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-‘.

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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…

Fan-Cast: FF Villains, part 2: Doctor Doom

“No one rivals Doom! NO ONE! Doom is supreme! There is no power on Earth, no intellect in all creation to equal mine!”  — Doctor Doom, FF #258

When people think of the Fantastic Four’s arch-villain, Doctor Doom is the only logical choice. (Assuming they can only have one, that is.) So, why did I wait until my second FF villains post to cast him? Simply put, I had Puppet Master written up and was finishing Mole Man, when I realized that I had plenty for one post. Plus, there was no reason I had to stress out over trying to get a third done in time, so… I held off ’til this week. Please forgive me. I hope it was worth the wait….

doctordoom_Doctor Doom

Victor von Doom was born & raised among the much-maligned and persecuted Zefiro gypsies in the small Eastern European country of Latveria. He lost his mother (a practitioner of sorcery) when he was four and his father (a healer) when he was eleven, both indirectly due to conflicts with the King and his soldiers. He spent his youth applying his amazing intellect to mastering both science and sorcery and even then vowed to use his knowledge to rule the world.

Doom’s early scientific feats brought him to the attention of both the U.S. military and the scientific establishment. He accepted a full scholarship to State University, where he met Reed Richards and Ben Grimm. The arrogant and reclusive Doom became intellectual rivals with Richards, their competition being quite tense yet productive. (Doom’s work in robotics and time travel were financed by the U.S. military.) Meanwhile, he also continued with his study of the mystic arts, and his experiments in this area sometimes included scientific apparatus. During one of these experiments, Richards happened by and noticed a calculation that was off. Doom refused to listen, and the experiment failed, scarring Doom’s face. He blamed Richards, and thus their rivalry became even more serious and, at times, deadly.

doom-throneGoing into hiding, Doom continued his scientific and sorcerous efforts, including a working prototype of his Time-Platform. A soul-searching trek in the Himalayas led him to a secret order of monks who saved his life. The monks were masters of both technology and mysticism, and he spent the next 5 years mastering all they knew and then some. He became their leader and insisted they call him “Doctor Doom”. When he heard about Richards’ experimental space ship, he became enraged. Then he designed his iconic armor, built by the monks, which serves to cut him off both physically and emotionally from the world. His impatience caused him to don the mask before it finished cooling, thereby grafting it to his face and causing incredible pain.

From there, Doom reunited with the Zefiro tribe and managed to liberate Latveria from King Vladimir’s harsh rule. However, Doom’s rule has been at least as harsh on his subjects, if not more so. He demands absolute loyalty, immediate and unquestioning obedience, and will maim or kill anyone who disobeys or even annoys him. Doom went on to challenge and attack Reed Richards and the rest of the Fantastic Four multiple times over the years. In addition, Doom has fought many other superheroes and villains alike, often personally but also using his Doombots and/or via Machiavellian machinations behind the scenes. There have been occasions when Doom has allied himself with “good guys” to meet a mutual threat. (Current comics even have him forsaking his old ways and taking on the mantle of Iron Man in a quest for redemption and meaning!) But, Doom is at his megalomaniacal best as the incredibly cunning and powerful arch-villain with one of the most brilliant minds (and matching ego) in the world.

Historically, perhaps the three passions that most drive Doctor Doom are 1) his loyalty to Latveria and his Zefiro gypsy clan in particular; 2) his mission to retrieve the soul of his deceased mother from Mephisto; and, of course, 3) his all-consuming hatred for Reed Richards and the desire to prove himself Richards’ intellectual superior.

