The Defenders Season One Review

Ever since 2015 and the launch of Daredevil, the Marvel Netflix universe has been slowly building towards The Defenders. A second season of Daredevil followed as well as inaugural seasons for Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist. Now the time has come for the four main heroes of the series to come together and take on The Hand. They are joined by a majority of their supporting cast members from their respective series to help flesh out this side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Does it succeed or does it fail?

Well this is not the same thing as The Avengers did for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In fact it’s a pretty underwhelming affair. The four heroes don’t even all meet up until the end of episode three. What ultimately drives the series down is a lackluster villain. The Hand has been present in both seasons of Daredevil as well as the first season of Iron Fist. Now they are front and center here with Sigourney Weaver playing the head or should I say the main finger of The Hand. Playing the steely villain who we meet as she is just learning that she is set to die in the next few months and so has to advance The Hand’s plans. Elodie Yung reprises her role as Elektra and last we left off with the character, she was dead. Needless to say, she is back and does not get to do…at first but her role ramps up as the episodes go along.

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It has been a while since we’ve seen some of the main quartet that makes up The Defenders especially Jessica Jones. So the first two episodes helps to reestablish where these characters are since we last saw them. Luke Cage is being released from prison, Jessica Jones has not progressed that much, Matt Murdock has given up being Daredevil and is clearly suffering from trauma and Danny Rand is returning to New York after hunting down those responsible for K’un Lun’s disappearance. The first two episodes are unique in that each character has their background illuminated by the primary color associated with their character, i.e. Matt Murdock usually has a red background. As the characters slowly come together, the colors blend together.

This event series essentially focuses as an Iron Fist season two. Depending on how you felt about that first season, this could be a negative or positive. I was not a fan of that season but the cracks in the overall Netflix side of the MCU show in this series. It’s clear that there was no real clear plan about what would happen when this show happened. As all the loose ends from the previous seasons, don’t totally mesh with one another. Luke Cage and Jessica Jones since those two series were so separate, it is easy to plop them into a situation. But with everything we learned about The Hand from Daredevil and Iron Fist, it is a mess and doesn’t totally make sense.

The main four actors; Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock/Daredevil, Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones, Mike Colter as Luke Cage and Finn Jones as Danny Rand/Iron Fist reprise their roles. The actors all do a fine and even one in particular do a better job in their role. Finn Jones is probably the most improved as this show is much improved and better written so he is able to match the material. His chemistry with Mike Colter is great and makes you want to see a Heroes for Hire show. The bond between the very secretive Matt Murdock and Jessica Jones, whose job is to invade people’s privacy, is also noteworthy. The four do really spark when interacting with each other.

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The supporting cast for me was a little unnecessary for me. While it was nice to see some pop in and out, there seemed to be too much time. I still can’t believe Karen Page is a top reporter. The only ones who were necessary were Colleen Wing, Claire Temple and Misty Knight who basically could be considered Defenders. Special mention goes to Stick, played by Scott Glenn, who reprises his role. Playing the very pragmatic and ruthless blind man who knows more than he lets on. Stick is also an example of making things up as they go as some revelations by the character don’t really make that much sense in retrospect.

The action scenes are pretty much on par with Daredevil season two. It is cool seeing the different fighting styles in the heroes. Daredevil is a brawler with martial arts training. Iron Fist is pure martial arts. Luke Cage has fighting experience due to be a former marine and cop. Jessica Jones just relies on her super strength more than anything. When all four are in fight scenes together, it’s fun watching them mix and match. Luke Cage and Iron Fist seem to have the best fighting chemistry as they compliment one another very well.

Out of all the Netflic Marvel shows so far, this would probably be somewhere in the middle. The shorter episode count definitely helps as there is not that much padding. But the muddled plot and lackluster villains really drag down the season. It does a good job of helping to redeem Iron Fist and hopefully that wave continues into that character’s second season. The conclusion obviously helps set up the next phase (minus The Punisher) of the Netflix Marvel shows. So it does it’s job and now that the characters know one another, more crossovers would be appreciated. So it’s the end of phase one and onto phase two. The future is exciting.

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SCORE: 7/10

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Defending The Incredible Hulk (2008) aka The Red Headed Step Child of the MCU

When it comes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as of this writing there has been fourteen films. The franchise came out the gate roaring with the very first Iron Man movie. But something the franchise seems to always brush aside unless absolutely necessary is the second film in the franchise. That would be The Incredible Hulk. Directed by Louis Letterier and starring Edward Norton as Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk, the movie is very divisive. But I frankly love it and think it is one of the better MCU films. So it shouldn’t be treated so wishy washy.

