Review of Luke Cage, Season 2

“Look… We can take Door Number 1, 2, or 3. Guess what? All the prizes suck!” — Luke Cage

Continuing my tradition of reviewing every season of the Marvel/Netflix shows, I present my observations re season 2 of everybody’s favorite bulletproof brutha from Harlem, “Luke Cage”. (See review of season 1 here.) But, before I go any further, I must lay down the requisite…

SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!

It was great to see Claire and Misty and Bobby again; not so much Mariah and Shades. More on that later. First, though, a few words about the primary newcomers: Bushmaster and Nightshade.

Not surprisingly, this version of John ‘Bushmaster’ McIver varies quite a bit from that in the comics. The comics version was indeed a muscular Black man from the Caribbean (though St. Croix, not Jamaica), but he wore a white and gold costume. He was a Maggia-connected crime boss whose main foe was Iron Fist and whose primary obsession was Misty Knight. He even hired Luke Cage to kidnap Misty. His strength and durability came from forcing Dr. Noah Burstein to replicate the process he used to transform Cage (aka Carl Lucas) back at Seagate Prison. No martial arts, no addiction to some nightshade concoction, and no connection to or grudge against the Stokes family.

I can see why the writers/producers changed several aspects to fit into the Netflix series story, but it still annoys me. The character (ably played by Mustafa Shakir) was better than season 1’s ‘Diamondback’, and at least as complex as ‘Cottonmouth’ had been. Still, I’m not sure I want him to return. (Plus, the Patois he and his Jamaican cronies (and family) spoke was a pain to try to follow, though I have to admit I got better at it as time went along.) His was a tale of vengeance, grounded in an inter-family feud fueled by murder & betrayal a generation ago. But, he seemed inconsistent in both his rationale and his brutality. I felt little sympathy for him, only for those who suffered because of their nearness to him.

While Tilda Johnson was never actually called ‘Nightshade’ on the show, the comic version is. That ‘Nightshade’ was a Harlem-bred sista with a penchant for revealing, black leather outfits. (That is, until she took over the name and full-body costume of ‘Nighthawk’.) Rather than a doctor with an affinity for “natural remedies”, the comics’ Johnson was a brilliant young student who used her extensive knowledge of genetics, cybernetics, and physics to build her criminal career. She apprenticed under Yellow Claw (who gave her the costumed identity of ‘Deadly Nightshade’), fought the likes of Captain America and SHIELD, escaped from prison and built a small criminal empire, only to be brought down by… Power Man and Iron Fist. At one point, she joined Misty Knight’s Crew of villains hired to fight other villains. Later, the vigilante Nighthawk saved her life, and she turned over a new leaf, becoming his partner/weaponeer/mission control.

Shakir and Dennis

Obviously, the comics version has quite a different look, vibe, and history than we see on “Luke Cage”. She develops connections of a sort to Luke and Misty on the show, of course, but they are very different. The connection to the Stokes family and legacy is totally new. So far, the TV version hasn’t done anything illegal, either, except maybe that one time she helped Bushmaster attack the nightclub. (Patty Hearst Syndrome?) The actress (Gabrielle Dennis) is certainly easy on the eyes, but I’m not sure how I feel about this version of ‘Nightshade’ or whether I want her to return.

Now, on to the rest of the show…

It was a pretty good plot, all things considered, and it really accomplished a lot. However, I feel I should at least mention the matter of pacing. As discussed in a previous post, even the best of these Netflix/Marvel series could benefit from slightly tighter pacing, and this was no exception. I can’t remember specifics anymore, but at a few points, things just seemed to drag a bit. I’m not quite sure how to fix this.

I do know that I would love to see more (super)heroics — fights, surveillance, rescues — by our heroes, especially Cage. What we did get to see was great when it involved the henchman and other normal folk. When it came to Cage’s fights with Bushmaster, though, Cage looked pretty stupid. It wasn’t until their final showdown that he seemed to have learned anything. Or, maybe he was just more focused?

Luke has always relied on his size and his fists, and the experiment gave him enhanced strength and a bulletproof hide. (Now, apparently, even the Judas-rounds aren’t lethal, either.) Most of the time, he can just plow through the punks and gangsters that come after him. But, after his encounters with Diamondback last season and Bushmaster this season, I hope he finally realizes that he needs to fight smarter. I don’t expect him to become a student of the martial arts, but I’m hoping Danny and/or Colleen can give him a pointer or two. Speaking of…

Despite my disappointment with the Iron Fist series and character, I actually didn’t mind that Danny Rand showed up here. He and Luke had some good scenes, especially the warehouse fight. He finally chopped some of the curls, which I thought gave him a more masculine look. He also seemed slightly less odd, more mature, more sure of himself. Still kind of annoying with the constant “be still” and chi stuff. But, I understand that he was trying to help Luke get “centered”, so he could be more at peace and more effective.

Shades and Mariah

I gotta say, both the writing and acting was particularly good. And the characters were not two-dimensional, either. As the story moved along, we learned that the main characters and their stories were much more complex than expected. Even Mariah and Shades (though I still dislike them). In fact, some of the best acting was a) in the argument between Luke and Claire (ep.4?), b) the dialogues between Shades and Comanche (ep.6), c) some of Misty’s stuff (both working the case and dealing w/ her injury), d) the bits between Luke (aka Carl) and his father (played by the late, lamented Reg E. Cathey), and even some of those scenes between Mariah and Shades and between Mariah and Tilda. Powerful stuff!

Regarding ‘Black Mariah’ herself, here’s a nice summary by Kim Taylor-Foster at “Fandom”:

“One of the most interesting things about Mariah Dillard is her ability to manipulate. And not only the people around her, but the audience too. On numerous occasions, we feel for her. Her crocodile tears work on us, and every time we fall for it. She’s not so bad, we think. Circumstances have made her like this; there’s some good inside; she’s misunderstood; she’s coming around – but every time she reveals she’s the unfeeling, selfish “monster” her daughter describes her as.”

Yep. Mariah had an interesting journey into darkness in these two seasons of “Luke Cage”, and I, for one, am happy that she finally met her gruesome end. (I actually anticipated how it was gonna happen, too.)

As in season 1, I wasn’t sure what to think of the Shades character, and I’m not sure how much of that is due to the writing and how much due to the acting. Regardless, I was actually a bit surprised that Shades finally said “enough is enough” to Mariah — even more so that he gave a full confession to the cops and helped to put her away! Despite the horrible things we have seen him do, we discovered that he has self-imposed limits, parameters within which he operates. As Mariah got increasingly brutal and involved in things she never could have imagined just last season (prior to killing her cousin, anyway), Shades found himself stretching his own limits, and not in a good way. I can respect his final decision, even if it was long overdue and there was, of course, a strong element of self-interest and self-preservation.

Misty Knight’s journey was entirely different but at least as interesting. The combination of dealing with her injury (followed by getting the prosthetic arm), trying to figure out her place in (or outside of) the police department, and then the specifics of the case(s) she was working on — made the more difficult by Cage, Det. Tyler, and even the late Det. Scarfe — all made for a physically and emotionally exhausting few days, I’m sure. While I’m happy that Misty’s value was recognized by the top brass who offered her the Captain’s position at the end, I’d rather see her move toward becoming a private investigator and teaming up with Colleen Wing, like in the comics. But, hey, at least she now has her bionic arm!

Misty and Luke kickin’ butt

As for our hero, Luke Cage, the dude has been put through the physical and emotional wringer yet again and, I think, has come out all the stronger for it. The character really is developing into a true hero, even as he stumbles through everything life throws at him. He’s often reluctant (especially at the beginning) and often makes mistakes. But, with the help and advice of family & friends (whether solicited or not), he pushes through and gets the job done. I would’ve liked if Claire had stuck around for more episodes, but I understand why she had to go, both character-wise and plot-wise. I’m sure it helped Cage to know that at least she was out of the line of fire, so to speak. After the various dominoes (and players) fell, someone was going to fill the power vacuum. Cage decided that he was the logical choice to save his home from the various criminal organizations, so he “stepped up”. I like it, though I also understand Misty’s reservations. It remains to be seen just how “dirty” he will get in his efforts to protect Harlem. But, we’ll probably have to wait until Season 3 for that.

After we were introduced last season to the reason for Cage’s estrangement from his father, Rev. James Lucas, I didn’t think the writers would pursue it any further. I was wrong. At first, I thought it was an unnecessary complication to season 2’s plot and, of course, Cage’s life. I also didn’t think I would like the Rev character. But, when I realized that he was genuinely penitent for his past marital infidelity and his treatment of Cage (er, Carl), I wanted them to make peace. And, lo and behold, they did! With Cathey’s subsequent passing, it’s a shame they won’t be able to follow up on this reconciliation.

As with the first season, intertwined in the plot was some “social commentary” — i.e., re racism, oppression, the struggle for minorities (especially Blacks) to “make it” in America, police corruption, etc. Also, as I said before, “If the ‘commentary’ had been more heavy-handed, it might have annoyed me; but, it did sound/feel authentic to me.” I will also note the constant use of the N-word. Unfortunately, that is probably also authentic. It was a bit jarring to me at first, but then I realized that this series is essentially a 13-hour, ‘R’-rated movie. So, nasty words and profanity is to be expected. In retrospect, I’m a bit surprised (and pleased) that other “harsh language” was not more common. Only one “love scene”, too, as I recall.

