“Iron Fist” Season 1 – The Side Characters are the Best Part and “The Hand” Finally Works Though the Show has Other Issues

     Marvel’s “Iron Fist” is a flawed show. It isn’t great but I also enjoyed the journey that the story put me through, though the problems are one that are big within Marvel and just compounded with the story and presentation of Danny Rand. This is a character who is so many played out tropes, billionare orphan goes to Asia and becomes a Ninja/Seer, etc. Playing into exoticizing Japan, China, South Korea, etc. I’ll get into examples deeper into the review but this lazy writing really kept the show from being great, even though I did still find it base good.

 The show was created by Scott Buck.

    The story involves Danny Rand (Finn Jones) returning from the monastery K’un Lun in order to get back his fortune and take on the enemy the monastery has trained him for, The Hand. All is not as it appears to be in regards to who his real enemies and friends are and his role as the Iron Fist.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world of the Defenders gets even richer in this show as we learn more aspects of the world, especially in regards to “The Hand” who are insidious for the first time (never bought them as a threat in Season 2).

The Action – There are some great martial arts battles this season, so that is one thing that this season has going for it. I enjoyed all the action and it showed what can be accomplished with a limited budget but strong martial arts can carry scenes.

The Support Characters – The support characters are the strongest part and for the most part, I can’t wait to see what further exploration they receive. Madam Gao is back! (my second favorite MCU villain) as are some of the other great minor characters from the other “Defenders” Shows. These were the characters that brought me back to the show.

The Meachums – The Meachums are the family friends of the Rands and Harold was Danny’s Father’s partner of Rand Enterprises. He’s around as the primary villain outside the Hand and his children complicate things for our heroes.

Joy – Joy is the character who may have had a relationship with Danny before but has moved on from it. She is a powerhouse in Rand Enterprises and is the sibling with her act most together. This leads to her father, who was brought back to life using her after his son tries to kill him for all his abuse. She never gets to see just how insane her father has become but she ends up blaming Danny for how all she knows goes up in flames, making her a possible villain going into the Defenders.

Harold – Harold is the Meachum who killed Danny’s father and tries to frame and kill Danny at the end of the Season. He is an immortal thanks to the Hand (as long as he has his body with his head attached, he can come back). He is a sociopath but has moments of caring. He is clearly bad but he is vulnerable even when he’s taken over…though he is once again another evil MCU Corporate Boss with Hammer, Monger, Yellow Jacket, etc. He’s a played out trope but David Wenham gives what depth he can to the role and makes him a lot of fun.

Ward – Ward looks like “American Psycho” meets Donald Trump Jr. as in a sleezy tool looking character who is only out for himself. We learn that he was abused by his father and in turn abused Danny. His turn around is after his drug addiction breaks him and he kills his father, only for his father to get revenge on him. After it is chess match between him and his father with Danny as the Knight. Ward wins and is left to look back on all the evil things he’s done. He’s won and gained his soul that he had never had before. He also kills his dad and burns the body finally ending Harold’s reign.

Bakuto – Bakuto is Colleen Wing’s Sensei and a leader in the Hand. He is very much a Ra’s al Ghul type figure who wants to destroy all power structures leaving only the Hand and what he believes to be true justice with all a part of the Hand or serving it in some way in a Utopia. He is a fun character and was a great villain until he is defeated by Colleen after he betrays her trust and ends up being killed by one of the K’un Lun Monks Davos.

Davos – Davos is Danny’s childhood friend who wanted to be the Iron Fist. He is a fanatic for the cause and in the end it corrupts him. He is along the lines of Mordo in “Doctor Strange” as in the end his inability to change leads to him believing that peace can only be achieved by ending the Iron Fist since the Iron Fist won’t kill the Hand. He isn’t wrong since Danny doesn’t kill, so it gives an interesting dilemma going forward.

Hogarth – Hogarth is back! She is a great ally through the series to Danny and helps him in his war against the Meachums. It was great seeing her again, though I wish she’d gotten more exploration. She is there as support but not much else.

Claire Temple – Claire is back and plays a big role in this as we see her take on vigilante qualities too as she learns to fight from Colleen Wing in her dojo and working with Danny and Colleen whether they are fighting the Meachums or the Hand. She is as much a Defender as any of the others and is much more interesting than Danny Rand. Rosario Dawson is once again fantastic and plays my favorite Defender hero.

