|Marvel Cinematic Universe character|
|First appearance||Iron Man|
|Portrayed by||Clark Gregg|
|Full name||Phillip Coulson|
Phillip "Phil" Coulson is a character portrayed by American actor Clark Gregg in the films and television series of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). A high-ranking member of the espionage agency S.H.I.E.L.D., he first appeared in the 2008 film Iron Man, the first film in the MCU. Gregg subsequently went on to appear in Iron Man 2 (2010), Thor (2011), and The Avengers (2012). He additionally headlines the television series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013–), has appeared in two Marvel One-Shots, and has been featured in multiple tie-in comics, all set in the MCU. The character also appears in other media, including comics published by Marvel Comics.
Marvel Cinematic Universe
Agent Coulson was introduced in the film Iron Man, in which he attempted to debrief Tony Stark on his captivity in Afghanistan. Coulson is one of several agents who accompany Pepper Potts in an attempt to arrest Obadiah Stane once his criminal activities are revealed. Coulson reappeared in Iron Man 2, where he is assigned to supervise Stark for a time before being reassigned to investigate a crisis in New Mexico. In both the film's post-credits scene and Thor, Coulson's assignment is revealed to revolve around the discovery of Thor's hammer in the New Mexico desert. Coulson interrogates Thor after the depowered Asgardian attacks the S.H.I.E.L.D. facility that was erected around the hammer, believing him to be a mercenary. In Marvel's The Avengers, Coulson is revealed to be a fan of Captain America, with a deck of vintage trading cards. Coulson is later fatally wounded by Loki, and Fury uses Coulson's death to motivate the Avengers to fight together.
In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Coulson is revealed to be the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent in charge of Project T.A.H.I.T.I., which was meant to bring a potential dead Avenger back to life using a drug derived from an ancient alien corpse. However, test patients developed psychosis and hypergraphia, so Coulson had the project shut down. Following Coulson's death, S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury resurrected him using Project T.A.H.I.T.I., despite the risks, and had Coulson's memories of the project replaced so that he could move on with a healthy life. Coulson puts together a team of agents, and they travel the world dealing with strange new cases. During this time, Hydra reveals that it has infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D., leading to the latter's demise. Fury makes Coulson the new Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., and tasks him with rebuilding the agency "the right way". Coulson's involvement with alien materials leads to S.H.I.E.L.D. agents with distrust of secrets and the superhuman attempting to take over the fledgling organization, but Coulson convinces them to let him stay on as Director after helping save hundreds of civilians, and together they defeat a faction of Inhumans, with Coulson losing a hand in the process. Coulson later becomes romantically involved with Rosalind Price, the leader of an anti-Inhuman government taskforce, until her death at the hands of Grant Ward, one of Coulson's former agents. He gets revenge by crushing Ward's chest with his prosthetic hand.
The Marvel One-Shot The Consultant takes place after The Incredible Hulk, and sees Coulson and Jasper Sitwell preventing Emil Blonsky from being added to the Avengers roster. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor's Hammer shows Coulson getting into a scuffle on his way from Stark's lab in Iron Man 2 to Thor's hammer in Thor.
Coulson appears throughout the MCU tie-in comics in supporting roles, acting in the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent capacity that he does in the films.
Concept and creation
Phil Coulson was created by Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway for Iron Man, the first film in the MCU. Coulson was the first S.H.I.E.L.D. agent introduced in the MCU, and was portrayed by Clark Gregg, who went on to play the character in Iron Man 2, Thor, and The Avengers. For Iron Man, Gregg was offered a three-picture deal, which he initially balked at due to the character only being known as "Agent" and having few lines. Gregg eventually signed the deal, as he knew the other actors in the film were receiving the same deals and he realized the vision, at the time, of the intended connected universe.
In the Phase One films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Agent Coulson is generally depicted as a supporting character of the protagonists and used to represent S.H.I.E.L.D.'s presence in the plots of the films, to the point that Clark Gregg has described Coulson as "the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent". However, for the Marvel One-Shots The Consultant and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor's Hammer, Coulson is given "a chance to stand in his own spotlight for once", when the character is put in a position where there is an imminent threat and no superheroes around. The decision to give more focus to Coulson was "a natural" for Marvel One-Shot co-producer Brad Winderbaum, who wanted to "paint a picture of S.H.I.E.L.D. pulling the strings and being responsible for some of the events we've seen in the films. What better character to represent this idea than Agent Coulson, the first S.H.I.E.L.D. agent we were introduced to[?]".
At the 2012 New York Comic Con, Joss Whedon and Kevin Feige announced that Gregg would be starring as Coulson in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., despite the character dying in The Avengers, with Whedon saying "He's headlining the S.H.I.E.L.D. show and always was." Gregg said of Whedon's explanation for Coulson's resurrection, "I found it so fascinating and so true to the world of the comics and mythology in general as I understand them that I was immediately in." Regarding the amount of creative input he has over the character in the series, Gregg said, "I have meetings with [the showrunners] once or twice a year and talk about what the big ideas are....They're really responsive to the fact that I've been involved with this person four, five years longer than them, but...I have no complaints with what they're doing."
There had been considerations for Coulson to return in Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World, but the character is not slated to appear in any more films. Whedon asserts, "As far as the fiction of the movies, Coulson is dead", elaborating that "generally I feel like the S.H.I.E.L.D. audience and The Avengers audiences are not actually the same group, necessarily," and so the films would have to explain Coulson's resurrection themselves if he was to be reintroduced.
