“The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance” Season 1 – The Power of Deep Lore and Great Characters

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   “The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance” is the best show I’ve seen on Netflix. I liked the original “Dark Crystal” but thought it was underdeveloped as a whole but had so many awesome ideas. This show develops all those ideas. We see how rich this world is and how complicated the characters are. The world of “Dark Crystal” is fantasy meets sci. fi. You have elven fairy Gelflings, Gnomelike Podlings and the monstrous villainous Skeksis. Jim Henson truly had an amazing imagination. This show takes all of that and develops the characters further. This show is also done all with puppetry, just like the original film and they are truly masterful.

The series was produced by Netflix with the Jim Henson company.

The story follows the Rian (Taron Egerton) as he is on the run after witnessing the Lord’s of Thra, the Skeksis kill and take the “essence” of his friend. At the same time Deet (Nathalie Emmanuel) arrives from the caves seeking to end “The darkening” as the princess Brea (Anya Taylor-Joy) begins questioning Skeksis rule, prompted by a symbol from the past.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Puppetry – The puppetry is absolutely stunning. The level of detail on the Skeksis scarred or sickened faces, the kind faces and wings of the gelflings and the large eyes and large mouths of the Gelflings. All of them feel real and their expressions and emotions are brought to life largely due to how well these puppets were made. They all have a distinct walk in how they are used too and the talking feels completely natural. The Jim Henson Company has truly done it again.

The World of Thra – There are the Podlings, the Skeksis, the Mystics and the Gelflings. The Gelflings have the most variety and their service to the Dark Crystal and in turn the Skeksis adds for some compelling politics. This is a world that has consequences and the show starts in the middle of it all.

The Characters – There are so many great characters in this film. I chose the ones who go through the most development to delve into more deeply but shout to to the Emperor voiced by Jason Isaacs who is threatening as hell and driven to control by any means necessary, even if it destroys him and Thra. The General who revels in combat and enforcing the Emperor’s will voiced by Benedict Wong. Lena Heady as Maudra Fara leader of the Stonewood Clan who guides the development of others and nearly leads the Gelflings. The cast and characters are simply amazing.

Mother Aughra – Aughra is the seer who returns from the stars to find the Skeksis have become dictators over Thra and have corrupted the Crystal, making it dark. Her arc is connecting with the planet Thra once more and finding her purpose. In this she connects to the Gelfling heroes and sacrifices her life to save them, in turn being brought back when her friend the Archer sacrifices himself to defeat the Skeksis Hunter. She uses madness as her shield, as it makes it so the Skeksis aren’t threatened by her, which allows her to get close and help in the fight against them.

Rian – Rian is the main hero of the piece and reminds me a lot of Link in a “Legend of Zelda” game. It is his friend being killed that sparks his story and he is the one spreading word of the Skeksis being evil. In the end his revolution is successful as the Gelfling Clans unite under his banner and he finds the sword that is prophesied to defeat the Skeksis.

Brea – Brea is  one of the three princesses of the Vapra Clan. The Vapra are the High Elves and rule their All-Maudra rules the other Clans. Her sister Tavra who she is close too and Seladon the sister who follows the status quo and supports Skeksis rule. She is the youngest of the sisters and is the one pushing for change. Brea questions Skeksis rule and it is her discoveries that bring her mother and eventually Tavra and Seladon to go against Skeksis rule. At one point the Skeksis kill her mother and she has an arc going through that grief and connecting with the other Gelflings. Brea is the one who finds the Shard of Division after the Sword is destroyed and sees that it is the best hope the Gelfings have of defeating Skeksis rule.

Chamberlain – Simon Pegg does a masterful job bringing Chamberlain to life. In this we see his machinations as he seeks control over the other Skeksis and being second-in-command to the Emperor. He largely succeeds until Rian’s revolution leads to the General becoming the Emperor’s right hand. From here we see Chamberlain’s ideas payoff. He comes up with having soldiers who are undead (which the Scientist builds with the creation of the Garthim) and he was smart that killing all Gelflings means they run out of essence. This long term thinking goes away when the resistance comes to fruition and he is shamed before his fellow Skeksis. In the end he is back to where he was before as after Rian defeats the General he kills the General and once more is the most “trusted” of the Emperor as the first Garthim is introduced. He is such a great villain and I can’t wait to see him explored in future seasons.

