The Defenders Come Together At Last

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The Marvel Studios mini-series event The Defenders just premiered on Netflix and is the culmination of the past four Netflix/Marvel superhero streaming shows Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist. The Defenders finally brings the main leads from those shows together at last like in The Avengers, which what fans have been waiting for ever since the superhero shows were announced years ago. Needless to say this is a big deal for fans of the shows for obvious reasons.

Running only eight episodes, The Defenders stars Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock/Daredevil, Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones, Mike Colter as Luke Cage and Finn Jones as Danny Rand/Iron Fist along with the supporting actors from their respective shows and Sigourney Weaver as Alexandra, the show’s main villain. The Defenders does not take long to get into the action and meat of the story. It starts with all four heroes separately running afoul of the mysterious Alexandra and by the third episode they all meet in the heat of battle and the story just moves along from there. As expected with these Marvel Comics stories, the four don’t exactly get along at first, which is best shown with Rand actually hurting the invulnerable Cage with his Iron Fist. But all ends well as they put aside their differences to face their mutual foes.

In their separate investigations, they learn  that the shadowy criminal organization, The Hand, who have appeared in Daredevil and Iron Fist, are making an ominous move in New York City. In a nutshell without giving too much away, the leaders of the Hand, which includes Alexandra, are carrying out an operation that will wind up destroying the city and it’s up to our heroes to stop them.

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Overall, The Defenders is an enjoyable and brisk-moving mini-series that should delight fans and casual viewers. All the actors bring their A game to the show with the standouts being Cox and his own show’s cast. Fans of the shows should be pleased that all the characters are faithfully presented. Matt Murdock carries the weight of the world on his shoulders, Jessica Jones drinks whenever she can, Luke Cage stands around and gets shot at without any injury and Danny Rand finds any opportunity to say “I am the Immortal Iron Fist!”

Despite all the complaints about Jones and his show, his character here is much better portrayed and less insufferable. Fortunately, Jones proves that he can bring something to the role and Iron Fist’s appearance here presents the case that the faults with the Iron Fist TV show were due to those showrunners, not the character or actor. For example, Jones seems more at ease during his fight scenes, a critical flaw with Iron Fist, and on the whole, the fight choreography was crisp and full of power. The standout fight scene was probably in the third episode when the four Defenders finally all meet each other, but the others spread out in the other episodes are fun to watch and grab your attention, though at times they are too dark and it is clear that some of the actors seem more natural at fighting than others. That criticism does not apply to Jones, believe it or not.

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The villains are another quibble with The Defenders. Unlike The Avengers which had the breakout villain, Loki, the villains in this show are not particularly compelling. Basically, they are just a bunch of super ninjas and though that is appropriate for the power levels of the Defenders, they could have been more threatening or had more clear motives. Another gripe about the show and the villains has to do with the fact that the show takes place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).  It is not the fault of the show, but it is annoying that with the severity of the threat to the city, no one has the notion to try to contact the Avengers or even Dr. Strange given the supernatural aspect of the Hand. We don’t even see the Avengers Tower in the New York skyline, whereas in Spider-Man: Homecoming that film took every opportunity to show the tower whenever there was a shot of the city. Then there is the reaction of some of the characters to what is going on; basically they have a hard time believing in the Hand and their threat, and even the nature of the leads’ powers. This goes for especially Luke Cage, who cannot accept that Danny Rand spent time in another realm and became a mystical warrior. That is a strange reaction for an inhabitant of the MCU that has seen open alien invasions and big league superhuman battles. Let’s not forget that Cage himself has superhuman powers. For these reasons it is hard to accept that The Defenders takes place in the MCU. But that is something that fans have to ignore and just go with the story.

