Television


It’s been getting “meh” reviews and i wasn’t particularly interested in this series, so I went in with low expectations…but found myself enjoying Iron Fist, even though it is unquestionably the weakest outing of the Netflix/Marvel series.

The good stuff — the supporting characters are interesting and richly-fleshed out. In particular, I found Tom Pelphrey’s Ward Meechum and Jessica Henwick’s Colleen Wing to be the strongest of the bunch. Madam Gao, a recurring antagonist for Daredevil, is also nicely fleshed out. Finn Jones does a workman-like job with what he has as Danny Rand, the hero, but he’s quickly overshadowed by the more interesting Colleen Wing. The bad guys are also good — from the revenant Harold Meechum, to Gao and her nemesis inside The Hand, Bakuto (played with a nice oiliness by Ramon Rodriguez, who i vaguely remembered from The Wire.)

The “meh”: Where Daredevil used color motifs, lighting, and inspired fight choreography to play up the moral conundrums and physical pain of a vigilante’s life, and Jessica Jones played the noir detective look and feel to accentuate the themes of control and abuse, and Luke Cage used strong color palettes, urban music and fashion to craft a believable Harlem in the middle of the Marvel universe…Iron Fist is pedestrian. The fight scenes are not over the top Hong Kong Action Theater. They’re bland and uninspired. The blocking, the shot lists, the lighting, the use of color are something you would expect out of Law & Order: Superheroes. The other Marvel shows evoke the Miller/Mazzucchelli Daredevil run; Jessica Jones has that tired PI in a dirty world flavor; Luke Cage is decidedly Black America; they’re unique. Iron Fist doesn’t play up the Eastern mysticism, choosing a bland corporate backdrop.

That makes sense in some ways. Rand is a billionaire and heir to a massive company and the board doesn’t want him there. It’s a plot element that definitely should have been explored, especially as it is the motivation for the bad guys. BUT… He’s a “living weapon” from the mystical city of K’un L’un out to destroy the Hand. He’s just not dipped in the Eastern mysticism enough, whereas — for instance — Doctor Strange at least did a better job playing to that. The character does meditation and martial arts, sure, but the look of the show isn’t exotic enough to evoke that.

The “bad”: Really, it’s the focus of the show on the Meachum’s corporate machinations and the lack of fight scenes that flow and are elegant. The credit sequence should have informed the look of the fights, with loads of sweeping movement. Jones moves well, and the choreography is accurate to some of the forms used, but it’s not chop-sockey enough, and I suspect that’s what the fans wanted.

So is it worth watching? Yes. It’s a decent addition to the Netflix/Marvel catalogue, but don’t expect anything ground breaking. Substance-wise, it’s got a lot of good character development, especially in the supporting cast, and it breaks the 3rd Act Slump that all Marvel shows seem to have; unlike the others, it doesn’t have that episode 9-11 drag. But stylistically it’s weak tea.

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I finally finished my Luke Cage binge last night, so let the reviewing begin!

I’ve been bouncing back and forth on whether this is the best of the Marvel shows on Netflix, but by the end of the season, I’d have to go with “yes.” Here’s why:

Harlem. They take a real place and they make it the focus of the show. Daredevil tried this in the first season, as well. Hell’s Kitchen, however, is a weird mix of 1980s crack-period Hell’s Kitchen, and the gentrified version of today. This is necessary for the show to keep the Miller/Mazzuccheli flavor they were going for. Luke Cage‘s Harlem is much closer to the real thing, and the importance of the place to black history, culture, and identity is front and center throughout the show.

Blackness. Connected to that, and a defining subtext of the show is blackness. Cottonmouth Stokes, the crime boss who could have been something else; Mariah Dillard, the all-too-realistic politician; Misty Knight, the honest cop who knows everyone in the neighborhood; and Luke Cage, the stoic, hard-working everyman…who just happens to be damned near indestructible all are aspects of the black community, and their conflict mirrors the conflicts of the black professional, the gangster culture, and the middle-class. The music, the location, and the casting all make this a sharply different view of America than Daredevil and Jessica Jones.