Madam Gao – Madam Gao is my second favorite villain the MCU (https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2016/11/20/top-5-villains-of-the-marvel-cinematic-universe/). In this we get to see just how old she is, as she references facing other Iron Fists and is able to predict things because of how long she’s been around and how well she knows people. She is a major leader in the Hand and in the end her faction wins out over Bakuto’s faction as she manipulates Joy and Davos to take out Danny Rand. She is playing a long game and is the only character always winning. I really enjoy this character and can’t wait to where her story goes.

Colleen Wing – Jessica Henwick is fantastic! I wanted this show to be about her (she deserved it, her story isn’t as played out as Danny’s for one thing). This is a character who has to prove herself time and time again both in the arena and against what she considered family (She is a Hand agent until they betray her when she won’t betray Danny). I felt for her character the entire time and can’t wait to see where her story goes. She is a lot more interesting than Danny.

Okay: Danny Rand – Finn Jones annoyed me for the first half of this season. He looks perpetually bored and isn’t very good at emoting. He grew me on me over time but he is not this show’s pro. This is a character that because he is a played out trope (rich white billionaire orphan becomes ninja/monk, etc. – Doctor Strange, Batman and related Wolverine, Daredevil, Elektra, etc.). His story is orphan becomes master of his craft and reclaims his fortune…I enjoyed it for simplicity but I was annoyed too. This was a story that could have done with change, starting with Danny Rand.

The Cons: Asian-American Representation in the Marvelverse – Name a Marvel hero in the MCU who isn’t on Agents of SHIELD who is Asian? Outside of Wong (another great support character) in Doctor Strange there isn’t one. Colleen Wing is almost made Danny’s partner at times in this in who they face and the choices they make but she is still just a supporting character. Given this lack of representation and the pulling from the different Martial Arts from Asia to tell Danny Rand’s story, why not give Danny some level of history? He could have been from Hong Kong and been new money and from there more layers with the Meachum and the history of discrimination towards Asians in the United States through laws. You wouldn’t have to change too much but any change like this or similar could have added more layers. The Defenders have always been a show tackling important issues from racism (Luke Cage) to rape and sexual assault (Jessica Jones). Danny Rand is much weaker than Daredevil which at least tackles philosophy at times. Representation could have let them do that, taking a risk with Danny Rand.

Playing it “Safe” and the Lack of Risks – Danny Rand on Netflix is a complete lack of risk. He is played out tropes from the orphan billionaire trope in comics, to becoming a ninja in Asia and reclaiming his fortune. If any of these things had been changed it would have been a risk that would have made the show potentially great.

   Whether you should watch this show or not really depends on how much you like the Defenders project and journey as a whole. I liked it but I don’t think it’s necessary, you’ll get the core elements and characters in “The Defenders” first season and even though some of the problems of The Hand are fixed, new ones are brought up in this version of Danny Rand. This actor is okay but he needed to great and had to be written a lot better for this to work and be great. This was a show that if it had taken more risks, could have made it great. If in the end you don’t take risks you will never achieve greatness in your story, especially if all you do is pulled on tropes that have been done before.

Final Score: 7.5 / 10. Enjoyable but Danny is the weakest Defender by far. This is a show worth watching for the supporting cast.

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“Luke Cage” Season 1 – Of Oppression, Race, Power and Hope

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  Marvel’s “Netflix” shows are the best thing to come out of the MCU. The shows are relevant, topical and have fully fleshed out characters and stories. “Luke Cage” is no different and the more powerful with the election of Trump and resurgent KKK and Alt-Right. This is a show about African-American characters and their power, be they heroes or villains. The story takes place in Harlem and is honest about racism and poverty in the story that unfolds. I’ll get into that more with the assessment, but for how relevant this show is now, and shows like it can not be unsaid….stories matter.

      “Luke Cage” was created by Cheo Hodari Coker.

    The story is about Luke Cage, who after the events of “Jessica Jones” returns to Harlem and has gotten out of the hero business. This until the actions taken by the gangster Cottonmouth pull him back in as Cottonmouth’s corruption leads to the loss of his mentor and the harming of Harlem.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world of “Luke Cage” is close to our own (like what most of Marvel strives to be like in the “Defenders” world, but from the lens of Harlem manages to tackle topical issues as well as still giving us fantastical elements like a HAMMER suit and the fact that Luke Cage is a Super Hero. The world is like ours enough to be relate-able but fantastic enough to allow escapism.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and is great at showing the beautiful areas of Harlem. Whether it is Cottonmouth’s club or the Church or even the city streets. Every scene is alive.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is amazing and is a great mixture of R and B and Blues. Cottonmouth’s Club has some great performances and they are in the background and give themes to some scenes. Younge and Muhammad really did a great job putting this score together.