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The story is very familiar to anyone who knows anything about the Hulk. Bruce Banner is on the run as he is being hunted by very morally dubious General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross. Banner worked with Ross on a project years ago that Banner believed was one thing but actually another. After testing it on himself, Banner became the Hulk and indirectly hurt Ross as well as Ross’ daughter, Betty who just happened to be involved with Banner. After a chain of events leads Ross learning Banner’s whereabouts, he enlists a special operative to help capture him. Enter: Emil Blonsky. An aged soldier who only knows how to fight and is uncomfortable with being older. This leads to Banner reuniting with Betty in an attempt to rid himself of the Hulk as Ross begins experimenting on Blonsky and turns him into another Hulk-like creature: The Abomination.

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The main theme in the film is really different from most superhero films. Banner does NOT want to be a hero. He was just a simple scientist wanting to make the world a better place through science before tragedy struck. When we meet him, he is willingly isolated. He has a beautiful neighbor who is obviously interested in him but he willingly chooses not to reciprocate. All he has for companionship is a stray dog and an internet buddy named Mr. Blue. The only thing he dreams of is ridding himself of the Hulk. The struggle for Banner to accept that he cannot get rid of the Hulk and just embrace it is a running theme that carries through the movie. The first time he turns into the Hulk is to protect himself from thugs, the second is because Ross wants to bring it out him and by the final time, Banner willingly throws himself out of a helicopter to stop his opposite. By the final shot of the movie, it ends with him intentionally triggering a transformation.

1200.jpgThe supporting cast are standouts. William Hurt as Thunderbolt Ross is the standout. Ross is always a complicated character in the comics and this carries into the movie. We see him as a General that commands respect and for reason. We also see a fanatic who is obsessed to an unhealthy degree with Banner/Hulk. It is clear that he loves his daughter but it is also clear that he will let his obsessions override his more empathetic feelings. Tim Roth as Blonsky is also one of the few standout villains in the MCU. Blonsky is just an old soldier who can’t accept that his body is failing him. It is mentioned that with his record that he can be a high ranking officer but he turns it down just so he can be in the fight. This self loathing and seeing the power of the Hulk also drives him into obsession and experimenting on himself to achieve said power. Liv Tyler as Betty Ross is a bit more of a mixed bag. She’s never been the strongest actress but she is serviceable as Betty Ross. She is much more actively involved in the origin of the Hulk and helping Banner embrace the Hulk side of himself.

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Louis Letterier is a solid director but you can tell that this film is plagued by behind the scenes drama. Edward Norton is notorious for being something of a control freak and difficult to work with. Though I do love Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, I still would have loved to see Norton return to the role. His Banner is soft and beaten down and Norton conveys that perfectly. When watching the blu-ray, there are many deleted scenes that give more character interactions. There is a particular one between Banner and Betty’s new boyfriend, therapist Doctor Samson. It is a relatively short scene so the only reason I can see it being cut is that it would be considered too “heady” for a summer blockbuster film. If this film was made after The Dark Knight, I think the scene would have been left in. There is also a longer scene between Ross and Blonsky that explains their frustration with the military complex focusing more on tech than people.

the-incredible-hulk-2008This film also has one of the best fight scenes in the MCU film. The climax is battle between the Hulk and Abomination in Harlem. It really is two brutes going at it and trashing the city while they’re at it. The standout bit is when Hulk crushes a car to form makeshift boxing gloves out of them to help even the odds between he and Abomination. This makes sense because Letterier is an action director so it would make sense that the action scenes are top notch. Especially when compared to the earlier Iron Man which were so choppy.

The Incredible Hulk is not a perfect film. There are some scenes with some odd editing which knocks the wind out from the scenes. There are also the earlier backstage issues that are kinda obvious. But does it deserve to be treated like it does in the MCU? No. There are many reasons why as the film was a minor success and the whole distribution rights to the Hulk are a mess. At first they tended to shy away from the film other than little references here and there. With the return of William Hurt as Ross in Captain America: Civil War, it seems that more things are being integrated. There are rumors that Liv Tyler will be returning as Betty Ross. But Marvel Studios should embrace this film more than it does. It is a far better film than Thor: The Dark World or Iron Man 2 which they proudly display.

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Thor: Ragnarok Teaser Trailer Released

Spider-Man: Homecoming Should Be A Real Start To The Sinister Six

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Spider-Man: Homecoming is the first entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe featuring the web slinger. This film is unique as it is a product of a film deal between Sony Pictures ( who has the film rights to Spider-Man and associated characters) and Disney. It was no secret that when Sony was developing The Amazing Spider-Man 2, they were also trying to set up a Sinister Six movie. The Sinister Six is a collective of six (obviously) of Spider-Man’s deadliest enemies. That film shoehorned that aspect into the film and ultimately suffered because of it. That is partially why the deal between Sony and Disney was made regarding Spider-Man. But now we are starting to see sides where a Sinister Six can naturally develop.