The women. There are a lot of important female characters in the show — Mariah Dillard (Alfrie Woodard), Misty Knight (played superbly by Simone Missick), Inspector Pricilla Ridley (Karen Pittman stuck in a stereotypical annoying commanding officer role), and Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson, stealing scenes again..) — the women in the show are integral parts of the drama and plot. They’re not weak. They’re not victims. And none of the important players are young. They’re mature women. It’s refreshing.

Mike Colter. Sweet Christmas this guy’s got charisma. He was the best part of Jessica Jones (my opinion) and he does good work here. There are a lot of great performances in the show, Mahershala Ali’s Stokes is especially good, but COlter manages to hold the spotlight whenever he’s onscreen.

The surprises. (Yeah, spoilers. Shut up.) The decision to take Cottonmouth off the board halfway through the show was an excellent move, and made the show seem less contrived. That said, exchanging Ali for Erik LaRay Harvey’s Diamondback took away an excellent, and somewhat sympathetic villain for a less interesting creature. Diamondback, despite their best efforts, never feels like anything more than the crazed murdering baddie. That’s not Harvey’s fault; the writing on his is a bit lazy, and that’s probably the worst aspect of the show.

Mariah Dillard’s rise to crime boss is the exact opposite. She’s a compelling and realistic character, not entirely competent or comfortable in her new role, but Woodard’s steady move from pawn to queen is well executed by both writers and actress. Did I mention the women in this show knock it out of the park? They do.

A side mention for one of the better supporting cast has to go to Frank Whaley. Who? you ask. You’ve seen him in just about every damned TV show in the last ten years, and a few movies. He plays Scarfe. (Oh, that guy!) His performance is subtle and nuanced. He feels like a 20 year vet of the NYPD who does his job, and just that; he knows his job barely matters and it makes his corruption seem natural.

Lastly…Method Man. I’m not a hip-hop or rap fan. I barely know who the guy is. He steals all the scenes he’s in. There’s a great moment between he and Cage where the superhero geeks out at meeting the musician. It’s one of the best moments in the entire show and feels right.

The bad — ’cause there always is some bad.

Diamondback. The character is a leering psycho whose character development shows him to be a whinging teen with daddy issues. It’s unoriginal and uninteresting. The Bible-quotes and half-assed philosophizing never rises to the levels that Cottonmouth and Mariah have.

While the final fight between he and Cage is beautifully done, it’s really only good to show Cage to be no martial arts master, no skilled bad-ass, but a dude that simply is very strong and impervious to most damage…why would he need to be a fighter? (Throughout the show, the guy doesn’t fight, so much as sort of push and slap his way through the mooks.)

The first episode. It’s a slow episode, mostly for the work it’s doing setting up Harlem as a character, as much as introducing the leads. Wade through it.

So is it worth it? Hell, yes. Go quit your job and stream this thing, right now.

Yes — there are spoilers. SCR

The second season of Daredevil dropped right when I was laid up with the flu and conjunctivitis, so lucky me — I was able to binge the series with a good reason. In some ways, the second season really improves on the first, and in others is a bit of a let down. Overall, I’d say the sophomore season doesn’t quite live up to the first for several reason that we’ll get into in a moment.

The season revolves around two main plotlines — the Punisher arc, in which an unstoppable killing-machine vigilante, Frank Castle, takes out scads of competing villains, is captured, and put on trial. The other is the surprise reemergence of Elektra Natchios, Matt Murdoch’s college-period girlfriend — who turns out to be a protege of Stick, part of the “war” he teased with a group called the Hand, and…well, she makes the Punisher look restrained and considerate.

First the best parts of the season — the focus and pacing is very tight. The characters are well developed and strongly written with the possible exception of Murdoch. Berenthal is fantastic in the role of Castle, with the nuance there, but dialed way down. He’s obnoxious, reactionary, and almost mad-dog violent, but he is also highly intelligent and there is still moments of humanity in him. Contrasting this, Yung is solidly convincing as the unhinged Elektra, and the weaknesses of the character are not hers, but the writing — she is simply unlikable. Beyond the snarky, violent exterior, there’s very little to be redeemed in her. Castle keeps giving you peeks of the decent man he was; there’s none of that in Elektra.

