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

Top 10 Star Wars: The Clone Wars Episodes & Arcs

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Star Wars: The Clone Wars was an epic TV series that vastly expanded the Star Wars canon and was a boon for Star Wars fans after the conclusion of the prequel trilogy in 2005. The animated show originally aired on the Cartoon Network from 2008 through 2013 and since then has been available to stream on Netflix. However, Netflix will stop streaming it very soon (March 7, 2017) and the only way to see this terrific series is through downloads or DVDs/Blu-rays. It has lots of devoted followers because it had so many different adventures and stories that spanned the galaxy and showed the reach of the huge conflict that engulfed the galaxy. Star Wars: The Clone Wars also took its heroes to so many different places, not just physically, but in terms of their lives and development as characters. Here are 10 of the best story arcs and episodes of the show.
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10. “Hostage Crisis” Season 1, Episode 22: The first season finale of Star Wars: The Clone Wars introduced the notorious bounty hunter Cad Bane and it was a memorable debut. He was someone who specialized in hunting Jedi, thus, he has armor at the sides of his neck to prevent Force chokes. The cruel executions of hostages in his invasion of the Senate building was both shocking for an animated series and also let the audience know that he was no pushover. His later appearances in the show further cemented his place in Star Wars: The Clone Wars as a great adversary for its heroes.
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9. “Obi-Wan Undercover” arc Season 4, Episodes 15-18 (“Deception”, “Friends and Enemies”, “The Box”, and “Crisis on Naboo”): A very interesting storyline that has Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi going undercover as a prisoner in a Republic detention facility, in order to gain information about a plot to kidnap Chancellor Palpatine. This arc has him attempting to survive life on the inside, then going on the run with bounty hunter Cad Bane with a vengeful, fellow Jedi Anakin Skywalker in pursuit, who believes Obi-Wan was killed by the person Obi-Wan is impersonating! This story is quite different from the usual Star Wars plot and shows the strength of the show in that it really expanded the idea of what Star Wars could be.
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8. “Padawans Hunted” arc Season 3, Episodes 21-22 (“Padawon Lost”, and “Wookiee Hunt”): Another familiar character in a new setting is fan favorite Chewbacca, who appears on the show when Jedi Padawan Ahsoka Tano is captured by Trandoshans and sent to a world to be hunted. She allies with other Jedi padawans to escape and meets Chewie, who was also captured by the Trandoshians. Together, they are able to turn the tables on their captives and escape. Having Chewbacca on the show is a nice link to the original trilogy and demonstrates Chewie’s heroism and resourcefulness, as well as a nice back story to an iconic Star Wars character.
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7. “Darth Maul Returns” Season 4, Episodes 21-22 (“Brothers” and “Revenge”) and Season 5, Episode 1 (“Revival”): Darth Maul’s return to Star Wars was a nice surprise for fans of the great Sith villain. The introduction of his brother Savage Opress was also an interesting revelation. Their back story as natives of the world of Dathomir and Opress finding his long lost brother in a state of insanity on a distant Outer Rim junk world with mechanical legs are definite highlights of the show. Maul (obsessed with getting revenge) and his confrontation with Obi-Wan Kenobi was thrilling and a treat for fans of the much maligned Phantom Menace.