One of the worst trends about superhero movies is the villain almost always dies by the end of the film. The Marvel Cinematic Universe have been no different in this aspect. Another trend within the MCU concerning the villains is the lack of depth. I can’t tell you what Yellowjacket’s motivations in Ant-Man were. So hiring a great actor in Michael Keaton in this type of role would be a shame.

Keaton plays Adrian Toomes aka The Vulture. It is also known that Spider-Man villains The Shocker and Tinkerer are in the film as well. How big of a role that they play in the film is up in the air at this moment. But it is known that Toomes is in cahoots with them. Toomes could stay alive by the end of the film and ultimately be the one to form The Sinister Six. 

Now this is all speculation because I have no idea about the specifics of the deal between Sony and Disney is. But it is something better than the previously rushed aspect. Time will tell. 

 

I Don’t Hate Iron Fist…But I Don’t Love It Either

The latest Marvel Netflix show, Iron Fist, has dropped and it has gotten some pretty scathing reviews so far. It currently has a very low score on Rotten Tomatoes. I don’t really like Rotten Tomatoes as it does not allow for nuance. Now I don’t think that it deserves the score that is currently has. That means that it is unwatchable. But I can’t really disagree with most of the criticisms aimed at the show.

There has been much talk about how outdated the character and concept is. White man trains in Asian culture and becomes the best and gains a unique ability. I do think more modern interpretations of Danny Rand and Iron Fist (particularly Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction’s run) have done a great job at curbing these critiques. But if they did make Danny Rand a person of Asian descent, I wouldn’t have cared. The problems with the show ultimately lie with the production of the show.

A big problem with all the Marvel Netflix shows has been the episode count. No season so far has been really able to justify a 13 episode season. Iron Fist has been the worst example. It feels like it should have been 8 episodes at most and 6 at the least. There is no strong through line to carry through to the end. None of the family dynamics, the conflict with The Hand, Danny reconnecting with society.

Another big issue is the characterization. You know your show is a big problem when you find it hard to really like the main character. Now I do think Finn Jones got better in the role as Danny Rand but the first few episodes are rough. You never really learn why he returned to America. You never really learn as to why he wanted to become the Iron Fist. His approach in the first two episodes is obnoxious and frankly dumb and you get frustrated with his frustrated attitude as to why no one believes him. This carries over into other characters as they are frankly archetypes and not fully fleshed out.

Since this show is based in kung fu, you would expect this aspect to at least shine. Nope. The action scenes are never really that great. They’re not bad. But they do nothing to stand out. As with my general feelings towards the show, they got better as they went along. It is really surprising that they did not get the same stunt crew from Daredevil to work on this show.

My general feeling is that this show is underwhelming. I would like to see the show get a second season. There are a lot of shows that have bad first seasons but go on to be great shows. Who says this is not to be the case? There is enough potential there where you can see a kernel of potential. I guess it all frankly depends on how Danny Rand is portrayed in The Defenders. It could be a case of the showrunner (Scott Buck) not understanding the character and potentially a new one can change the show for the better.

Celebrating Black Superheroes – Black PantherĀ 

King T’Challa of Wakanda is also known as Black Panther. This is a man who wears many different hats. He is one of the smartest men in the world. Superhero. King. I first became familiar with the character sometime in the 90’s when he appeared on the Fantastic Four cartoon (voiced by Keith David). I then really became familiar with him during the early 2000’s and Christopher Priest’s seminal writing stint on the character. Priest chose an interesting route with the character as even though he was the main character, the book was told through another character’s perspective. Black Panther was reimagined as a calculating figure that not even the reader was supposed to know what he was thinking. This carried over into Geoff Johns’ stint writing The Avengers. Black Panther was treated with some unease from other Avengers particularly Iron Man due to the revelation that Panther only joined The Avengers to spy on them. However an attack on American soil from The Red Skull, a super Nazi, Black Panther is one of the few to oppose him. 
These stints showed the many sides of T’Challa. His science skills came to the forefront as he isnine to help develop a vaccine for Red Skull’s attack. How he is one of the greatest fighters in Marvel as the only way to develop a vaccine which was derived from Red Skull’s blood. His somewhat aloof and calculating demeanor proved useful when enemies would attack but it wasn’t appreciated by some of his comrades. But thay gave way to also show an honorable and loyal side to the people he has fought side by side for years. This no doubt stemmed from his Wakandan heritage. The kingdom known for its xenophobia which kept it safe for generations but led to mistrust within the world communities and finally came to a head with the dead of T’Challa’s father, T’Chaka. 

T’Challa is one of the most interesting characters in comics as he is a man pulled in a myriad of directions. Many people have compared him to Batman and while there are similarities, keen intellect and paranoia, that is a disservice to The King of Wakanda. There are few characters where you can say they are the King of one of the most advanced civilizations while also being one of the world’s greatest superheroes. That one moment can be making power plays with world leaders and then the next facing down Galactus. 