But the real standout, as with last season, is Elden Henson as Foggy Nelson. Where Murdoch becomes increasingly distracted by Elektra and the Hand, increasingly combative with Nelson over the latter genuine concern for Murdoch’s well-being, and less responsible by the episode, Nelson keeps their law firm afloat, shows up for work, battles a corrupt district attorney, and damned near wins a victory over their open-and-shut case until the Punisher purposefully torpedoes his own defense. He’s there for his friends, his clients, and he shows a faith in the system that — for all his protestations — Murdoch never does. More to the point, he’s smart, brave, and much more heroic than the rest of the characters for his firm convictions, his willingness to take the hits to his reputation and ego, and even some physical bravery.

He’s the real hero of Season 2. All the best bits of the season revolve around his legal machinations and pissing contests with the odious DA Reyes (you remember her from Jessica Jones.)

The main point of exploration is justice and the law, and the shades of vigilanteism. The Punisher is put up as an opposing view to Daredevil. Punisher isn’t looking for justice, so much as retribution for the death of his family by three gangs in a drug bust gone bad; Daredevil uses murder as his line — the point he won’t cross — and his vigilante nights are a response to the seeming weakness of the law. He’s filling in the holes where the system can’t tread. Murdoch slowly moves from viewing Castle as a villain toward seeing him as an extreme form of his own works, partly because Murdoch realizes that Daredevil’s tactics are less effective than ever, and partly because of the corrupting influence of Elektra. While occasionally battering the viewer with this dilemma, it doesn’t drag the show down.

Which leads to the weak points of the season. The Elektra plot line was set up in season one, with references to her in conversation, but mostly through Stick and his War, and the Black Sky (which becomes a very important point near the end of the season.) We find out that Elektra is one of his warriors, raised to the fight, and that Stick had pointed her at Matt in college to torpedo his career plans and lure him back. In some ways, this was probably the point where the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen really gets his start…I suspect, while it’s not explicitly rendered, that Elektra’s influence is what set him on his path. Yet, for all that set up, the pay-off is pretty weak.

Season 1 was a standout for the attempts to maintain verisimilitude in a superhero world. Daredevil’s foes were occasionally larger than life — Wilson Fisk, Nobu, Madam Gao…but they were believably portrayed. Season 2 suffers from a late 1980s problem in Marvel comics: f#$%ing ninjas. There is an army of these Hand ninjas running around — not dozens, but it seems hundreds of the bastards, and they are capable of “masking their heartbeats” but not their breathing…which super-hearing Daredevil doesn’t realize? Crying bullshit. Lazy writing to create more dangerous foes than they were. There’s a subplot about the Hand trying to find immortality, and about the Black Sky — apparently people of such sublime talent for violence as to be practically unstoppable. The secret ninja society trying to create the perfect weapon plot is slow burn until the last few episodes, then goes into high gear, and in doing so steps very quickly away from the sense of realism that the first season tried to create, and maintained well with the Punisher arc.

For all the Punisher is a caricature of the ’80s action hero — the superbly trained killing machine who can’t be stopped — he is vulnerable, emotionally and physically. He is a walking poster board for Fight Club through most of the season — battered and bruised to being almost unrecognizable. The explanation of how his gunshot wound to the head during the drug bust gone bad has caused him to live in a “heightened state of fight or flight; reliving the moment of his family’s death over and over” sounds plausible and makes him sympathetic. But he still can be put down. He still gets caught and jailed. He’s suprahuman, but not superhuman.

Another point where the season both succeeds well, but also makes the mistake of holding itself up for scrutiny to the first run, is the reintroduction of Wilson Fisk (who becomes Kingpin in the course of his appearance.) He is still pulling strings, still dangerous, even behind bars, and seeing him in action (including a fight scene where he easily batters the Punisher) serves to remind us of how grounded that story is in comparison to the half-assed ninja sorcery on the other side of the season.

Don’t get me wrong — Season 2 is highly enjoyable, and punches along at a great clip for the first two-thirds of the show, before the Elektra story moves to the forefront. It’s certainly worth a look, but in the end, it just didn’t quite tie it all together as well as they did the first try, mostly because they started to move too far from the tenor they set. I suspect, had the Elektra arc been saved for season three, with a bit more lead in to establish the “woo-woo” factor of the Hand, the arc would have been more effective.

You’re welcome, world.

From The Horror Channel:

dalek-doctor

Snagged from wishforagiraffe on Reddit.

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