Gregg has stated, "I think of Agent Coulson, after all these years, as a guy with a full life. I think every day he's somewhere doing something for S.H.I.E.L.D., and yet I don't always know what that is... There's always a different twist. In this one he gets to show more of his wisecracking wit, and in this one he's a little bit more of a badass." Despite Coulson being called "the most recognizable face in the Marvel Comics movie universe", he is depicted as an "everyman" in a universe full of superheroes—"the glue that binds" the characters together. Gregg explained his portrayal of the character as "just a guy grumbling about his job...he's tasked with handling these kind of diva superheroes, you know? "Oh, really, Asgard? Dude, just get in the car."
On whether the resurrected Coulson would be the same as before he died, Gregg said "I don’t know how you could not change going through what he went through. I think if he hadn’t gone through some kind of change, it wouldn’t be any good. That said, I don’t know if he understands how much he’s changed." Later exploring some of those changes, Gregg stated "In some ways, he kinda finds himself not nearly as cold or ruthless as he would like to be, or as he has been. And at the same time, putting together this team, he feels driven by motives inside of himself that he can't quite always make sense of and that feels very new to him." After Coulson was promoted to Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., Gregg said "He kind of got his dream job that I don’t even think he would have ever dreamed he would be given....it’s going to require him to move a little bit in the direction of a more pragmatic figure like Nick Fury". Speaking about the evolving nature of Coulson's relationship with his team, Gregg said "There’s a way he can afford an intimacy with all of them when they’re part of a small, elite squad on the Bus. It’s different than what’s possible for him as Director of S.H.I.E.L.D."
In his review for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s first season, Evan Valentine at Collider named Clark Gregg as one of the high points of the series, noting that the actor was "one positive I consistently point out in each and every episode". Valentine stated that "What made us fall in love with the character from the first Iron Man to his death in The Avengers is still alive and kicking. Coulson was able to throw out quips like none other, while also turning on a dime, and expressing serious rage in moments ... Gregg raises the S.H.I.E.L.D. banner high". Reviewing the episode "The Writing on the Wall", which concluded the majority of Coulson's storyline in the series up to that point, Kevin Fitzpatrick of Screen Crush praised how Coulson had become "unglued" throughout the series, which had "pushed the newly-minted director into some dark places". Eric Goldman, reviewing for IGN, was also positive of the "unhinged version of Coulson", as well as the more serious leadership role the character took on for the second season, with Goldman finding Coulson's decision in "Making Friends and Influencing People" that Donnie Gill "either went with them or had to be taken out" to be especially notable.
- Coulson makes a by-name cameo appearance in the Iron Man: Armored Adventures episode "Extremis" as one of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents encountering (and getting knocked down by) the just-mutated renegade agent Mallen. The episode debuted March 2012.
- It was announced at the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con International that Gregg would return to voice Phil Coulson in the cartoon series Ultimate Spider-Man, where he appears as both a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and Peter Parker's school principal. The series debuted April 2012.
- He has a brief cameo in the anime Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers where he is shown in episode 1 (which debuted April 2014) of the series showing the facilities include a supervillain prison S.H.I.E.L.D.
- Phil Coulson first appeared in the mainstream Marvel Universe in Battle Scars #6 (April 2012), in which the character codenamed "Cheese" is revealed to be Coulson. Coulson has gone on to appear in other comics set in the mainstream MU, including in the 2013 Secret Avengers series by Nick Spencer and Luke Ross, and in Thor: God of Thunder in 2014.
- The comic book continuation of The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes animated television series is told from the perspective of Coulson, despite not appearing as a character in the original show.
- In 2014, the Ultimate version of Phil Coulson debuted in the Ultimate FF series.
- He has appeared in Deadpool, assisting S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Preston and paying Deadpool for his earlier services to S.H.I.E.L.D.
- In July 2014 at San Diego Comic Con International, Marvel Comics announced an ongoing series titled S.H.I.E.L.D., to be set in the mainstream Marvel Universe, and written by Mark Waid, beginning December 2014. The series is led by Coulson, and sees the canonical introduction of characters that originated from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, to which Waid said, "This is our chance to introduce a lot of the other characters into the Marvel Universe, and give them the Marvel Universe spin." Waid described the series as "done-in-one. Coulson and his team have a mission, and if we need someone for a mission, everyone in the Marvel Universe is available as a potential Agent." In this series, Coulson is the Supreme Commander of Special Operations for S.H.I.E.L.D. under Director Maria Hill.
- Phil Coulson appears as a playable character in Marvel Super Hero Squad Online, voiced by Tom Kenny.
- Phil Coulson appears as a non-player character in Marvel Heroes with Clark Gregg reprising his role.
- Phil Coulson appears as a non-player character in Marvel: Avengers Alliance.
- Phil Coulson appears as a non-player character in Marvel: Avengers Alliance Tactics.
- Phil Coulson appears in Lego Marvel Super Heroes, with Clark Gregg reprising his role. His character becomes playable after the completion of a side mission involving him overseeing Doctor Octopus' community service of fixing the offices of the Daily Bugle. His attack is the "Destroyer Gun" he used against Loki in The Avengers.
- Phil Coulson is playable in Marvel: Future Fight.
- Phil Coulson appears in Lego Marvel's Avengers.
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