Review of Iron Fist, Season 2

“Chance always looks like fate in the tail lights.” — Colleen Wing

I have to say, I didn’t think it would happen. As far as I could tell, the reviews from Season 1 of Netflix’s “Iron Fist” were uniformly bad. The star, the story, the fight scenes, et al., just about everything was disappointing. Yet, for whatever reasons, the powers-that-be decided to renew it for another season. Now that Season 2 has aired and I’ve had a chance to view it, I’ve got a few thoughts to share….

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

Frankly, I didn’t want to see the Meachums or Davos again. I’d had enough of the Meachum family drama and Davos’ sulking in Season 1. I was hoping for someone new and exciting. But, once again the Netflix team decided to bring back the initial, surviving (pseudo-)villains for another go ’round. Of course, as the story picks up, everyone is dealing with the aftermath of the first season’s revelations and events. Joy and Davos have let their bitterness, jealousy, and frustration twist them, so that they are willing to put aside their differences and go to great lengths in order to get revenge on Danny Rand. Meanwhile, Ward is attending (though not participating in) N.A. meetings and trying… sorta… to be a better person. But, as his sponsor says, “You lead with @$$#0l3!”

Aside from the machinations of Joy and Davos, we have the threat of a nasty gang war, as the Triads vie for dominance following The Hand’s disappearance. It occurred to me that this seemed like a plot device borrowed from “Luke Cage”, where much the same happened over in Harlem. Another similarity was that one antagonist — Davos, in this case — is angry ‘cuz he feels like his birthright was stolen from him. Sounds a lot like the pain in Luke’s butt named ‘Bushmaster’.

I loved that Colleen Wing was such a big part of this story. Adding Misty Knight into the mix was like frosting on the cake. (These two ladies are lovely and bad@$$! Ahem…) I’ve mentioned before how much I’d like to see them spin off into their own “Daughters of the Dragon” or “Knightwing Restorations” series. So, Misty’s suggesting to Colleen about becoming an investigator — even though she was thinking “cop” — and then that talk near the end about “Knight… Wing… it’s got a little ring to it.” is all a very good sign.

Regarding Colleen “teaching” the injured Danny, I don’t get it. He lost strength and mobility in his leg; he didn’t lose his martial knowledge and skills. He’s supposed to be a better overall fighter than her, than just about anyone, anyway. What the heck is she supposed to teach him? Train with him? Sure. Teach him? Hmmm… Maybe the equivalent of a physical therapist forcing him to get back into shape, I suppose. Another thing I don’t get is why Danny and Colleen’s relationship was negatively affected by her training him or getting the Fist or… whatever. What did I miss?

Walker and Davos

The Mary/Walker character(s) was… interesting, but odd. While she was formidable, her fighting seemed somewhat brutish, lacking much style or grace. Maybe that’s because she was taught by the military, as opposed to in a “real” martial arts dojo or a mystical lost city like K’un-Lun? I dunno. Walker comes across as a bit “off”, certainly menacing, but not quite as skilled as one might think she’d be. I would not have picked Alice Eve for the part (though I’m not really that familiar with her work). Still, she did a decent job. Not as nutso as “Typhoid Mary” from the comics (though that version tangles with Daredevil, not Iron Fist), but there’s time for a psychotic break next season(?), I suppose. At least, Walker is now aware that she & Mary share headspace with a third, even more violent persona. Could be interesting, especially if she crosses over into the “Daredevil” series.

The new showrunner, Raven Metzner, appears to have recognized the pacing issues that other reviewers and I have spoken of re the Netflix/Marvel shows. This was mostly fixed with tighter writing, but shrinking the season from the usual 13 down to 10 episodes (as was also recommended) helped, too. Yay!

I have to admit, the Danny Rand character continues to improve. I first mentioned this in my review of Luke Cage’s second season (in which Danny cameoed), noting that he seemed a bit more mature and centered. This was the case for the first few episodes here, but then he wavered a bit as his issues both with Davos and with the Fist itself led him to giving it up. I didn’t care for the “addiction” angle, to be honest, but it did lend itself to a nice parallel (and empathy?) with Ward Meachum’s issues. Best of all, though, were the improvements in the fight scenes, especially Danny’s. I read somewhere that Finn Jones (who plays ‘Danny’) started training — martial arts, weights, yoga — 5 months before the season even began production. He and Jessica Henwick (who plays ‘Colleen’) were in great shape and did most of their own stunts, and it shows. Plus, the producers hired a new fight choreographer, Clayton Barber (fresh off of Black Panther), which led to marked improvements in the fight scenes over those in Season 1. Still not up to the level I would expect for the Iron Fist, but getting there.