A few random comments:

o Is it just me, or did Cage’s hoodie in the first fight not get any bullet holes? All the others did.
o The ‘Night Nurse’ song was kinda stupid.
o If Hollywood ever needs someone to portray Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), Alfre Woodard would be perfect!
o Nice cameo by Colleen Wing! Both the scene in the dojo ring and the one in the bar were appreciated, as we got to see Misty come to terms with her injury & situation. Plus, we got a great fight scene!
o Misty sure adapted to her prosthetic arm in a hurry! Ya gotta love comic-book science….
o Did you catch the Stan Lee “cameo”?

I would like to think that this season was also the end of the Stokes/Dillard arc. I would really like to see someone/something totally different for Luke to battle in the presumed third season. But, given the way things were left, I’m guessing we will see Tilda/Nightshade return to “get what’s hers” (i.e., the nightclub) — possibly with Bushmaster’s help, possibly in competition with Bushmaster. I hope we’ll see more of Annabella Sciorra’s Italian mob-queen character, Rosalie Carbone. (If so, will Punisher show up? They have a history…)

Final score: I gave season 1 of “Luke Cage” a B/B+. Season 2 rates a little higher, I think — say, a B+, bordering on A-.

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Y or Y Not

“Nnnooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!” — me

It seems that an adaptation of Brian K. Vaughan’s popular, critically-acclaimed, dystopian comic book series, Y: The Last Man (DC/Vertigo), has been in development at FX for some time, and I had no idea. How could that happen?!

Originally (2007), New Line bought the rights and had names like David Goyer and D.J. Caruso attached. Caruso wanted to do a three-film saga (which might’ve worked, imho), but he left the project when New Line insisted on a single film. (Bad idea!) They tried again with another group of names, but that fell through when the rights eventually reverted back to Vaughan in 2014, who didn’t like the direction they were taking. When the FX deal was announced in 2015, they had lined up Color Force’s Nina Jacobson and Brad Simpson to co-adapt/write with Vaughan. (Vaughan had previously worked on “Lost” and “Under the Dome”.)

“All of the men are dead. But one. Y traverses a world of women — exploring gender, race, class and survival.” — FX’s formal description for the series

Now, they’ve got a showrunner (Michael Green), a newly-signed co-showrunner (Aida Mashaka Croal), a director (Melina Matsoukas), and a fresh, new pilot order. Green, Croal, Matsoukas, Jacobson, Simpson, and Vaughan will all be executive producers.

I quite enjoyed the Y: The Last Man comic series, lo, those many years ago. The premise was intriguing, the title character (semi-pro escape artist Yorick Brown) was a lovable goof, and his little, rascally Capuchin buddy (Ampersand) was cute & funny, too. (Note: It is for “mature audiences”, so a few scenes/elements were a bit uncomfortable for me.) It also had decent storylines and supporting characters, and Pia Guerra’s art was terrific — a perfect fit. Terrific, creative cover art, too. So, when I started to read about this live-action version being made for the small screen, my first thought was an enthusiastic, “Cool!”. But, then I remembered “Runaways”….

“Runaways”, if you don’t remember, is another comic series Vaughan created and wrote a few years ago (but for Marvel). It was recently adapted for the small screen and aired on Hulu. I’m just about finished watching the 10-episode run, but I practically have to force myself. If it was an original series, it would be fine. But, I know the source material (having recently re-read the original 18-issue story arc), and the TV series is such a disappointment. I can understand a few minor tweaks, but there are so many alterations to characters — 2 or 3 missing, others new; others with different ages, physical appearances, “origins”, and/or personality changes –, and the plot is barely recognizable beyond the most basic elements. I keep asking myself how Vaughan could let his creation be so… mangled. But, then I came across this statement:

“These changes are fully supported by Vaughan, who serves as a consultant on the TV series…. [Also,]

‘It was important to me that we do something where people can’t go online and read how this ends or what’s going to happen next.'”

I can certainly understand that concern, but I think they went way too far with the changes on “Runaways”. With that in mind, I kept reading about the “Y: The Last Man” adaptation. Unfortunately, it only got worse, based on Vaughan’s Nov. 2017 interview with The Hollywood Reporter:

“I wanted to find someone who loved the source material, but didn’t feel so indebted to it that they would be afraid to change it. When [Michael Green] first pitched his take on it to Nina Jacobson, our producer, and me a long time ago, he came in saying he wanted to do something about toxic masculinity. It felt very relevant, and unfortunately I think it’s only become more relevant with each passing day. His take on it was really brave and very different, but exciting as well. I really admire how audacious he’s been with his translation.”

Michael Green at Comic Con

Groan! And, of course (<eyeroll>), it’s Trump’s fault, as Green explained to THR last July:

“It would have been a very different show, and very different development process, had the election not been as horrifying as it was. I had to put the script down for a couple months and really reassess it tonally, because it became a different creature, it became violent protest. It couldn’t not be political, and I had to embrace it, and I had to find my way in, and I had to find a way to channel my own dismay, disappointment and rage into it, while still keeping it what it is. For a minute there I almost walked away.”

“It couldn’t not be political….” Criminy dutch! What a way to ruin a cool idea by feeding into this hysterical, politically-correct, “toxic masculinity” crap! (Can you tell I’m a bit worked up over this?) Fans like me don’t want Green’s “dismay, disappointment and rage” over a political election. We don’t want “very different” and “audacious”, either. We want to see the source material realized with its original tone. That’s what we loved on the page; that’s what we want on the screen. But, Leftist Hollywood rarely gets that, or cares.

At least there was one thing I can get behind regarding Green’s take on it, and it’s something I think my fellow “Babylon 5” fans can appreciate, too….

“‘Whether it is 60, 70 or 80 episodes, I’m gonna pick a number, and I’m gonna stick to it. And I’m gonna write to it. There’s so many brilliant things in that comic, the two biggest are the premise, and the ending.’ He believes Vaughan’s writing ‘toward an ending that he knew’ made the series more ‘meaningful.’ He calls the set length of the series a ‘pact’ with the audience, adding, ‘It will help them to know that we’re ticking down.'”

Obviously, you can do a “last man on Earth” story without resorting to making it a feminist screed. It has been done before. There may even have been a few anti-male jabs in the comic series, but it wasn’t enough to ruin it for me, especially if they were for light comedic effect. So, this “violent protest” of Green’s — with FX’s and Vaughan’s apparent support — has me worried and quite irked, to say the least. I may watch the pilot out of curiosity, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to stomach it for long, if that’s the tone and direction Green’s gonna twist Y into. Sheesh!

Review of Jessica Jones, Season 2

“It took someone coming back from the dead to realize that I’ve been dead, too. The problem is, I never really figured out how to live.” — Jessica Jones

As I watch a series that I know I’m going to be reviewing here, I try to notice things and jot down observations and ideas as I go. When I started watching the second season of “Jessica Jones”, I had a few thoughts, of course, but I couldn’t get into it. It was just more of surly, drunk Jessica treating herself and her friends, family, and associates badly. (I don’t find Krysten Ritter particularly attractive, either, so there wasn’t even that very shallow aspect to enjoy.) Some of those supporting characters were doing mean or stupid things, too. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I wanted to write this review, but I felt sort of obligated.

SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!

Then, I started to notice something else. I began to see the parallels between the individual characters’ stories, and I appreciated more what the writers were doing. Yeah, OK, maybe it was obvious to you. But, sometimes I get so wrapped up in other stuff that the finer points — or, perhaps it’s the “big picture”? — get past me.

Trish/Patsy: On the one hand, Trish is so wrapped up in her career, that she’s willing to throw away a relationship with a genuinely good guy. On the other hand, she’s so obsessed with somehow obtaining superhuman abilities of her own, ostensibly so she can be a champion for the people, that she ends up throwing away her career and putting her own health and safety — her life, really — at risk. Along the way, she lies to and manipulates her friends and family, alienates fans, and threatens to destroy someone else’s career (though that guy sorta deserved it). And don’t get me started on her overbearing mother….

Malcolm: This poor guy can’t seem to catch a break. His boss (Jessica) verbally abuses him and constantly takes him for granted. The woman he has a crush on (Trish) finally pays attention, even sleeps with him, but it turns out she’s just using him for her own, selfish reasons. He gets the crap beat out of him, and Trish almost gets him — a recovering addict — hooked on something new and dangerous. His loyalty is constantly being tested. Like they say, with friends like these…. One of the ways he “copes” is by engaging in a few one-night stands — looking for affection or approbation, I suppose. In the end, at least, he starts making some hard choices and gaining some independence.

Jeri: I can see why they replaced frumpy, hetero, male Jeryn Hogarth with an attractive, lesbian version. Much more “exciting”, and it gets the LGBT vote. But, this gal does not have it all together. Her former employee/girlfriend is suing her, and her law partners are trying to kick her out of her own firm. Then she’s diagnosed with ALS. What does she do? Parties with ladies of the night, gets dirt on her partners in order to blackmail them, and sleeps with the homeless girl (and protected witness, of sorts) that she’d given sanctuary in her home. The normally sharp Ms. Hogarth allows herself to be conned into thinking she’d been healed, then her home is burglarized by those she trusted. Ouch!