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6. “Mortis” Season 3, Episodes 15-17 (“Overlords”, “Altar of Mortis”, and “Ghosts of Mortis”): Anakin Skywalker actually sees his future as Darth Vader in this set of episodes. He, along with Obi-Wan Kenobi and Ahsoka Tano are stranded on the mysterious world of Mortis that has only three beings on it, Father, Daughter and Son. They seem to embody the Force itself and the Son sees Anakin as the Chosen One and gives him a vision of his future as a Sith Lord. This causes Anakin intense grief and pushes him to ally with the Son against the other two. The Father eventually erases Anakin’s memory of his future, thus sparing him further pain, but at the cost of letting Anakin continue on his eventual path to evil. Again, this shows how Star Wars: The Clone Wars puts familiar characters in fascinating situations that were previously unknown to audiences.
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5. “Clone Conspiracy” season 6 episodes 1-4 (“The Unknown”, “Conspiracy”, “Fugitive”, and “Orders”): This group of episodes starts the final season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars on a very ominous note. Clone troopers Tup and Fives are embroiled in a conspiracy which takes them from the clone home world of Kamino to the heart of the Republic on Coruscant, as they try to uncover the reason behind Tup’s sudden violent attack on a Jedi Master. This results in them discovering the secret of Order 66 and Chancellor Palpatine’s plot to destroy the Jedi. Unfortunately, they are thwarted at every step as they try to unmask all of this treachery as Palpatine’s all-pervasive power in the Republic is shown, which will have very tragic consequences for the galaxy.
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4. “Landing At Point Rain” Season 2, Episode 5: This episode most embodies the name of the show. A clone war. This action-packed story shows the Jedi and their clone troopers assaulting Geonosis and a massive droid factory. The special effects are great and demonstrate the high quality of the work done for this series. The fighting is both intense and brutal, and demonstrates the horrific cost of Darth Sidious’ plans to embroil the galaxy in this seemingly never-ending conflict.
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3. “The Malevolence Trilogy” Season 1, Episodes 2-4 (“Rising Malevolence”, “Shadow of Malevolence”, and “Destroy Malevolence”): This story arc kicks off the show with a bang and has Jedi Knights Anakin Skywalker, his apprentice Ahsoka Tano and Master Plo Koon attempting to destroy a new Separatist warship called Malevolence. These episodes feature great space battles and visual effects and really showcase the huge struggle between the Galactic Republic and Separatist Alliance. They also introduce the iconic Y-Wing bombers to Star Wars canon and demonstrate their usefulness to the Republic and of course, later on to the Rebellion.
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2. “Ahsoka’s Trial” Season 5, Episodes 17-20 (“Sabotage”, “The Jedi Who Knew Too Much”, “To Catch A Jedi”, and “The Wrong Jedi”): Ahsoka Tano’s last appearance in Star Wars: The Clone Wars was both memorable and tragic. She is framed for a bombing at the Jedi Temple and forced to go on the run, chased not only by Republic forces, but also by her mentor Anakin Skywalker. The betrayal she feels at being abandoned by the Jedi Council and her subsequent decision to leave after she is exonerated is one of the most striking events in the whole series. Ahsoka’s last scene shows her sadly walking off into the sunset as her devastated mentor can only watch. This no doubt had a huge influence on Anakin and his feelings toward the Jedi as a whole.
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1. “Yoda’s Journey” Season 6 episodes 11-13 (“Voices”, “Destiny”, and “Sacrifice”): The last arc of Star Wars: The Clone Wars and the best one. Master Yoda hears the voice of Master Qui-Gon Jinn and journeys to the Sith home world to find the origin of the Force, all the while his Jedi Council members fear for his sanity. This last series of episodes goes right to the heart of Star Wars mythology and shows how Master Yoda was able to persevere in the dark times of the Empire; by using the lessons he learned from his departed friend and from the Force itself. His last words in the final episode of learning lessons that will help not only during the Clone War, but for all time, demonstrate the lasting power of his wisdom.
C.S. Link

