Spotlight: The Defenders

Warning: spoilers for “The Defenders” and some of the other Netflix shows will follow.  Read at your own risk.

So it’s finally here…the event we’ve been waiting for.  “The Defenders” brings all four of the Netflix superheroes together so they can kick some butt.  And maybe throw bad guys through a building or two (I really gotta stop making that joke).  But the real question is, was it worth it?  Is “The Defenders” everything we hoped for?  Is it everything we wanted…nay…deserved?!

Well…yes and no.

But before we get into the nitty-gritty of the show, I wanted to point out a couple small details I appreciated.  After “Iron Fist” and its bland title sequence, I was glad to see they brought back the nuance for “The Defenders”.  During the title sequence, we see each of the four characters forms overlaid over aerial maps of New York.  Now, I can’t be certain considering I know basically nothing about New York, but I believe that each character is overlaid over the particular part of the city where they live and operate.

 

 

So Daredevil would have a part of Hell’s Kitchen while Luke Cage would be laid over Harlem.  But the detail in the title sequence goes beyond that even.  I didn’t really pick up on this until near the end of the first episode, but each character has a particular color associated with them, a color that you can see during the title sequence itself.  During the show, scenes that particular character dominates are color corrected to have an abundance of that character’s color.

 

So Luke Cage’s scenes have a yellow glow to them…

 

…while Matt Murdock/Daredevil’s scenes are full of vibrant red.

 

Jessica Jones has a deep blue, while Danny Rand is green.  This little detail takes to the sidelines once the characters finally start to meet up with each other, but it’s still a cool aspect of the show.  It’s not essential, but it’s these little things that fans love.

But anyway, on to the main event.  Like I said before, the answer to the question “was it worth the wait” is a little bit of a mixed bag.  The breakdown (at least for me) seemed to go like this: the first half of “The Defenders” is great while the second half gets a little sloppy.  I thoroughly enjoyed the first four episodes, watching as each of the heroes runs into their own problem to solve.  It was nice checking back in with these characters and seeing what they had been up to, although the first episode does spend more time on Luke Cage than anyone else.  Which makes sense, considering he was being carted off to jail at the end of the first season of his show, so they have to deal with that to get him back into place.

It was fun watching each of these characters do the thing they do best, with a slow buildup towards the inevitable meeting of the heroes.  The problem is that after these four characters meet and begrudgingly agree to work together, the show seems to lose a bit of momentum, as the next few episodes mostly feature the characters sitting around and debating their next move before the final showdown begins.

And it’s at this point that you realize just how weak Danny Rand is as a character when compared to the other three.

 

 

 

Now, to give some credit to the writers, they at least tried to give Danny a more interesting arc than just “I’m the Iron Fist…it is my destiny to destroy The Hand…blah blah blah”.  In the first episode, Danny has a nightmare about the apparent massacre of the people of K’un-Lun, showing that he feels guilty over leaving them.  The problem is that, after the first episode, this is never mentioned or referenced again.  In fact, Danny is played as more of a laughingstock than anything else, especially in the second half of the season.  Any time someone mentions that he’s the Iron Fist, everyone else in the room seems to have the same reaction of “the hell are you talking about?”  A good example of this would be when Murdock tells his friend Foggy that Danny’s the Iron Fist and Foggy remarks “I’m not even going to pretend I know what that means.”

I didn’t mind this approach at first, but the more I thought about it the more it bothered me.  You see, instead of trying to fix the flaws in Danny’s character they turned him into a literal joke.  The other characters pretty much just make fun of everything he says.  They took the lazy route and played Danny up for laughs instead of trying to make him feel deserving of a place on the team.  This is made all the more insulting once you realize that Danny is integral to the entire plot of the show.  The Hand needs him to complete their master plan.  Without him, their whole scheme falls apart.  In this sense, Danny feels less like a character and more like a maguffin, existing only to move the plot forward toward the inevitable battle against The Hand.

And speaking of The Hand, their big leader in this show is revealed to be a woman named Alexandra, played by none other than Sigourney Weaver.  Initially, I was excited to see her in this show, because Sigourney Weaver is a total badass.  Remember “Alien”?  Remember “Aliens”?  Yeah…total badass right?  But here she’s given very little to do aside from look imposing and make not so subtle references to the fact that she’s older than she appears, like when she calls Istanbul Constantinople.  She also has some very cringe worthy dialogue later on, even breaking out the “we’re the same, you and I” speech at one point.

 

Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver)

 

 

She is given a motivation though.  At the beginning of the show we are shown that she’s dying…all of her organs are systematically shutting down one by one.  This encourages her to push The Hand’s plan into fast-forward mode, despite the objections.  Because as it turns out, The Hand’s immortality revolves around a mysterious substance that they have run out of.  This bit didn’t make much sense to me, considering that we’ve seen people resurrect in the other shows without the help of this substance.  So why now do they suddenly need more of it?  Seems to me like another maguffin to get the plot where it needs to go.  Because, as it turns out, they used the last of this substance on Elektra.

Speaking of Elektra, what the hell is her motivation here anyways?  After her death at the end of the second season of “Daredevil”, Elektra is brought back to life by The Hand.  But her memory is erased so she can be turned into The Hand’s ultimate weapon.  Through some more not so subtle moments, we realize that this conditioning isn’t going to last forever, and that Elektra is starting to remember who she was.  But the thing is, once she remembers who she is, she still serves as an antagonist for no apparent reason.  If she remembers who she is, then why the hell would she be fighting against the man she supposedly loves?  It makes no sense.

And what’s so important about her being the “Black Sky” anyways?  Everyone goes on and on about it, but it’s never clearly explained what it actually means.