Janet McTeer as Alisa Jones

Alisa: The character of Jessica’s previously-thought-deceased mother, played by Oscar-nominee Janet McTeer, is introduced. Happy reunion? Not exactly. Turns out, Alisa is the superpowered individual who has been hunting & killing people in Jessica’s orbit. The experiments that gave her the powers (like Jessica’a) also gave her a hair-trigger temper, so she’s got serious “anger management” issues that put those around her in danger. Thus, the faked death and her isolation — with the mad doctor responsible, who she’s fallen in love with — for 17(?) years. Once she finally meets her daughter, they clash both physically and ethically. Will she survive on the run (with or without Jessica), or go to prison for the rest of her life, or is she destined to be killed by law enforcement?

Jessica: As previously mentioned, our protagonist still struggles with many issues, mostly derived from childhood trauma and psychic (and perhaps physical) rape/torture by Killgrave, which she “deals with” by constantly drinking, acting like a jerk, and occasionally banging a random stranger. (Of course, with her enhanced constitution, it takes 3x the usual amount for her to get buzzed, let alone drunk.) Another big factor is the fact that she killed Killgrave (last season), and it is eating at her, such that she wonders if that makes her a “murderer”. Her P.I. business is barely surviving, and now a larger firm is attempting to eliminate the competition one way or the other. Her landlord wants to evict her, and the new super is more than happy to help — at least, at first. Her friends (i.e., Trish and Malcolm) are always “nagging” her. And, then, her murderous mother (who is even stronger than Jessica) enters her life, and Jessica is torn about whether or not to assist the cops in bringing Alisa in versus letting Alisa (and the doc?) escape versus going on the run with her herself. Meanwhile, she has to constantly (try to) keep dear ol’ mom from ripping limbs off of people who she feels threatened by or beating them to death. Oh, plus, she then finds herself (somehow) in a relationship with the formerly hostile new super, which adds unwelcome wrinkles to whatever plan she adopts for the future. Sheesh! Given all of this, I guess I do feel badly for our reluctant hero. She has good reasons to feel angry, frustrated, and to put up those defensive “walls”.

So,… all of the primary characters are dealing with some pretty heavy issues — identity crises, varying types of abuse, perceived betrayal, uncertain futures, etc. –, both personal and business-related. In response, they abuse various substances, have frivolous sexual encounters, do some other rather selfish things, even commit crimes. I’m guessing they all know what the right thing to do is, but it’s a struggle, and they all screw up on several occasions. If they were my friends, I’d be rather disappointed in them, even while trying to be sympathetic regarding their respective “issues”. I have to admit, though, it all sadly has a pretty realistic feel to it. And realism, after all, is a hallmark of these Netflix shows. (Except for, you know… the superpowers stuff.)

On another, related matter…

Personally, I thought the “love scenes” — which there were more of, this time around — were a bit gratuitous. I mean, yes, they made sense within each character’s journey and how they were dealing with stuff. But, we don’t need to see/hear, for example, Jessica getting humped in a bar restroom or Jeri getting high (and making out) with lesbian/bisexual hookers to get the idea. There are less in-your-face, more PG-rated ways of letting an audience know what’s going on (or about to, or just did). Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer more restraint and self-censorship. I guess the assumption is that if they’re doing ‘R’-rated violence, they “have” to do ‘R’- (or, at least, PG-13-) rated sexuality? However, I do appreciate that there wasn’t much, if any, nudity — although, I may have missed something when fast-forwarding past those scenes.

Despite this, I liked Season 2 better than the first one. As terrific as David Tennant’s portrayal of Killgrave was in Season 1, the subject matter was not to my liking. Of course, the theme of “abuse and how to deal with it (or not)” has become central to the series. But, this season felt a bit more… comfortable(?), I guess. I dunno. I also liked the hopeful note that the finale left on for some of our main characters: Mal’s new job, Trish’s recovery (and then some), Jessica’s settling into her new relationship with Oscar. (I suspect, though, either she’ll screw it up in Season 3 or something bad will happen to him. Shame, too, ‘cuz I like Oscar. And his kid.)

Overall, I give Season 2 of “Jessica Jones” a solid ‘B’, maybe ‘B+’.

Inhumans Mini-Review and Fan-Cast

Yep, I did it! I watched the “Inhumans” mini-series.

I have to say, it didn’t suck as badly as I’d expected, based on some comments I’d read. But, it was very disappointing. As mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve liked the Inhumans, especially the Royal Family, since their early appearances in the Fantastic Four comics. So, although I realize they might not be the easiest to adapt to live-action, what with the supersized dog and the leader/king who can’t speak (without destroying stuff, that is), I was still hoping for a decent show. So much for that idea…

SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!

Now, there were positive points. For example, I thought Lockjaw looked great, and his teleportation effect was cool, too. Other visual F/X were good, and they got the general color schemes for the characters right. Triton was surprisingly bad@$$. (I don’t remember him being so deadly in the comics, but then I haven’t read any Inhumans stories in several years.) What else? Um,… the girls were cute, and, uh,… I’m sure there was something else I liked….

One annoying thing I noted early on was when otherwise-intelligent people kept doing stupid things or *not* doing sensible things. For example, I realize that Black Bolt’s sign language would not have been understood by Americans, but why didn’t he at least try to communicate with the police? He (and his family) obviously knew a lot about some Earth things, including how to read/speak/understand English. Couldn’t he have written stuff down? Also, how did he not realize that stealing would bring attention from law-enforcement? Then there’s Medusa, who didn’t think to take Auran’s comm unit. Also, since she must have known of Auran’s incredible healing ability, why didn’t she make sure Auran was dead after their battle, or at least shackle or tie her up?

There were inconsistencies, too, like Gorgon’s boots being shaped like hoofs (as they should be), and then later just looking like normal boots.

The writing and acting was generally bad or lackluster. I’ve seen some of the actors before, and they didn’t suck then. So,… do we blame the director? Black Bolt in particular was odd. For one thing, I kept thinking I was watching Jim Caviezel, ‘cuz Anson Mount looks so much like him. Something about the set of the jaw and the eyes, I think. But, while Mount was forced to do much of his acting via his eyes, I’m afraid it just didn’t work. His range of expression seemed to be stuck between alarmed, frustrated, and just plain bewildered. (I don’t remember his performances in anything else, so I can’t say if he has displayed much more depth or range.)

And Maximus? I was really looking forward to a raving madman. After all, they don’t call him “Maximus the Mad” for nothing. But, what we got was a better-behaved Ramsay Bolton who just wanted to be one of the cool kids. Sigh!

Another disappointing thing was the limited displays of Medusa’s and Karnak’s powers. I think I read a critique somewhere that said her prehensile hair wasn’t a good effect, but I thought it was decent. In my opinion, shaving her hair off in the beginning, while a dramatic plot point (and true to a comic storyline, I think), was a bad move. We fans want to see Medusa (and her hair) in action! (Also, Serinda Swan looks <much> better with hair.) As for Karnak, they made a point of injuring him to reduce his amazing analytical abilities, which then gave him a crisis of confidence. Related to this was his limited fighting. Was this intentionally done, because Ken Leung has little-to-no martial arts ability? Again, I wanted to see Karnak the Shatterer kick butt! He had a couple OK scenes (though one took place mostly in the dark) — and it was kinda cool the way they showed him calculating trajectories and probabilities and such — but he could/should have been <so> much better. (Props for giving him the facial tats, but why no enlarged cranium?) Wish we had seen more of Triton, too. He must’ve been reveling in having all that water to swim in! And we didn’t get to see Black Bolt fly, either, dangit!

In the end, I suppose I would have chosen a different story that allowed everyone to better showcase their powers.

Alright, I’ve said enough about that. Now, I’d like to present my choices for if I were to cast the Inhumans Royal Family. I won’t get into Inhumans history or powers/abilities or (for the most part) the actors’ resumes, this time. Let me say up front that, as usual, I tried to stick to the general height (within reason) and build of the characters as seen in the comics. Also, I think Black Bolt is one of the oldest of the royal siblings & cousins, so I put him at mid-30s to 40. Crystal would be the youngest at early- to mid-20s. Everyone else should probably be late-20s to late-30s.

Philip Winchester

Nicole Steinwedell

I considered both Ryan McPartlin (6’4.5″,b.1975) and Eric Dane (6’1″,b.1972) for Black Bolt, but they’re both a little older than I preferred, and McPartlin’s a little too tall. So, I went back to someone I’ve recommended for other square-jawed hero roles: Philip Winchester (6’1″,b.1981). For Medusa, I wanted someone who could play both regal and compassionate queen, preferably redhead (though that’s going to be CGI, anyway), and (here’s the toughest part) tall. Either Eva Green (5’6″,b.1980) or Emily Beecham (5’5.25″,b.1984) would be great, except Marvel’s wiki puts Medusa at 5’11”. It is really tough to find good actresses in that height range. But,… though she is usually blonde, I think Nicole Steinwedell (5’11”,b.1981) fits the bill! (I even found a pic of her in a purple/violet dress!)

