Despite Controversy & Flaws Iron Fist Hits Its Mark

The latest Netflix/Marvel TV show set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is Iron Fist. The main character and his story are based on the Marvel Comics hero created by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane. As the final piece of the superhero puzzle that will make up this year’s Netflix mini-series, The Defenders, Iron Fist has been mired in controversy. Most of it having to do with charges of that the title character is just another white savior type since he emulates a stereotypical Asian monastic lifestyle. Other complaints about Iron Fist are that it is slow moving and uninvolving.

These criticisms levied at Iron Fist are unfortunate because it’s generally an enjoyable, well-produced entry of the MCU. It does have its share of problems and is not as engaging as Daredevil or Jessica Jones. On the other hand, after last year’s disappointingly dull and overacted Luke Cage, Iron Fist is a course correction for the Netflix/Marvel shows.

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The TV show centers on Danny Rand (Finn Jones), a homeless heir to a multinational corporation who reappears in the company’s Manhattan headquarters after he was believed to have died fifteen years ago. In his backstory, he and his parents were in a plane crash in the Himalayas that killed his folks, but he survived and was rescued by monks. They take Danny to K’un-Lun, a mystical, extradimensional city that appears every fifteen years on Earth. Once there, Danny is raised by the monks, learns martial arts and eventually becomes the latest in the line of a mystical warrior called the Iron Fist, the Living Weapon. His duty was to protect K’un-Lun from an evil mystical group called the Hand but is shocked after his return that the Hand are on his native world.

It takes some time for him to convince the world that he actually is Danny Rand. What doesn’t help is that when we first see him he’s barefoot, unkempt and disheveled. He spends much of his energy trying to reconnect with two childhood friends, the siblings Joy and Ward Meachum (Tom Pelphrey and Jessica Stroup), who run Danny’s company and are a couple of corporate douchebags, especially Ward. They see him as either a fraud or worse a genuine threat to their hold on the company that was founded by their fathers. The twist is that Meachum’s father, Harold (David Wenham), who supposedly died years ago, is alive and in hiding. An amoral and abusive type himself, the father takes an interest in Danny Rand’s re-emergence. This is because he sees Rand as an opportunity to take on his enemy the Hand (featured in Daredevil), who have a hold on him. With this in mind, Harold forces Ward to allow Danny into the company. Once in place as a majority shareholder, Danny begins righting the wrongs done by the company.

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As this corporate plotline unfolds, Danny meets a downtrodden karate instructor Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick), who operates a dojo, and the two connect. She becomes his partner as he tries to get behind the reason of the Hand’s purpose on Earth and how they are connected to his company.

Iron Fist may not be immediately engaging at first. The first couple of episodes are actually frustrating with drawn out flashbacks of the plane crash and Danny trying to convince people of his identity. While he is sympathetic, Rand comes off as being too naïve and trusting. This leads to a dull stretch where he is imprisoned in a psychiatric ward and the narrative injects a pointless notion that he may be insane. While this works so well in Legion, here the subplot is plodding. But in the end, after he exhibits his first manifestation of his superhuman martial arts the show picks up momentum.

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Speaking of martial arts, a major drawback to Iron Fist is that for a TV show about martial arts many of the fight scenes lack power and energy. They look too choreographed and listless. This is seen in the first few minutes of the first episode “Snow Gives Way” when Danny has a by-the-numbers fight with some guards as he tries to contact the Meachums. This is a dangerous flaw for a show of this type. We are supposed to be shown that he is a superhuman martial artist, but the show has a hard time showing this to viewers. There are some good fight sequences though, many of which involve Wing, who is one of the best characters on the show, but they pale when compared to Daredevil or even Arrow.

But take heart in knowing that whenever Danny’s hands start glowing, you will be treated to some climatic displays of raw power. One drawback to keeping this show in the gritty and grounded MCU shows from Netflix is that it prevents the more mystical aspects of Rand’s backstory from being shown. It might’ve lightened the show’s mood and better matched Danny’s persona.

Of all the heroes in these shows, he seems to be the most optimistic and exudes an inner calm. This presents a challenge in that it makes it difficult to showcase any of the inner turmoil and demons which plague the stars of Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. In reality, this different kind of personality is a welcome change of pace from all the brooding and conflicted heroes, though it makes him a bit one dimensional. Danny just wants to do good for others during his return to our world. He just has to go through these hurdles to achieve this goal.

Once the show gets going after the early episodes, it picks up the pace and becomes more action-oriented as we want to see what happens next to these characters. The villains are not the greatest but there are attempts to give them some layering, which keeps things interesting. In Joy’s case, groundwork is laid for making her more amendable to Danny’s cause. While we try to figure out what is Harold’s ultimate agenda and though Ward comes off as one dimensional at first, there is more to him than being a corporate tool.

