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!

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Spotlight: Daredevil Season Two

Warning: spoilers for Daredevil season one and two follow.

Season One of Netflix’s Daredevil was nothing short of amazing.  It was a dark, gritty superhero origin story that managed to weave an intricate plot with complex characters.  Even the villain, Wilson Fisk, was a well-rounded character who had a compelling reason for doing what he was doing.  Daredevil was the show that put Netflix originals on the map, the first one that everyone was talking about.  And for good reason.  It was a breath of fresh air in a genre that has commonly been full of cheeky, light-hearted stories.

It showed us a whole new side to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Coming off of season one, expectations for season two were sky-high.  Everyone wondered where they were going to go, what characters they were going to introduce.  Daredevil spent the entirety of the first season coming into his own as a superhero, so what conflict would season two bring to the table?  How would season two fare compared to the stellar season one?

Unfortunately, perhaps in part due to season one’s excellence, season two comes off as disappointing in a lot of ways.  That’s not to say season two is bad.  It’s still very much watchable, but compared to the first season it feels a little lopsided.

Let’s start at the beginning.  As season two opens, we get to see Daredevil doing his work, taking on crime in Hell’s Kitchen.  Matt Murdock (Daredevil’s true identity) is still trying to make it as a lawyer, and his friend Foggy Nelson is still coming to terms with the fact that Murdock is Daredevil.  At the start of the season, we are introduced to a new threat.  An apparent army of people is going around and killing off gang members in professional ambushes.  Murdock, Foggy, and Karen Page (their secretary whom they met in season one) take on a client who managed to survive one of the attacks.

Season two starts off great, following in the footsteps of season one.  If you know anything about what season two’s story is, you’ve likely guessed that the “army” doing the ambushing is really just the work of one man: Frank Castle, AKA The Punisher.  His reveal is great, as the shows spends almost the entire first episode teasing the danger of this new threat before dropping the revelation of “it’s just one guy”.  Immediately following that revelation we watch as The Punisher storms a hospital, looking to kill the client our main characters have taken on.

The Punisher serves as a foil to Daredevil’s character.  In many ways he’s the man Daredevil almost becomes in season one when he considers whether or not he’s willing to kill Wilson Fisk.  The Punisher challenges his notions of right and wrong.  Most of the third episode is Daredevil being chained to a rooftop arguing with The Punisher about the morality of being a vigilante.  There’s a fascinating difference between the two, and The Punisher is a great tragic character in his own right.

Unfortunately, after the excellent fourth episode (Penny and Dime), things start to go downhill.  The fourth episode almost feels like it could have been a season finale.  It’s epic, dramatic, and full of great character development.  But then, The Punisher is almost unceremoniously pushed to the sidelines for the introduction of another character: Elektra.  Compared to the epic reveal of The Punisher, Elektra’s introduction just comes across as silly.  She appears at the end of episode four in Murdock’s apartment, literally throwing a knife at him before basically saying “what’s up lover?”  And Daredevil reacts like he’s dealing with a freeloading college buddy who wants to crash on his couch.

I was never able to buy into his relationship with Elektra.  Considering how mild-mannered they made Murdock seem in season one, it just seems strange that he would so easily be swept off his feet by someone as frankly psychotic as her.  In the flashbacks detailing their former relationship, it takes her literally trying to make him kill someone before he starts having second thoughts.

And Elektra’s plot line is rather dull by comparison to The Punisher’s.  Once she shows up, the show devolves into Daredevil and Elektra running around to different places and beating up either Yakuza thugs or ninjas who are part of a mystical cult known as “The Hand”.  But despite all the action, very little actually happens during the middle part of the season aside from some pointless drama.  For some stupid reason, Murdock decides not to tell Karen or Foggy about Elektra, which just leads to a bunch of drama over him being late for court over and over again.  Of course, he eventually tells Foggy but it’s too late at that point.  Things start to fall apart and both Karen and Foggy harshly rebuke Murdock for his actions.  And not only that, but Elektra appears immediately after Murdock all but confesses romantic feelings toward Karen, which creates this barely touched on “love triangle” element.

Oh, and remember how I said I didn’t buy the fact that Murdock and Elektra got into a relationship?  That’s actually explained later in the season as being part of some plan, which leads to the groan-inducing “it started as a mission, but then I fell in love with you” line.  Some of the writing later on in the season feels so ham-fisted, which pales in comparison to the excellent first season.

And that’s part of the problem I think.  Season one was just so good that expectations for season two were through the roof.  Even so, the rough patches are hard to ignore.  The Punisher plot line, which in my opinion was the far more interesting one, doesn’t get nearly as much attention as the plot involving The Hand.  And while The Hand plot gets interesting later in the season when they start showing some of the weird, creepy stuff they’re doing, it still feels like a disservice to The Punisher.  In fact, The Punisher is relegated to the sidelines so hard that he literally shows up during the final fight sequence of the season just to snipe a few ninjas in the head and say “see you around”.