However, despite the flaws, “The Defenders” is a fun time.  The best scene is definitely the fight at the end of the third episode, where all four of the heroes come together for the first time and battle a bunch of The Hand’s henchmen.  But after that, the show starts going downhill.  It never gets to the point of being unwatchable, but through some strange plot choices and sloppy pacing, the second half definitely isn’t as strong.  I especially didn’t like the shenanigans they tried to pull in the last episode.  I won’t say much out of fear of spoiling it for those who haven’t watched it, but I will say this: they try to make you think that one thing happened, only to turn it around in the last thirty seconds of the show and be all like “ha we tricked you” even though most people will probably see it coming from a mile away.

At the very least, there isn’t any pointless filler.  Each episode moves things along the main plot.  So while it might not be everything we hoped for, it’s still well worth a watch, especially if you’ve gotten invested in the characters.

And now, if you’ll indulge me, I’m going to go on a more personal rant…

I really wish The Hand hadn’t been the villains for “The Defenders”.  It takes things to such a cheesy, comic book level that it’s hard to take seriously sometimes.  It’s a group of frickin’ immortal ninjas for crying out loud!  Part of the reason I really enjoyed these Netflix shows at first was because of how different they felt from the standard superhero fare.  The first season of “Daredevil” hardly feels like a superhero show at all.  It plays like a gritty crime drama but with a superhero twist.  But as time went on The Hand became more and more apparent as Marvel rushed things out the door in order to get them into place for “The Defenders”.

I would have liked to see the four heroes fight against a crime syndicate for their first outing together.  Now I know someone is going to say it…”but…The Hand is a crime syndicate”.  It is, but it’s still a crime syndicate of immortal ninjas.  I would have wanted to see them face off against regular criminals, not a bunch of silly mystical types who, despite all the hype over being super secretive, take some really obvious actions.

A whole army of ninjas clad in black rappelling up the side of a hospital?  Sure seems stealthy to me!

I think it would have been more interesting if, for example, Wilson Fisk had been exposed but not captured at the end of “Daredevil” season one.  He could then escape to run things from the shadows and give the heroes a threat to deal with when they finally came together.  And with the addition of Danny Rand, they could have started teasing the existence of a mysterious organization known as The Hand.  Then, after the four heroes came together and defeated Fisk once and for all, The Hand could step out of the shadows and reveal that they were manipulating Fisk the entire time.  That would then give The Defenders another threat looming over them as they go about their own business.  Because, with The Hand gone, there’s no bigger threat anymore, not to mention that Danny Rand’s character has no purpose anymore, since his whole thing revolved around The Hand’s defeat.  I can’t really see their next big villains standing up to a bunch of supernatural martial artists.

And with that, I’m off.  Blog writer AWAAAAAY!

 

Thanks for reading.  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

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Spotlight: “Iron Fist” Season One

Warning: spoilers for season one of “Iron Fist” follow.

…Oh boy……

Ever since “Iron Fist” premiered on Netflix back in March, it’s been panned by many critics.  It’s easily considered the worst of the Marvel Netflix shows and possibly even one of the worst shows on Netflix period.  The reception to it was so bad that Finn Jones, the actor who plays the main character in the show, blamed Donald Trump for the negative perception of the show.  According to him, because of the wide distrust of the president people can’t root for Danny Rand because he’s a white billionaire superhero.

 

This is the appropriate reaction to what you just heard.

 

But I digress.  “Iron Fist” is currently sitting at a 37 on Metacritic and a 17% on Rotten Tomatoes.  Why?  Were critics just being unfair?  Was the show really made more for the fans like Finn Jones also suggested?  Or was there something else, a reason that the show was so negatively received?

Well, as it turns out, there was a reason.  You see, “Iron Fist” season one is boring.  Like, really boring.  I have to admit that I struggled watching through the entire thing.  That’s not to say that there aren’t good points to the show, but they’re faint pinpricks of light in an otherwise gloomy sea of tedium.

And the problem starts with Danny Rand himself.

Now, to be fair to Finn Jones, I don’t think he’s a bad actor.  He does a serviceable job here.  The main problem is the character.  But before we get into that, we have to give some backstory.  As a kid, Danny Rand was in a plane crash with his parents in the Himalayan mountains and was the only survivor.  After being rescued by a pair of mysterious monks, Danny spends his formative years in a place called K’un-Lun, a mystical monastery that is only accessible every fifteen years.  There he learns martial arts and gains the power of the Iron Fist, turning him into a mystical living weapon.  He returns to New York fifteen years after his supposed death and tries to reclaim the life he once had.

The thing is, Danny Rand is perfect…too perfect.  In fact, he’s so perfect he’s boring.  He spouts off Zen sayings left and right.  He’s in total control of his emotions (at least in the beginning).  And he’s practically unbeatable in a fight.  I mean he walks into the dojo of Colleen Wing (one of the side characters) and almost immediately schools her in martial arts.  It’s ridiculous.  And then later on, any time his company runs into a scandal, he always does the morally righteous thing.  And I mean always.  There’s nothing interesting about his character because there’s no flaws to his character.  At least, not until like three-quarters through the season when the writers suddenly decide that his guilt over the death of his parents clouds his judgement and renders him unable to summon the Iron Fist most of the time.  If this was implemented from the beginning of the season, that would be one thing.  But the way it just shows up later is jarring.

 

The impeccable Danny Rand.

 

Danny Rand reminds me of that stereotypical rich guy who constantly shares pictures of his vacations on Facebook or Instagram.  You know the type: you constantly see them posing in sun-bathed tropical locales or other exotic locations.   And they’re always spouting off life wisdom like they know that’s best for everyone else.