When compared to Daredevil (season one) or Jessica Jones, Iron Fist does not reach their levels of quality. Yet, it has its merits and is a welcome addition to the MCU. Frankly, much of the criticism is unfortunate because Iron Fist is being faithful to the source material, in the comic books he is a white man who grew up practicing martial arts in an Asian-inspired dimension. Although on the surface it may seem like it, he does not embody the white savior cliché in the comics or this show despite what some critics may want to believe.  Others may simply be tiring of the MCU and are looking for a reason to take it down a notch. Whatever the case may be, try to keep an open mind and sample this show. Iron Fist takes a while to engage you, but once it does it’s worth binge watching.

José Soto

Kong Rules Skull Island

Kong: Skull Island is new feature film starring the famous giant gorilla, King Kong. It is set up to be part of a new shared cinematic universe that focuses on giant monsters and by itself Kong: Skull Island is quite an exciting thrill ride.

The film opens in the early 1970s as Bill Randa (John Goodman) launches an expedition to an uncharted island surrounded by perpetual storm systems. He is coy about the expedition’s purpose, claiming it’s a geological study, but we find out later his real reason for undertaking the voyage. Joining him is an all-star cast including Tom Hiddleston as James Conrad, a former soldier turned expert tracker, Brie Larson as Mason Weaver, a crusading photojournalist, and Samuel L. Jackson as Col. Preston Packard, the military head of the expedition. Once they and several others make it to the island they incur the wrath of Kong, a gigantic gorilla that strands them on the dangerous island. As the expedition survivors make their way to a pick up point on the island, they meet a marooned, World War II-era pilot, Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) and learn first hand of the true danger of Skull Island: gigantic beasts that are a bigger threat than Kong himself.

Kong: Skull Island is an exciting and brisk-moving ode to those great old monster movies from the bygone era where hapless people are stranded on an island and have to contend with giant monsters. It does what it sets out to do: show us lots of scenes of giant monsters attacking and eating people and there are many invigorating action pieces with Kong that are the film’s highlights. The standout scenes include Kong’s attack on the Vietnam War-era helicopters carrying the film’s stars, and anytime Kong shows why he’s the king of Skull Island. That is any scene where King Kong fights with giant monsters. The creatures are wonderfully unique creations and quite imposing like the two-limbed skull crawlers that are Kong’s main monstrous enemies.

His other chief antagonist is Col. Packard who quickly becomes obsessed with killing Kong after his people are wiped out by Kong. This Ahab-like obsession is the driving force for this character and the people around him while an opposing viewpoint develops from Conrad and some others who just want to get off the island.

Admittedly, Kong: Skull Island isn’t a terribly deep or thought-provoking film and the characters are written on the flimsy side, but the film delivers on what it is supposed to be a fun giant monster film. Even then, some characters do stand out and that is largely due to the star power of the actors playing these roles. The standouts include Reilly, who provides quirky comedy relief though he does have a sad backstory, Hiddleston turns out to be a hard-fisted action hero, while Larson, Goodman and Jackson do their best with their limited roles. The only other gripe about Kong: Skull Island is that it doesn’t feature any dinosaurs. Aside from a triceratops skull, there isn’t a t-rex or other prehistoric monster to be seen. But in the end, the creatures conjured up by the effects them makes up for this. By the way, the creature effects were well done as were the production values and the film’s groovy early ’70s soundtrack is a plus. Any giant monster film that features Creedence get bonus points!

Of course, the real star of this film is King Kong himself. The film wisely let the big ape hog the spotlight and there are plenty of scenes featuring him to keep the film moving along briskly. Even the moments when Kong isn’t fighting humans or other monsters are awesome and there is a well thought out sense of scale to his enormous size.

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Kong: Skull Island is an entertaining giant monster film that might’ve been a better fit for a summer viewing. Some critics are being unfair to this film with their complaints. But don’t let that stop anyone from going out, turning off their brain and worries, and enjoying themselves with this giant monster romp. Bottom line, this film delivers many great Kong action scenes of him stomping and smashing monsters and puny humans, and that is enough to keep any giant monster film fan entertained. And stick around for the post-credits scene that promises an eagerly anticipated meeting of Kong with the other great giant monster.

Waldermann Rivera

Colony Is A Compelling Sci-Fi Mystery In Its Second Season

 

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Out of the many sci-fi TV shows currently airing, the most surprising one happens to be Colony, now in its second season. The reason is that it continues to be intriguing and compelling to watch.