The Writing – This is Marvel, Marvel is great at choosing good writers and this is on display here. There is all show rather than tell and the themes of race, oppression and power are intermixed in subtly and beautifully.

The Characters – The characters are the best part of the film, though “Luke Cage” does have the MCU villain problem where the primary antagonist just isn’t that compelling in the end. Outside of that though I loved these characters.

Misty Knight – Misty Knight is the detective who sleeps with Luke in episode 1 and is working to capture him or save him as she learns her partner was working for Cottonmouth and that Luke Cage is innocent of what others keep trying to frame him for. She even manages to convince her boss of Cage’s innocence though when Luke is revealed as Carl and that he escaped from Seagate, there is nothing she can do.

Shades – Shades served time with Carl Lucas/Luke Cage in Seagate and was one of his tormentors. Once he gets out he is working for Diamondback and trying to get Cottonmouth to better follow Diamondback’s lead. Eventually Diamondback turns on him (after Shades helps Mariah cover up the murder of Cottonmouth) leading to an alliance between her and Mariah to overthrow Diamondback and become the new leaders of the Harlem Underworld. They win. Can’t wait to see more of this guy.

Mariah Dillard – Mariah was raised by one of the past leaders of the Harlem gang (Mother Mabel) scene and was meant to be the brains while her cousin Cottonmouth was meant to be the muscle. She succeeds but goes through great trauma first as she was raped by her Uncle as a kid and Mabel did nothing. She kills Cottonmouth when he blames her for her Uncle and rightfully she kills him. This leads to her working with Shades to overthrow Diamondback and taking over the political scene and crime scene fully. By the end of the season she’s one as Luke Cage is taken in once more by Seagate.

Cottonmouth – Cornell Stokes, or “Cottonmouth” is the main antagonist in the first half of the series and I wish he’d stayed the main antagonist. The reason why is he is very much Luke’s foil in every way. Where Luke is stoic, Cottonmouth talks a lot and takes pleasure in everything. He is also a man who losing it all doesn’t stop him from owning his power. This dynamic would have forced Luke to kill him in the end but it never happens since his cousin Mariah does after he victim blames her. This is a character who was a musician but gave it all up to take over the crime scene and all his scenes on the piano are full of regret. Mahershala Ali (Remi from “House of Cards”) is once again amazing!

Claire Temple – Claire is back! Rosario Dawson is easily the best hero of the Defenders as she is flawed, complex but good at the end of the day and she doesn’t carry the martyr complex most of the heroes carry at it. She’s the one whose grown the most and it is great seeing her use her connections to help Luke Cage fight Diamondback throughout the series.

Luke Cage – Luke Cage, known as Carl Lucas before was framed for murder by his half-brother Diamondback and spends most of the film running from that until he finally gets to confront his step-brother and the truth comes out leading to him going back to Seagate. Luke Cage is a story of resistance, it doesn’t matter that he was framed, at the end of the day he is seen as a threat and him tackling the racist underpinnings of that (from vigilante white cops wanting to kill him and the prison warden) Luke Cage’s story is that of reclaiming power that was lost and from that he represents the fight for equality from within the United States.

Racism and Power – This is a running theme through the story, from the fact that money isn’t really coming into Harlem (leading to Cottonmouth, Mariah and Diamondback’s rise) and a huge part of that is because it is the African-American quarter of New York and as history has shown those areas existed because of the groups in power not wanting to be with the groups who didn’t have power (Red lining, denying housing to groups that weren’t white, etc.). This is implicit in the story and lends power to the narrative as Luke works to change things from within the city.

Okay: Diamondback – Diamondback is Luke Cage’s crazy half-brother who has tons of daddy issues and believes himself to be in a religious quest to purge Harlem of the corrupt and rule it. At the end of the day he is crazy and is never given any more dimension than that, which is fine but he isn’t great and is one of the weakest parts of this series. I wish Cottonmouth had stayed the big bad.

Pops – Pops is the mentor character but never felt fully fleshed out. He wasn’t bad and was a good guy but he works more as the ideal of Harlem and how all are in it together as family. In that way he works as well as being the call to action.

The Cons: The Final Fight – Diamondback and Luke Cage are fighting in the streets of Harlem and a crowd gathers to cheer on Cage. This felt so corny that it ruined the tension.