Hup – Hup is a Podling who seeks to be a Paladin. He is corageous and best friends with Deet. He is so loyal and you see it hurt him when Rian and Deet grow closer. I don’t think he will survive the series, but I hope if he does die it is protecting his friends. He is the character who sees the bigger picture. He reacts to the Gelflings and how they oppress his people and one another. Deet is treated badly by the Vapra and Stonewood Clans simply because she is Grottan and her clan is from the caves. Hup is the only one who stands up against it, which we won’t see until Rian later.

Deet – Nathalie Emmanuel’s Deet is my favorite character on the show. She is from the cave dwelling Grotton clan. She is an animal caretaker and she is easily the most compassionate character in the entire show. It is this compassion that draws Hup to her when he rescues her from a creature corrupted by the darkening. She is the most in tune with the world around her and the best bet of the Gelflings not making the mistakes of the Skeksis again. She takes so much persecution from the Vapra and Stonewood Clans but never stops fighting against the darkening and protecting all Gelflings.

The Ending – The ending feels very complete. The darkness is used against the united Gelflings and Deet absorbs becoming an avatar of it. Rian and Aughra are the only ones who seem aware of it and after she saves the Gelflings she is walking into the forest as the darkening consumes life around her. At the same time the Skeksis’s new creation has been completed by the Scientist, signalling that even though they last the battle against the Gelflings, the Skeksis have not lost the war.

The Cons:

The Oppression of Podlings – The one issue I had with the show was the state of the Podlings. Gelfling oppression is recognized and it is what leads to the resistance against Skeksis power and control. The Podlings are oppressed by the Gelflings, Aughra and the Skeksis and the only one who comments on it is Hup. Hup is the one resisting Gelfling and Skeksis oppression but the show never fully recognizes it. I hope this idea is explored fully next season, it is the only con in the entire show.

Besides “Bojack Horseman” and the best of the “Defenderseverse,” this is the best of Netflix shows. If you like strange, puppets or dark fantasy please check this show out. I thought the original film was good, but this enriches it so much more. I cannot recommend this film enough. I hope that next season the injustices against the Podlings will be addressed. This is such a powerful show and I hope we see more shows like this. Honestly, it is worth it for the puppetry alone, but this time you will also be watching the greatest dark fantasy show.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

Top 5 Netflix “Defendersverse” Seasons

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    The Netflix Marvel “Defendersverse” is an experiment I wish had gone on. Outside of “Umbrella Academy” this is the only quality superhero content on Netflix and here they gave us so many amazing characters and storylines. I don’t know if Disney will take those same risks and given Disney’s growing corporate monopoly I’m not all that inclined to support Disney Plus. This was a series that I overall enjoyed. “The Defenders” season 1 was even great in how bad it was, but because it was bad it did not make this list. Every season on here is a season I would come back to re-watch or have gone back to re-watch. Also, I feel Disney taking these characters back probably won’t work. I like the Marvel Cinematic Universe but we have not seen them take the kinds of R rated risks this series or really “Deadpool” took. So hopeful but doubtful we’ll see these characters again as great as they were before, if ever again.

Slight spoiler warnings here. If you want to watch “The Defenders,” “The Punisher,” “Daredevil,” Jessica Jones,” “Luke Cage” and “Iron Fist” and haven’t yet this review isn’t for you. I have to talk about the content on why I enjoyed these shows or didn’t enjoy them, and that involves spoilers so…

SPOILER WARNING for all the shows I just listed.