But enough about Danny.  What about all the side charac-

They’re boring.  Just…boring.  Aside from Colleen, the dojo teacher that becomes his love interest, none of the characters really have anything important or interesting going on (except for maybe Joy…I found some of her scenes to be kind of interesting).  I don’t care about the day-to-day business of the Rand corporation.  I don’t care about corporate backstabbing.  And I certainly don’t care about a boring subplot dealing with painkiller addiction.  Seriously, screw that noise.  It’s like the show is caught between being a bad superhero show and a bad soap opera.

And the pacing…oh god the pacing.  It’s so off.  Like I said before, the main problem with “Iron Fist” is that it’s just boring.  I hope you like martial arts poses because I swear that at least sixty percent of this show is people striking martial arts poses and talking about what they’re going to do next instead of, you know, actually doing it.

 

Who cares about plot when you can strike some sick poses brah?

 

Even the title sequence is boring.  “Daredevil”, “Jessica Jones”, and “Luke Cage” all had nuance in their title sequences that hinted at certain aspects of their characters or overall themes for the show.  What does “Iron Fist” have?  A silhouette of a man leaving inky trails all over the place as he strikes a bunch of poses.

 

Whoo…it’s so good guys. I’m not even being sarcastic…

 

And speaking of pacing, my god the show has no idea how to build or sustain momentum.  When the show isn’t being dull and full of people talking or striking poses, things seem to happen way too quickly.  For example, the end of the first episode has Danny being drugged by his former friends Joy and Ward Meachum, then being placed in a mental hospital.  And then he breaks out of the mental hospital at the end of the second episode.  Like…what?  This is the kind of stuff you do in the middle of the season, not at the beginning.  Not only that, but the show spends the first four episodes or so dealing with Danny trying to prove his identity.  And there isn’t even a real payoff to it.  The conflict is abruptly resolved and the people trying to keep Danny from getting back into the company are suddenly like “hey Danny we’re your friends again…we can just forget about that whole mental hospital thing right?”

There are so many little things with this show that I could complain about.  A villain becomes a not-villain only to suddenly become a villain again later on in the season.  The characters spend way too much time talking about duty and honor.  The last episode feels like it belongs in an entirely different season.  Certain things just happen without any real explanation (I still don’t understand how Danny suddenly winds up in a freaking penthouse after being kicked out of Colleen’s dojo).  Characters make decisions that don’t make any sense.

It’s a mess.  But if I keep going, this review will go on forever.

In the end, I feel like if the show had been done with a lighthearted tone, things probably would have worked out better.  The silly nature of Danny’s character and all the overemphasized martial arts combat doesn’t really blend well with the show’s dead serious tone.  But even if they did go for a lighter tone, then it just wouldn’t fit with the other shows.  Any way you slice it, “Iron Fist” just fails to deliver.

And yet, it was still Netflix’s most binge-watched drama.  Kinda sad when you think about it, but that’s the power of Marvel.  People will watch it regardless, especially because of how the stories are interconnected.

All I can say is that I hope “The Defenders” was worth it.  Because Marvel has seemed to be in a hurry to get that out the door for the past couple of years, and that has led to a decrease in quality for the Netflix shows.  The second season of “Daredevil” felt disjointed at times, with two major arcing plots that didn’t seem to mesh together well.  The second half of “Luke Cage” season one saw a complicated villain being swapped out for one that had very little depth and whose only motivation is revenge against Cage.  But clearly, “Iron Fist” was hit the worst.  There’s so much unnecessary subplot that could have been left out in favor of focusing on making Danny not suck as a character and giving him an origin story that’s actually enjoyable to watch.  But as it stands, “Iron Fist” season one is only worth watching for the connection to “The Defenders”.

If you watch it on its own hoping for a good standalone story, you’ll most likely end up disappointed.

 

But hey, at least there’s martial arts poses…right?

 

Thanks for reading.  Check back next Wednesday for a new post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

Spotlight: “Jessica Jones” Season One

Warning: some spoilers for season one of “Jessica Jones” follow.

The Marvel Netflix shows are some of the most interesting takes on the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU for short).  They represent more grounded takes on a world that includes Norse gods and hulking green steroid monsters.  They represent a moral ambiguity that underscores a franchise typically full of characters whose main struggle is “I’m not powerful enough” before they discover “oh wait, yeah I am” and then promptly throw the bad guy through a building or two.

I’ve already talked about “Daredevil” season one and two.  “Daredevil” was the start of the Netflix shows, representing a darker, more nuanced superhero story.  And while season two started to collapse under the weight of its multiple plots, season one still represents some of the best Netflix has to offer.

So, going into it, I had no idea that “Jessica Jones” would feel so different.

Like “Daredevil”, “Jessica Jones” is dark, but even from the show’s title sequence you can tell its tone is different.  The opening sequence for “Daredevil” showed the world being filled in bit by bit, which was a representation of the main character’s unique perspective.  By contrast, the title sequence for “Jessica Jones” plays with shadows and silhouettes.  It features many shots of windows and perspectives that imply being watched or observed, which ties into Jones’ career as a private investigator.

 

A shot from the title sequence.

 

 

It was about midway through the first episode when it hit me: “Jessica Jones” is essentially a modern noir story.

The aspects of the show line up: a private investigator with a tragic past, a piano-heavy soundtrack underscored with hints of jazz, and voice-over narration done by Jessica herself.  I’m not familiar enough with the character or the comics she comes from to say for sure, but it feels to me like the show is steeped in that tradition.  At its core, “Jessica Jones” is still a superhero story, making the noir elements mere icing on the cake.  But it’s enough to give the show a unique style all its own amidst the other Marvel Netflix shows.