Storywise, it seemed odd to me that the power of the Iron Fist — normally only given to the winner of a ritual combat, followed by confrontation with an immortal dragon — could be stolen/transferred the way that it was from Danny to Davos, and then from Davos to Colleen. I’m also somewhat unsure how I feel about Colleen now being the Immoral Iron Fist. Not that there is anyone more worthy. I suppose one could point out that the series is titled “Iron Fist”, not “Danny Rand”. Apparently, this change also gave Danny an opportunity to learn some new stuff during his travels in Asia with Ward. But, I trust that next season will at some point have Danny regaining the title — though, hopefully less painfully for both Colleen and him. (Note: She does look pretty cool with the white Fist, and the glowing katana, too.)

Speaking of Danny’s quest to discover the secret history of the Iron Fist, I noticed that the identity of the person whose remains Davos had shipped was “Orson Randall”. In the comics, this was the wielder of the Iron Fist prior to Danny. They met and had some adventures in the Immortal Iron Fist comic series, most of which I read in trade paperback. Randall is already dead in the Netflix/Marvel universe, but it could be interesting if the writers incorporate other aspects of that story into the show — e.g., other Lost Cities and their own defenders.

Misty and Colleen

Beyond the other positive aspects I’ve mentioned, the character development this season was impressive. I may not have wanted to see Davos or the Meachums again, but I have to give props to the actors and writers alike. In fact, episode 6 stood out to me as having some of the best dialogs between Colleen and Misty and between Ward and Joy, though there were more in the last couple episodes. (The bits with the guy leading Davos around the city from target to target were “fun”, too.) As for Davos, on the one hand, I don’t find him physically imposing at all, being on the short side (though perhaps slightly more muscular than Danny). On the other hand, his unpredictability, simmering anger, thirst for vengeance, and impressive fighting skills did make him a force to be reckoned with. As with Finn Jones, I would probably not have cast this actor (Sacha Dhawan), but he has brought this very driven, self-righteous character to life as written.

On a brief note, I appreciated the additional nods to the design and colors of the classic Iron Fist costume in the flashbacks and in the remains of the costume in the coffin. I have a feeling we’re never going to see Danny Rand in that costume, per se, but perhaps we’ll get a modified version. Someday…

Overall, I agree with the consensus that Season 2 of “Iron Fist” was a huge improvement over Season 1. In fact, whereas I gave that first season a grade of ‘C-‘ (at best), I’d give this season a ‘B-‘ … maybe even a ‘B’. This puts it, imho, just behind “Jessica Jones” and “Luke Cage”. (DD is still the one to beat.) 🙂

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How to Improve Marvel’s Netflix Shows

“There’s always room for improvement.” — various people at various times

I was thinking about Marvel’s Netflix shows the other day and remembered an article about them that I’d seen a couple months ago. The author, Max Farrow, notes:

“[W]e can’t help but admit that 2017 was something of a stumbling block for the superheroes of Netflix. For all the grit and timeliness of The Punisher, several factors ensured that neither The Defenders or Iron Fist managed to inspire that much enthusiasm in fans. How can Marvel and Netflix get their mojo back, then? What can they do to get their superhero shows on track once more?”

He suggests five ways to do just that, so I figured we could look them over, and I’ll add a few reactions and comments of my own….

1) Stop Killing Villains

Farrow lauds the “fleshed out and highly memorable” main villains (especially as compared to some in the movies) and the “titanic talents” (e.g., Ali, Tennant, Weaver) that have portrayed them. But, he finds it somewhat odd and disappointing that at least twice a major villain has been offed part-way through the series.

“[T]his isn’t to say that show execs can’t, or shouldn’t, kill villains off full-stop. Unique and unpredictable storytelling is a fantastic quality in a series. But, having villain number three die midway through a season is precisely why Netflix shouldn’t opt for it again.”

I agree with him. These were strange moves that interrupted the flow of the respective stories. If they can attract such talent for these roles, why kill them off early? (Of course, it’s possible that they may only want to sign on for 5 or 6 episodes, and that would be a shame.)

