the world. Thankfully he does seem to go “off the grid” for extended periods of time, and fakes his own death occasionally, which makes him even cooler. Agent Smart’s boss is The Chief, a man who’s always around and willing to suffer a million migraines just to ensure that things get done right. He yells, but then collapses with exhaustion straight afterwards. That’s not handling pressure, that’s barely coping with it. Winner: Agent Coulson.
4) Get by with a little help from my friends: Maxwell Smart’s team consists of the smart, gorgeous, savvy lady known as Agent 99, Agent K-13 (a dog called Fang, unsurprisingly), and whatever gadget guys or experts are needed in any situation. From pool hustlers to weapons designers, they’re all at his disposal. Phil Coulson has the bio/gadget team of FitzSimmons who are, in a word, awesome nerds who radiate nervous sexiness. There’s Skye, a hacker who’s an unknown factor, Melinda May (don’t call her The Cavalry – even though it’s a supergroovy nickname) who’s a lethal martial arts expert and can fly a plane, and some bloke who’s a GQ pin-up jock. Winner: It’s a tie. May is cool and FitzSimmons rock, but Smart’s got a dog. A dog!
5) The Cone of Silence…: Maxwell Smart has one, and he’s loving it. Coulson doesn’t. It’s as simple as that. Winner: Agent Smart.
6) Mad skillz…: If skills are like a tool box, then Smart’s one with a faulty latch, rusty hinges and a hole in the bottom where his nuts fell out. Would you believe he’s the best secret agent in Washington, DC? No? How about New York? No? How about Elm Street in Boise, Idaho? He has it where it counts, but his constant boasts are almost entirely unfounded. Coulson’s the opposite. He doesn’t brag, and seems so mild-mannered he barely stands out. But he’s a lover and a fighter, an expert marksman, tactician, and smart enough to know just what particle accelerators do. He’s got more than a toolbox, he’s got a well-stocked work-shed. Winner: Agent Coulson.
7) Putting the (re)boot in…: Like all old TV shows, the film studios couldn’t leave Get Smart alone and had to give it the big screen treatment. Love it or hate it, it cast Steve Carell as Maxwell Smart… but he’s no Don Adams. Phil Coulson has been played by Clark Gregg right from the beginning, and while seeing him move from movies to TV may seem like a step down, he’s become Marvel’s most regular on-screen live-action character. His big reboot saw him being brought back from the dead without becoming a zombie. You can’t beat that! Winner: Agent Coulson.
8) What’s in a name…: The name Smart certainly doesn’t apply to Maxwell’s brainpower, but that’s the joke! He’s also got the cool codename of Agent 86, and his name’s in the title of the show. Coulson doesn’t really have a nickname unless you count A.C., which Skye calls him sometimes. Maybe it’s because he’s as cool as an air conditioner, maybe it’s his initials, maybe it’s an armoured car, or maybe she’s calling him an Alaskan creampuff. A.C. isn’t a cool nickname. Being called “Son of Cole” by Thor doesn’t help either, while Tony Stark’s disdain at the name “Phil” is a problem. Winner: Agent Smart.
9) Home is where the heart is…: It’s also the place where they’d hang their hats, if they wore them. Agent Coulson seems to live on The Bus (which is a plane), in a small sleeping pod, while his office is full of antique spy gear that’s fantastic and surprisingly practical at times. Agent Smart has a kitted-out spy pad that’s just full of gadgets, gizmos and traps. From desks with draws that attack people, to invisible walls, this place belongs on MTV’s Cribs. Winner: Agent Smart. The Bus is cool, but it’s more an office than a home.
10) Suit up…: James Bond knows that clothes make the man, and so do Coulson and Smart. They both go for standard suits to match their standard spy haircuts. Smart’s suits sometimes come in variants like ones with fake limbs that allow him to slip out of traps, or inflatable parts that come in handy in dire situations. Coulson wears a suit, and a smart one. Not only that, but we see a whole rack of them. His suit doesn’t need gadgets because he’s better than that. However, we have seen him take off his tie, and that just makes him even cooler. Winner: Agent Coulson.
And the winner is… Agent Phil Coulson, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., in a 5-4 victory! Maxwell Smart is funny and tells jokes that we get, but as a spy he’s not really that good and he never had to deal with CONTROL being KAOS. He’s got the suit, the car and a great phone in his shoe, yet those aren’t quite enough against the mighty Coulson. Mock his name all you like, Tony Stark. Don’t listen to the punchlines to his jokes. Even with S.H.I.E.L.D. being HYDRA, he just keeps on going. Fury views him as an Avenger, he’s gone toe-to-toe with Loki, he has a flying car, and in Ultimate Spider-Man even your friendly neighbourhood wall-crawler had to admit Coulson was cool.
Yeah. Coulson’s seriously cool. And he’s no air conditioner.