Marvel on Netflix
(Updated 8/11/17, for Daredevil Season 2 & Iron Fist)
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Daredevil / Jessica Jones / Luke Cage / Iron Fist / The Defenders
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), and Season 2 has been added since this page was first uploaded. S1 was released on Blu-Ray on November 8, 2016, and more recently Season 2, but in both cases they are "All Region" releases offered through a third-party seller, not directly from Amazon. 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. [Correction, August 18, 2017]
[UPDATE] - Finally got back to this, and there's not much change in my opinion. It's still brutal and depressing, and it's hard to understand Matt's vow not to kill when the beatings he dishes out could easily result in death. Then there's the prominence of the Punisher story line. I can understand the pain Frank Castle has been through with the murders of his wife and children, but his means of revenge is not sympathetic in any way. It's hard for me to view him as even an anti-hero, and I'm not sure I care to see further into his life. Yes, everyone is entitled to a second chance, but I think he has already squandered several chances, not sure if he can be redeemed. That Karen Page thinks he can diminishes my respect for the character who had been my favorite so far. She also now knows Matt's secret identity, which I had thought would happen earlier than the final moment of the season, so the fallout of that will be interesting to see. The Defenders begins one week from now, August 18, and I may add that to this page soon.
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 that. 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.
[UPDATE] - Now available on Blu-Ray, and like the Daredevil releases, they are All Region discs. It's possible there is some restrictive clause in the Netflix/Marvel/Disney contract that prohibits an official Region 1 release. It is also available streaming (for a fee) from Amazon, and of course still on Netflix.
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 (only I'd quickly go broke 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.
Now we come to the first true disappointment in the Marvel/Netflix adaptations. I had read quite a few negative things about this, wasn't sure I would bother with it, but Danny Rand will feature in The Defenders as well, and Iron Fist has been renewed for another season. This has been available for nearly five months, but I'm just now getting to it. I've actually only watched the first six episodes so far, might get to another couple later today or this weekend, maybe finish by next Friday when Defenders starts. Or not. The major problem is Finn Jones. I'm not saying he's a bad actor, just not right for this part. I think I've only seen him in one other thing, as Loras Tyrell on Game of Thrones, and it says a lot that I didn't think much of that character to even realize it was him until today. He doesn't carry himself physically the way I would expect of someone highly trained in martial arts, and his fight scenes are not as well choreographed as well as on the other shows. On top of that, the major negative speaks to the complaints I read about ahead of time, the White Savior narrative.
We've seen this sort of story too often, the White man who understands and implements Oriental philosophy into his life better than any Asian (or it could be a white man and Native Americans [Dances with Wolves] or a white man and an alien culture [Avatar]). I feel sorry for Jessica Henwick, who plays Colleen Wing, an accomplished martial artist who teaches in her own dojo, yet she has to play second fiddle to Danny. Since I haven't watched all of this, I'm still holding out hope she'll get the chance to smack him down at least once, as unlikely as that seems now. Instead, it looks like they're leaning toward a romance between them. Yech! I hesitate to say anything about David Wenham's character since that's a completely ridiculous, illogical, scenario. One plus is the return of Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple, and the stories would be a lot more logical if every character (the good guys at least) were as level-headed as her. Both Rosario and Jessica will return for The Defenders, so that's a big incentive to watch. They're probably enough reason for me to finish this series too, as well as the fact the story line continues part of Daredevil's arc, with the evil organization of The Hand still powerful and threatening, and I assume that will carry over to the next show. I may add comments about this show later, and I'll be extremely surprised (but pleased) if my opinion is any more positive.
UPDATE 8/15/17: Okay, a few days later and I've finished watching this, but no, my opinion hasn't changed. To my great dismay, they did put Danny and Colleen together as a couple in the next episode I watched. I guess that was inevitable, but still disappointing. I liked Jessica Henwick's performance. She was convincing in her feelings for Danny, yet I still think it was wrong because Jones' performance was so unconvincing. He made me think of Deckard's comment in the original voice-over version of Blade Runner: instead of an Iron Fist, he was more of a Cold Fish. He also made me think of another actor on a show I gave up on several seasons ago, Stephen Amell of CW's Arrow. It never helps when the weakest link on a show is its lead actor. Another complaint is one I could probably level at many other shows, including the other Marvel shows, but it was so glaring too many times here. They're in New York, the city that never sleeps, and yet when all the mayhem is going on there is never anyone else around to witness it. Another: Danny, Colleen, and Claire fly to China on a Rand Enterprises private jet, after Danny and the Meachums were ousted from the Rand Board of Directors. How did they get access to the jet, and how did they kill several thugs and capture Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho), and return to New York without detection? How did Ward Meachum move several dead bodies from his father's penthouse into his car in a parking garage without being seen, even by The Hand, which should have had constant surveillance on that building? Suspension of disbelief can only be carried so far.
My rating for this one is 5 out of 10 stars, watchable but forgettable. The only positive comments are for a few of the performances: David Wenham is appropriately creepy; Jessica Henwick is good, in spite of my disappointment in the hook-up with Danny; Rosaria Dawson continues to impress as Claire Temple, I just wish everyone else would listen to her more often. This did end on a cliffhanger, but not in the way I expected, so I don't know if that story line will continue in Defenders, or if there will be another way this one seques into it. We'll know in a few days. Stay tuned.
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