2) Kick Ass, But More Efficiently

Farrow lays it out:

“The Marvel/Netflix shows may be gritty character studies, but we wouldn’t love them as much without their alleyway (or corridor) brawls. However, it’s been two years since Daredevil and Frank Castle dished out some quite frankly jaw-dropping beatdowns in Daredevil season 2. Aside from several notable moments in The Defenders, there’s been very little in the way of truly electrifying showdowns since. So, why are these kinds of moments becoming scarcer?”

As Farrow acknowledges, “action scenes are expensive and tricky to film.” But, no matter how “real-life” these shows are, they are still about characters with amazing superpowers and fighting skills. People who tune in expect to see these powers/skills used and, hopefully, not only executed well but in ways that seem authentic and make sense.

“From Daredevil’s radar-sense to Jessica Jones’ limited flight, honing on in [sic] these iconic abilities in fight scenes could really make the Marvel/Netflix shows stand out. Moreover, given enough resources and planning time, a great choreographer would be able to turn these prerequisite punch-ups into something truly special.”

Yes, indeed.

3) Planning Makes Perfect

Unlike the (mostly) “efficiently cohesive, detailed world” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Netflix shows, according to Farrow, seem to struggle with reminding us of their interconnectedness. In particular, he points to “The Defenders” and its slow ramp to get viewers up to speed on “picking up where each of the solo shows left off” and “a lot of work into maneuvering [the characters] into suitable positions for the story at hand.”

At first, I thought he was being a little hard on the writers/producers regarding efforts to a) show us what our heroes were currently up to and b) orchestrate their eventual “team-up” against their common foes. I mean, that’s a lot to juggle. Plus, more generally, the appearances of ‘Claire Temple’, ‘Karen Page’, and other supporting characters help to remind us of the shared city in the other series. But, after re-reading Farrow’s comments, I have to admit he makes some good observations.

“A bit more pre-planning would be hugely beneficial in this regard. Moreover, it would help any inter-show crossovers to feel more natural, such as in the rumored second season of The Defenders. Plus, it will allow for terrific new stories to be told, which change and shape the wider Marvel/Netflix world.

Sure, the shows all feel alike with their similarly grungy Manhattan, but it’s strange how inconsequentially huge events – such as Kingpin’s bombings – are rendered within the context of The Defenders.

It’s even stranger when we consider that all of the characters operate only a few blocks away from each other as well.”

I can’t help but agree with him there, too. This leads into the next gripe/suggestion…

4) Get To Grips With The Wider MCU

When “(Marvel’s) Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” debuted on ABC back in 2013, it was essentially a spin-off that followed the “Battle of New York” seen in the first Avengers film. Agent Phil Coulson was the crossover player (with an appearance or two by Nick Fury), and there have continued to be references to stuff from the films sprinkled about in the TV series. Unfortunately, despite the hopes of the fans, connections between Netflix’s Marvel-based series and the MCU movies have been quite slim, with references even fewer and farther between.

“This hasn’t been hugely detrimental to these shows, though. Moreover, The Punisher barely features any inter-world connections and still manages to tell a rich and compelling story without relying on references. However, it is getting to the point where passing lip-service to iron suits isn’t going to cut it anymore.

At what point in the MCU timeline does Daredevil’s showdown with Fisk take place? A year after The Avengers? No one knows. Plus, the lack of Defenders references from the movies are conspicuous by their absence. Surely S.H.I.E.L.D. would have a use for someone like Matt Murdock?”

Farrow is fair to note the various challenges of things like logistics, varying development times, the “notoriously fractious relationship” between the movie and TV divisions, etc. Still, if the Netflix series are firmly set in the same world as the MCU, and I hope they are, then they really need to make a better effort to make that clear. It would only make sense, and it would further please the fans who value such continuity.

5) Shorten The Series

Farrow contends that the thirteen-episode structure of each season of the Netflix shows — except for the “The Defenders” mini-series, of course — is just a tad too long. I’ll let him explain…

“Regardless of what theme each show is exploring, at their hearts they’re superhero stories, right down to their adrenaline-fuelled needs. That isn’t to say they can’t be deep or cerebral (these shows have frequently proved that it’s possible), but they do need that burgeoning, dramatic tension to keep them chugging along.

Unfortunately, because of their structure, the Marvel/Netflix shows can’t sustain this drive for the time that they’re required to. Even the best of these series are forced to tread water for some period of time, be it the opening episodes of The Punisher or those where Kilgrave’s imprisoned in Jessica Jones. When this happens, the bloat sets in and the show grinds to a halt.

