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.

danny rand at kun lun

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.

Rand wing and night nurse

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.

iron fist attack

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

Luke Cage Is a Solid, But Uneven Entry in the MCU

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The newest Marvel superhero TV show to premiere on Netflix, Luke Cage, is a notable departure for the standard superhero TV fare. The question is does Luke Cage deliver the goods? Sort of, to be honest.

In trying to be different, the show falters in some important areas. Namely, in keeping up the momentum, the villains aren’t as compelling or as interesting as the other foes featured in Daredevil and Jessica Jones, and rarely does it feel as if Luke Cage (Michael Colter) is ever in real danger.

That is a problem with a superhero like Cage who is nearly invulnerable. Bullets bounce off him, his skin is impenetrable and he can shrug off attempted beatdowns from local thugs. Sure, it’s cool to watch Cage being all badass in his hoodie and walking in slow-mo as punks try mowing him down, but after awhile these scenes lack any sense of peril or urgency. luke-cage-and-popLater in the show’s run, the criminals start to up the ante with him and finally put him in danger, but it takes too long to get there. The show tries to get around this by putting people that he cares about in danger and that has mixed results. Sometimes we care about what happens to them, like with Pop (Henry Faison), a local barber who offers sage advice. Other times, we don’t.

Luke Cage is smothered with many colorful characters who are there to add mood and atmosphere, but the show goes overboard in trying to establish a so-called gritty tone that seems inauthentic at times despite the location shots and the constant use of 70s style background funk music. It tries too hard to set up a street-level atmosphere with callbacks to blaxpoitation films instead of providing a reason to keep watching the show. The other Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) shows on Netflix can be binge-watched without a thought, with Luke Cage, there isn’t that compulsion to find out what happens next. It all depends on how invested you are in the characters and Luke Cage should have been front and center the main focus and at times he isn’t so that is a concern.

cottonmouthA lot of screentime is spent on the show’s main adversary Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes (Mahershala Ali), a Harlem crime boss that crosses path with Luke Cage. The problem with Cottonmouth is that he just doesn’t come across as particularly menacing. He is weak and inept at times, always being concerned with another crime lord, his superior Willis “Diamondback” Stryker (Erik LaRay Harvey). Cottonmouth lacks the amoral sociopathic verve of Jessica Jones’ Kilgrave or the volcanic brutality of Daredevil’s Wilson Fisk. Then there is Shades (Theo Rossi), an annoying lackey for Diamondback that is always around Cottonmouth to remind him of what he has to do. Shades tries to come off as intimidating, but looks like a poser with these stupid sunglasses.

The show’s other characters were more interesting like Detective Misty Knight (Simone Missick), who nearly steals the thunder from Cage and is deserving of her own TV show. Hopefully we’ll see more of her in next year’s Iron Fist. Rosario Dawson reprises her role as the cage-and-night-nursenurse Claire Temple and is a welcome presence as she reminds us that this show is part of the MCU. Speaking of the MCU, to this show’s credit, it does not hit viewers over the head that it is part of the MCU even though there are tons of Easter eggs. Interestingly, the events from The Avengers still have an impact even though it is more subtle. The references do not feel intrusive nor give the impression that someone has to go and watch all the MCU films and TV shows.

As for Cage himself, Colter does a terrific job playing the title hero. He exudes a quiet nobility and steel fortitude and never descends into a cliché. His back story is actually different and fresh. Once a lawman named Carl Lucas, he was framed and sent to prison where he got his powers from a lab experiment. After escaping prison, he adopted the Luke Cage identity and tries to live a low-key life. But his powers call out a responsibility and duty to his community that he cannot ignore. The moments when he becomes a local legend were pleasing highlights.

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By no means does this criticism mean that Luke Cage is a bad show; it’s a good, solid effort and isn’t unwatchable like Agent Carter or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. It’s just with all the talent behind and in front of the screen, it could have and should have been much better. Still, there is the hope that the next season, which is coming, no doubt, will work out the kinks and give us a better show.