   The main cons that really bring the story down are the death of Cottonmouth (which made sense and I still really like Shades and Mariah and I’m glad they are still around) and Diamondback not being all that compelling. He’s crazy but he can’t carry it, especially since the first half of the series is setting up Cottonmouth as Luke Cage’s foil. His death was a major loss to the MCU and I think was overall the wrong choice due to how it shattered the great narrative pacing that had happened up to that point. I’d still recommend this series, it is a favorite and even though it is no “Daredevil” Season 1 I’d put it above “Jessica Jones” and “Daredevil” season 2 in the “Defenders” stories we have seen so far. We will need more stories like this in the future and I look forward to Season 2.

Final Score: 8.8 / 10

“Marvel’s Daredevil” Season 1 – Complex Characters, Stakes and Better Than Most Marvel Movies

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     “Marvel’s Daredevil” Season 1 is a masterpiece. This is a show that manages to have both complex heroes and villains, bring up important questions and dilemmas that drive said characters and have a coherent overarching plot while still leaving things open for a future or ending if it they have to. Suffice to say, I am glad this show is getting a Season 2, it deserves it. Besides “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Captain America: Winter Soldier” this is the best thing to come out of Marvel (still haven’t seen “Age of Ultron” but that review will be coming later.

     The series was created by Drew Goddard and based on the comics created by Stan Lee and Bill Everett. It is produced by Marvel Television and is part of the lead up to “The Defenders” television series.

     The story is that of Matt Murdock who is “The Man in Black” and his story as he becomes Daredevil as he fights the gangs of Hell’s Kitchen and their leader “The Kingpin.” From here the story unfolds as conflict arises in his relationships and they face their own dilemmas too. Whether they are heroes or villains.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous and captures the dark noir feel that would lead to the creation of a person like Matt Murdock, who is very much the Batman of Hell’s Kitchen. It’s a brutal world but their is a beauty in it too as no character is one dimensional.

The Soundtrack – John Paesano and Braden Kimball were fantastic at this soundtrack. It gives the dark gritty intensity that really gets into the heads of all the characters. This is a rough world that made them and the soundtrack expresses that beautifully.

The Writing – The writing is extremely sold. Every character has an arc that leads them making difficult choices and they change because of those choices. This show doesn’t allow characters to be static or repeat character plots over again. Characters change and move on.

The Characters – The characters are itneresting and complex. My favorites were probably Daredevil and Madam Gao, though I really liked the Kingpin too. Each of them had parts both dark and light inside of them (in all the characters for that matter) and they either chose to reject one half, or in some cases find balance.

Madame_Gao

The Gang Leaders – The gang leaders are complicated and in most cases we get their backstory, especially if they are killed, which happens a lot in this series in regards to all the characters. This leads to an interesting dynamic and strange alliances and choices the characters make in their own agendas in Hell’s Kitchen.

The Russian Brothers – These two were tortured but managed to escape Russia to America and wanted to own the world. Eventually one chooses to submit to Fisk and dies, but when Daredevil is framed the other brother seeks to kill him before he is finally ended in Fisk’s plot to wipe out the Russian Mafia. Their story is sad but the brother is avenged as the surviving brother tells Daredevil the name of Leland who is the accountant for all of them.

Nobu – Nobu is the connection to the supernatural and one of the leaders of the clan in Hell’s Kitchen. He gets the closest to killing Daredevil but dies in the process. He is a dangerous and quite character and is working with and for the supernatural elements in the MCU. What those are is still a mystery though. Peter Shinkoda does a good job in the role.

Leland – Leland is the guy who is all about the money and is arguing about Fisk all the time. He isn’t stupid though and when his attempt to kill Fisk’s girlfriend fails he keeps the detective who has been working for them protected so that he has leverage over Fisk. Sadly this doesn’t stop Fisk and he is killed, though his plan does work at bringing down Fisk after Daredevil manages to save the detective from the corrupt cops working for Fisk.

Madam Gao – Madam Gao is amazing. She is old and smart and is the only person of the gangs who Fisk respects. After her and Leland’s assassination plot fails she leaves the country. She sees herself as doing good in her selling of the heroin as she believes it gives people sight into another world and plane of existence. She also knows when to get out and is the only one to escape Hell’s Kitchen unscathed. I really liked her character and hope she is around for a lot longer. Wai Ching Ho is fantastic!

Wesley – Wesley is the Kingpin’s Hand and enforcer and makes the all the deals. He is the face of the Kingpin when the series first starts and is how the mob deals with Fisk. He is crafty and is able to offset most situations. He also sees danger clearly and when he captures Karen he ends up dead as he underestimates her willingness to fight for her life and to end Fisk. His death is powerful as he was a sociopath but clearly cared for Fisk and considered him a friend. Toby Moore does a good job in this role.