Roman Reigns

Nicholas Tse

The warrior Gorgon is tall (6’7″) and muscular, so I thought a wrestler might be a good choice. In fact, it didn’t take me long to realize that Joe Anoa’i (aka Roman Reigns) (6’3.25″,b.1985) is practically perfect. I mean, look at this guy! Put him in hoof-boots, and he might even reach 6’7″. Karnak, on the other hand, is a foot shorter and slimmer (though still muscular). It has never been clear to me if he is supposed to be Asian-looking. (Sometimes, he even looks French to me, for some reason.) But, that’s the way the series went with the character, and I agree. Jet Li (5’6.25″,b.1963) might’ve been a fair choice, but he’s too old and still has a thick accent. So, my vote is for Nicholas Tse (5’9″,b.1980), who is an actor & martial artist who happened to go bald for a recent part (see pic).

Andy On

Saoirse Ronan

Medusa’s baby sister, Crystal, is a pretty strawberry-blonde who clocks in at 5’6″. I decided to go with the talented Saoirse Ronan (5’6″,b.1994), known for her work in Atonement, The Lovely Bones, Hanna, all before she turned 17. She could certainly play young Crystal with some depth. (Coincidentally, in recent years Crystal was married to (and subsequently separated from) Ronan the Accuser, the Kree warrior/judge.) As for Karnak’s older brother, the water-breathing Triton, I opted for another martial artist/actor: Andy On (5’11”,b.1977). (I would’ve considered him for Karnak, but he’s too tall.) He is a little older than I’d like for the role, but he has the right build, and I think he can easily pass for 30-something.

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, we have Black Bolt’s younger brother and intermittent enemy, the evil and treacherous Maximus. I saw someone else fan-cast Joaquin Phoenix (5’8″,b.1974), who coincidentally played ‘Commodus’ to Russell Crowe’s ‘Maximus’ in Gladiator. While a little older and shorter than preferred, I agree that he could’ve been a great Maximus the Mad. While Maximus has had a number of different looks (i.e., costume, armor, hair, build), it was a more recent version (rightmost pic above) that made me think of Dominic Rains (6′,b.1982). If Rains looks familiar, it is because — and here’s another one of those interesting connections — he has been playing the evil (insane?) Kree overlord/station-commander, Kasius, on the current season of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”, who creates Inhumans for his own entertainment and profit. Perfect, no?

Rains as Kasius

Dominic Rains

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now that is an Inhumans movie/series I would love to see!

This concludes our review/fan-cast combo for the Inhumans Royal Family. Hope ya liked it! Don’t be afraid to leave a relevant comment below….

Review of The Defenders (Netflix)

“It’s been a long week.” — Jessica Jones, “The Defenders”

The much(?)-anticipated “The Defenders” mini-series has finally been released, capping off the first four Marvel/Netflix series. I finished watching it a few days ago, so I have a few thoughts to share….

You probably figured I’d put out some sort of review, right? Regular readers already know how I feel about the actors and these versions of the characters from my earlier reviews, so I won’t say too much on that front. (Too many to link to here; just do a search on “Netflix” or go to the Reviews page linked above.) I assume most people who are interested in the show have already watched it, but I’m adding a Spoiler Alert, anyway.

SPOILER ALERT!! SPOILER ALERT!! SPOILER ALERT!! SPOILER ALERT!! SPOILER ALERT!!

Let’s start with… I liked the opening/closing credits music. It reminded me of a cross between those for Daredevil and Iron Fist.

I also really appreciated the getting-to-know-each-other scene at the Chinese restaurant, after our heroes survived their first team-up. It was reminiscent — probably intentionally so — of the shawarma shop scene at the end of Avengers.

Our heroes all remained very much in character. Luke Cage and Jessica Jones did their usual strong-guy/gal thing, smashing, slamming, punching, and kicking the crap out of The Hand’s lackeys. Nothin’ pretty. Luke also got to play “human shield” on occasion. (I think he actually enjoys it, despite the costs to his wardrobe.) Once he was on board, Matt Murdock / Daredevil re-confirmed that he’s the best fighter of all of them, in my opinion. However, he also takes some chances — specifically, re Elektra — that put himself and others in danger. Of course, the writers can make even foolish decisions turn out to be the “right” ones in the end.

Each of these three, at some point along the way, had their doubts about taking on The Hand, preferring to stay out of the “war” or just not ready to go “all the way”. But, they realized the threat that The Hand represented to the people of New York (and likely beyond), and they stepped up. They knew they might not survive, but they were the city’s only real chance. That’s what makes them heroes.

I would really love to see Daredevil pair up with Cage. That could be an awesome partnership. (Cage and Rand, not so much.)

Not surprisingly, I thought Danny Rand / Iron Fist was quite disappointing. Without the chi-powered fist, his fighting skills are still mediocre — clumsy-looking, even. Good thing The Hand seems to only have mediocre-level soldiers, rather than the ninja-assassins from the comics. (Elektra aside, of course.) He also continued with the part-petulant child, part-stranger-in-a-strange-land bit, while never understanding why people aren’t impressed by his “I am the immortal Iron Fist” claims, followed by tales of dragons and mystical cities. Sheesh! Either give it a rest, or at least show off the “fist” a bit earlier.

Colleen Wing’s presence mostly made up for that of her boyfriend. She’s attractive, passionate, willing to do what needs to be done, and brings some much-needed skill with bladed weapons to the good-guy side. She seems to start many fights by charging at her opponents, which doesn’t seem too smart to me, particularly when it’s a superior fighter like Bakuto. Then again, it’s not like she’s gonna surprise him/them, especially beginning from several feet away. Maybe the head-on approach is best, just to get the fight underway?

Some of the best acting in this series was in scenes with the Colleen and Claire characters, especially the one where Colleen briefly broke down in tears. Well done, Miss Henwick.

Claire’s how-did-I-get-myself-into-this reflections and lines were welcome as usual. She really is the heart of the (non-)team, and not just because she is the acquaintance that they all had in common. She also probably surprises no one more than herself that she is still in the thick of it and, well, not dead, yet. Like Colleen said, Claire’s a hero, too.

It was nice to see Malcolm, Trish, Karen, and Foggy, too, and to find out what they were up to since we last saw them. There wasn’t much for them to do in this story but hide out. But, it made sense in the plot to have them involved, since they were the closest associates of our heroes. However, it still seems odd to have them essentially camp out in the police station, when the cops never really understood what The Hand was or how dangerous they were.

Misty Knight… yowza! (Ahem, sorry.) The lovely Detective Knight returns! Yay! (“Detective Knight” sounds like a twist on a certain Distinguished Competition’s pointy-eared vigilante, doesn’t it?) She continues to be frustrated by our heroes, but she comes through in the end and supports, even aids, them. Yay, again! She pays a dear price for it, though, since she (finally) loses her arm. Triple-yay! That’s right, I’m glad she lost her arm, ‘cuz that means she will probably, eventually, get a super-strong bionic arm, just like in the comics. (I have a feeling her benefactor will be Rand, though, instead of Stark.) Then, she just needs to become a P.I. and partner with Colleen Wing, and I’ll be a happy man. (Especially if they get their own series!)

It sort of makes sense that Stick would be the one to unite — however reluctantly — our heroes. Or, at least, try to keep them together after that initial big fight. (Btw, since we already know these Netflix shows take place in the same world as the films, it would have made sense to have someone say something like, “Why not tell those Avengers guys? Let them HANDle it!” OK, maybe without the pun.) I’m a little surprised that they killed him off, but not real disappointed. For one, he was getting annoying; for two, with The Hand out of commission (thankfully, at least for now), there’s little reason for Stick to show up, and this should help our heroes — well, Matt, anyway… and Elektra — move on.

I hate to say it, but Sigourney Weaver looked… old. But, then I realized she’s 67, so she’s allowed to have a few wrinkles and such. Don’t know that I would have thought of her as a villain for this series. But, as the Alexandra character was written, she was a decent choice. We suspected they would bring Bakuto back, as well as the ever-present and deceptively powerful Madame Gao. The other two new Hand leaders — Murakami and Sowande — seemed formidable at first. But, the latter was too easily defeated, and the former was ultimately not that impressive.

I have mixed feelings about the whole Elektra thing. I mean, we already knew she was being resurrected by The Hand, so she’d probably be involved in another series storyline. And, it makes sense the way it was done and why. I think. Her betrayal of Alexandra was a surprise, which made for a nice plot twist. However, I don’t understand why she suddenly became so cold, amoral, etc. I guess it had something to do with her soul being affected (seared? tainted? infected?) by her brief time on “the other side”. I don’t remember hearing a good explanation for her behavior, but maybe I just missed it or didn’t put the pieces together.

If Elektra survived and if she eventually returns (though hopefully not for awhile), I hope she becomes more the assassin-for-hire that comic readers are familiar with. One with a damaged, yet still present, moral compass and ethical code.

The overall plot wasn’t bad, though it seemed to take a little while to get moving. Definitely room for improvement here and there, which might have been do-able if they had another episode or two to work with. Or, maybe fewer episodes would have forced them to tighten it up and get to the good stuff sooner. For the most part, though, the four heroes’ individual stories came together fairly well. It all flowed OK (though the earlier episodes were a bit rocky), and there was some good character development. (Even Rand.) Most of the interaction between our heroes was good, too, and I appreciated the occasional doses of humor.

Open questions: Why didn’t the NYPD file a report? Why wouldn’t they charge our heroes with terrorism? I’m not saying there isn’t a plausible way around it, with Jeri Hogarth (and Foggy, of course) coming to their aid. (Even “The Defenders” sometimes need a legal defense of their own, right?) But, the “wrap-up” at the end seemed too easy.