I really wish they would have devoted a whole season to The Punisher and then a whole season to The Hand (or the other way around) instead of trying to cram both of them into one season.  But I know why it ended up being that way.  The Hand is going to be the main enemy in The Defenders, which is a cross-over show featuring the four Netflix Marvel heroes teaming up.  And the first season of that show picks up a few months after Daredevil season two.

As I said, season two isn’t terrible or unwatchable.  It’s just disappointing because it could have been so much better.  Here’s hoping The Defenders will be worth it.

 

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

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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.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here.

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!

Paid to Create: The Intersection of Money and Creativity

Here in the United States, we consider ourselves a capitalist society.  And what that means in the long run is that money makes the world go round.  In some ways, this can be a good thing.  It breeds competition, and the beauty of the human spirit is that competition can bring out the best in us.  To put it another way, we often do our best work under pressure.  I know that’s true.  I once wrote a seven-page paper in high school the night before it was due, and I received an A on it.  Not only that, but the teacher wanted to use it as an example for future classes.

Let’s just say I casually left out the part about writing it the night before…

But not everything is gumdrops and rainbows.  When it comes to any system, there are pros and cons.  While competition can inspire creativity, it can also breed a certain sort of staleness in the market.  Look at video games and movies, and you’ll often find trends.  A while back, it seemed like Hollywood was obsessed with making alien invasion movies.  Then it was dark re-imaginings of classic fairy tales.  And now it’s superheroes.  We can’t seem to go more than a couple of months without a new superhero movie hitting the market.  It’s not that superhero movies are a bad thing.  I happen to enjoy a few of them (although I am getting tired of them these days, especially after the disappointing Avengers: Age of Ultron).  But with success comes imitation, and that’s where my problem with the whole thing lies.

With the way our economy is doing right now, and people’s reluctance to spend a lot of money, we tend to see the same types of movies making all the money.  People like to see what they know they will enjoy.  It’s hard for them to justify going to watch a movie that’s outside their normal comfort zone or that they haven’t heard great praise about.  This is part of the reason why I think Hollywood has fallen into a trend of remaking old movies or adapting stories from books or other sources.  If the old movie or book has a big enough audience, then they can bank on people at least going to see it out of curiosity.

The problem is that this mode of thinking stifles creativity, in that we hardly ever see original plots in movies (by which I mean that we see a plot written exclusively to be a movie, not adapted form another source).  Sure, you could consider Star Wars: The Force Awakens to be an original movie.  But there are two problems with that assertion.  One, The Force Awakens is already part of a large, established franchise that has been around for decades.  And two (possible minor spoilers follow), the movie is steeped in nostalgia.  It hits a lot of the same story beats as A New Hope, meaning that while it features a new story and new characters, a lot of the plot points feel readily familiar.

You can observe the same phenomena in the video game world, although in a different form.  Video games don’t tend to adapt stories from other sources.  Instead, they can suffer from an overflow of sequels.  A good example of this is the Call of Duty franchise, which has been around for a long time and has spawned over two dozen different games.  The general complaint around the series is that most of the games feel the same.  But at the same time, there must be an incentive for them to be so similar.  At the end of the day, they want to turn a profit.  So many franchises get caught in this delicate balance between changing enough of the game to justify a sequel in the mind of gamers, but also leaving enough of its core intact so that people feel at home with it.  This is something franchises like Grand Theft Auto have gotten so good at.  They change with the times, getting more and more advanced in look and feel, but they are loaded with nostalgia, giving the hardcore fans little hints and nods at the older games in the series.

You see this in movie sequels as well.  They have to up the ante with each successive movie, making things bigger (like the explosions…always bigger explosions), but also keeping the core feel of their fictional universe intact.  This line of thinking can end up creating a feedback loop where the same few stories get told over and over again.

But sometimes this drive of competition and money can lead to good ideas in the long run.  Let’s again look to the video game world, specifically at Bethesda Game Studios.  Bethesda, most known for their Elder Scrolls series of video games, isn’t just a game development company.  They are a publisher as well, and one of the better ones to work for from what I’ve heard.  The developers of the game Dishonored were basically told by Bethesda to take all the time they needed to make the game as good as they desired.  Bethesda wasn’t on a time crunch.  They didn’t need money immediately.  The Elder Scrolls games sell like crazy every time they come out.  They’re one of the most trusted game developers in the market, so they can allow themselves to take chances on nontraditional ideas or unproven intellectual properties.

The same thing is true of books.  Unlike movies and games, books aren’t constantly driven by this idea of success and money, although it still plays a role.  Take Stephen King for example.  He may be known for his horror stories, but King has also written a fantasy series known as the Dark Tower series, which is a blend of different genres including western, dark fantasy, science fantasy, and horror (of course).  When you have a stable reputation and income, you can feel free to experiment and try new things.  But this experimental mindset is still tempered by the idea of competition, in that you want to make your creation as good as possible so that people will enjoy it.

In the long run, money might be more of a detriment to creativity than anything, but like all things in the world it isn’t a simple black and white situation.  People won’t be inclined to try making something new when they can make something they know works.  But at the same time, trying new things can lead to unexpected success.