Vanessa – Vanessa is the owner of an art studio who gets Fisk out of his shell. They have an equal relationship and she lives her own life until Fisk’s life ends and it shows that she make pick up his mantel. She is a sensitive character with a brutality to her as she doesn’t mourn the death of the Russian Mafia or those caught in the crossfire.

The Kingpin – Wilson Fisk is brutal and complicated. He believes that murder is the only way to change the city because murder was the only thing that stopped his father from abusing him and his mother. He also loves deeply and when the heroes trap closes in around them he proposes to Vanessa. His heart has always been her’s as he is honest in who and what he is and it’s what makes their relationship so wonderful. They are idealists and also monsters. Vincent D’Onofrio is great at this role.

The Heroes – The heroes like our villains have complex motivations and the choices they make change their relationship to one another and what it means to be who they are.

Stick – Stick is Matt’s brutal mentor who is serving a mysterious mentor. He cares about Matt but is also someone who is abusive and has a lot of issues of his own to deal with. I was glad when Matt kicked him out for killing the weaponized kid that Nobu was going to use as a weapon. This is a character who isn’t good but is the Punisher to Daredevil. Scott Glenn does the dark mentor role really well.

Ben Urich – Ben is a reporter who is a thorn in Fisk’s side. He breaks the story about the corruption in the company Karen was working for and together they work to bring down Fisk. Sadly the price is his life as he is killed personally by Fisk when he and Karen discover Fisk’s mother and learn about Fisk’s mother of his father.

Karen Page – Karen worked for a company that was taking bribes and doing illegal acts for Fisk. In the end they ask to her sign a silence order and pay her a lot of money…this is only after she weathers an assassination attempt from Fisk’s men and this makes her someone fighting always against them. She is the only one who has killed for the cause and she carries that with her, just like the deaths of Ben and the others lost in the fight.

Claire Temple – Claire is the only person outside of Foggy and Stick that knows that Matt Murdock is Daredevil. She has saved his life on multiple occasions and at one point was interested too. It ends with them only being friends as she needed someone their when Daredevil was pushing everyone away. She stands up for herself though and lays down those boundaries with Matt. Rosario Dawson (Mimi from “Rent”) does an amazing job as her!

Foggy Nelson – Foggy is the ambitious of the two as Murdock is the idealist. Murdock’s idealism as well as Karen’s changes him and we see just how deeply he cares for the people and not the bottom line of money. We also see how much he trusted Murdock and how the secret of Murdock’s power hurts him. It takes a few episodes for them to be good again and for him to realize just how much Matt was hurting holding it all in. Elden Henson does great work in this role.

Matt Murdock/Daredevil – First, Charlie Cox is a beautiful guy, second he is also an amazing actor! I really enjoyed how well he played Matt Murdock, from showing his sensitivity to his Dark Knight persona where he would beat and torture, even if he’d never killed. It was a line he was always dealing with and you see that play out in how he connects to others. Everytime he almost dies he grows close to someone but his obsession drives them away as well as his fear of losing them. This is what defines his character as well as his empathy for the innocent and his willingness to even protect the monsters from death. I really like this guy and the only character in the MCU with similar levels of empathy is Captain America, who is also my favorite after “Winter Soldier.” This series is worth it, just for his performance in this role.

The Action – The action deserves it’s own space here. There is a ton of hand to hand combat and it’s really beautiful and well done. Daredevil never uses a weapon until the end when he starts using sticks and the Kingpin is the same way. Both of them are almost animalistic in their fighting styles and it makes for beautiful fight sequences. The moments with guns are great too, from the Kingpin’s escape and the ambush of the Russians. This series doesn’t shy away from the cost and you see just how horrible the acts are.

The Ending – The Kingpin tries to escape, Daredevil attacks in his costume (made by the same man who made the Kingpin’s bullet proof suits) and we get a great fight sequence before the final with the Kingpin staring at the wall in the cell that is the same wall he faced as a child (showing he’s just as dangerous here even if he is alone) and Daredevil triumphant as he is now known by that name after giving the name to one of the few good cops on the force. I really enjoyed it and I’m glad Madam Gao escaped Daredevil and Kingpin too.

    This is a show that gets storytelling right. The characters are complex and change, the story has stakes, the music and writing and amazing and what the par for comic book storytelling on television should be (looking at you “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”) and it actually tackles complex issues and dilemmas. Whether the show can sustain this remains to be seen but for now, I am extremely impressed and have to give it the best score. This is the best writing to come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe outside of “Winter Soldier” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” and hope it can continue.

Final Score: 10 / 10.

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