Overall grade: When feeling generous, I’m tempted to give “The Defenders” a solid ‘B’. Other days, I might go as low as a ‘C’. So, let’s split the difference and go with a ‘C+/B-‘.

Upcoming, Live-Action Superhero Series Round-up, part 2

Continuing from last week, wherein we looked at various confirmed, possible, and merely rumored Netflix series that will/would join the four Marvel adaptations so far, this week we’ll review several more superhero shows being developed at other networks. Most of them also happen to be based on Marvel properties, but not all….

Disney/ABC

o I’ve already blogged about the “Inhumans” mini-series coming out this Fall (here and here). As previously mentioned, it will focus on the Inhumans’ Royal Family (as seen in the comics) and will not be connected to “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I have mixed feelings about the casting choices — e.g., Serinda Swan as ‘Medusa’ looks rather disappointing in the pic I saw — but I’m hopeful that the overall story and production will make it worth watching.

Fox

‘The Gifted’

o As we now know, the mysterious “X-men related” show that was being developed over at Fox is called “The Gifted”. The basic premise is that a suburban American couple discovers “their children possess mutant powers. Forced to go on the run from a hostile government, the family joins up with an underground network of mutants and must fight to survive.” This appears to be a new concept and not based on any particular Marvel mutant-themed comics, but there will be a few familiar characters (e.g., ‘Polaris’, ‘Blink’, ‘Thunderbird’). The creative team / producers include many familiar names, too — e.g., Bryan Singer, Jeph Loeb, Lauren Shuler Donner, Simon Kinberg, Jim Chory, and Matt Nix. My interest is piqued! (No premiere date but possibly late-2017.)

Hulu

o Based on another popular Marvel comic book series, “Runaways” is about a group of teenagers who discover that their parents are the members of a secret cabal of supervillains. As if there wasn’t enough to be angsty about…. These kids discover that they have unusual skills and abilities of their own and decide to foil their parents’ evil plans. As you might have guessed, the parents do not appreciate the interference, and the kids end up on the run, so to speak. Thus the title. I remember reading several issues of this series when it came out years ago and enjoyed it. I really hope they do a decent job with this adaptation. At least the cast looks good…. (Premieres sometime in 2018.)

Freeform (formerly ABC Family)

o “Cloak & Dagger”: “Two teenagers [Tandy Bowen and Tyrone Johnson] from very different backgrounds find themselves burdened and awakened to newly acquired superpowers while falling in love.” To be honest, I never really got into these characters much. I remember reading a few stories with them — maybe the initial, limited series and a few guest-starring appearances in other titles. But, they never really got me excited. Still, it’s an interesting concept, and I know their fans have been talking for some time about the possibility of these characters arriving either on the small- or big-screen. Well, it’s finally happening, so for their sakes, I hope this is a satisfying live-action adaptation. (Premieres early/winter 2018.)

o Not much is known about the “(Marvel’s) New Warriors” series being developed for Freeform, except that it will be a half-hour action-comedy and apparently features ‘Squirrel Girl’. Now, since debuting in the ’90s, this team has gone through a few different rosters. But, it has always been (mostly) serious, despite the silliness of Speedball, and the ridiculous Squirrel Girl has never before been part of any incarnation of the team. This series “is about six young people with powers living and working together. With powers and abilities on the opposite end of the spectrum of The Avengers, the New Warriors want to make a difference in the world… even if the world isn’t ready.” The team will be led by SG, whose “most important trait is that she has faith in people and teaches them to believe in themselves.” Not the way I’d have gone with this property, but I guess…. (No premiere date but probably 2018.)

You might be wondering if there will be any crossover between the two Freeform series. Well, probably not. As per Karey Burke, Freeform’s Vice President of Programming, “If you know these two properties, they’re not particularly connected. There are many degrees of separation with where they fall in the Marvel universe. But anything is possible with Marvel. Their tones are so wildly different. Cloak is this angst-filled, achingly beautiful, heartfelt romantic drama. And Squirrel Girl is a balls-out comedy.”

CW

‘Black Lightning’

o DC’s latest — fifth, or sixth if you count “iZombie” — entre on The CW will be “Black Lightning”, starring Cress Williams in the title role. The incredibly busy and talented Greg Berlanti is one of the executive producers, along with his producing partner Sarah Schechter. Husband-and-wife team Salim and Mara Brock Akil are writing, with Salim also directing at least the pilot. The show tells the story of Jefferson Pierce, a long-retired superhero who gets pulled back into the biz, when his daughters (who I think also have powers) get involved in some heavy stuff. The trailer I saw looked pretty good, so here’s hopin’…. (Premieres either this October or early 2018.)

???

o The one we know the least about is “Quantum & Woody”, based on a Valiant title by the same name. (I loved the original but haven’t read the new one.) It was a quirky, clever series with fun characters: adopted, adult brothers — one black, one white; one serious, one goofy — who gain superpowers and (naturally) become costumed adventurers. This past March it was announced that the Russo Brothers (“Community”, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War) would develop the property as a TV series, once they wrap The Avengers: Infinity War. Other executive producers include Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari (Ant-Man), who are currently working on Ant-Man and The Wasp. Sounds like a great creative team! But, correctly casting the title characters — with the “odd couple” vibe and repartee from the comics — will be crucial to the show’s success. (No premiere date.)

o Just before going to press, I discovered that DC’s live-action “Titans” series has not only been revived but will begin shooting in September. Apparently, I missed the announcement back in April that it was moving forward, after all. Beside the shoot-date, we also now know that Berlanti (along with Geoff Johns and Akiva Goldsman) is co-developing this one, too, and it will be “part of a brand new digital service from DC Entertainment and Warner Bros.” Does this mean it won’t air on a regular TV or cable channel? I dunno. Regardless, I hope they do the team justice. Teen justice! <<ahem!>> (Likely premieres sometime in 2018.)

I don’t know about you, but I think there is a *lot* to look forward to over the next couple years, and that’s just from this particular subset of our beloved sci-fi/fantasy and action/adventure genres. Even if only half of these series catch on, I’ll be happy. (Assuming I have a chance to watch them, that is.)

Upcoming, Live-Action Superhero Series Round-up, part 1

I’ve said it before, but superhero genre fans are truly blessed these days. In addition to the the many live-action adaptations on the big screen, we have more leather- and spandex-clad heroes with special powers and skills on TV now than ever before — from DC’s various series on regular TV (“Arrow”, “The Flash”, “Legends of Tomorrow”, & “Supergirl” on CW; “Gotham” on Fox (no costume-wearing heroes in this last one, though)); Marvel’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” on ABC and “Legion” on FX; and, Marvel’s Netflix-original shows (“Daredevil”, “Jessica Jones”, “Luke Cage”, “Iron Fist”). I suppose I should throw in DC’s “Preacher” (AMC), though I don’t care for the concept and would hardly call him a hero. (Same goes for “Lucifer”.)

There were also the late, lamented “Agent Carter” by Marvel and “Constantine” by DC, both of which had loyal fan followings but still got canceled. And, of course, there have been a few that were talked about a lot but fell through — e.g., DC’s “Teen Titans”/”Blackbirds” and Marvel’s “Mockingbird”/”Marvel’s Most Wanted”.

But, there are more on the way…. Over the past couple years or so, several other comic book adaptations have been rumored, discussed, planned, and in many cases gone into production. I thought we’d take a quick look at each of them — those I am aware of, at least. (Given that I’m a bit pressed for time, though, I’m splitting the “round-up” between this week and next. Hope you don’t mind.) Let’s begin with…

Netflix

o “The Defenders”: Anyone paying attention is aware that the heroes from the first four Netflix shows have always been intended to co-star in a mini-series as Marvel’s best ever non-team, “The Defenders”. I don’t think this particular line-up has ever seen print, but anything to get our heroes fighting together and likely among themselves in time-honored Marvel tradition. It debuts this August 18th.

o “The Punisher”: The popular, gun-toting anti-hero was so popular in his appearance in Season 2 of “Daredevil” that the powers-that-be decided a spin-off show was in order. I believe I’m on record as being in favor of this, as long as they do right by the character. Last I read, this one’s scheduled for release in Nov. 2017.

o More?: A little over a year ago, rumors began that Netflix was planning to add to their stable of Marvel-based series. Specifically, Moviecreedlive reported, “Our sources have revealed that Blade, Ghost Rider, and Moon Knight are lined-up to join Netflix.” These all make sense, given the darker, street-level tone of their other series. However, I haven’t heard/read anything more about this, other than the discussions of MK replacing Iron Fist, when the latter was having trouble getting some direction. (No comment.) Of course, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” has since introduced a version of Ghost Rider, so I don’t know how that might affect Netflix’s plans. Since Marvel has been keeping its Netflix properties independent from other shows & films, it might not matter at all. Personally, I’d love to see the original Ghost Rider, with host Johnny Blaze, brought to Netflix.

On the other hand, a different report around the same time said that Marvel/Netflix were next developing series for She-Hulk, Cloak & Dagger, Bullseye, and Elektra. The odd one out here seems to be She-Hulk. Not only do they already have one show about lawyers — Shulkie is also an attorney named Jennifer Walters — and two characters with super-strength, but the character doesn’t really fit the dark-n-gritty tone of the other shows. Plus, they’d need a decent CGI budget. The other three make more sense, though I haven’t read/seen anything more about Bullseye or Elektra. Most likely, it was an April Fool’s joke, anyway, since the article was published 4/1/2016. However, I’ll talk more about Cloak & Dagger in a minute — or, rather, in Part 2.