Again, it’s not that we don’t love spending time with characters like Jessica Jones. But if the show around them suffers for it, then something’s got to give. And that something is the series’ length.”

My instinct is to deny it. I mean, I love my superheroes (regardless of how much I complain), so the more episodes the better. Right? But, after briefly reflecting, I have to admit that Farrow is probably right, and I’ve even had similar thoughts. Most (each?) of the Netflix shows could probably have been improved by tightening up the writing/pacing, thereby cutting each season down to 10(?) to 12 episodes each.

I’m tempted to add a point or two of my own, but you all already know my gripes and preferences from the reviews I’ve done on these series. (See ‘Review Posts’ link at top of page.)

So, what do you think? Is Farrow unfair or otherwise “off” in his assessments? Am I an “unfaithful” fan for generally agreeing with him? Is ‘Kilgrave’ overrated, ‘cuz Tennant makes Whovian fangirls swoon? Should I stop asking questions? Just wonderin’…

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+’.

Marvel’s Flawed Heroes of Hell’s Kitchen

In case you missed it, a new, live-action series of Marvel superheroes is brewing over at Netflix and will begin filming in New York this summer (2014). As per Nerd Jedi, the new project will be produced as “four serialized programs totaling 52 one-hour episodes culminating in a four to eight episode mini-series programming event.” Each 13-episode arc will feature one of Marvel’s “darker” heroes based in and around Manhattan’s “Hell’s Kitchen” district, known for its seedy, dangerous atmosphere. Which heroes? Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Jessica Jones. Ol’ hornhead (DD), the Man Without Fear, will be first at bat, because, well… he’s fearless. Jones, Fist, and Cage will follow.

Defenders quad - Marvel NetflixThe first report I read made it sound as if this is a single series with separate character-oriented story-arcs, but a single title was not given. Interestingly, IMDB has separate entries for each of the three male characters, as if they will be separate series. (What about Jones?) I guess it remains to be seen how they will be marketed — either separately or under the “Defenders” banner.

The miniseries will have the four heroes team up. This makes sense, given their common area of operation. Plus, Cage and Iron Fist often teamed in the comics as “Heroes for Hire”, and Cage eventually dated and had a child with Jones. I’m guessing that this is when they will first be called “The Defenders”.

If you are unfamiliar with the characters, here’s the summary from the AP release:

“In the Marvel world, Daredevil is the superhero identity of Matt Murdock, who is blind but whose other senses are extra-human. Jessica Jones is a former superhero now working as a private detective. Luke Cage was wrongly imprisoned and gained his powers unexpectedly in an experiment. Iron Fist is the superhero identity of Daniel Rand, who has amazing martial arts abilities.”

As it happens, I am familiar with the characters and, while they may not be my favorites, I do like them and am excited to hear that they will finally get their shot(s) at the screen. I’m just a little ambivalent about whether I like the idea of them going (first) to the small screen. Daredevil, of course, already had his shot at the big screen (2003) — to mixed reviews. I liked it OK, but it wasn’t exactly satisfying. Maybe a TV version is the way to go, this time. I would like to see a Luke Cage or Luke Cage / Iron Fist (aka “Heroes for Hire”) movie, but maybe these series could lead up to it. As for Jones, she isn’t a “big” (i.e., well-known and/or important) enough character to warrant a feature film of her own, but I can see her being included as a supporting character. Having a 13-episode run to introduce our ex-superhero/private detective to a larger audience is probably a good move. Plus, the advantage for all of them is that there is more time to develop the characters — their personalities, histories, abilities, relationships, etc. (I guess I am warming up to the idea of this series. (Or, series of series?))

Personally, what I would rather see is a “Marvel Knights” series (either TV or movies) starring Daredevil, Luke Cage, Punisher, Moon Knight, and Ghost Rider (done right, this time), maybe with rotating membership and guest stars like Elektra, Cloak & Dagger, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, Black Widow, and Wolverine. Sigh! A boy can dream, right?

We likely won’t see any of the new Marvel/Netflix stuff until at least 2015, probably 2016. (There are conflicting reports.) Then, “the epic will unfold over multiple years of original programming.” But, I for one look forward to whatever they put out — as long as it is a quality product, with good casting and scripts, and is faithful to the source material — and I hope it’s a sign of more to come!