“Daredevil” season one was all about Matthew Murdock coming to terms with who he wanted to be as a hero and the lines he was willing to cross.  We followed him as he grew into the hero he needed to be.  By contrast, “Jessica Jones” keeps things from us and much of the season is about uncovering those parts of her past to better understand her as a person.  It becomes clear by the end of the first episode that Jessica tried the hero thing before and something went terribly wrong.  The bad times in her past are centered around a mysterious figure named “Kilgrave” who has the ability to control people’s minds.

Jessica is guarded and masks her feelings with sarcasm.  At the outset it seems that she’s done trying to play the hero, but she’s quickly drawn back in when a new client sets her on a collision course with her old nemesis, Kilgrave.

 

Jessica, brooding as always.

 

They could have easily pulled Jessica too far down the sarcastic, gloomy route and made her an unlikable protagonist.  But her sarcastic quips and grim worldview are punctuated by glimpses of a person who wants to believe better, who wants to do good.  During one of the episodes, we get flashbacks of Jessica before Kilgrave that show how she gradually comes to the realization that she wants to help people.  Even her job as a private investigator after the fact clues us in to her inclination for helping people, despite her outward attitude.  The show succeeds at bringing us into Jessica’s world and letting us learn who she is bit by bit.

One aspect of the show that worked better than I would have expected was the introduction of Luke Cage, another Netflix Marvel hero who was later given his own show.  I’ve talked before about the inter-connection of Marvel’s universe and how that could become a problem, but that isn’t the case here.  Rather, the inclusion of Luke Cage feels natural.  His past and Jessica’s intertwine, which is evident from the start when we see Jessica spying on him in the very first episode.  The progression of their relationship and how it ties in to the greater plot of the season is done very well here.  It never feels forced or added for the sake of tying it in to the larger Marvel universe.

Another aspect of the show I was surprised by was the villain, Kilgrave.

 

Kilgrave.

 

Played by David Tennant, Kilgrave is a very different beast from Wilson Fisk in “Daredevil”.  Fisk was a character who believed he was changing the city for the better, albeit through extreme and violent methods.  By contrast, Kilgrave has no such noble goals.  He’s selfish.  He’s vain.  He’s unhinged and positively psychotic.  And he has an unhealthy fixation on Jessica, especially considering she’s the only one who’s ever escaped from his control.  Tennant was a great choice for the character too, providing that charming yet unpredictable nature to the character and making him a memorable villain.

That being said, I found it strange that they decided to not reveal his face until near the end of the third episode.  Anyone who knows David Tennant or has seen him in other shows will be able to tell that it’s him from the moment he says anything, so waiting on that reveal just seems a little pointless.  Even the pre-release stories for “Jessica Jones” had already confirmed David Tennant would be playing him.

All that being said, Kilgrave is a great villain and provides a very personal adversary for Jessica to face.  But not everything is perfect with the first season.

I’ve mentioned before how “Daredevil” season one decides to refer to the day when literal aliens invaded and blew up half the city in the first “Avengers” movie simply as “The Incident”.  It’s a weird, out-of-place choice that almost feels like they’re trying to distance the Netflix shows from the movies because of their wildly different tones.  “The Incident” shows up again in Jessica Jones, this time in the form of a minor character (read: very minor…as in they only appear in one episode) who has grievances with super powered people because of losing someone during the siege of New York.  It ends up feeling forced and has no purpose other than being a red herring.

There’s also a subplot featuring a police officer Jessica saves early on in the show.  It’s revealed later on that he is part of a mysterious research group with a doctor that developed some kind of combat enhancement drug.  It comes out of nowhere with no real buildup and doesn’t resolve itself by the end of the season.  Rather, its whole purpose seems to be to tease a future plot, as very late in the season it’s revealed that this mysterious group may have ties to Jessica and how she got her powers.

And that’s another thing that bothered me with the season.  Early on, after Jessica learns that Luke has powers as well, they have a brief conversation about where they got them.  Luke tells her his came from an experiment and Jessica says hers were an “accident”.  For much of the season, I assumed Jessica knew exactly how she got her powers and it would be revealed later on.  But as it turns out, Jessica has no idea.  During the final episode, she has a line where she mentions that she looked into her past before but kept hitting dead ends.  But it isn’t until near the end of the season that there’s any hint of that.  So when she says “accident”, we’re not really clear what she means by that.

Despite these issues, “Jessica Jones” is well worth a watch.  The pacing takes a dip during the last few episodes and the final confrontation doesn’t feel as climactic it should be, but overall it’s another great entry into the Marvel Netflix shows.  Its style and tone are quite different from “Daredevil”, so if you go into it expecting a similar outing, you might find yourself surprised and put off at first.  But if you give it a chance, “Jessica Jones” provides you with a wonderfully deranged villain and a gripping personal story.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week!

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

Unsustainable Connectivity: The Looming Problem of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

If you haven’t heard of Marvel or what they’ve been doing for the last eight or so years, you might think you’ve been living under a rock.  A large rock…blocking the entrance to a cave…on the surface of Mars.

Nearly a decade ago, Marvel kicked off a new age of superhero movies, making them cool and relevant again.  But more so than that, Marvel did something unprecedented.  While most of their movies have a self-contained storyline featuring a particular hero, they are all part of a larger narrative arc that takes shape over many movies, not just one.  And this isn’t just something that takes place over a small trilogy of movies.  No, dozens of movies take place within the same universe and almost all of them tie in together in some way.  You would think that asking audiences to follow this massive narrative would be an impossible task, but despite the overwhelming nature of it Marvel has found tremendous success.  And their success has influenced other studios as well.  The new Mummy movie with Tom Cruise is meant to be a reboot movie and an introduction to a larger universe of monsters from Universal movies.  Along with that, there is an upcoming King Kong movie (Kong: Skull Island) that will tie into a larger universe featuring the new Godzilla from the 2014 movie.