Finally, the possible Netflix show that makes the most sense to me would be the one rumored to spin off the Misty Knight character from “Luke Cage”. Ideally (for me), she would get her bionic arm and team up with Colleen Wing (from “Iron Fist”) to form “Knightwing Restorations”. (They could use that as a title, or “Daughters of the Dragon”.) It has been confirmed that Knight & Wing will both show up in “The Defenders”, so maybe it will set up events that lead to a spin-off then. Unfortunately, there has been no further news on this front, either.

That’s it for now. Continued next week…

Review of Iron Fist (Netflix series)

“You are the worst Iron Fist ever.” — Davos

I had originally meant to do a “Mr. Zeus” installment this week. But, I decided I’d better do this review while the show is still relatively fresh in my mind. Some of my comments may be briefer or less systematic than usual. We shall see…

For the most part, I’m going to ignore the many missing or changed details in this version of Danny’s becoming an orphan, the Rand connection to K’un-Lun, the introduction of Colleen Wing, etc., from the comics version. Unfortunately, the bulk of my comments will still probably be negative, so allow me to start with something positive: I liked the opening credits. The music was good, with a sort of Asian/mystical feel to the electronica vibe. The dark-ish mood and swirling, inky effect with the semi-slo-mo kung fu guy worked for me. I don’t know if that guy was real or totally CGI, but he looked like a good fit for Danny/Iron Fist.

Speaking of which, as you might guess from my earlier fan-casting for the title character, I thought Finn Jones was all wrong. True, the studio didn’t cave in to demands to make the character Asian. Jones is also the right age, height, and has blonde hair. But, Iron Fist should’ve been more muscular and athletic looking, and his hair should’ve been cut shorter and straight. (And get rid of the beard, too.) As for the portrayal of Danny, I don’t know whether to blame Jones, the writers, or the directors — probably a bit of all of them.

SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER!

Finn Jones as Danny Rand

Danny’s seeming naivete and other mannerisms were annoying, as were his fits of anger and going off half-cocked at the end. He acted like a child. And what were those “episodes” toward the end, when he’d grab his head and his vision got blurry (or, at least, ours did)? Sometimes, he had a memory flash from the plane crash or K’un-Lun. What was that about?

We never really got satisfying answers either for Danny’s abandoning of K’un-Lun or even for Colleen’s going against her own principles when she did the cage matches. In fact, motivations in general were a weak point.

Danny’s fighting skills were, shall we say, rather underwhelming. Dull. Poorly choreographed and/or poorly edited. If it wasn’t clear before, the last couple episodes confirmed that he had a *lot* more training to do. But, imo, he should never have received the powers and responsibilities of the Iron Fist (w/ tattoo) at his current skill level. He should have been even better than Daredevil, but at this point, I think DD would put him down easily.

He says that he spent years training in martial arts, which includes controlled breathing *and* controlling his emotions. A minute later, he’s freaking out over air turbulence, and Claire has to calm him and get him to focus. What?! Same goes for his anger issues.

If (like he told Ward) the only time he drove a car was as a 10yo on his dad’s lap, how is Danny driving around NYC on his own a couple days later? For that matter, if he’s been stuck in extradimensional K’un-Lun for 15 years, why does he seem so unfazed by — even familiar with — NYC? A few familiar buildings and landmarks, sure. But, I’d like to have seen more fish-out-of-water behavior.

Casting for Colleen was good. Jessica Henwick is certainly an attractive woman of mixed Asian & Anglo ethnicity with martial arts skills. In fact, she was much more impressive in that area than Danny was. (She showed what she could really do, even without the sword, in those cage matches!) On the other hand, she’s too short and her hair is supposed to be medium brown to auburn. Still, she was a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing series. (I’ll even forgive the fact that Danny’s supposed to have a romantic relationship with Misty Knight, not Colleen. That is, if they wanted to stay faithful to the source material. In the Marvel-Netflix world, though, Colleen is a better match for him.) Claire (Rosario Dawson) was another one. It was nice to see her involved and continuing to connect the various series together. Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Ann Moss) makes a couple of welcomed appearances, as well.

Not sure about the Meachums, as I don’t remember that much about them from the comics. I will say, though, that that is one supremely dysfunctional family! I despised the manipulative Harold (David Wenham), who treated his son like $#!+ — and that was even before the, er, violent physical exchanges. Of course, he was supposed to be a total jerk, so… well done! I thought I was gonna really hate Ward (Tom Pelphrey), too, but I ended up just pitying him. I wanted to like Joy (Jessica Stroup) more, and she had her moments, but she ended up disappointing me, too. (Especially the final scene.)

What to make of Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho)? She is formidable, but inconsistently so. One day, she exhibits the ability — presumably through focused chi or some such thing — to “knock” someone several feet when she is standing several more feet away from them. (Think telekinetic “shove”.) A day or two later, though, she’s all scared when Danny charges her and she doesn’t even try to defend herself. What’s up with that? Was the latter behavior merely an act in order to give her more opportunities to get in the heads of our heroes?

I question the wisdom of using The Hand again as the “big bad”, especially since we know they will show up in “The Defenders” and/or season 3 of “Daredevil”. Surely, the writers could have found another evil organization to use from Marvel’s stable or even created a new one. Even though there was the interesting twist toward the end with the competing factions, I feel like The Hand was underutilized except as another connecting thread with the other shows. Their fighters weren’t very impressive, either, and they’re supposed to be among the deadliest in the world.

I hesitate to delve into the various other issues with the plot. Instead, I point you to this excellent review by Mike Floorwalker at Looper, which I fortunately read as I was finishing this up. He briefly discusses plot holes, inconsistencies, plodding development, lack of humor, “shoehorned-in moral conflict”, et al. In my opinion, most of his observations are right on the mark.

A few quick, final comments…

o Interesting casting for Davos (Sacha Dhawan) and Bakuto (Ramon Rodriguez). I wouldn’t have gone that way, but I suppose they did adequate jobs. Physically not very impressive, though. No clue why Davos, who I always thought was East Asian in appearance, is played by someone of Indian descent with a Manchester accent, either.

o There was not enough of K’un-Lun, and I think there should have been flashbacks of Danny training with Davos (since they changed the Davos character and made him Danny’s peer) and under the instruction of Lei-Kung the Thunderer.

o The “iron fist” F/X was decent, I suppose.

As usual, I really wanted to like this character/series, especially with its connection to the other Netflix series. It could have been spectacular. Unfortunately, it fell *well* short of its potential. I got the feeling that the series’ creative minds might have known the basics about Danny Rand / Iron Fist — they had some facts about his history, abilities, etc. — but they didn’t really understand the character.

If I were to grade the four series, I’d give “Daredevil” an A-, “Jessica Jones” a B-, “Luke Cage” a B or B+, and “Iron Fist” a C- (and that might be a bit generous). I haven’t read a lot of other reviews, but from what I have heard/seen, the general consensus agrees with me. I just hope that the creators learned something from the criticism and make some positive changes for “Defenders” (though that has already filmed) and any future Danny Rand / Iron Fist appearances.

P.S.  We never saw the iconic costume, either. (That yellow & green robe doesn’t count.) At this point, I’m sort of glad.

Review of Luke Cage (Netflix Series)

”There’s something powerful about seeing a black man that’s bulletproof and unafraid!”  — Method Man in “Luke Cage” cameo

I’m a day late with this post — sorry ’bout that. Blame it on my having been on vacation for over a week and now trying to catch up on stuff. Speaking of vacation, I managed to finish watching “Luke Cage”, so I decided to push up my review by a couple weeks.

luke-cage-netflix-cast-600x264

Primary cast for “Luke Cage”

As some of you probably realize, the “Luke Cage: Hero for Hire” character was created in the 1970s to capitalize on the Blaxpoitation film craze. Much of the writing — by white guys unfamiliar with actual Black culture — involved stereotypes and often inauthentic dialogue. Nowadays, some people would call it downright racist, but I don’t think that was the intent. “Ignorant” and “misguided” would be fairer descriptions of the creators/writers themselves. Some of the storylines were pretty hokey, too, but that’s par for the course in comics. Still, Cage is a beloved character who has evolved over the decades, often written by Black writers, and losing much of the Blaxploitative aura.

The challenge, then, for Netflix’s production was to make a series about this character, in a particular environment, that resonated with the person of color in 2016, while drawing heartily from the source material and providing nuggets of nostalgia. Not an easy task, but I thought showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker et al. did an admirable job.

Let’s break it down, beginning (as usual) with the main characters….

Luke Cage (aka Carl Lucas): I probably wouldn’t put cage in my personal Top 10 Marvel characters, but I have read enough material with him in it that I find him an intriguing character. So, I’m really glad he’s getting the live-action treatment. I have commented previously regarding the choice of Mike Colter to play the role, so I won’t repeat it here, other than to say Colter continues to do a great job as this Luke Cage. It’s a more toned down, stoic, and definitely not stereotypical version of the character, which probably works better than trying to adhere too closely to the 70s version. I also understand why the original, disco-influenced, bright yellow-n-blue costume with upside-down steel tiara and huge chain for a belt would not have worked for 2016 sensibilities (not to mention Cage/Colter’s self-respect). However, I very much appreciated the “Easter egg” that had him in a version of that outfit in the flashback scene following his prison escape. The handful of “Sweet Christmas”es were great, too.