The popularity of the character has grown exponentially since the 2000’s. One of the main members of the Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes cartoon and making his live action debut in Captain America: Civil War. His solo movie is set to debut in February 2018 and the character is expected to play a major part in Avengers: Infinity War and its sequel. The character also has his own solo series in the comics while being part of ensembles such as The Ultimates. 

It is a good time for The King of Wakanda. 

Thoughts About Avengers: Infinity War

As of the events of Captain America: Civil War, The Avengers are no more. At least not in the way that we’ve gotten to know them in three movies. Captain America and the heroes who stood by him are now fugitives. Iron Man is in charge of The Avengers now with only The Vision by his side. War Machine is crippled, though there is a strong possibility that he can probably still function a suit. Spider-Man is something of a question mark as even though Iron Man was very pro registering, he still enlisted a teenage hero who clearly did not register. Black Widow is in the wind. The Hulk and Thor are dealing with more important things in outer space. So where does that leave the heroes when Thanos inevitably comes? How do the Guardians of the Galaxy and the upcoming Captain Marvel fit into this?

There is no doubt that the heroes will reunite by the time of the sequel of Infinity War. But what about the events in Infinity War? We know that Thanos has finally gotten off of his chair and is about to get the Infintiy Stones. There are many more movies by the time Infinity War comes around so even though Thanos is not announced as appearing in any movies until Infinity War, there is no doubt in my mind that Thanos will appear before then. I mean it’s not too hard to get Josh Brolin, the actor who plays Thanos, to come in for a day or two to do motion capture for the character and just plug Thanos into a movie. But that’s something I’ve talked about lately. 

Avengers: Infinity War and its untitled sequel are going to be a masterclass in filmmaking. There are a lot of balls in the air and one mistake could mess up the whole thing. It not only has to acknowledge everything that has come before. It also has to set up the movies that come out after and in between its sequel. The Russo Brothers only had about a dozen characters to deal with in Captain America: Civil War. They have said they will be dealing with about four or five times more than that with these two films. One cannot envy their position. Maybe you do because this is something that is unprecedented and are breaking new ground. We will all know in May 2018.

Here’s a picture of Sean Gunn who does the motion capture for Rocket Racoon on the set. Check out the new logo

What Marvel Studios Can Learn From Lucasfilm Pt. 2

Disney owns two of the biggest franchise makers in Hollywood currently: Lucasfilm and Marvel Studios. I’ve already discussed what Marvel Studios can learn from Lucasfilm in integrating their various projects across mediums. It’s an open secret that there is a divide between the television and movie sides of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Now with the release of Rogue One, it has become even more apparent that Marvel Studios is really not living up to its full potential of making a more cohesive universe.

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If you watched Rogue One, Forest Whitaker played Saw Gerrera who first appeared in The Clone Wars animated series and later Whitaker reprised the role in a guest spot on Star Wars Rebels. there was a cameo from Chopper, the resident droid from Star Wars Rebels. Along with that the Ghost, the ship used by the cast of the show was shown entering The Battle of Scarif. Finally, over the intercom, there was a mention of a General Syndulla who was later revealed to be Hera, one of the main characters on the show. Though these were all easter eggs, they did subtly confirm that the Star Wars universe was more than the movies.

When watching recent Marvel Cinematic Universe specifically Captain America: Civil War, you can see that there are many missed opportunities. During the briefing to the Avengers by Thunderbolt Ross, he specifically mentions the rise of vigilantism in the world. Though only showing the events of the Avengers and their actions. This was a missed opportunity as the filmmakers could have referenced events in Daredevil such as the main character being blamed for blowing up a few city blocks and Jessica Jones where she publicly executed someone with mind control abilities. You don’t even really need to show these characters but having characters acknowledge the events.
The one advantage that Lucasfilm seems to have over Marvel Studios to help keep things focused and integrated is the Star Wars Story Group led by Pablo Hidalgo. This group is supposed to help keep things tight and neat within the new canon established after Disney bought Lucasfilm. So that way there are no contradictions within its own canon as well as the added benefit of helping integrate all the various medias with one another. Marvel does not have this benefit and it is apparent from interviews from the showrunners and directors on the film, they hardly communicate with one another. It was frequently mentioned that Rebels showrunner Dave Filoni and Rogue One director Gareth Edward met with one another a number of times.

At this point, I doubt that the divide within the Marvel Cinematic Universe will ever close or at the very least become smaller. So while we may never get to see characters such as Daredevil and Captain America meeting one another, the movie and TV side are full of rich characters and storylines. But if the MCU ever gets a reboot, it would be the perfect opportunity to make things more cohesive. But until then, it is nice to see the people at Lucasfilm expand their universe with every possible tool available to them.