 

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5th – “Daredevil” Season 2

Finding 5th place on this list was somewhat difficult. I felt “Iron Fist” Season 2 solved many problems I had with Season 1 and “The Punisher” Season 1 is great when it doesn’t get distracted.  What ended up being the deciding factor for me were the side stories. Frank Castle is introduced in this season and his face-off against Daredevil is perfection. It is a fight I’d love to see Batman have more against a friend or ally who crosses his line. This season did that. We also see how Matt’s obsession wad destroying his relationships. From Claire to Foggy, Matt when he was all in as the weapon Stick had built him to be, he was screwed. This could have been more if “The Hand” was written as a more compelling villain but them not being more compelling is a reason this isn’t higher on the list and had to be debated on to get here. The Karen and Castle story is far superior to the Matt and Elektra story and that is where the side stories being stronger made me appreciate this season. Frank Castle’s arc in this season is better than either seasons of “The Punisher.” This is a season worth a re-watch for the B plots.

 

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4th – “Jessica Jones” Season 1

This is a season that didn’t make the best use of Killgrave as a villain for the climax of the story. Throughout the story he is a great threat, but when he has the power to control anyone who here’s him with his voice we get nothing interesting. I blame lack of creativity for this. What works though is Jessica Jones and her relationship. Her relationship with her adoptive mother and adopted sister are where she first stands up for another due to her adoptive mom abusing her and Trish. This leads her doubting herself later on due to her isolation from them and Kilgrave’s using of her and all those around her she cares for. Krysten Ritter is absolutely amazing as we see her work through how she was abused and gaslighted by Kilgrave. From here her arc is the slow building of community and fighting to stop Kilgrave. Most episodes are good to great, it is just the climax and Killgrave’s powers being so underutilized in that climax that keep this season from being higher on the list. David Tennant as Kilgrave and Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones carry the show and the more time away from the show more the story grew on me. There is so much good here.

 

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3rd – “Luke Cage” Season 2

“Luke Cage” Season 1 had one of my favorite villains in Cottonmouth. He didn’t last but due to how villains and antagonists are used this time around, and Luke’s own ego growing lead to an exciting season that I loved. Mariah makes up for the amazing threat of her brother “Cottonmouth” not being around. “Shades” is a great villain beginning to question what he is doing and his loyalty and “Bushmaster” shows up and his war against Maria hurts Luke Cage’s protection of Harlem forcing him to change further and make some difficult decisions that only make him more compelling. Like Jessica Jones and Matt Murdock, Luke Cage is someone who is someone who pushes others away. In this case it is different though because he feels invulnerable and that feeling never really leaves as he realizes he has to make tough decisions to keep Harlem safe. I loved that. He ends almost as an anti-hero and it works. He was a character who is good at the core but also human and has an ego that ruins his relationships. In the end he is all about the big picture and like most heroes in the “Defendersverse,” this makes him isolated. This season was great. The flaw on why it wasn’t higher is Mariah should have been used more and been longer lasting in power.

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2nd – “Jessica Jones” Season 3

“Jessica Jones” Season 3 builds on what worked about Season 1, but has a better conclusion. One of the only reasons this season is better than “Luke Cage” Season 2 is because this season has a level of hope the other prior ones don’t have. I get that Netflix is walking a line of dark R “Marvel Cinematic Universe” which I feel should still go on, Netflix has more than earned it. This season goes fully dark but the fact that it ends with hope and our heroes like Jessica and Malcom choosing the good gives me that perfect bittersweet. This season is where we see Jessica become the hero while dealing with Trish and her abuse like Matt Murdock’s leading to her becoming a weapon akin to Daredevil and The Punisher, except Trish does kill. What helps with this dilemma is them facing off against a serial killer named Sallinger. He like Jessica and Trish was also abused and used it to become a monster who targeted Inhumans believing them to be cheaters for having abilities. The season arc is powerful and I loved where everyone ends up. Luke Cage post his own Season 2 meets up with Jessica and reminds her of her choice and responsibility to stop Trish. It is great and I miss that as far as we know right now, we won’t see more of their relationship.