victor_von_doom_earth-616_from_thor_vol_1_600It has been said that Doom’s greatest weapon is his super-genius intellect, with which he has designed various versions of his amazing, nuclear-powered, titanium armor, which gives him superstrength, invulnerability, and several offensive and defensive weapons. With a knowledge-base that covered a wide breadth of scientific disciplines, he has also built many other weapons, a time machine, advanced robots (aka Doombots and the Latverian Servo-Guard), and other technological wonders. He is an accomplished martial artist, athlete, swordsman, painter and pianist. His will is so great that he has resisted psychic assaults and attempts at mind-control, though this may have been at least partially a side-effect of his mystical endeavors. Beginning with the mystic artifacts and affinity for sorcery inherited from his mother, Doom has at various times taught himself and been tutored by Dr. Strange and Morgan Le Fay. But, it was his diabolical pact with a trio of demons called the Hazareth Three that, for a time, granted him magical powers that put him on par with the greatest sorcerers. (At another time, he even acquired the Beyonder’s god-like powers. Yikes!)

We already know that Doom’s personality is that of an elitist, self-righteous tyrant. So, let’s move on to his physical appearance. Marvel’s wiki lists Doom as 6’2″ (6’7″ armored), 225 lbs. (415 lbs. armored), with brown hair and eyes. For many years he had facial scars, which were generally hidden beneath his mask. Aside from the scars, he is an attractive man, well-built and in excellent physical shape. The hair can always be dyed, of course, and muscle can always be added. I would prefer to keep our Doom over 6′ tall but probably not over 6’4″ — just enough to be imposing, especially when in full armor. Speaking of which, I have not been impressed with the two big-screen versions of Doom, and part of that was the attempt to merge him with his armor is some way, making him some sort of cyborg/mutant. (Don’t care for the early Ultimate version, either.) No, he needs to be a man in heavy armor — deceptively high-tech armor, but armor nonetheless — and it should look very close to the classic version seen in these pics. As for Doom’s age, I decided to go with a slightly older version (as I did for my FF casting), so somewhere in his mid-30s to mid-40s. Oh, and a nice baritone voice would be ideal, preferably with an accent that sounds like he is from Eastern Europe.

So, who might possibly play this iconic character?

First up is Goran Visnjic (6’4″,b.1972), the Croatian-born actor who became a TV heartthrob during his many years on the U.S. TV series “ER”. He has also appeared in The Peacemaker, Practical Magic, Spartacus (TV movie), Elektra, “The Deep”, “Leverage”, “Extant”, and is currently co-starring in “Timeless”. He has the Eastern European look, general build, and accent we want. Assuming he packs on a few pounds, I think he could be a great Doom.

Goran Visnjic in "Timeless"

Goran Visnjic in “Timeless”

goran-visnjic-black-shirt-arms-crossed

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next we have Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (6’1.5″or2″,b.1970), a square-jawed native of Denmark best known for his portrayal of Jaime Lannister, Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, in “Game of Thrones”. His other genre credits include Black Hawk Down, My Name Is Modesty: A Modesty Blaise Adventure, Kingdom of Heaven, “New Amsterdam”, Blackthorn, Oblivion, A Second Chance, and Gods of Egypt. Denmark isn’t Eastern Europe, but having lived & worked in Europe, he could probably come up with a satisfactory accent. He’s not my fave pick, but he could do a good job.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in *Gods of Egypt*

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in *Gods of Egypt*

nikolaj-coster-waldau-sitting-three-piece-suit

 

 

 

 

Finally, I found another Eastern European candidate in Michal Zebrowski (6’2″,b.1972). I’m not familiar with this actor’s work, since most of it is in Polish, but he does have a few relevant credits. He was in With Fire and Sword, The Hexer (see pic), The Pianist, Army of Valhalla, and The Vulture (aka Sep). With dark hair and a few pounds of muscle, Zebrowski could be an excellent Doctor Doom!

Michal Zebrowski in *The Hexer*

Michal Zebrowski in *The Hexer*

michal-zebrowski-black-coat-and-scarf

 

 

 

 

 

Comments? Critiques? Not sure when I’ll get around to a “Part 3″, but I’m sure I will eventually. Which FF villains should I cast next?

P.S.  Last minute idea: For a 30-something Doom, what do you think of Superman himself, Henry Cavill (6’1”,b.1983)? Inspired casting or stupid?

