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

Top 10 Films and TV Shows of 2016

For 2016, superheroes continue to reign in film and TV, while other genres like sci-fi, fantasy, horror and related combos offered refreshing alternatives. Many of the best films and TV shows on this list were very profound and pushed the envelope, while others were just plain fun to watch.

Films

10-cloverfield-lane

10. 10 Cloverfield Lane: The spiritual sequel to Cloverfield was a tense and suspenseful thriller with a great performance by John Goodman as a doomsday prepper.

xsuicideTIE: 9. Suicide Squad/X-Men: Apocalypse: Despite their flaws both superhero (and supervillain) films were enjoyable romps with unforgettable characters (Harley Quinn, the Joker, Deadshot, Magneto, Quicksilver, and more) and eye popping action-packed moments.

8. Doctor Strange: With the big-screen debut of Marvel Comics’ Sorcerer Supreme the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to remind us why their superhero films are currently the best of the crop compared to Fox’s X-Men Universe films (Deadpool aside, of course) and the DC Extended Universe movies.

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7. Zootopia: The best animated film of the year dazzled us with eye raising animation and a clever script that highlighted important social messages about tolerance and prejudice.

kirk trio

6. Star Trek: Beyond: The film’s back-to-basics approach with Star Trek’s iconic characters paid proper homage to the TV show while having a genuine adventurous tone.

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5. The Jungle Book: Even though the CG-created animals and environment were flawless and stunning, the film to its merit emphasized story and characters, which left a bigger impression.

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4. Deadpool: As a faithful adaptation of the irrelevant and violent comic book, Deadpool proves that it’s possible to be true to comic book source material and still be an entertaining film.

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3. Arrival: A provocative, well-acted and beautifully shot film about first contact with aliens smartly emphasized the communications hurdles humanity would face. The film’s ending was a true surprise and was just one of Arrival’s highlights.

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2. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: The first Star Wars spinoff not only neatly ties in with Episode IV but is a great and exciting film in its own right with more nuanced characters and situations than seen in a typical Star Wars film.

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1. Captain America: Civil War: The Avengers are torn apart from within as Captain America and Iron Man philosophically, then violently disagreed over allowing the government to supervise their team. Featuring strong performances and the best superhero fight scenes ever filmed, the film was an emotional ride for viewers.

TV Shows

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10. Ash Vs Evil Dead: Grossly fun and action-packed as everyone’s favorite deadite fighter Ash Williams and his gang continue delighting horror fans.

redhats invade9. Colony: Unexpectedly well done look at life under alien domination and that “big, beautiful wall” separating American cities is a chilling portent of what lies ahead.12 Monkeys Cole time travels8. 12 Monkeys: Of the many time travel themed TV shows out there, this is the best of them as many episodes explored the convoluted nature of time travel.

dareflashTIE: 7. The Flash/Daredevil: The two best superhero TV shows were on the opposite ends of the tonal spectrum. The Flash is pure Silver Age awesomeness, while Daredevil reflects a more gritty and grounded mood, especially with the introduction of the brutal vigilante, the Punisher. Both shows  featured intense and enjoyable comic book adventures thanks to well written scripts and engaging lead actors, plus supporting characters/actors.

6. The Walking Dead: The megahit series about brutal life after the undead destroy civilization has  hit a creative wall and is past its peak according to many fans. Yet, for the most part The Walking Dead is still delivering more than adequate thrills, gross out moments and entertainment, even if the show went to far in Negan’s introduction and certain character deaths.

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5. Black Mirror: A dark anthology series about the downside of technology offered many disquieting episodes about technology’s impact in our lives today and tomorrow.

El confronts monster Stranger Things4. Stranger Things: A wonderful ode to ’80s sci-fi movies featured terrific child performances, geeky Easter eggs and an intriguing mystery revolving around a missing child and an interdimensional monster.

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3. The Expanse: This well-crafted series about a brewing war among human colonies in our solar system during the next century could wind up being the next great TV space opera.

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2. Westworld: HBO’s potential successor to Game of Thrones went way beyond the original Michael Crichton movie about theme park robots running amok by presenting a thought-provoking series about existentialism and ethics.

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1. Game of Thrones: Even though the fantasy series is drawing to a close, the sprawling epic continues to captivate viewers with its visceral tale of power struggles among kingdoms. One of the highlights was the epic episode  “Battle of the Bastards” that put rival films to shame with its gut wrenching fight scenes.