So Marvel’s success has definitely been influential and has changed the landscape of movie making.  And I must commend them for their success.  They have proven that it is indeed possible to build a larger narrative that extends beyond just one movie or one franchise, that is possible to bind several franchises together into one mega-franchise.  It’s an impressive feat.  However, it is not one without problems.

Let’s not beat around the bush here.  You’ve seen the title, so you have an idea of where I’m going with this.  While the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU for short) is an incredible accomplishment, it is starting to become unwieldy.  Nowadays to watch the latest Marvel movie it feels like you have to sit down and watch the five movie previous just to understand what is happening within the larger framework.  You might be able to follow the self-contained story, but there are often references to things that you might not understand because you’re not up to date.  I felt that way when I saw Avengers: Age of Ultron.  There were elements of the movie that I simply didn’t grasp because the movie didn’t bother explaining them.  It was assumed that I had watched the movies before it.  That’s why I initially thought the strange romantic relationship between Black Widow and Hulk was just something they established in another movie, although I later found out that it first appeared in Age of Ultron.

And there will always be that one person.  You know the one, the person that says “well if you read the comic books…”.  Yeah, that person.  Maybe you even are that person.  Whatever the case may be, assuming that a viewer has this backlog of lore from other movies can be dangerous and alienating if not handled properly.  Of course, with the internet this isn’t as big of a deal as it could have been, since interested fans can just go look up information that they’re missing online.

But the real problem seems to be the disconnect between the television shows and the movies, particularly the Netflix originals.  Before we get to that however, we need to take a look at a show that came out before the Netflix ones.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a show centered around a group of special agents that investigate strange occurrences around the world.  It ties into the MCU in the sense that some of the episodes (as far as I know…I haven’t exactly watched the show) deal with the aftermath of events in the movies, such as Thor: Dark World.  The problem with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D is that it features one of the more notable “cracks” in the continuity of the MCU.  Agent Phil Coulson was introduced in the original Iron Man and was killed off in the first Avengers movie.  But he was then brought back to life for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., a move that creates a strange sense of dissonance between the films and the shows, especially considering that Coulson’s death was instrumental in making sure the Avengers finally got their act together and worked as a team.  Coulson is never referenced again in the films, making it seem as though he’s dead in the films but alive in the television shows.  Which makes no sense, considering the shows and the movies are supposed to all be connected and part of the same universe.

But my biggest caveat about the MCU comes from the Netflix original shows such as Daredevil.

If you’ve seen any of the Marvel movies, you’ll know that they are goofy, light-hearted, heavy on explosions and over the top action.  But if you then go and watch one of the Netflix shows like Daredevil or Jessica Jones, the tone difference is so sharp that it might as well be part of a different universe entirely.  For example, Daredevil is gritty, dark, and full of deep character drama.  It features a storyline heavy on personal demons, character flaws, and a villain who isn’t just a shell full of evil intentions.  It’s about Matthew Murdock, a lawyer who moonlights as a vigilante fighting what often feels like a losing battle against a massive criminal underworld.  It’s one of the best things to come out of Marvel in a long time and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes a dark tone to their stories.

The problem is, like I said, that the show’s tone feels so counter-intuitive to the rest of Marvel’s lineup.  This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if you could just ignore its connection to the larger universe, but the show prods you every now and then, forcibly reminding you that it is indeed part of the MCU.

In the very first episode of Daredevil, an event only referred to as “the incident” is referenced multiple times.  If you’re a Marvel fan, you’ll likely connect the dots and understand that they’re referring to the first Avengers movies, where an alien portal was opened and an extra-terrestrial army wreaked havoc on New York.  But the event is described in such vague terms that, as one article I read a while ago put it, it’s not unfair to assume that some people might think they’re talking about 9/11.  Not only that, but early on in the show Daredevil is rescued by a nurse after a failed attempt to save a kidnapped boy.  She becomes the first person in the show to know his true identity as Matthew Murdock.  Later on, Matt takes her to his apartment in an effort to keep her safe.  While there, she cracks a joke about how she was hoping he was a billionaire playboy, which is an obvious reference to Tony Stark/Iron Man.

And that’s where my problem is.  If I take Daredevil to be a larger part of the Marvel universe, which they so clearly want me to, how can I take Murdock’s struggles seriously?  He lives in a world with green rage monsters and super-powered super soldiers.  All of his fights could be resolved simply by Iron Man flying over and dropping a few bombs.  And what makes this even more ridiculous is that Daredevil takes place in the same city that Iron Man lives in!  So where is he during all this time?  For that matter, where is the rest of the Avengers team?  Does no one give a crap about Daredevil’s part of the city?  I find that hard to believe, especially after the massive series of explosions that rock the city around episodes five and six.  You’d think at least one of them would show up and be like “hey guys, what’s going on here?”

If you could just ignore this and watch the show as a self-contained piece of work, that would be one thing and it would be fine.  But Marvel seems intent on insisting that everything connects and it wants you to be aware of it.  I mean, how are the Netflix Marvel heroes supposed to stand up to the ones from the films?  Daredevil has super-human senses and an awesome fighting ability for sure, but Thor is a freaking god.

A GOD for crying out loud.