In case you didn’t know, the comics version of Lucas/Cage was never a cop, though his father was. He did go to prison as the result of being framed by Stryker. Why they made him a former cop (also framed) for this series, I’m not sure. Maybe to strengthen the idea of his instincts to help and protect people? (Given the attitude toward cops by a lot of the Black community these days, that’s a little surprising.) It irked me at first as an unnecessary change, but I’m OK with it.

Finally, I would have liked to see Cage get truly enraged when fighting a group of bad guys. I don’t know if they didn’t do this in order to avoid the “angry Black man” stereotype, or just because this version of Cage is generally more reserved. Still, I want to see what he’s really capable of when ticked off. He also had that opportunity in his big fight with Stryker, but they opted to do that differently, too. (It was kind of frustrating, IMO.) Otherwise, I thought Cage’s characterization was pretty good, especially for a current-day, live-action adaptation. (See related comments under ‘Plot’.)

15-luke-cage-1-w529-h352Cornell ‘Cottonmouth’ Stokes: Mahershala Ali is a talented actor, and I’ve appreciated him since first seeing him years ago. He has a reserved intensity that really worked for this role. The Stokes character is a complex mix of mid-level underworld boss, businessman, street punk, and frustrated musician. I could feel the stress and annoyance he felt as his mini-empire began to crumble around him, all while being badgered by his cousin, who had her own issues and selfish concerns. The fact that he was far more than a two-dimensional villain made him all the more intriguing. I have to admit, though, that his tendency to burst out in often-derisive laughter got to be tiresome toward the end. (And what a sudden, gruesome “end” it was!)

Incidentally, the original “Cottonmouth” was an older guy with a white unibrow and mustache, sharpened gold(?) teeth, and an affinity for green pimpsuits with a matching hat. He was also the guy whose drugs Stryker stole and framed Lucas with. I’m not surprised they decided to throw most of that out, but at least this version was still a drug dealer and a snappy dresser! Also, as far as I can tell, he is still alive in the Marvel Comics Universe.

Det. Misty Knight: Giving the beautiful Simone Missick the role of Misty Knight was close-to-perfect casting. She has the look and talent (and big hair) that brings this strong, confident, intelligent woman to life. She’s a little different than I picture Knight, but not enough to be an issue.

I had forgotten that Knight was a cop before becoming a private investigator, but I’m happy that the powers-that-be retained this for the Netflix version. I’m a little unsure what to make of her “special ability” to reconstruct a crime scene in her mind. Is this supposed to be superhuman? Or, just an unusual, but still “natural”, finely-honed talent of a police detective? On another matter, I was surprised at how quickly her arm healed. I thought for sure it would need to be amputated, thereby providing an opening for her to get a bionic arm. (In the comics, she lost the arm in a bomb blast.) But, nope… didn’t happen. Either way, I enjoyed the character, and I’m glad we’ll be seeing more of her in future series.

(Black) Mariah Dillard: I always enjoy Alfre Woodard’s performances, but this was one of those characters that I can’t decide about. Well, I despise the character for many reasons, which I guess is what we’re supposed to do, even though I sorta-kinda feel bad for her, too. But, I can’t decide if Woodard was the right person to play this role. For some reason, she seemed out of place. Or, maybe it was just me, struggling with what to think of the character. In the comics, “Black Mariah” was an even more despicable character, but she looked more like an obese version of the “Mama Mabel” character we saw in flashbacks. (Btw, Mabel was played by Samuel L. Jackson’s wife, LaTanya Richardson Jackson.) I will say, though, that Woodard did a fine job with this complex character, showing her frustrations with her cousin and her career failures and being “forced” to do things she would rather not. Her relationship with Shades, though, has taken a couple of disturbing twists and turns. Speaking of…

Hernan ‘Shades’ Alvarez: Apparently, there is a “Shades” character from Stryker and Lucas’s shared past in the comics. He was a fellow-member of The Rivals gang who ended up in Seagate Prison, where he was one of those abused by the sadistic prison guard, Rackham. But, many of the details are very different from what we saw on-screen — e.g., no connection with Mariah. Theo Rossi’s version is sort of interesting, yet something about him bugs me. Not sure if it’s the character or the actor. (I’ve never watched “Sons of Anarchy”, but I know I’ve seen him in something.) I was looking forward to seeing Shades get his butt handed to him, either by Cage or Misty, but it didn’t happen. I’m guessing he’ll show up again….

Missick, Dawson, Whaley, Rossi

Missick, Dawson, Whaley, Rossi

Det. Rafael Scarfe: The comics version was indeed partnered with Misty Knight, but he also had a history with Colleen Wing, Danny Rand, and Daredevil. He was a good cop who later “went rogue”, but he was never corrupt. So, it makes one wonder why they totally rewrote the character for Netflix. I guess they wanted another character from the comics that was relatively disposable. (I’ll note that the original was tougher and less cynical.) Frank Whaley did a good job with him as written, but it was a waste of a decent character, if you ask me.

Claire Temple: I was glad to see Rosario Dawson’s “Claire” not just pop up again but get fleshed out a bit more. She is both a likable and useful character, and I appreciate how she has become a friend, encourager/motivator, and budding romantic interest for Cage. (Question: Will Cage ever partner with, and eventually marry, Jessica Jones, as in the comics?) She is a welcome thread tying the different Netflix/Marvel series together, though she isn’t scheduled to appear in “Iron Fist”. I like that she’s a girl from the ‘hood who can take care of herself, but I also like that she is apparently gonna take martial arts training from Colleen Wing. Good for her!

Willis ‘Diamondback’ Stryker: While the snakeskin suit worn by the comics version would probably have been too much, I thought this over-the-top villain was played quite well by Erik LaRay Harvey, who even looks like the original. I don’t remember seeing Harvey in anything else, but I thought his portrayal of this murderous psychopath was right-on. Stryker isn’t exactly complex and is not much more than an eccentric thug, when it comes down to it. But, if that’s what they were going for — and pretty close to the comics, too — then that’s what they got. What I didn’t like was that they minimized the character’s fascination and proficiency with knives, both conventional and modified. Not sure where the Bible obsession came from, either. On the other hand, they did keep the childhood friendship with Lucas/Cage, followed by betrayal.

Now for a few supporting players…

I loved Frankie Faison as “Pop” and was sorry he wasn’t in more episodes. He was a voice of reason, encouragement, and (when necessary) admonishment, not just to Cage but to the younger guys who frequented the barbershop. Dare I say it, “Pop” was a much-needed father-figure to some. I think the character was new for the series, which is fine. The chess-playing Bobby Fish (Ron Cephas Jones) was, I think, another new character and one I enjoyed. As an older guy, he also had some wisdom to lay on the younger folk, and I liked his efforts (with Cage) to keep the barbershop an ongoing concern in Pop’s honor.

Dr. Noah Burstein and his controversial experimentation on select prisoners at Seagate was, of course, straight out of the comics. This version was ably played by Michael Kostroff. It was good to see Reva (Parisa Fitz-Henley) show up in a few episodes, even if it still left a lot of questions regarding Cage’s and her relationship. There is also now some question about her knowledge or participation in Burstein’s experiments and possibly Rackham’s fight club. I should note that Reva in the comics had nothing to do with Seagate and was actually the girlfriend of young Willis Stryker, then of young Carl Lucas, and the cause of the rift that developed between them. Regardless, as a love who was tragically lost, she represents a crucial element to the history and person of Carl Lucas / Luke Cage.

Additional, essential elements to the story…

luke-cage-logoPlot: I thought it was a pretty decent plot, as these things go. Not stellar, but not bad. We see our hero struggling to figure out both who and what he is — ex-cop, ex-con, Black man, disillusioned preacher’s son, victim of betrayal, hero?, vigilante?, freak?, etc. — all while confronting threats to himself, his friends, and his community. He wants to be left alone, but at core he is a good man who can’t stand by while injustice is done to those he cares about. Colter did a pretty good job conveying this struggle, and I admit that someone with more muscles but less acting experience would not have been able to pull this off.

There is also the aspect of the “social commentary” — i.e., racism, oppression, and the struggle for minorities (especially Blacks) to “make it” in America. It was laced throughout much of Stokes and Dillard’s speech, as well as popping up here and there from others (e.g., Pop, Bobby Fish). There were false accusations made against Cage, resulting in the cops hunting for him. But, the accusers were both black and white, cop and criminal, so it didn’t come off as race-based. If the “commentary” had been more heavy-handed, it might have annoyed me; but, it did sound/feel authentic to me. Also, Cage’s mini-speech at the police station (in the finale) helped to explain the mindset (his in particular), as did Method Man’s on-air rap.

There were a few plot holes and unanswered questions. For example, what about the Judas Bullet wound in Cage’s shoulder? Was there shrapnel in there, or was it a through-and-through? But, I don’t remember any glaring inconsistencies. (Feel free to comment below on anything you remember being mishandled or that should have been resolved but wasn’t.)