For anyone unfamiliar with Colony, the show is about life in Los Angeles about one year after mysterious aliens have taken over the world. Or that’s what we think. It isn’t flat out stated that aliens are our conquerors, but that is the general assumption. So little has been revealed about the conquerors and they’ve only been shown two times so far, and all we’ve been shown is something that is heavily armored and probably unable to breathe our air. This may be frustrating to some but anyone enjoying slow burns and reveals will be thrilled. For instance, we, and even Colony’s characters are unsure about the aliens and their objective. Why have they come? They’ve shown that they outclass humanity very easily and could have just exterminated the entire species. Instead, they were content to just take out our power grid and separate our cities with these giant walls. More importantly, they remain unseen and let human proxies run things for them with their ultimate goal unclear. The only clue we have been shown is that human prisoners on Earth and its moon are put to hard labor.

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While viewers have the overall mystery of the aliens, the show concentrates on the cost of alien occupation to humanity, in particular, the Bowman family. Led by Will (Josh Holloway) and his wife Katie (Sarah Wayne Calles), the family lives a desperate and paranoid life in a cut-off L.A. that is boiling with tension. The end of the last season had the human authorities, which Bowman is a part of, hunting down human rebels that managed to capture one of the aliens. What the rebels, (oh, by the way, Katie worked with them) didn’t realize is that acts of rebellion lead to cities being wiped out. So, L.A.’s existence is a precarious thing as shown in one cold opener this season where the human ruling council in Europe were trying to decide if the city should have been punished for the acts of a few rebels. Adding to this mess, is that the aliens and human authorities have increased their surveillance capabilities a thousandfold. Now as shown in the second season, every citizen in Los Angeles is actively and discreetly monitored. This has driven the human resistance deep underground and made the stakes much more dire. Frankly, we’re asking how can you fight back with the constant surveillance?

santa-monica-colonyMaking things difficult for the Bowmans are the issues with their three children. A driving force last season was the family’s search for their missing son Charlie (Jacob Buster), who was trapped in Santa Monica when the walls came down during the aliens’ arrival. Will managed to make his way into the city in between seasons and found him, but Charlie’s more of a feral child because Santa Monica is a literal hell hole where gangs and warlords rule. So, now this preteen is emotionally damaged and obviously has issues. Then their young daughter Gracie (Isabella Crovetti) is being re-educated by a creepy tutor (Erin Way) to worship the aliens. Finally, their oldest son Bram (Alex Neustaedter) was caught trying to cross the wall and is now sentenced to hard labor. Now we’re seeing the occupation from his point of view at a brutal prison camp.

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As all this is going on, we’re wondering how can humanity fight back and what will be the cost? It’s riveting watching the Bowmans trying not to attract attention and just survive. Is this even possible in the long run? Colony isn’t like V or other humans vs. aliens TV shows were it seemed that humanity had some kind of fighting chance. This show can seem bleak and will and katie bowmanhas shown that people are ready to give up. A case in point was shown in one episode that showcased Will’s co-worker, Jennifer (Kathleen Rose Perkins), who struggled internally with the idea of turning in Will and Katie for their activities. Unable to betray the family, and wracked with loneliness since her family is now gone, it was implied that she committed suicide. Other episodes show how the rebels are near the breaking point. As for the Bowmans, they just want to be left alone, but more and more they are realizing that is impossible and recent episodes have shown their coming to this conclusion.

Colony succeeds because it is able to deftly juggle being a spy drama, a sci-fi mystery and an entertaining look at family dynamics during a war and under occupation. A big hurdle was the sophomore curse and Colony has dealt with it nicely and in its own way has become must-see viewing in its second season.

Lewis T. Grove

 