T. Rod Jones

Daredevil Stays Ahead Of The Curve With Its Sophomore Season

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The Netflix/Marvel Studios streaming TV show Daredevil blew away critics and fans alike last year when it premiered. Bolstered by a sensitive yet sturdy performance by Charlie Cox as blind New York lawyer Matt Murdock, who is the vigilante Daredevil, the series was unparalleled. Daredevil rose above its comic book roots and became one of the, if not the, best superhero TV shows ever made.

daredevil at churchNow Daredevil returns for a second season that just became available for streaming and it deftly avoids the sophomore curse. Matt Murdock is still moonlighting as the superhero Daredevil, who uses his enhanced senses (except sight) to fight crime, and dealing with the damning responsibility to fight for justice. Except now, new headaches have entered his locale of Hell’s Kitchen in the forms of the deadly vigilante Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) and Matt’s former-lover-turned-assassin Elektra Natchios (Elodie Yung).

Both antagonists come in the wake of the void left behind when the crime lord, Wilson Fisk, was defeated by Daredevil last season. Many criminal elements are trying to fill that void but a deadly one-man army is taking them out. As these stories go, this man, Castle, quickly catches the attention of Daredevil and unlike past thugs Matt is used to dealing with, Castle is more than a match.

punisher captures DD

Then Matt’s world is turned even more topsy-turvy when Elektra re-enters his life, just as he and his assistant Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) start to grow closer to each other. Like a moth to a flame, Matt is drawn to his former lover who is an equally deadly killer in her own right.

daredevil at meat house

This season of Daredevil is simply terrific. It still delivers the hard-boiled, violently graphic scenes while further acknowledging its comic book roots. From the very first episode, a comic-book drawn sweeping vista of New York City that is laced with the sounds of summer violence, to the gut-wrenching fights that are too vicious to watch at times, Daredevil continues to demonstrate why it is still the best superhero TV show.

three amigosAside from the stunt work and the noirish cinematography, what anchors Daredevil are the above-par performances. Charlie Cox still delivers a nuanced and ground portrayal of a man trying to quell his savage side, while on the opposite end Jon Bernthal nearly steals the show with his wounded, savage performance as Castle. This version of the Punisher is arguably the best one yet as Castle terrifies everyone with his single-minded mission to punish the guilty while emoting some pathos as his story is unveiled. Even the supporting cast like Elden Henson as the always amiable Fogyy Nelson has many memorable scenes that truly buttress the main actors.

Along with Jessica Jones and given how successful Marvel Studios has been with this endeavor, perhaps the studio should just concentrate on these Netflix productions rather than the pedestrian efforts on ABC. The second season of Daredevil demonstrates this idea wholeheartedly.

Lewis T. Grove

 

Best Of 2015

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Best Sci-Fi TV Show

By the end of its third (and final) season, Defiance had become completely engrossing and well developed thanks to memorable acting and character arcs. It’s too bad that Syfy cancelled the series about a town in the future populated by struggling humans and aliens trying to get along with each other.

Best Horror TV Show

The Walking Dead continues to chomp up the horror competition on TV. It’s been a long road for Rick Grimes and his battered and worn troupe as they battle undead zombies and savage humans, but the show still delivers the chills and excitement.

Best Fantasy Show

4. game of thronesGame of Thrones rightfully won the best drama Emmy, making it one of the few genre shows to accomplish this honor. What helped make the show so captivating is that it outpaced the novels from which it’s based on with new character and plot developments, providing new territory for fans.

Best Cancelled TV Show

Defiance came into its own when it was regrettably cancelled. At least we got three full seasons and the final episode provided for the most part a sense of closure…except will Nolan ever come back from space?

Best Animated Show

Star Wars:Rebels is a fun and engaging TV show that captures the mood of the original Star Wars films as it fills in the gap between the original and prequel films.

Best TV Character

This is a hard one since 2015 featured 6. Jessica jonesmany terrific and memorable characters. With that said the best character has to be Jessica Jones from the TV show named after her. Hard boiled, weary and sporting a tough exterior to mask her pain, Jessica Jones was your typical private detective with superpowers struggling to get by with her life.

Most Missed TV Character

rip tyreeseThe Walking Dead is noted for the constant death of regular characters. Each time this happens, the other characters lose more and more of themselves every time. The slow death of semi-gentle giant Tyreese after he was bitten by a walker wasn’t an exception and came to viewers as a sad surprise.