 

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1st – “Daredevil” Season 1

“Daredevil” Season 1 is still the height of the show. We get to introduced to amazing villains like Wesley, Madam Gao and the Kingpin. This is a show that is truly carried by the villains as they are on top for most of the film, which gives Matt Murdock so much he has to fight against and work for. This is a season with cost. Season 3’s Kingpin is never as threatening or effective as he is this season. This season is also where Matt is most human and we come to understand his obsession through his backstory and the murder of his father. It is powerful and Kingpin’s story mirrors it in the killing of his father to protect his mother. Both of them were shaped by those around them and came to have a warped view on what it means to protect what they believe to be theirs. This mirroring of one another and the war against Kingpin who has united the gangs is beautifully handled. I also love Claire and Matt’s relationship far more than the Karen and Matt relationship of later seasons. This was the season that kicked off the entire “Defendersverse” and still remains the best of them all.

I know “Disney+” might bring some of these stories and heroes and villains back. I’m just less likely to trust it. Unless they are the same writers who have clearly shown an ability to learn and also giving “Disney” some competition…I don’t want a monopoly. I want competition and so far I have seen nothing from “Disney” to show they will be putting out original films and shows the way Netflix is. Support competition and indie films and show please. This subset of the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” being absorbed is not something that gives hope in the corporate game of control of “Marvel” or any other franchise.

“Stranger Things” Season 2 – Growth in Character and Action

   If you enjoyed the first season of “Stranger Things,” chances are you will greatly enjoy the second. This is a season that builds on character development, expanding the world and action. It does everything a sequel akin to “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Terminator 2” and “Aliens” did and succeeds because of it. If you haven’t watched this show yet and enjoy sci. fi. or 80’s films…check this out. I doubt you will be disappointed.

The show was created by the Duffer Brothers who truly have once again done it again.

The story picks up where we left off with a few months having passed. The new status quo is 11 is now living in hiding with Sheriff Hopper, Will’s trauma from the Upside Down is shown to be much more than anyone realizes and Max is a new girl in town who changes the Team’s dynamic while Nancy and Jonathan wrestle with their trauma and revealing the events of Season 1 to the world.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: Cinematography and Action – I’m putting these together this time because they are somewhat obvious and don’t contribute anything substantial to how characters grow or change. These are things that really work in the context of the narrative and are an improvement from Season 1 but aren’t what stand out the most. I loved how the film looks and the action scenes are amazing, especially the action shots of the Team. So these are both positive that I wanted to state up front.

The Expanding Upside Down and the Mind Flayer – One of the main arcs this season is the Mind Flayer and it’s expansion of the Upside Down. The Mind Flayer is the giant smoke creature that appears in a lot of the posters and is usually always behind a red cloud. In this the creature even possess Will, making him a spy and a way to outsmart the humans it knows it is trying to stop it. The Mind Flayer is a great enemy and a wonderful way of raising the stakes from the Demogorgon from the first film.

Fathers and Those Who Become Good Fathers – Another major theme is fatherhood from our adoptive fathers of Sean Astin as Bob who is dating Joyce and helps take care of Will and supports the Team in their fight. We also see it in Sheriff Hopper and his raising of 11 and him failing until he takes responsiblity for his anger and finally as a contrast Neil who is Billy’s and Max’s abusive father. Through the film this contrast drives how many of our characters are shaped. Sean Astin’s Bob is an amazing character and you will feel for the arc he goes through. I’m glad he’s a part of this season.

Mad Max and her arc – Max’s arc is finding family and standing up to her abusive brother Billy. We see this in how she stays away from the team but as they open up to her she begins to trust them and finally stands against them and defeats Billy who had been attempting to isolate her and abuse her through the show.

8 and her Team – This season we meet 8 who is another experiment who can make people see things that aren’t there with her mind. She is awesome and like Magneto she is out for revenge against the government agents with her band of punks. She’s not entirely an antagonist but she isn’t a protagonist either. This arc was good because she finds them after she finds her mother in a comatose state (that the government forced on her after stealing 11 from her) which makes 11 ready for revenge until she learns that she can’t kill out of rage, only out of love for another. 11 leaves her but we know she is still out there and I can’t wait to see her again and any other experiments who are free or exist.