After all, trends have to start somewhere.

 

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

This blog just hit one hundred posts!  It’s an incredible milestone for me, one that I wish I had prepared for a little better.  I honestly didn’t realize I had hit it until I started writing this post.  It amazes me that I’ve come this far.  And I haven’t missed a single week since I began this blog.  Every week, on Wednesday, I have made a post.  They might not have all been good (I am particularly disappointed with my story analysis posts…I never did manage to shape those into something I was satisfied with), but consistency is one of the greatest habits you can get into.  You will only get better at something as long as you keep doing it.

So thank you all for following me this far and for reading my weekly ramblings.

Once again, have a wonderful week!  See you next Wednesday.

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.

 

 

In the Realm of Possibility: Scientific Accuracy in Fiction

Every once in a while you’ll watch a movie and you’ll think to yourself “well that’s not really possible”.  It’s a common thought, because on some level we are aware that movies take place outside the realm of our world.  They may try to imitate our reality, but they will never be our reality.  It’s all a fake.

Scientific accuracy within these fictional worlds is oftentimes nebulous.  These places often take unrealistic or improbable routes for the sake of their stories.  As it so happens, people really enjoy catching onto these inaccuracies or improbabilities and pointing them out.  Usually, it doesn’t affect them too much.  It’s one of those little things that they’ll notice and just kind of chuckle at.  But then there are those other people, the ones that will hold every little inaccuracy against the movie.  They’re the type of people who will go online and write an entire forum, blog, or social media post about it.  This is the kind of thing I take issue with.

First off, how important is scientific accuracy really?  Well it depends.  Some movies/television shows/books will tout their scientific accuracy as one of the main selling points, which can end up being a double-edged sword.  It might draw people in, but it makes any inaccuracies that exist much more glaring and harder to forgive.  I would argue that most of the time, it isn’t nearly as important as some people seem to think it is.

I remember going to see the movie Gravity with a friend of mine when it first came out in theaters.  We both really enjoyed it.  It was epic and intense.  It had great effects.  It was beautifully shot.  We both left the theater incredibly satisfied with it, and talked a lot about it on the car ride back.  And then a few days later I was hearing that some people didn’t enjoy the movie because it wasn’t perfectly scientifically accurate.  Some were even complaining about (get this) how the paper Sandra Bullock’s character reads in the pod doesn’t behave the way it would in real space.

All I could think to myself was “really, THAT’S your problem with the movie?  Some pieces of paper?”

Now I won’t profess to be the most scientifically literate person on the planet, as I’m sure there are other scientific issues with the movie.  But I honestly don’t care.  So the paper didn’t behave the way it should have?  Who cares?  Does it really impact the movie that much?  No, no it doesn’t.

Besides, actually simulating that while an actor is holding the paper would be next to impossible unless they were actually in space, which wasn’t going to happen by a long shot.

I think the question we really have to be asking ourselves isn’t “is this movie scientifically accurate” but rather “would scientific inaccuracy detract from the movie in some way?”  And oftentimes, I don’t think the answer would be yes.

Do the scientific inaccuracies make Gravity any less thrilling, any less of a spectacle?  No.  Do the scientific inaccuracies detract from the actor’s performances?  No.  Do they somehow muddy up the themes that the movie engages with?  No.  It does none of those things.  The inaccuracies have no impact on the movie whatsoever.  The only reason they’re a big deal is because some people decided to make it a big deal.

I mean think about it.  If we demanded absolute perfect science every single time, so many great movies would never have been made.  The Star Wars franchise would never have existed period, along with Star Trek.

Time travel is supposed to be scientifically impossible, and yet we still have hundreds of stories dealing with traveling through time.  So why are pieces of freaking paper such a big deal?

I realize I’m probably simplifying the issue, but that’s honestly how I feel about it.  The way some people approach scientific accuracy is so limiting to writers.  Why should we want to write anything if we’re just going to be blasted for any little inaccuracy we might have, even if the rest of what we create is pure gold?  Why are people so intent on finding the tiny flaws, in highlighting them so that they appear worse than they actually are?  I hear people complain about scientific accuracy in superhero movies for crying out loud.

Hey man, if a guy just got powers from being bitten by a radioactive spider, I think scientific accuracy is out the window on this one.

If stories had to pass some scientific fact-checking test before they could be created, I think you’d find that a great deal of them would never come to be.  Writers sometimes need to stretch and bend the rules in order to make a story work.  I mean The Martian by Andy Weir is a great little book, and the scientific accuracy is a neat detail, but I would argue that it would have been just as possible to write the same kind of story without all that.  Like I said, it’s a good detail, but it doesn’t enhance the story as much as people like to think it does.  Honestly, I found myself slightly annoyed on a few occasions when the book took several pages to explain all the science behind it.  I mean I like the detail, but really, enough is enough.

It’s called science-fiction, not science-fact.  And there’s a reason for that.

 

That’s all I have for you this week.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and until then, have a great week.