 

Comic-Con 2016 Highlights

The San Diego Comic-Con for 2016 has come and gone and we’re all the more hyped up after the event. Unlike previous Comic-Cons most of the film studios were all too eager to share the trailers for their upcoming films and TV shows. That is except for 20th Century Fox who took their marbles and went home…actually didn’t even present. They wanted to avoid having their presentations pirated. Nice way to promote Alien: Covenant and the third Wolverine flick, people. Result: DC and Marvel ruled the event by bringing their A game.

Justice League

TV Stuff

The other studios made their announcements and presentations. For TV shows, the third season teaser for The Flash got everyone up in arms in anticipation at seeing the live-action version of Flashpoint. For those in the dark, that’s the comic book event where the Flash saved his mom in the past and created a dark reality. This adaptation won’t be literal but more like what we saw with the Marvel Comics Civil War event in Captain America: Civil War. But it still looks awesome. The other DC shows on the CW also had interesting presentations and announcement, the best of those being that the Legends of Tomorrow will be facing the Legion of Doom and meet the rest of the Justice Society of America.

Marvel Studios raised some eyebrows with the revelation that Ghost Rider will be appearing in the fourth season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and this should be interesting. As for their Netflix stuff, we got teasers of The Defenders (check out our Twitter account with a link to it), Iron Fist, and Luke Cage. The last show looked undeniably badass and thankfully we only have to wait a couple more months.

The biggest TV announcement had to be for Star Trek: Discovery. We saw a glorious 2001: A Space Odyssey-like opener with a starship launching out of a hollowed-out asteroid. What was most intriguing was that the ship’s design is based on one of Ralph McQuarrie’s unused Enterprise designs for the lost Star Trek film Planet of the Titans.

starship Discovery

As cool as it was to see one of McQuarrie’s design come to life, what is sure to get everyone even more excited is that Bryan Fuller, one of the showrunners, confirmed the show will take place in the Star Trek Prime universe! No reboots, people! The real Star Trek has indeed returned! Ahem, apologies to those that love nuTrek, Star Trek Beyond is a fun film that redeems the Star Trek reboots.

Film Stuff

DC Comics and Warner Bros. are still smarting over the lukewarm reception to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. So they didn’t hold back anything in Comic-Con 2016. Amidst the flood of trailers for Suicide Squad, which makes us feel already as if we’ve seen the entire film, came trailers for Wonder Woman and Justice League. The Justice League trailer was very enticing and actually sold us on the Snyderverse version of the Flash. Sure, Grant Gustin rules as Barry Allen but it’s undeniable that Ezra Miller had a lot of charm as the new Flash. The trailer had much more humor than anything seen in Batman v Superman, but where’s Superman? Meanwhile, Gal Gadot clearly shines in the footage shown in both the Justice League and in the trailer of Wonder Woman kicking ass in World War I.

As for DC’s rival Marvel, well they had their goodies as well. Unlike DC, most of the trailers for their upcoming movies are still under lock and key being they are “exclusives” for Comic-Con. There’s no point in trying to scrounge the Internet for pirate footage of Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 or Spider-Man: Homecoming, it will look like crap and be taken down anyway. But here’s a quick look at Thor: Ragnarok, which will be gone soon:

Marvel should take a cue from DC and present their goods to the larger world who could not attend. The one trailer they released was the second one for Doctor Strange. Make all the snarky remarks that it looks like Inception, but this movie looks astounding! If it works, it will take the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a whole new direction and that is how you keep the superhero film genre afloat. The highlights of Marvel Studios reveals were Brie Larson’s casting as Captain Marvel, the Vulture will be the villain in Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Kurt Russell will play Peter Quill’s dad, aka Ego the Living Planet, in Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2!

Spidey fights Vulture

In closing, Comic-Con 2016 had a lot more to show for the general public than in recent years. A lot of the announcements and trailers were ho hum like Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. But more than a few were quite enticing like the one for the return of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (to be shown on Netflix), a Blair Witch sequel and this one for Kong: Skull Island.

It’s great to see the big ape back on the screen! On the whole, we have plenty of fun things to watch in the coming months and into 2017.

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.

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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.

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Best Merchandise

Anything with BB-8 🙂

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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.

 

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