Saving Will – Another arc that is handled really well is saving Will. Last season set up the Upside Down was still a part of him when he threw up a slug and in this we see the Mind Flayer possess him leading to him going through hell as the Team seeks to save him. It is tough and he isn’t rescued until the end and it is a fight to get to that point. The danger and visions give a good foreboding tone through the entire season.

11 and Hopper – I love this relationship. Hopper lost his daughter and 11 is his new daughter and Hopper is 11’s new dad. They’ve both been through trauma loss and it shapes how hard it is for them to trust one another. Hopper is extremely over protective at first and 11 is counting down the days she’s been stuck away from the world being protected. It is powerful and comes to a head when she runs away and Hopper calls her finally ending in them meeting up and her reunion with the Team and Mike. The resolution is powerful and we see that her standing together with her new family gives her the power to take on the expanding influence of the Mind Flayer.

The Team (old and new) – The Team is fantastic in this! You have Nancy and Jonathan revealing the government corruption, Steve and Dustin teaming up to find Dart (a baby Demogorgon), Lucas and Max and their budding relationship and Will and Mike dealing with the Mind Flayer with his mother and Sheriff Hopper as 11 joins them after she learns more about her backstory and finds 8 and her crew. I loved the new team dynamics and how all of them grew. None of these characters are the same after the events, they all grow and change and become stronger as they face their own trauma and loss.

The Cons: Slow Start – The one problem that stood out about this season was the slow start. It really picks up after episode 4 but before that it has a pretty slow build. I think this pays off later on but I also think more could have been done to give us more information on the Mind Flayer and it’s influence and just how pervasive the Upside Down had become. This was the only issue for me that kept it from being perfect.

This was one of the best seasons of television I’ve watched and much how “Defenders” season 1 fixes some of the problems in the first season of “Iron Fist” this does the same thing. This is a season of moving past nostalgia and dealing with consequences. This is a show that is more than 80’s movie and music references. This show faces trauma, loss and our characters grow and what they do matters. I’m not sure what is going to happen Season 3 as Season 2 ties things up rather nicely, but I I still can’t help but be fascinated by seeing how the characters grow further.

Final Score: 9. 8 / 10 Perfect length, great action and characters grow. The slow start is the only thing working against it.

“The Defenders” Season 1 – One of the Best Teams in the MCU and a Worthy Threat

    “The Defenders” is the best show I’ve watched in the Defenders Universe it is a part of since “Daredevil” Season 1. The ending isn’t as good as Season 1 but the characters are more dynamic, everyone grows and even Iron Fist is made into a more likable guy. The strongest part of the show is still the side characters though and we finally have a lot of questions answered that have been hinted on through both “Daredevil” and “Iron Fist.” As far as my non-spoiler thoughts, you don’t need to have watched any of the prior shows to enjoy this one. It stands strong on it’s own and is one of the best creations to come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

The show was created by Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez.

The story involves the leaders of the Hand coming together under Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver) as the Defenders (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, Luke Cage) must come together to stop them and their apocalyptic aspirations for New York City, as well as finding out what it they seek at the bottom of the city.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Action – This is a series that brings back the best of the action we saw in “Daredevil” Seasons 1 and 2. There are a lot of great action beats as Colleen Wing, the Defenders and others face off against the Hand and those they are manipulating in Hell’s Kitchen. The final fight at the bottom of the city in another world is also really cool too as well as when the leaders of the Hand face off against the Defenders.

The Hand and their History – There are Five Leaders of the Hand who were exiled from K’un-Lun for seeking the cure for death and finding immortality. They find it in the bones of Dragons we discover in this and that is the substance that keeps bringing them back when they die. By the time of this series they use the last of it resurrect Elektra as the Black Sky but it does not go as planned as she kills Alexandra to take control of the group. There are 5 members of the Hand each representing a finger and area of the world, Alexandra, Murakami (who was controlling the Yakuza in Season 1 and 2), Bakuto (from “Iron Fist” is brought back again) and Sowande or “White Hat,” who has been using Harlem to recruit and Madam Gao who has been recurring through a few of the series. Learning about their exile and the reasons they went to K’un-Lun are powerful and I loved seeing them face off against the Defenders. “White Hat” and Murakami are the least memorable but Gao once again shows why she is in my Top 5 MCU Villains given her ability to survive and the tragedy of Alexandra is a nice touch as her personal desire to have Elektra as her daughter, blinds her judgement. All of them are at least interesting even if Murakami and “White Hat” go mostly unexplored.