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2017.

Fan-Cast: FF Villains, part 1: Mole Man and Puppet Master

“You can always judge a man by the quality of his enemies.”  — Oscar Wilde

At the end of last week’s “fantastic fan-casting” exercise, I said I might do some villains next time. I was right! There are many to choose from, of course, but I picked three of the FF’s earliest foes, whom I also happened to have some pretty good candidates for. (Well, I think so, anyway.) While working on it, I realized I needed to limit this post to two and save the third for next week. As with the last post, I’m attempting multiple characters, so I’ll try not to expound too much on any of them. First off…

Puppet Master

Puppet Master

Puppet Master

The villain known as “Puppet Master” is Phillip Masters, a native of Transia whose boyhood hobby was sculpting figures from clay found near the base of Wundagore Mountain. Moving to America with his parents, young Phillip continued to sculpt as an escape from the bullying of his classmates. What no one knew at the time was that continued exposure to the slightly radioactive clay was causing a mental imbalance. (The clay was later revealed to have mystical properties, as well.) Following a difficult childhood, Masters studied biology in college and became business partners with his college roommate, Jacob Reiss. Reiss died in a tragic explosion, and Masters married his widow. His new step-daughter, Alicia, was blind but a very talented artist. Many years later, she would become the girlfriend of Ben Grimm (aka The Thing) and a trusted friend of the Fantastic Four. (Unfortunately, that also meant she would become a frequent pawn of her stepfather, despite the fact that he genuinely cares for her.)

Phillip, on the other hand, became increasingly unstable and criminal in his pursuits. He discovered that, by fashioning a “doll” from his special clay in the likeness of a real person, he could mentally control that person. By manipulating the doll, he could make the person move in the same way, even when many miles away. With enough concentration, he could completely take over the person’s mind and even alter his/her memories. I should also note that Masters became quite skillful at building toys, too.

Masters was always a bit strange, quirky, but his growing insanity over the years made him increasingly unpredictable and dangerous. Early depictions made him out to be rather “dumpy”-looking, and he wore colorful clothing. But, his more “classic” look is the slender, odd little man in the above pic, often wearing an artist’s smock. He is white, bald, and appears to have an unusually wide mouth. (Or, maybe it’s just his diabolical grin.) Marvel’s wiki page lists him as 5’6″. As for his age, I’d say somewhere in his 50s, maybe 60-ish.

I think the actor that comes closest to Masters’s unusual looks and also roughly the same height is Clint Howard (5’7″,b.1959). (Not sure how slim he is these days, though.) Howard, of course, is the older brother of actor/director/producer Ron Howard. He is known to Trekkies for playing a very odd child/alien in the TOS episode “The Corbomite Maneuver”. His adult credits in genre fare include The Rocketeer, “Space Rangers”, “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”, “The Outer Limits”, “Total Recall 2070”, “Star Trek: Enterprise”, “Heroes”, “Fringe”, etc. Now, if we wanted to go with someone taller and more sinister-looking, I think Mackenzie Gray (6′,b.1957) could be terrific! Seen recently as a Kryptonian in Man of Steel, Gray will also be a regular in the new “Legion” series. (Debuting tonight!) He has also been in “Kung Fu: The Legend Continues”, “La Femme Nikita”, “The Net”, “First Wave”, “Andromeda”, Babylon 5: The Legend of the Rangers, “Knights of Bloodsteel”, “Smallville”, “Spooksville”, and he has done a bunch of voicework, too. (Somewhat ironically, he stars as a dying sculptor in a drama this year titled Heart of Clay.)