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

 

The MCU Disconnect

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Everyone is excited over the just-released behind-the-scenes video of Avengers: Infinity War, and what it promised–namely the teaming up of diverse characters like Iron Man, Star-Lord and Spider-Man. That is all well and good, but the teaser didn’t erase the growing feeling that the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and the TV shows set in the MCU are unrelated to each other.

Actually, that isn’t quite accurate, the TV shows have proven to be set in the MCU with its references to the films and Easter eggs, but it’s a one-way connection. That is because the MCU films have not made any references to the TV shows aside from Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which dealt with S.H.I.E.L.D. at the same time that the TV show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was running. Ever since that film the MCU disconnect has widened to the point that an argument can be made that the two media are set in different universes.

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How is this so? Starting in the second season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. that program has focused on the coming of the Inhumans, and are now a constant presence in the show as the superhumans have taken the place of mutants. We all know that was done because of rights issues with 20th Century Fox who make the X-Men films. Originally, the intent of the Inhumans’ introduction (and let’s be clear that the Inhumans featured in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. weren’t the well-known heroes like Black Bolt and Medusa, but minor ones) was to set up a big-screen Inhumans film.That was the plan.

It isn’t a secret that tensions had been raw between the mastermind behind the MCU, Kevin Feige, and the head of Marvel Entertainment, Ike Perlmutter, who was in charge of Marvel’s media. Feige ran the films while Perlmutter did the TV shows and the comic books. Perlmutter was incensed about the Fox X-Men rights and wanted to de-emphasize the mutants throughout Marvel and as a substitute for the mutants it was decided to focus on Inhumans and how they are persecuted by our society. Apparently, Perlmutter was responsible for pushing an Inhumans film and wanted to use the MCU TV shows and comic books to build interest, hence why Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. shifted from a spy actioner in its first season into a soapbox about the plight of Inhumans in later seasons.

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Feige and Perlmutter were butting heads over many issues and it became so bad that supposedly Feige was ready to jump ship until Disney intervened. Feige was allowed to become autonomous from Perlmutter and there is probably were the disconnect went into full swing. The first noticeable sign of this was in Avengers: Age of Ultron, which didn’t mention anything about what was going on with S.H.I.E.L.D. and the TV show. This raised many questions among fans in the film’s climax when a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier appeared with many S.H.I.E.L.D. personnel and it would’ve been a perfect place to include cameos from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. characters but this didn’t happen. There were many vague explanations about why this didn’t happen but none of them were satisfactory.

Around this time (2015) Netflix premiered its entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Both shows made references to the larger MCU but to date the films haven’t acknowledged the superheroes that appeared in the Netflix shows. In fact, there isn’t any noticeable connection between the Netflix shows and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which airs on ABC. There has been a couple of cryptic Easter eggs in the ABC show where a type of bullet created in Luke Cage was used in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. but was never named; there was a news blotter in one episode mentioning a gang war going on in Hell’s Kitchen, a focal location in the Netflix shows.

Now with so many characters slated to appear in Avengers: Infinity War, the fact that the bigwigs at Marvel Studios and the TV shows will not say if the film will include the TV characters is beyond frustrating. Feeble explanations about not over-crowding the film or scheduling conflicts just won’t satisfy fans.  True, it’s not the end of the world if Avengers: Infinity War doesn’t feature Daredevil but it defenderswould be a wasted opportunity. In the comic books, The Infinity Gauntlet event (the basis for this film) was a major crossover event that was packed with many Marvel characters. We already had to make peace with the notion that this film won’t include the X-Men (thanks Fox) or the Fantastic Four (blame the deal with Fox again), but Kevin Feige and company could at least throw in some kind of cameo of the TV characters. Wouldn’t it be cool if during one scene set in Hell’s Kitchen, Captain America, Iron Man and the other Avengers are besieged by Thanos’ forces and are saved at the last second by timely assists from Daredevil, Luke Cage and the other Defenders? They wouldn’t have to stay around long, just make their appearance and move on. Would it be too much to just drop the word Inhuman during some dialogue or show some news headline featuring the Punisher or Ghost Rider?

We can complain all we want about the DCEU, but at least from the beginning Warner Bros./DC Studios made it clear that the DCEU films and the Arrowverse TV shows were in two separate universes and so no one expected to see Stephen Amell popping up as Green Arrow in a DCEU film. With Marvel they dangle this illusion about a connected universe but in reality it does not exist. If that is the case, the TV shows should be freed to go off in their own direction and drop the references to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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True, production has begun on Avengers: Infinity War but it’s not too late to work in some kind of bone to throw to the fans. Some kind of gesture would appease the legion of geeks out there who dream of seeing a true interconnected film and TV universe.

Lewis T. Grove