Best TV Superhero

Thanks to an inspired performance by Grant Gustin as Barry Allen, his alter ego of the Flash has quickly become one of the best superheroes featured on a TV show. Fast, quirky and full of wonder and angst, this version of the Flash combines the traits of many different superheroes and became his own unique character.

flash promo

 

Best TV Villain

The most memorable and unsettling aspect of the Netflix show Jessica Jones was the chilling performance by former Doctor Who actor David Tennant as Kilgrave, the sociopath who can control people with his voice alone. Spoiled, petulant and with a savage streak, Kilgrave was one of the best supervillains ever shown on TV.

kilgrave

Best Fight Scene

The highlight of the second episode of Daredevil (“Cut Man”) and in fact the entire first season was this long, continuous fight scene that took place in a hallway between Daredevil and some Russian thugs. It was brutal and ugly but became a standard bearer for an unforgettable fight scene.

Best Guest Appearance

HauntedEven though Constantine was cancelled earlier this year, that didn’t mean that the title character was forgotten. To fans’ delight, he turned up later this year on Arrow and proved that a cancellation couldn’t keep a good sorcerer down.

Best Sci-Fi Film

There were some great competitors for this category like Mad Max: Fury Road and Ex Machina but Jurassic World just edged them out with its roaring dino action, some food for thought and that unforgettable moment with Owen riding his motorcycle flanked by his raptors sealed the deal.

owen rides with raptors

Best Horror Film

Crimson Peak was a nice throwback to old-fashioned Victorian-era ghost stories that raised viewers hairs while adorned with spooky modern touches.

Best Fantasy/Animated Film

6. inside outOne of Pixar’s two offerings in 2015, Inside Out, quickly won over the hearts of viewers over the summer as they witnessed the inner psyche of a young preteen girl. It was so easy to identify with and delight in the way her inner feelings were represented by such amusing archetypes.

Best Action Film

Director George Miller showed today’s generation of action junkies how to do a real action film without CGI. Mad Max: Fury Road was jammed with non-stop excitement and gasp-inducing action scenes that rarely let up.

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Best Superhero Film

Despite its many behind-the-scenes obstacles, Ant-Man defied low expectations, continued Marvel Studios winning streak and proved to be a more fun film than the other Marvel Studios offering, Avengers: Age of Ultron.

3. Antman

Best Superhero on Film

Scott Lang, aka Ant-Man, turned out to be the most memorable and fun superhero to star in a superhero film in 2015. He has many downtrodden tropes of a hard-luck superhero like Spider-Man, but witty dialogue and solid acting by Paul Rudd who added just the right amount of humor made Ant-Man a character to watch out for in future films.

Best Film Character

Out of all the characters, old and new, from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Rey was the most intriguing with a mysterious back story that has yet to be fully revealed. Thanks to Daisy Ridley’s performance and the way she was written, this future Jedi left viewers with a confident impression that she will carry the torch for the Star Wars saga.

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Best Line in a Film

“What a lively day!” Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Film Villain

Indominus Rex was literally the biggest and most terrifying villain/movie monster to come along in some time. His savage rampage across in Jurassic World was one of the reasons why the film became the summer blockbuster of 2015.

I Rex

Best Special Effects

There was so much to choose from this year from the dizzying size proportions of Ant-Man to the practical effects showcased in Mad Max: Fury Road to the rampaging dinosaurs in Jurassic World. But one film stood out above them all and that one was the seventh film of a long-running franchise, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Best Trailer for an Upcoming Film

There were some cool trailers like the one for Independence Day: Resurgence and some Godawful ones like Star Trek Beyond, but the trailer that stuck was one that was leaked out of Comic-Con and forced into general release to the delight of millions as they met the new Joker played by Jared Leto. That trailer was for Suicide Squad.

Biggest Disappointment

Sure there were many truly dreadful films this year like Fant4stic, but Avengers: Age of Ultron has to take the title for biggest disappointment. It’s not a bad film at all, it’s got a lot going for it, but it lacked the energy and fun of the original Avengers film and failed to live up to the buildup.

Best App

Marvel: Future Fight is a true successor and competitor to Marvel: Avengers Alliance with its wide roster of heroes, inventive game play and thrilling graphics.

Best Video Game

Thanks to a sprawling, post-apocalyptic virtual landscape, involving storyline about a parent looking for a lost child and addictive gameplay Fallout 4 gets the honor for the best video game of 2015.

fallout 4

Best Merchandise

Anything with BB-8 🙂

bb8 toy

Best Hallmark Ornament

With Leonard Nimoy passing away bye spock ornamentthis year, this ornament poignantly symbolized the friendship between Kirk and Spock as it recreated their final scene in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

Biggest News Item

2015 started off with the exciting announcement that Spider-Man would now be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the news event that sadly supplanted that later on was the unfortunate passing of Star Trek legend Leonard Nimoy. His Spock is a genuine cultural icon and Mr. Nimoy is still missed by us.

