“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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“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.

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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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