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What ultimately makes The Defenders work is the camaraderie between the leads and seeing them all together. Thankfully, after taking time to introduce them individually in the first episode with interesting cinematography that presents each hero with a different color scheme, the show quickly has them teaming up and getting to the meat of the story. Their interactions were very amusing and some of the show’s best moments. They all had good chemistry and complemented each other well to the point we were sold that they came to care about one another. While The Defenders may not have the same thrilling impact and joy of The Avengers, it is quite enjoyable in its own right and helps set a path forward for the future of these grounded heroes.

Lewis T. Grove

 

 

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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

Jessica Jones AKA Great TV

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Like its predecessor Daredevil, Jessica Jones is an excellent, dark, grounded and captivating TV show. Jessica Jones is Marvel Television and Netflix’s second TV show set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and follows the story of the title character (well played by Krysten Ritter) as she goes about her life as a super-powered private investigator.

jess and walkerTake note this isn’t a superhero TV show but a psychological crime drama. Don’t let that keep you from watching it because it’s not your typical crime show. There aren’t any boring procedurals in Jessica Jones, just great character studies and mature themes. As the focus of the show, Jessica Jones keeps you glued to her issues. After she received low-level super strength, she kind of wondered what to do with her life and was talked into trying to become a superhero by her best friend Tricia Walker (Rachael Taylor), who comic book fans will recognize as the lady who will become Hell-Cat.

Flashbacks show that Jessica had her free will taken over by Kilgrave (David Tennant), known in the comic books as the Purple Man. His superpower is to control people kilgraveand what he does in this show is just terrifying and ghastly. What he makes people do as he lives a hedonistic lifestyle was disturbing and demonstrates that Kilgrave is a more effective villain than most MCU villains who rant about destroying the world. Seriously, Kevin Feige and his gang at Marvel Studios should look at these Netflix shows to see how to do a real supervillain!

Jessica was able to break away from Kilgrave, leaving him for dead, but is very haunted by her experiences where he made her do things against her nature including murder. In the present, she’s got a tough but fragile shell and lives a barebones life in the seedier part of Manhattan. Her investigations lead her to discover that Kilgrave is still alive and stalking her. Early in the series, Jessica makes the decision to confront him with her reluctantly accepting the help of an oddball crew. They include Tricia, bar owner Luke Cage (Mike Colter), and former victims of Kilgrave such as recovering addict Malcolm (Eka Darville) and Simpson (Wil Traval), a policeman sent by Kilgrave to kill Tricia.

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While I think Daredevil was a better show one thing Jessica Jones is superior with is with the supporting cast. Most of the characters are very likeable and all are well performed. People that viewers would disregard at first sight like Malcolm as just a junkie or Simpson as a thuggish cop have many layers to them and once we get to know them they become sympathetic. This layering also makes us hate Kilgrave even more, never mind what he did to Jessica. The show does an excellent job of illustrating a paranoid mood as Jessica has to look over her shoulder at everyone since any person she passes by in New York could be under Kilgrave’s evil influence. Who would’ve thought that a forgettable Daredevil villain in the comics would be so formidable? It just proves that the showrunners hit the mark by getting Tennant to play him. His acting is so good you forget that he was once the loveable Doctor in Doctor Who.

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Aside from its paranoia, the show is very gritty at times with borderline R-rated fare that drips with lots of violence, cursing and sexual innuendo. At times it takes on a pseudo-noir motif as Jessica narrates her observations while she does her work. At times the show feels cliché, especially with all the scenes (it was borderline silly) of her swigging down alcohol, and many panning shots jess and cageof the gritty city that try to emulate Taxi Driver, but it usually works. This world felt real and grounded and largely removed from the MCU, though the presence of superheroes is there. Many of the MCU Easter eggs run the gamut of being so subtle you miss them to being upfront and moving along the fact that this little corner of the MCU has its own inter-connected world. By the way, the show makes great use of Luke Cage, who is well fleshed out as a character in his own right and perfectly set up to headline his own TV show. Can’t wait to see it.

Once again Marvel hits it out of the park with Jessica Jones and prove that when they put their collective minds to it, they can produce memorable TV fare.

T. Rod Jones