Clint Howard

Clint Howard

Mackenzie Gray

Mackenzie Gray

 

 

 

 

 

 

harvey_elder_earth-616_from_official_handbook_of_the_marvel_universe_vol_1_7_0001

Mole Man

Mole Man

Harvey Elder is an overweight & squat, extremely near-sighted man, 4’10” tall, with poor posture and a humongous nose. Not surprisingly, he suffered a lot of ridicule both as a child and an adult. He became a skilled scientist, but the taunting and pity (including by the woman he loved) led him to quit is job. He traveled a lot, following legends to find a “land at the center of the Earth”. While he didn’t find quite was he was looking for, Elder did stumble upon Monster Island and later an underground realm dubbed ‘Subterranea’. In Subterranea he found a race of semi-humanoid creatures known as Moloids, who made him their king. He discovered and mastered some highly-advanced machinery long-abandoned in the caves by the Deviants. Elder has also encountered and learned to control several large, non-humanoid monsters within the wide network of caverns lying miles beneath Earth’s surface. Finally, he has somehow gained a measure of longevity and developed a “radar sense” of sorts, while living & working for years in his dark, subterranean empire.

Calling himself the Mole Man, Elder uses his monsters, Moloids, and advanced tech to wreak havoc on “surface-dwellers”, steal various objects, and, of course, get his revenge on his enemies and the world at large for treating him so poorly. His long-time enemies include the Fantastic Four, as he was the very first “super-villain” they encountered after gaining their powers. (Fantastic Four, vol. 1, #1) Elder may be sensitive about his physical form and a resentment for those who mocked him, but he has developed a superiority complex over those who live above ground. While not much of a physical threat on his own, his loyal minions, familiarity with the subterranean geography, and use of technology have made him a surprisingly dangerous and resilient foe.

Casting this poor guy is really tough, and obviously no one is going to be this short, fat, and ugly. (Not without prosthetics, at least.) I’m happy to cast a couple of talented actors who are somewhat on the short side, though. Paul Giamatti (5’9″,b.1967) played a (disappointing) variation of another Marvel villain, the Rhino, in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 not long ago. He has had roles in Saving Private Ryan, The Negotiator, Safe Men, Planet of the Apes, American Splendor, San Andreas, and has done some genre voicework, as well. My second choice is Timothy Spall (5’8″,b.1957), whom you may remember as Wormtail in the Harry Potter movies. He has also appeared in Crusoe, Dream Demon, “Red Dwarf”, “Young Indiana Jones”, Immortality, Death Defying Acts, Enchanted, From Time to Time, and Assassin’s Bullet. (Downsides are that he’s about to turn 60, and he has slimmed down since this pic was taken a couple years ago.) I’d be quite happy with either of these guys.

Paul Giamatti

Paul Giamatti

Timothy Spall

Timothy Spall

 

 

 

 

 

 

So far, so good? Doctor Doom is up next, so, until next week…

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2017.

Fan-Cast: Fantastic Four

“[Y]ou didn’t think to account for our personalities. The inner strength that my family has, that I’ve seen grow with us through the years. You forgot to include that in your calculus. If we’re down, we rise. If we fail, we try again. If we lose the battle, we win the war. And that is what makes us… the Fantastic Four!”  — Mister Fantastic to the Quiet Man

I’m going to try something different this time and fan-cast a whole team in one post. To do so, I’m going to have to cut down on the amount of text. So, since readers of this blog likely already know who the Fantastic Four are and at least the basics of their “origin story”, I’m going to skip all that, along with most of their history.

ff-classic-artFirst, a few notes about physical appearances and ages. We know that all four of our heroes are/were attractive and physically fit — even moreso in later years. All four are Caucasian. The Storm siblings are blonde, whereas Reed and Ben both have brown hair, with Reed’s temples having turned white in his late teens. Reed’s build was originally on the slender side, though his powers allow him to look more muscular. Ben, of course, was always stockier and more muscular, even before he transformed into The Thing. Reed’s height is listed as 6’1″, Ben’s at 6′, Sue’s at 5’6″, and Johnny’s at 5’10”. I would prefer to stay within 2-3 inches either way for each of them. It should be no surprise that my casting choices try to retain the classic appearances of the characters, though I realize that some things (e.g., hair color, eyewear, muscularity) can be altered in the service of playing a role.