 

Daredevil Is Marvel’s Best TV Show

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Brutal, gritty, engaging, authentic. Those are thoughts that come to mind when watching the new streaming TV show Daredevil on Netflix.

Daredevil is easily the best Marvel TV show ever done and puts Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter to shame with the ease at which it draws in viewers and in terms of quality. It’s even better than the DC TV shows The Flash and Arrow and that is a very high bar to pass.

matt and karenSet in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Daredevil is undeniably more urban and grounded with its rare, vague references to the MCU and focuses correctly on the intimate lives of petty criminals and average folks in New York’s Hell Kitchen neighborhood. That locale is decidedly different than the actual neighborhood (now called Clinton) and that’s due to collateral damage from the climactic battle at the end of The Avengers. The result is a return to the seedy, hard-boiled streets the neighborhood last saw in the recent past and the perfect framework for Daredevil.

Based on the Marvel Comics superhero comic book created by Stan Lee and Everett, This version is heavily influenced by the stories done by comic book legend Frank Miller. It also uses many elements from Miller and John Romita, Jr.’s comic book mini-series Daredevil: The Man Without Fear, which depicts the origin of the blind superhero Daredevil. This TV show introduces Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), a blind defense lawyer who operates secretly as a vigilante clad in black and uses his superhuman senses to aid him in fighting crime. As he comes to prominence both in his professional field and as a superhero, his work attracts the attention of Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio), a major crime lord. And, of course, before long they’re butting heads with each other.

One thing to praise about this show has to be the performance of Charlie Cox. He just hits the ground running matt and claireas the sympathetic and haunted hero driven with a supernatural sense for justice. More importantly, Cox doesn’t go overboard with his portrayal and hits the right balance of lawyer by day, vigilante by night. Even though he is a superhero with enhanced senses (minus sight), and an indomitable fighting spirit, Daredevil is vulnerable and human. He takes severe beatings and even when he wins the aftermath shows on him through nasty cuts and bruises. This vulnerability makes him more endearing to us and we’re more concerned for the outcomes of battles.

These fight scenes are just brutal and stunningly filmed without the cheap use of shaky cams. There was one sequence in the second episode “Cut Man” that lasted for several minutes and the stunt work and cinematography done by the production was perfect. It exemplified the graphic and cringe-inducing nature of the fights in Daredevil’s world, while coming off as authentic. There wasn’t any use of special effects or wire work, just good old fashioned stunt work that was wonderfully choreographed. Each punch or kick looked like they hurt the fighter and the victim, and every punch that Daredevil landed took a lot from him but his unrelenting nature kept us cheering for him and at times I wondered if he would falter.

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Complementing this realistic take on fighting is the way the show depicts his use of super senses. There aren’t any overdone CG sequences like in the Daredevil film. Instead, rather subtle and simple camera and audio tricks are skillfully used to convey Murdock overhearing conversations from afar and so on.

Speaking of camera work, as mentioned above, the cinematography throughout the series is film-quality work. It seems like we’re watching mini-movies on our TV sets. Plus, the production decision to film in New York City paid off grandly as we feel the grittiness and glamour of the Big Apple and the background complements the characters we meet.

fisk and madameLet’s start with Fisk. Thanks to D’Onofrio’s subtle, but terrifying performance, Fisk is a huge, beefy, but cultured villain who is just broiling under the surface. His world is one of sophistication, but at the right moment (or wrong if you’re unfortunate enough), Fisk just let’s out this primal fury as he savages his opponents. It goes without saying that this show is very violent and not for the faint of heart.

But don’t think this course world is filled with vicious criminals. It’s also populated by more sympathetic types like Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) who is Murdock’s law partner and a likeable presence. Others include the lawyers’ secretary Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) and Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), a nurse who provides medical aide to Daredevil. Both are well played by these actresses and these women have many nuanced layers to them.

daredevil waiting

Daredevil is a triumph for Marvel and helps expand the intricate and varied MCU. More than that, it’s actually a surprisingly effective crime show without going over the top. This means that unlike say Gotham it doesn’t overly stress its comic book origins, which would’ve resulted in something that bordered on camp. No, Daredevil respects its source material and skillfully brings the hero and his world to life.

José Soto