Marvel on Netflix
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
I should have started this page over a year ago. The first season of Daredevil was released on Netflix in April 2015, the second season in March of this year. As time went by, and then Jessica Jones was released, I felt I should rewatch DD before reviewing it, but couldn't generate the will to do so. I liked the first season, didn't love it, and cared more for the characters Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson), and journalist Ben Urich (Vondie Curtis-Hall), than I did for Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox). I was discouraged by the unrelentingly brutal fights, well choreographed to be sure, but there were several actions by others that had as much of an impact on the final outcome. I'm sure I'll rewatch it at some point, or at least finish Season Two, but so far I've only watched the first episode. It introduced Frank "The Punisher" Castle (Jon Bernthal), who will be featured in his own series in November 2017 (I think, but it could be sooner than that).
As I've said many times over the years, I am not a comics reader. I sampled a few when I was younger, mainly borrowed from friends, but not with any regularity. Now that graphic novels are more prominent than ever, including a Hugo award category, I've wanted to read more, and one of these days I hope to do so, but too many other books have been calling to me more. I'm pretty sure I've seen the Ben Affleck movie, but remember little about it, and of course only know about the character from other things I've read online since then. I can't judge this production on how true to the comics it is, only on the strength of the story I watched. My main complaint is that thirteen episodes was more than was needed to tell the core story of the villain, Wilson Fisk (Vincent D'Onofrio). Some of the sub-plots could have been held for a later season, although I suppose they couldn't be sure there would be more, so they tried to flesh out the background of Matt's life, and other things going on in Hell's Kitchen, as much as possible. The flashbacks of Matt's childhood with his boxer father, and the origin of his extra-sensory abilities, were brief enough, but they wasted an episode on his former mentor (Scott Glenn) which did not advance the main story arc at all.
There are more heroes than just Daredevil here. Karen is just as courageous in her fight for justice, and Foggy is a staunch and loyal friend, going well above and beyond his duties as Matt's law partner. The villain is evil of course, but still a nuanced character who wants to do right by Hell's Kitchen too, albeit in a twisted, selfish way. And we can't forget Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), who has been a recurring character in all of these series, and I hope that continues. From what I've read, she's an amalgam of two different Marvel characters, her namesake of course, as well as "Night Nurse." She is proof that you don't need superpowers to be a hero, just compassion and the strength to do what is right. This series is dark in more ways than one. The majority of scenes are at night, in dark alleys and warehouses, or dim apartments and offices, so the sets and cinematography had to be designed with that in mind. Hopefully you have a good flat-screen with decent resolution, or some of the action might be lost. The darkness is also reflective of the brooding nature of most of the characters, as well as the bleak conditions in Hell's Kitchen. It's full of crime, poverty, and despair, but there is also an undercurrent of the decent folk just trying to hold it all together.
Both seasons are still availble to stream for Netflix subscribers, but I was surprised to find that Season One can also be streamed at Amazon (for a fee, not Prime). S1 will also be released on Blu-Ray on November 8. No separate DVD release has been announced at this time. In spite of the few negatives mentioned above, I do recommend it. If and when I re-watch and/or finish Season Two I'll update this review. A third season is projected for some time in 2018, and Matt and crew are also to be featured in The Defenders, and I think that is tentatively scheduled for November 2017.
I liked Jessica Jones more, but this time I felt thirteen episodes were not enough. Yes, there is a lot of repetitive action throughout the main story, the mind control that Kilgrave (David Tennant) exerts over most everyone he encounters, and under which he had previously held Jessica (Khrysten Ritter). On the other hand, several flashbacks give us details into the origin of her super-strength, an incident that also caused the death of her parents, then later her adoption by the Jones family. It is obvious Jessica shares a strong bond with her adoptive sister Trish (Rachael Taylor), so all of that back-story is important. We also get several scenes of when she was under Kilgrave's spell, and part of that involved Luke Cage (Mike Colter), so now Jessica has to agonize over the negative way her actions impacted his life. The continuity of the show doesn't match that of the comics, but it's understandable. I've only read the first volume of the Jessica Jones: Alias comic, which features several of the Avengers, with whom Jessica had formerly worked before she decided to reinvent herself as a private investigator. I'm sure contractual obligations restrict Netflix from showing or making specific references to the major characters from the movies.
There are casual references to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but only in a generic way. The attack on New York by the Chitauri from the first Avengers movie is mentioned several times, but only as "The Incident", and there is talk of "the big green guy" or the "god with the big hammer", etc. The Kilgrave arc wasn't until the last series of the comics, collected in the fourth trade volume. I hope to read that eventually, but so far I've only bought the first three. Volume 3 probably won't ever be used in the future of this show either, since it features Spider-Man and other characters from those stories. Volume 2 maybe, since it's about Jessica searching for a suspected mutant, although they won't be able to use that term since it's restricted to the X-Men franchise. If and when I read these comics I plan on reviewing them too, and that might eventually include another set of books under the banner title of "The Pulse." In those, Jessica eventually marries Luke Cage and they have a child, but I think they may have other ideas about how to develop the characters for the shows.