The comparison just doesn’t add up, and I have no idea how Marvel is going to handle that.  Who knows?  Maybe they’ll prove me wrong.  Maybe they’ll find some ingenious way of tying it all together.  But at the moment, I can’t help but feel their obsession with this inter-connectivity may end up proving to be their downfall.  Only time will tell I suppose.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

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5 Lazy/Inept Villains

We all love our villains, the inevitable bad guys at the center of pretty much every action/adventure story.  They force the intrepid hero into situations that make them question their very status as a hero.  Put simply, villains are just fun.  They can be complicated and nuanced, hinting at a darker side to humanity that many of us would rather deny.  They can force us to confront issues that we’d otherwise ignore.  They can sometimes even steal the spotlight, becoming a far more intriguing character than the main hero.

And then there are the times when they’re just stupid.

Here are five of those times.

 

1. Blofeld and other classic Bond villains

Come on…you knew this one was going to be on here.

Ernst Stavro Blofeld is the most classic of movie villains.  He is pretty much the one who kick-started the “volcano lair” trope that future spy parodies in movies and television alike would constantly make fun of.  But for all his genius in running an entire global crime syndicate, one has to wonder if he’s really all he’s cracked up to be.  I mean he captures Bond more than once, but instead of simply killing him Blofeld places him into situations where he has plenty of time to figure out an escape plan.  Even in Spectre, the new Bond movie, this happens.  It makes a little more sense in that one (considering his whole “daddy loved you more than me” motivation), but it’s still a bit absurd.  And then even after Bond escapes and proves that he is too dangerous to kill with some elaborate scheme, Blofeld goes and tries it yet again.

And this is not unique to Blofeld either.  Most of the classic Bond villains are much the same way.  For example, Goldfinger (from Goldfinger…surprise surprise) straps Bond to a metal slab and uses a very VERY slowly moving laser to cut him in half.  He gets points for using a plan that Bond has no conceivable way out of, but his plan still fails.  Bond yells out the name of his top-secret plan, which then somehow convinces him to spare his life.

Pride…the villain’s greatest downfall for some reason.

 

2. Aliens in giant monster movies (often known as “Kaiju” films)

So I am not an avid watcher of giant monster movies, but I know a little bit about the aliens in some of them.  And man, are they lazy.

Basically a familiar plot trope in these movies is that a race of aliens shows up to Earth and wants to conquer/destroy it.  So they beam down some skyscraper-sized monster to wreak havoc, which then usually attracts the attention of the resident giant monster of the planet who’s all like “hey…that’s MY gig!”  So the two then fight in an epic melee and the Earth-based creature typically wins out, proving that humans are…super lucky I guess?

But here’s the thing: if the aliens are so advanced that they can tame/capture a giant monster, fly it through the vast distance of space, and literally teleport it down onto Earth…why can’t they just destroy everything themselves?

I mean, really guys, if you have the capacity for faster-than-light space travel (which I am assuming they do), then it stands to reason that your weapons are far superior to anything Earth can offer in opposition.  Why go for the long-winded plan that has a great chance for failure?  Did you not know that Earth had a giant monster on it already or something?  Or is your entire culture devoted to just sending giant monsters at each other and seeing who wins?

Seriously…who outsources their work anymore?

Oh right.

 

3. Thanos

You know, the blue guy that shows up at the end of pretty much every modern Marvel movie.  He’s all imposing and menacing, but he’s done absolutely nothing but let others do his dirty work for him.  Come on man, get off your butt and do something for once!

Freaking lazy space…god or whatever.

 

4. Aliens (War of the Worlds)

You know I have to say…aliens are really bad at this whole “invading Earth” thing.

If you’ve never seen any of the War of the Worlds movies or read the book, I’ll sum the plot up for you.  Aliens invade Earth.  Aliens try to conquer Earth.  Aliens are defeated by germs, which makes a very interesting philosophical point about humanity’s place in the world.

Now, it’s a very good story (again, one of the classics), but how does an advanced species capable of interstellar travel NOT think to test for deadly germs before landing on a planet?  In the original story, it’s somewhat forgivable, as the aliens are shot through giant cannons from Mars and land on Earth as meteors essentially.  But in the more recent version (starring Tom Cruise), instead of being from Mars the aliens’ origin is left a mystery.  Not only that, but the movie changes things so that the aliens buried their tripod machines on Earth before humanity had even evolved, implying that they were merely waiting until we got all nice and overpopulated before they came in to harvest us.  So that begs the question, how did they not know about the super-fatal germs?!

“So we’re totally going to invade this planet and like, harvest their people for energy and food and stuff!”

“Shouldn’t we maybe, like, check for germs or something first?”

“Nah, we’ve been planning this for thousands of years!  It’ll be fine!”

“But shouldn’t we take just a little bit more time to-”

Stop asking questions!”

Now maybe it could be written off as the germs simply didn’t exist until humans came about (which is very probable, considering the ever-shifting nature of our planet’s ecosystems), but that still doesn’t explain their lack of planning in that regard.

Movie aliens man…they really suck at doing things.

 

5. General Shepherd (Modern Warfare 2)

Ooh…are you ready for this one?  This is a fun one.

About a year ago I wrote a long-winded story analysis of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.  Basically, the game is nothing short of ridiculous.  It’s one of those sequels that tries to up the ante far too much, creating a completely insane laundry list of action scenarios that have no impact or meaning.

But this is about the villains.  With that said, let’s talk about General Shepherd.

General Shepherd is a character introduced to you in the opening cutscene of the game.  He is initially one of the good guys and the one who brings one of the main characters into the fold of a secret CIA task force.  That character dies almost immediately during an attack on a Russian airport because the Russian terrorists he was embedded with knew who he was.  And it’s vaguely implied that Shepherd somehow set all that up.  Because, you see, he was the one behind pretty much everything that happens in the game.