The Defenders and Coming Together – The Defenders are like a mixture between The Guardians and Avengers. You have the Captain America / Luke Cage / Star Lord leader type, you have the sarcastic damaged fighter in Rocket / Jessica Jones / Bruce Banner, you have the Child Soldier in Black Widow / Iron Fist and Drax who are shaped by personal loss and you have the Iron Man / Daredevil / Gamora in the conflicted hero trying to do good. There is a lot of overlap and I’m curious what lines you’d draw to the similarities between heroes but these were the ones that got me. Seeing the dynamic come together on a small gritty level was wonderful and I can’t wait to see where the show goes from here and how our characters are shaped in their own shows and how that plays into their next team up, which will probably be against Kingpin.

Awareness of the People of Hell’s Kitchen – There is much more awareness of the people of Hell’s Kitchen in this. From Knight and the cops calling them out on being vigilantes, in Luke Cage calling out Iron Fist for beating up scared kids who got pulled into the Hand just looking for a job to survive and how his billionaire privilege shows he doesn’t get it (as well as his race, class and name – Rand). I loved it and I hate how we don’t see this enough in Batman. Bruce Wayne is doing exactly what Iron First was put besides Alfred sometimes and Dawes in “Batman Begins” I can’t think of a time where he’s been called out. This was needed and a lot of this show is calling out Danny for his arrogance and in turn forcing him to grow and truly become a hero. This show is amazing.

The Women of “The Defenders” – The women of the Defenders Universe are the best written characters on this show. Alexandra is dying of cancer but can’t let go of the world she left behind leading it to her protecting Elektra even into her death, Madam Gao is surviving and understands just how powerful the Defenders are (only Hand member who really does) Jessica Jones is working through her trauma and trust and having to work on a team and Colleen Wing is working herself through her Hand conditioning as well as doing all she can to be there for people who push her away. These women made the show amazing and are the best parts of the MCU, especially in this show.

Facing Trauma – So many characters have to face their trauma in this (a running theme of the Defendersverse) with the strongest being Wing’s final defeat of Bakuto (and working through the mind control the Hand put her through) when she is trying to save Danny and blow up the building that holds the substance but we also have Daredevil confronting Stick and his abuse as well as Danny working on his own failure to save the monks. These three best illustrate this theme this season as Jessica Jones is very much doing her own thing and the trauma is so bad she has trouble being close to anyone, even friends.

Okay: The Ending – The ending is okay. This is one thing that the first season of “Daredevil” has over this one as the ending involves the team moving on and Daredevil is believed to be dead (the cave collapses on him and Elektra) and when he wakes up we get hints at the show taking a darker path as everyone he knows believes him to be dead. His sacrifice was okay but we knew a “Daredevil” Season 3 was coming and no one had been set up to take up his mantel if something like this happened to him. These take away from the loss of the moment even though I did enjoy the good-byes and how the character relationships have changed because they’ve all finally interacted and grown from one another, becoming “The Defenders.” The Hand is shut down as an organization at this point though Murakami and Gao survived and both of them have the substance that gives them immortality, so I’m curious how all of that will play out, as well as Elektra’s and Matt’s future.

This was the best to come out of the “Defenders” Universe and is my Second favorite Season if I put them all side by side. Season 1 of “Daredevil” is still perfection for me in this Universe but this gets most of the things right and only really falls short on the ending. It is great to see the Hand explored and truly appreciated as a threat and most importantly I loved the character dynamics between the Defenders and the members of the Hand. These character moments are why this MCU series that Netflix has created is so amazing and it is why I’ll keep coming back. If you haven’t gotten into this universe yet, this Season, like “Daredevil” Season 1 is a great way to do so.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10