Lastly, I loved the many “Easter eggs” — i.e., references to people, places, and events from the Marvel-based movies and the other Netflix/Marvel series, as well as a couple that haven’t appeared, yet. It really helps the fans know that the creators are building an interconnected “universe” with all of this stuff, and that they respect the source material we all grew up on.

Music: Right from the outset, this series had a distinct sound and feel to it. It began with the opening theme, which had a definite 70s vibe (though it could have been a bit stronger, imho). But, it continued with the jazz and R&B tunes performed in Stokes’ nightclub, Harlem’s Paradise. The live acts at the club are all real-life professionals — e.g., Charles Bradley, The Delfonics, Faith Evans — whose music spans the 60s thru the 90s and beyond. I’m not personally a fan of the style (though a couple tunes were catchy), but the songs fit the setting of the series and sometimes the particular scenes.

F/X: Of course, I am primarily referring to the demonstrations of Cage’s superstrength and durability. There were occasions where I thought he put a little too much effort into something that should have been very easy for him (e.g., ripping a door off its hinges). But, overall, I liked the way he smacked, shoved, and tossed around punks and crashed through doors and walls. His shrugging off of bullets was on point, as well, including the fact that the ricochets can be dangerous. And Cage’s irritation at frequently needing to replace his bullet-ridden clothes made for a bit of welcome humor.

luke-cage-netflix-trailerThe “Judas Bullets” could have used a little more explanation about their origin and how they were able to bore into Cage’s flesh. (Or, did I miss it?) But, they were a good plot device for making Cage vulnerable (to a select few) and putting his life temporarily in jeopardy. I appreciated the nod to the source material by having the Judas bullets (and special gun?) be manufactured by weapons dealer Justin Hammer. Same goes for Stryker’s special gear, except that the “supersuit” looked kinda goofy, and it made no sense to me why Cage didn’t just punch or rip off the power pack early on in their big fight. (Of course, then there wouldn’t have been much of a fight….)

The Verdict: Overall, despite the things I was a little disappointed in or would have handled differently, I very much enjoyed “Luke Cage”. I rank it slightly below “Daredevil” and above “Jessica Jones”, and I look forward to seeing Cage (and Claire and Misty) in “The Defenders”, as well as (hopefully) a second season of his own.

Review of Daredevil (Netflix series), Season 2

Daredevil_Season_2_Trio_PosterYes, yes, I know. Season 2 was released ages ago and everyone has already watched it and read all the reviews they care to. But, as I’ve said before, I don’t binge watch, preferring to spread the good stuff out over time. As it was, I watched two episodes each every Sunday and Wednesday, so I finished up a couple weeks or so ago. Then, I wanted to get the Axanar post and the quarterly Mr. Zeus post out, so… now I’m finally getting around to my second Daredevil review. I hope it’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

To be honest, initially I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend the time reviewing Season 2, since I had the Axanar review and a follow-up “Supergirl” review planned. I’d also said just about all that I wanted to about the casting and about these versions of the characters in my Season 1 review. But, this time they gave us Punisher and Elektra, plus some, you know, character development in & between the central three, so I almost felt obligated to say something. But, I may not be quite as verbose as in the first review.

SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER!

Regarding those central three, I maintain that the characters could have been better cast, but they’re growing on me. I always thought Foggy should be more supportive of Matt’s nightly exploits, so I’m having to mentally get past their verbal sparring. Still, Elden Henson’s doing a fine job. I am more impressed with Matt/DD and Karen, though. I still think Charlie Cox’s jawline is a giveaway, and I would prefer that he be redheaded and more muscular. Nevertheless, Cox does a great job bringing a conflicted Matt Murdock / Daredevil to life. (Not sure how much he is in the DD action scenes and how much is a stunt-double. Probably almost all the latter.) Seems like the big cases/problems they deal with are due to Karen’s determination to solve puzzles — and, y’know, dogged determination to see justice done. I’m of two minds about her being such a forceful character. Not that I don’t like strong women, but I don’t remember the comic version doing that. I guess they couldn’t have the 2016 TV version be a simple receptionist/secretary. The character is growing into herself, as they say, and that’s usually a good thing. I’m also appreciating Deborah Ann Woll’s talent more. I’m glad they finally decided to pair Matt and Karen romantically — some nice scenes there — though it sure didn’t last long. I still think he should reveal his secret to her — c’mon, already! It would explain so much of his behavior, and she could cover for him, etc. (Like Foggy should be doing.)

There may have been additional, minor, recurring characters, but I’ll limit my comments to the top seven. I hesitate to even call Wilson Fisk / Kingpin a “minor” character, but he was only in 3 episodes this time. That said, his scenes were memorable and his actions significant to the plot. I may not care for the Netflix version of Fisk’s personality & eccentricities, but I can’t fault Vincent D’Onofrio, who always gives a riveting performance. I haven’t decided if I like Sgt./Det. Mahoney (Royce Johnson), but I guess I can understand his uncertainty about DD’s activities and whether or not to help him. In Season 1, I didn’t like Ben Urich’s editor, Mitch Ellison (Geoffrey Cantor), especially when it seemed he might have been corrupt. But, now he’s turning out to be a decent guy and a good new mentor for Karen. It was great to see Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) back again, too, if only for 3 episodes. She’s a great character, even if (like Foggy) she isn’t entirely supportive of Matt’s extracurricular activities.

Some of the cast of "Daredevil" Season 2 at AMC Lincoln Square on Thursday, March 10, 2016, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Some of the cast of “Daredevil” Season 2 at AMC Lincoln Square on Thursday, March 10, 2016, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

The returns of the next three were just as surprising — to me, anyway — as that of Fisk. Not entirely unforseeable, but I hadn’t heard/read any rumors that any of them might show up. The mysterious Madame Gao’s (Wai Ching Ho) cameo was welcome and satisfying, if brief. (Hope we see her again.) Nobu (Peter Shinkoda), the Hand’s formidable warrior, seemed less impressive in his fights with Daredevil this time. Although, that “resurrection” trick is pretty , er, handy. The appearance of Stick (Scott Glenn) was both enjoyable and exasperating. Man, that guy’s a royal pain in the butt (among other places)! Still, I wouldn’t wish that torture he endured on anyone.

Now for the new vigilantes/assassins on the block…

Elektra was OK — certainly attractive — but not close enough in look or mannerism (imo, anyway) to the original for my liking. (E.g., should be a little taller and could stand to have more meat on her bones.) She had some great moves, though. Since Elodie Yung is a black belt, I wonder if they bothered with a stunt double…. I was glad that they at least retained some aspects of her “origin” story and early relationship with Matt from the comics. Not enough, though. I’m not sure if I want her back in another season (if there is one), but events from the Season 2 finale make me think she will be.

Frank Castle’s portrayal was mostly satisfying, but not entirely. Jon Bernthal was a pretty good casting choice, though I’d have liked to see him bulked up a bit more. I expected Punisher to be very cold, emotionally distant, as he initially was. But, then, between the talks with DD and the scene in the hospital with Karen in ep. 6, they humanized him a bit. Not sure I approve of that choice for his story. Also, the hospital pursuit scene reminded me of something from a Terminator film, as did the times when he unloaded tons of firepower on his targets. THAT’s the sort of “machine” Frank needs to be! Lastly, I was glad that they finally gave him his trademark skull-shirt at the end. If Netflix goes forward with a Punisher series, that symbol must be front-and-center.

Plot-wise, this season had a different feel to it than the first did. I guess that’s because the core of it was less of an origin story and more about our hero coming to terms with who he is and what he does, and how that affects his career and those around him. Throw in an old flame who has a few dark secrets, a returning SOB of a mentor, and a gun-happy vigilante/client, plus a few other surprises, and it makes for a pretty exciting time in the old town tonight… and the next night… and the next. I admit, there were parts that seemed to play slow, or where I didn’t like where a relationship was going, or I was frustrated with changes from the source material. (Not surprising, eh?) But, the occasional surprise revelation or twist helped keep it interesting, and it was generally quite fun.

Amazing cosplayers, Kevin Porter and Tatiana DeKhtyar

Amazing cosplayers, Kevin Porter and Tatiana DeKhtyar

The costumes… I’m OK with Daredevil’s red-n-black outfit, I guess, though I would prefer a few changes. For example: more red, simpler, without the black leather/kevlar inserts (especially on the abdomen). I am thrilled, however, that he finally got his extendable, nunchuk-like billy club! That was cool! Ditto for Elektra: her costume should be all red (like Yung wore in G.I. Joe: Retaliation), but at least she eventually got her trademark sais. True to form, Castle stole a *lot* of ordnance from the bad guys and then used it in his war against them. Bravo! I already mentioned his skull-shirt making an 11th-hour arrival, but at least he was predominantly in black the whole time — minus the white prison jumpsuit, of course.

With or without weapons, the fight scenes in this series remain a highlight. They are simply some of the most brutal stuff written and choreographed for the small screen, and they are exactly what is called for in a realistic portrayal of these sorts of characters — mobsters, biker gangs, hardcore prisoners, martial artist warriors, vigilantes — in this sort of environment. Guns, blades, fists, and whatever else may be at hand… they’re all deadly weapons. Not for the squeamish! (Major props to the stunt team, by the way!)

Overall, I thought Season 2 was an enjoyable and worthy successor to Season 1. Looking forward to more….