And his motivation is pretty much absolute insanity.

So you see, in the first Modern Warfare, a really bad thing happened.  One of the characters you play as rescues a crashed helicopter pilot stranded in the middle of some generic Middle Eastern city, surrounded by bloodthirsty terrorists.  You rescue her, then bring her back to your helicopter and begin to extract.  But then, a nuke goes off, which takes out your helicopter and renders all your efforts to save that pilot useless.  You are then forced to play as that character as they miraculously survive the crash and are left to stumble around the city as a nuclear cloud of dust and ash swirls all about them.  The character then keels over and dies.

It’s a fun time.

General Shepherd calls back to this scene, telling the heroes of the game that he lost so many soldiers “in the blink of an eye.”  He uses this as his reasoning for masterminding all the events that take place over Modern Warfare 2.  And what are those events you might ask?

Starting World War 3.  Nope, not even kidding.

To be more specific, his motivation is that he lost soldiers in that nuke back in the first game, so he wanted more soldiers.  So to get more soldiers to replace the soldiers he lost, he triggers a chain of events that start a massive global conflict that will undoubtedly kill far more soldiers than the ones that died in that singular event.

Seriously dude, why don’t you just start a massive propaganda campaign or increase the recruitment drive?  I mean if your sole motivation is to recruit more soldiers, why would you start an event that in the end will get far more of them killed?  I don’t know if this even classifies as lazy because it’s so absurdly convoluted.  The amount of hoops he has to jump through to get all of this to work is insane.  First, he has to select a soldier to recruit into this CIA task force for the sole purpose of getting killed.  Then, he has to assume that the Russians, once they discover this dead American agent on their sole, will immediately get bat-shit crazy and instead of trying diplomacy go right out and invade the eastern seaboard of the United States.  Then he has to play dumb and go along with everything Task Force 141 is doing while covering his tracks along the way (which inevitably involves murdering the entire task force, with the exception of two people who then foil all his plans).

Lazy?  Maybe not.  Inept?  Oh most definitely.  There were so many other ways he could have alleviated the problem he saw, but apparently he looked at all those other plans and was like “nah, these aren’t bat-shit crazy enough”.

Because what would a villain be without a crazy master scheme that has a high probability of failure?

 

Well that’s all I have for this post.  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

 

Note: I did realize as I was writing this that my two-year anniversary of starting this blog has come and gone.  I thought about making another reflection post, but I didn’t think I’d have that much to say.  Honestly the past year just flew by for me.  So if you’ve stuck around for this long, thanks so much for reading.  I hope you have a wonderful day, a wonderful week, and a wonderful life in general.

Inner Strength: The Enduring Myth of the Superhero

Superhero movies.  They’re about a dime a dozen these days, with around twenty of them planned for the next two or so years alone.  There is no denying that they have a wide appeal.  So why is that?  Why do we constantly flock to the timeless story of good vs. evil, especially when it’s so obvious that good is going to win in the end?

On the surface level, it would seem that the appeal of superhero movies lies in our inherent familiarity with them.  We know the characters.  We know the stories.  Even though in the upcoming Batman v. Superman and Captain America: Civil War the heroes are fighting with each other, we know that eventually they will end up resolving their differences and working together.  Good will always triumph in the end.  The apparent “shallowness” is exactly why these movies are enjoyable.  They don’t require an in-depth analysis.  They just require enjoyment on the part of the viewer.

But that’s an analysis that any student in a middle or high school English class could come up with.  To sum it up, that’s the short story.

Now here’s the long version.

Despite how shallow these movies seem on the surface, their characters can have a great deal of complexity.  This is especially true in the modern Marvel movies, where the superheroes are often shown as flawed.  You can see this in Avengers: Age of Ultron.  The movie itself is not particularly good (I already talked about that before).  But what it does do is show the flaws of the characters.  In fact, a large part of the movie’s plot is them dealing with their hidden insecurities (brought to extreme levels by another character’s superpowers, but insecurities nonetheless).  Modern audiences don’t want to just see a one-sided, pro-government or whatever character anymore.  They want to see a superhero struggle.  They want to see them suffer or question themselves before they succeed.

Which brings me to Captain America.

Captain America is one of the more recognized superheroes, but not necessarily one of the more popular.  He’s commonly seen as a relic from the Cold War era, a position played up by the modern Marvel movies.  His origin story (from what I know) is simple: he used to be a weak guy with a big heart that couldn’t help like he wanted.  Then the military pumped him full of drugs and now he’s a superhero.

Kind of a funny story for the guy that’s supposed to be the embodiment of America-ness…but we won’t get into that.

While Captain America’s original inception was meant to be a man full of patriotic, American vigor, the newer version plays out a bit differently.  Like I said, they play up the fact that he is literally a relic from a by-gone era of the country.  He’s constantly struggling to find his place in a world that no longer feels like it needs him, and we see this in the first Avengers movie, where he gradually comes into his own as the leader of the team.  But even in his own movies, we still see him struggling with this.  In Captain America: Winter Soldier, he deals with a conspiracy inside the government and is on the run from them, a strange turn of events for a character that proudly wears the red, white, and blue colors of the USA all over his costume.  And in the upcoming Civil War, where the Avengers team is split into two factions, he leads the side that’s against government regulation of the superhero team.

Like I said, part of this has to do with the audience today.  They want a struggle.  They want a fight.  They want more out of their stories.  But it also comes back to the inherent morality of the character himself.  He is the good guy.  He is on the side of justice, regardless of what form it takes.  If he has to take on the United States government to bring justice to people, then he will.  In this version he’s not a propaganda character.  He’s come into his own as an uncompromising crusader for the good of the world.

