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“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

 

 

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

luke-cage

  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

“Jessica Jones” Season 1 – A Decent Character Show With a Villain Who Never Reaches Great

Jessica Jones

    “Jessica Jones” is a solidly good show, hell I’d even call it one of my favorites…but it is no way in the Top 5 and it has quite a few issues that become glaringly obvious when the final roles around. Now these issues didn’t make me disown or hate the show, but it felt worse than some of the Marvel Cinematic Films that have suffered from similar problems because there was so much more set up in the beginning and so much more potential in the premise, and it had a great cast to boot to make that possible, sadly it didn’t succeed.

     The show was created by Melissa Rosenberg and created from the Marvel Comics and hosted on Netflix who produced the show.

This review does contain SPOILERS, so be warned.

      The story is about Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) who is a private eye who is trying to find Kilgrave (David Tennant) the inhuman who mind controlled her to murder and do other horrendous things and made her client kill her parents.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – The opening is very noir with a light piano piece leading into rising tension before end. Sean Callery did it and did a fantastic job at that. This music is present through the series and sets the tone for the world.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is stunning and great use of color contrasts are used, especially the use of purple as Kilgrave is called “The Purple Man” in the comics and anytime you see purple tension rises. Manuel Billeter did a great job.

The Tone – The tone is one of isolation, fear and paranoia, which fits as Kilgrave is a character that can make people do anything he wants them to. This tension is used really well…up until the finale…

The Characters – The characters, like with “Marvel’s Daredevil,” are easily the strongest part of the series. Part of this is due to writing but a lot of it is just the performance by the actors, as they really get a chance to shine.

Claire – Rosario Dawson is back and even though she’s nothing more than a glorified cameo tying the world together for “The Defenders” she stands as her own unique character who has to make difficult choices to help characters and people bigger than the world she knows. In this instance it’s her trying to save Luke Cage.

Malcolm – Malcolm is the best minor character in the show and I cared about what happened to him. He’s in the Karen role as he shows himself to be a true friend to Jessica on multiple occasions and in the end is helping her with her agency. Eka Darville does a great job in the role.

Hogarth – Carrie-Anne Moss is fantastic as the shark lawyer who is in a divorce with her wife to be with her secretary. At one point she makes a deal with Kilgrave for helps and it ruins her life. It takes Jessica refocusing her for her to begin putting her life back together and doing her job. She’s a great ruthless character, she’s also a lesbian and the show is great at letting her be sexual without it being exploitative, it respects her for the relationships she has, which cinema needs to do more of.

Luke Cage – Luke Cage is a good character and I am looking forward to his show. He’s the man with unbreakable skin who has an odd relationship with Jessica as Jessica killed his wife under Kilgrave’s influence and his wife may have played a part in his creation into an inhuman. As the lab she worked with was the lab that turned Jessica and gave her super strength. Will Traval is awesome in the role and it is sad when Kilgrave uses him as his Dragon in his penultimate fight with Jessica leading to Cage’s near death by Jessica’s hands.

Trish – Rachael Taylor is great in the “Foggy” role as she is the supportive friend who is there through the thick and thin. Like Jessica she is a survivor of abuse, though from Trish it is from her mother who abused her emotionally and physically and made her a brand starlet to be sold. She sets boundaries with her and those never change. She is willing to do anything for Jessica including being used by Kilgrave to lure Kilgrave into a false sense of security. She really is a good minor character and I look forward to her story unfolding down the line.

Kilgrave – David Tennant make a great villain, sadly he doesn’t get great writing at the end. He’s a character obsessed with having Jessica as she is the only one to break free of his control and she’s an inhuman like him. It’s an obsession and he’s creepy in his stalking of her and his taking control of Luke Cage when he learns of her relationship to him. He has so much going to be being one of Marvel’s best villains…and it fails in the end. He only takes control of a small group, he does nothing with Hell’s Kitchen and he gets his neck snapped…in the end he’s underwhelming like every other marvel villain in the MCU. Acted great, but writing brought down only to good.

Jessica Jones – Krysten Ritter is a good actress and she was perfect for this role. She’s bitter, lonely and paranoid and dealing with healing from abuse. This is her arc and it is handled decently…sadly it isn’t through Kilgrave’s murder or through her relationship with Luke Cage or even Trish. Malcolm is how we know she’s gotten to the point that she can do more than lash out and use people and it’s a great scene as he answers her phone. This was the one great moment in the finale. Overall, I like her character but thought her writing was uneven, though it isn’t from Ritter’s lack of talent. Ritter like Tennant does a great job with what she’s given, it’s just the script and pacing fail to give her great.

Healing From Abuse – Not all our characters get that, but Jessica and Trish are both given the chance to heal and face their abusers and find victory and strength. It’s empowering and I’m glad the show did this. The Kilgrave Survivors Support Group was another great use of this too.

The Cons: Simpson – Captain America Knockoff (seriously he looks like Chris Evans and is a super soldier) who serves little purpose as I never believed his relationship with Trish fully and he was way to unstable to like…and his arc never went anywhere. He’s just there to set up Season 2 of “Jessica Jones” or “The Defenders” as he’s kidnapped by the agency and we never hear from him again.

Kilgrave’s Power – Kilgrave is given a power boost at the end and he does nothing with it. He doesn’t hold the city hostage, he doesn’t make everyone try to kill one another or try to kill Jessica…he just takes a small group…when he’d taken hold of a hospital before. Seriously he had this huge power buildup and we don’t see him do anything interesting with it. What was the point of getting a power boost if it doesn’t go anywhere? This turned him into every other MCU Villain who falls flat in the Finale.

Uneven Pacing – The pacing was uneven at the beginning and the end, it was almost like they got sidetracked with side plots while losing focus on the main story of Jessica Jones and Kilgrave…and it hurt the show.

Anti-climatic – Kilgrave takes a small group hostage, does nothing to put safegaurds against Jessica, even though she’s been immune to his ability every single time post him making her kill…and she just snaps his neck. What a waste of a finale. He didn’t feel like a threat at the end and they didn’t make him do anything worthy of having such awesome powers. He should have been a child making everyone kill themselves and one another to force Jessica to make a deal and have to sacrifice…since in the end all he wanted was her, at the end I had trouble believing that.

     Once again, this is a show that doesn’t compare to “Marvel’s Daredevil,” but it is a good show within it’s own right, mostly from the strength of the actors and actresses and the fact that many of the characters are fascinating enough to hold a scene, even if they have so much unrealized potential. If you like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this is worth checking out even though I will warn you now, it is pretty anti-climatic and I hate that Kilgrave didn’t use his power to it’s full potential.

Final Score: 8.2 / 10