Rogue One Is An Exciting Addition To The Star Wars Saga

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the newest film for the epic space saga from Lucasfilm and is a great action movie as well.  It tells the story of how the Rebel Alliance was able to procure the plans for the Empire’s super weapon the Death Star. It involves a young woman named Jyn Erso (played by Felicity Jones) who is recruited by the rebels to find her long lost father, who is an imperial scientist and in charge of making the weapon. She is accompanied by Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a rebel spy and his cranky, but useful, droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk). Their journey across several new worlds tells an exciting tale that has a feeling of dread as the Death Star is shown reigning death upon worlds in anticipation of its later appearance in the original Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.
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Godzilla director Gareth Edwards does a very good job portraying the action, both on the ground and in space, with a gritty feeling that is somewhat different from previous films in the series. The intense firefights between rebel soldiers and storm troopers really give the impression of a huge struggle between bitter foes in a long war for survival. The action in space is just as impressive with camera views from the top of X-Wing fighters that give the feeling of actually being up there in the middle of all that chaos.
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Another very interesting aspect is the use of characters from the original film that make an appearance. First and foremost is Grand Moff Tarkin played by Peter Cushing. Yes, Peter Cushing, who died in 1994. He was digitally recreated for this film and has many scenes in the movie. It’s not just a brief cameo and his presence is something to behold. Other classic characters who appear include a brief appearance by Princess Leia and, of course, the iconic villain Darth Vader. His return is also brief, but very powerful, especially towards the end when he is seen in action and he is brutal and terrifying. It was also nice to see Jimmy Smits again as Bail Organa and does link the prequel era to the original set of films.
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One issue with the movie is that since there were many new and different characters to introduce, some of their characterizations were thin. As a result, when our heroes began to make their inevitable sacrifices for freedom, there wasn’t as much of a feeling for them as there would be if we got to know them a little bit better. This was somewhat inevitable though, since the story does have to revolve around Jyn and both her search for her father, as well as redemption for him. Nevertheless, audiences are still able to appreciate what the rebels lost and see how costly the battle to gain the Death Star plans was for the Alliance. We also see a new Imperial villain, Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) who is the head of weapons research for the Death Star. His rivalry with Tarkin over control of the battle station and brutal tactics against rebel worlds is effective at showing the sinister side of the Empire, as well as the its repressive nature for both its subjects and those serving in its ranks.
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The climatic battle at the end of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is set on the planet Scarif. It is a real highlight and the battle is destructive and almost apocalyptic end goes to show what is really at stake for the galaxy. The final scenes tie directly into the beginning of Episode IV and it makes this film the perfect companion piece to the 1977 classic. Overall, I enjoyed this new foray into the Star Wars universe and see it as a ground level view of the whole conflict between the Rebel Alliance and Galactic Empire. I would really like to see another Star Wars film by Gareth Edwards, perhaps set between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back and hope that other directors are inspired by his vision of this universe created by George Lucas.

 C.S. Link

Take A Timeless Journey With The Latest Time Travel TV Show

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It seems like time travel TV shows are the rage lately. The latest one, Timeless, airs on NBC and it actually stands out from the pack. When looking at its premise, Timeless seems fairly formulaic in its premise: a trio travel through time to protect history from a villain out to change it. It’s what goes on each week on Legends of Tomorrow and many Doctor Who episodes. Yet, somehow Timeless manages to be refreshingly engaging, inventive and fun to watch.

Lincoln killed by FlynnThe credit for this largely goes to the scripts. The screenwriters took a tired premise and just ran with it. They actually address some of the challenges of time traveling and the preparation needed for it. For instance, before heading out on a mission the time traveling trio have to go to be properly attired and carry the right kind of currency. Then surprisingly, the show actually allows history to be changed and left altered at the episode’s end! In one episode, John Wilkes Booth never assassinated President Lincoln, instead that deed was done by the show’s antagonist Garcia Flynn (Gorin Visnjic) and it’s part of history now. In another episode the Hindenburg landed safely in New Jersey only to be destroyed later on.

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Then there is the fact that two of the time travelers, Rufus Carlin (Malcolm Barrett) and Lucy Preston (Abigail Spencer), are disadvantaged in their temporal journeys by who they are. Rufus is African-American and winds up in less enlightened periods where he is liable to be treated as property, while Lucy, being a woman, is also looked down upon in the past despite her depth of knowledge. These characters are also imperfect with their own faults. While being a brilliant scientist and engineer, Rufus doesn’t have practical know-how in surviving, first aid and has to rely on the third member of the group, Wyatt Logan (Matt Lanter) a Delta Force soldier. The three don’t quite get along with each other let alone have a shared trust. And that is for good reason. Each of them have their own agenda.

Wyatt more than anything wants to find a way to use time travel to save his wife but is prevented from doing this. Adding to his bitterness is that Lucy’s sister was erased from existence after they came back from a time mission and now Lucy openly is operating to undo this damage. As for Rufus, he doesn’t find any joy in time traveling and would rather be behind a keyboard. But he is forced into the missions to spy on the other two by a mysterious and secretive group with their own agenda, which includes stopping Flynn.

This running conspiracy is a major flaw in Timeless. As imaginative and exciting as Timeless is, team timelessthe conspiracy arc is often trite and gets in the way. But lately it is adding to the show’s mythology and character motives. But the best development about this conspiracy is that it is making us viewers question whether or not Garcia Flynn is truly evil. He is on a quest to change American history in order to erase the existence of the group’s unseen, but nefarious leader, Rittenhouse. Flynn is doing this to avenge the death of his family at Rittenhouse’s hands. Adding to this unease is that Flynn carries a journal written in the future by Lucy and hints that she will ally with him down the road. So we can all hope that this Rittenhouse conspiracy will lead to something worthwhile.

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Now adding to the enjoyment of Timeless is that the show isn’t afraid to do some real time traveling. In each episode the travelers go to distinctly different eras. From 1940s Germany to 1750s North America, the episodes reveal interesting tidbits about those time periods, and thankfully the production values are up to par when it comes to presenting these time periods. But most of all, Timeless is always entertaining and often leaves you hanging during the commercial breaks. It has room to grow, but hopefully as its title hints, Timeless will have time to fully live up to its potential.

José Soto