And it is his success that people like.  People like seeing a good character triumph because it echoes a sentiment so endemic to American culture: the idea that one person can find the strength to do or be whatever they want.  Even when a superhero loses their powers, they end up triumphing somehow in the end, the lesson being that it wasn’t the powers that defined them but the strength of their character (the powers certainly help though).  It’s all about the idea that we have an inner strength we can all tap into, regardless of our place in life.  Rich, poor, young, old…it matters not.  If you believe hard enough, no dream is impossible.  That’s what we’re told as children growing up in this country, and it is that philosophy that superheroes echo so well.  Struggle and strife can always be overcome if you just believe.

Drugs help though…lots of drugs.  Maybe gamma radiation.

Being a powerful godlike alien from another planet certainly can’t hurt…

 

Well that’s all I have for this post.  Tune in next Wednesday for another and as always, have a wonderful week!

Daredevil: Season 1 Review (Netflix Series)

Warning: minor spoilers below.

Everything has a beginning.

Daredevil is a superhero that hasn’t gotten a lot of treatment over the years.  The last major thing I can remember about him was the Ben Affleck movie, which I remember being an okay movie at the time I watched it.  I can’t honestly tell you much about it (I was like fourteen or something when I saw it).  But now that Marvel is kicking up their expansion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).  For those uninitiated MCU is a term that refers to the interconnected movie universe they’re building, where all the superheroes essentially exist in the same world.

The new Netflix Series Daredevil is the latest in a line of Marvel television shows.  For those of you who don’t know him, Daredevil is a superhero who was blinded as a kid by an accident involving some kind of toxic waste.  However, this accident gives him heightened reflexes and senses, making him an incredibly powerful fighter.  He is based out of New York (Hell’s Kitchen specifically, at least in the new television show).

I’ve already talked about the one-shot fight scene at the end of the second episode, so I won’t mention it again here (you can read my thoughts on it if you like).  In any case, the show kicks off by immediately showing the aftermath of the accident that blinds Daredevil (real name Matthew Murdock).  His father runs to him as he lays in the middle of the street, injured and covered in a strange liquid.  A passerby reveals to his father that if it wasn’t for Matt pushing him out of the way, he would have died.  And so begins the hero’s tale.

Daredevil is definitely a slow-burner type of show.  The first few episodes focus more on his character, who he is and why he does what he does, rather than showing a bunch of epic fight scenes.  Murdock is a lawyer by day, trying to set up a practice with his best friend Foggy Nelson.  In the first episode, they help out a woman named Karen Page, who becomes their intern secretary and one of the main characters for the show.  Of course, there are still fight scenes in these early episodes, but they’re few and far between.  Most of the second episode deals with the aftermath of a failed rescue attempt by Murdock to save a kidnapped boy (we don’t actually even see the attempt…the episode jumps in right after he fails and we see him being rescued by a nurse).  One of the show’s biggest strengths is its use of tension, and the second episode is great at that.

Speaking of tension, the big bad in this first season doesn’t even appear until the last minute of the third episode.  We hear vague hints of him and we see his followers enacting his plans, but we don’t actually get a glimpse of him until then.  He is played by Vincent D’Onofrio (who you might remember from Full Metal Jacket or, more recently, Law and Order Criminal Intent), and he pulls off a masterful performance in this season.  One of the things that struck me is that the villain is a complex and complicated one, which is different from most comic book style shows.  Instead of being a one-note bad guy with a lust for destruction and/or power, the villain in this show seems to believe he is doing the right thing for his city, despite his methods being extremely destructive and violent.  There’s even a romantic subplot that develops between him and a curator at an art museum.

I particularly liked that the villain in this particular season wasn’t super-powered or anything.  He’s just a big, strong guy who happens to wear a lining of armor underneath his suits.

Let me put this out there: this show is dark.  Very dark, and not just in the lighting.  The phrase “darkest before the dawn” comes to mind.  Before things inevitably come to their conclusion, things get very grim for the main characters.  I won’t spoil anything, but the latter half of the season is incredibly intense and doesn’t let up.

The grim nature of the show translates to the fight scenes as well.  Bones snap and break the skin.  People are impaled, bludgeoned to death, and burned alive among other things.  I can definitely say that if you are squeamish at all, you probably shouldn’t watch this.  But if dark and gritty is your thing, and you don’t mind a bit of the old brutal violence, then by all means go right ahead and watch to your heart’s content.

I hesitate to say much more about this show for fear of spoiling some of its finer moments, but I will say this: it’s probably one of the finest superhero origin stories I’ve seen in a long time.  It reminds me a lot of the Christopher Nolan Batman movies, both in tone and in the character of Daredevil himself.  Peppered throughout the episodes are flashbacks to Murdock’s childhood, where we see him coping with his blindness as well as other tragic events.  Daredevil’s story is one of joy and sorrow in equal mix.

I honestly don’t have anything particularly bad to say about this show.  I griped about the one-shot fight scene (link here), but that was really the only part of the show that fell flat for me.  Once the show gets going, it doesn’t let up.  It’s quite the roller-coaster ride, pardon the cliché.  The only other thing I can say is that there are some vague elements of mysticism that don’t really go anywhere in the season, but that’s mostly because it’s setting up what I’ve heard are some of the more bizarre elements of the Daredevil story, which we will most likely see in the next season and maybe beyond, depending on how far they decide to go with the show.  I know this particular series is a lead-in for The Defenders, which is a TV series that will see Daredevil team up with several other heroes in New York City.

In any case, I highly recommend the show for those of you who are into gritty, character-based stories.  It’s one of the finest origin stories I’ve seen yet.

 

That’s all I have for this week.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week everyone.