There are several fights here too, maybe just as brutal, but mostly shorter than the ones in Daredevil. Since Jessica has super-strength and Luke is practically invulnerable, very few can match them in a fight. Nearly all the focus on Matt Murdock concerned his heightened senses and his fighting ability, whereas Jessica uses not only her strength but also her detective skills. There is also the emphasis on the control, abuse, even rape, both physical and emotional, in the actions of Kilgrave, and the PTSD that resulted from them. Thus Jessica Jones can be seen as a tale of women's empowerment, and it's fitting that the show's creator, several producers, writers and directors are women. Contrast that with the testosterone drenched Daredevil, which had only two women in its writers room and just one episode directed by a woman. My only complaint about this show is the final showdown between Jessica and Kilgrave was anti-climactic, otherwise I rate it highly. A second season has been ordered, but the last time I checked it seems The Defenders will come first.
Just as Jessica Jones was a woman's story, primarily produced, written, and directed by women, it was encouraging to see Luke Cage handled by African-Americans. I think they did a remarkable job in portraying all the elements of Harlem, both the good and the bad. They don't pull any punches in depicting the harsh conditions that shaped the lives of several, propelling them along a path of violence and greed. Then there's the positive side of the community, the closeness of family and friends, the respect for tradition, and the cherishing of communal gathering places. One of those places is Pop's Barber Shop, where Luke has a part-time job as a janitor. Pop is played by the great character actor Frankie Faison, with such warmth and compassion it almost makes me wish I had been raised in Harlem just to have a mentor like him (but I'd go broke quick feeding the Swear Jar). Luke also has an evening job working in the kitchen of Harlem's Paradise, a nightclub owned and operated by gangster Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes (Mahershala Ali). Stokes' cousin is City Council-Woman Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard). She's a bit like Wilson Fisk, on the surface a tireless champion for rebuilding Harlem, while secretly not caring how her plans are carried out, or who is hurt in the process.
We already knew of Luke's abilities from his scenes in Jessica Jones, but the opening up of his story, the origin of his powers and how he chose to deal with them, could not have come at a more opportune time. I mean, could there be anything more audacious at this time than a Black man in a hoodie who is bullet-proof? A man who has a burning passion for justice? Add to that politicians who are good at manipulating the media, and the media willing to run with a story for its sensationalism rather than its basis in fact. It's powerfully dramatic, timely and cautionary, superbly acted by all. If Alfre Woodard does not get an Emmy nomination next year I declare the system broken. She's just the cream of the crop though, one of our acting giants, but everyone contributes excellent performances as well. I can't name everyone, but the highlights are: Simone Missick as police detective Mercedes "Misty" Knight, Frank Whaley as her partner Rafael Scarfe, Theo Rossi as behind the scenes manipulator Hernan "Shades" Alvarez, and of course Rosario Dawson again as the calm, rational, but still bad-ass Claire Temple, whom they may be grooming for a future romance with Luke rather than him hooking up with Jessica (again). I'd also like to point out Ron Cephas Jones in the role of Bobby Fish, an avid chess player always hanging out at Pop's, and maybe he was a backup barber, but I'm not sure. He has been doing some solid supporting work the last year or so, in Mr. Robot as well as currently on NBC's This Is Us. I hope we see him again in some capactiy in Luke's life.
The only negative is Willis "Diamondback" Stryker. Not the actor, Erik LaRay Harvey, he's good, but rather the way the character is written. It's too broad, too over-the-top, with a tale of vengeance that is so clichéd it's hard to take seriously. Luke does defeat him in their final encounter, but I'll bet we haven't seen the last of him either. I don't think it has been announced yet, but I'm sure there will be another season for Luke, over and above the part he will play in The Defenders. Before any of that there will be another show introducing a fourth member of the team, Iron Fist, currently scheduled for release in March 2017. I had at least heard of Daredevil and Luke Cage before these shows, read a bit about Jessica before seeing it, but I know next to nothing about Danny "Iron Fist" Rand. Since I have no expectations for that show, I can't say I'm anticipating it, other than how it will add another piece to the puzzle, but if it's even half as good as Daredevil it will probably be worth watching. Simone Missick will return as Misty Knight, so that's a big plus. It will have to be exceptional to out-do Luke and Jessica though, two shows that I rate very close to each other, both with an 8 out of 10 at IMDb, with Daredevil getting a 7. For comparative purposes, note that it is extremely rare for me to rate anything a 9, much less a 10, so all of those ratings are high ones for me, and deserved.
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