“The Punisher” Season 1 – A Powerful Exploration of PTSD, Trauma and Life After the War

       “The Punisher” is one of the best things to come out of the Netflix Defenders continuity. It is easily the furthest removed from the MCU in regards to super powers, super soldiers and a level of comedy underlying most of the other works…and it works because of it. At the end of the day this is a show that covers the consequences of war, PTSD and just how difficult the process of healing from trauma after war is. This is a beautiful show and I really hope it gets renewed for a Season 2. I have not read the comics so I’m not sure how true the characters are to their comic book adaptations but I found them to be the most compelling aspect of the show.

The series was created by Steve Lightfoot as part of the MCU.

The story Frank Castle uncovering the government conspiracy surrounding the death of his family as he must learn to trust as others like Micro the hacker and the DHS agent Midani who are also seeking to uncover truth.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Action – The action is amazing! The closest thing it reminded me of was “John Wick” and the “The Raid” with how brutal the gun and knife action is. If you like action movies this is your show for this reason alone. Fair warning though, this gets brutal, very few characters come out of this not having done something bad.

The Characters – The characters are the best part of the show and the reason you should watch it. I’m going to go into the 3 main leads and the most compelling villain as they are the ones who drive the action and it is their arcs that kept me involved in the show.

Dinah Midani – Amber Rose Revah does an amazing job as Dinah Midani a Federal Agent who is seeking to uncover the murder of her contact in Afghanistan, who she discovers was murdered by an American hit squad after Micro sends her the video. From here she has to confront the corruption within the government and her own agency to take down those responsible.  She goes from trusting many to trusting few as her life becomes a bit like the Punisher’s when she loses those close to her in uncovering the conspiracy and finds out those she trusted betrayed her.

Billy Russo – Billy Russo served with the Death Squad in Afghanistan with Frank Castle and was his best friend. He was also knee deep in the corruption and he is the man who works with Agent Orange to cover up the conspiracy and kill those who find out. He tricks Midani for a good portion of the show and almost tricks Frank. He is a character who was an orphan and has used his pain to detach himself from caring about anyone but himself. This makes him compelling as he does try to care as best he can, even though he’s a sociopath so in the end he only serves himself. In the end he is taken down, but not killed as Frank messes up his face and leaves him for the government to take in. After reading up further it looks like he is going to be Jigsaw, which I’m really interested in seeing if the show gets renewed.

Micro / David Lieberman – Micro like the Punisher is on the run from the government and believed to be dead by most people. His arc is revealing the conspiracy so he can be with his family again and also reminding Frank of his humanity and that he has reasons to live. They start out as adversaries as there is so much paranoia between the two of them but they work together as they both want the same thing, even though it takes Frank a while to realize that. In the end Micro does get to be with his family but there is an unspoken pain there given that he faked his death to protect them and that betrayal of trust is something that I don’t think he’s fully wrestled with fully.

Frank Castle / The Punisher – The Punisher’s arc is finding a purpose beyond his pain and revenge. We see him when he is done and he is obsessed just breaking walls down. He doesn’t exist beyond reaction and it takes the conspiracy to pull him back in. He is the character who needs a mission and after his revenge is done he finds that mission again in the fake identity the government gives him and helping vets from falling down the mental hole of despair and trauma that he was in. What gets him there is a kid inspired by his actions who targets government and media where Frank realizes just how much influence he has and had as the Punisher and when he is given another chance to live he uses it so others don’t fall into the trap the young vet did. It’s a powerful story and him sparing Russo’s life means something given how clear his code was for killing bad people…it is his final turning point and when Frank Castle finally comes back.

When the War Consumes – Frank Castle the Punisher, the young terrorist vet Lewis Wilson (who is living in a fox hole when he gets home, and doing so voluntarily), Agent Orange and Russo…all of them are consumed by the war in different ways. Whether it is wanting to live it like Castle and the terrorist were or hiding it while still living it like Agent Orange and Russo who hid what it had done to them except for when it served their ends.

Finding Peace After the War – The main arc is Frank Castle becoming Frank Castle again and finding healing beyond what the war made him into (The Punisher). Lewis couldn’t find peace, he had to find a reason to fight, Russo and Agent Orange never left Afghanistan either as they kept their roles up even when they were home. In the end Frank like Curtis finds some semblance of peace and it is is facing his own pain and loss and the actions he did during the war and helping others to face themselves too. It is a powerful arc and theme and part of what makes the show so powerful.

Okay: Agent Orange – He is standard “Ends justify the means” baddy…Russo is far more compelling as a villain but he worked. He was privilege incarnate and he clearly relished being a baddy, which made his defeat so enjoyable when it finally came.

Karen Page – Karen is Frank’s contact through the series and at a few points needs to get rescued by him. I put her as okay for that reason. The role of journalism in regards to terror attacks is explored briefly but I felt that so much more could have been done with her role in this. She really doesn’t show up that much as Midani has taken over that major character role in the show. If it gets a Season 2 I hope we see more Karen.

The characters are the strongest part of the plot, as I knew Russo was going to be bad pretty early and long before his reveal, I also knew they would make him complicated as he fit the Mordo, Loki, etc…former friend villain archetype that Marvel likes to use. The plot is predictable, brutal and a lot of fun. So much of what drives the dynamic is you have all these characters who are paranoid having to learn to trust and that dynamic is what I loved most and can’t wait to see if the show gets renewed. I highly recommend this show.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

 

 

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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

 

 

“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.