According to Marvel’s wiki page, Reed — of Prime Earth, not “Ultimate” — had attained four degrees by the time he was 18 years old. While working on his fifth, he roomed first with Victor von Doom and then with his soon-to-be best buddy, Benjamin J. Grimm. I’m not sure about Doom, but it says this was Ben’s freshman year, so he was roughly the same age as Reed. (However, I read elsewhere that Ben was a few years older. This may be an effect of ret-conning.) Ben later joined the U.S. Air Force, where he became a highly-skilled pilot, and Reed went on to build his first experimental rocketship.

While working on yet another degree at Columbia University, Reed’s landlady’s niece, Susan Storm, developed a crush on him. She was only 12 (though other sources say she was older), and I’m guessing Reed was 22 to 24 years old by then. When Sue started college, she went to California where Reed was working on his project, and they began dating. By the time of the ill-fated accident that gave them their powers, Sue was no longer considered a “teen”, so she must’ve been at least 20 years old. This would put Reed and Ben in their early 30s. Johnny Storm, however, was referred to as an adolescent teenager. My sense of him was that he was maybe 4 to 5 years younger than Sue, give or take. So, for argument’s sake, at the time of the accident they were 15 (Johnny, who we remember is Peter Parker’s peer), 20 (Sue), and 30 (Reed & Ben).

ff509That having been said, while it would be nice to see casting match these ages, it might not be all that easy, and I certainly haven’t come across 15 and 20 year olds that fit the bill for Johnny and Sue. So, I have no problem casting them both in their early- to mid-20s (though the actors might be slightly older), as was done in the last FF movie. I would also understand if those casting for the next screen version decide to make Ben a few years older, which would be believable for giving him time to become a noted test pilot/astronaut. Or, they could even make Reed and Ben in their late-20s, but I wouldn’t go any younger than that. This all assumes that the next movie begins with the FF’s “origin story”. But, it wouldn’t have to. The characters can be further along in their careers as heroes and, therefore, a few years older.

Personality-wise, we have 1) the super-brilliant, sometimes distant and absent-minded Reed Richards (aka the super-elastic Mister Fantastic); 2) the streetwise, cigar-chompin’, somewhat impatient but ever-dependable jock-turned-pilot Ben Grimm (aka the super-strong, rocky-hided Thing); 3) the empathetic, commonsensical, oft-maternal, stronger-than-she-knows Susan Storm (aka the mistress of invisible force-fields, Invisible Girl/Woman); and 4) the immature, thrill-seeking, sometimes hot-headed Johnny Storm (aka the aptly-named Human Torch).

Beyond all that, the most important thing is that the actors have not only the talent but the necessary chemistry together. After all, while only two are related by blood, these characters really do become a close-knit family, as well as a well-oiled team of explorers/superheroes. That family dynamic really needs to come across on-screen for any FF movie (or series) to work.

Now, rather than suggesting two to four candidates for each character individually, allow me to present to you two possible teams. Feel free to mix-n-match, though….

Tom Mison

Tom Mison

Greg Finley

Greg Finley

Eliza Taylor

Eliza Taylor

Lucas Till

Lucas Till

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our first team has Reed and Ben in their early 30s, as played by Tom Mison (6’1″,b.1982) and Greg Finley (6′,b.1984), respectively. Mison is best known for the “Sleepy Hollow” series, but he can also be seen in Mysterious Island, an episode of “Inspector Lewis”, and various romance/comedies. Finley has appeared in several episodes of “The Flash” and “iZombie” lately, but he has also been in Hypothermia, “Star-Crossed”, and episodes of “CSI” and “Law & Order: SVU”. Then we have a 20-something Sue played by Eliza Taylor (5’5″,b.1989). She is best known in the U.S. for her starring role in “The 100”, though she’s also appeared in The November Man and Patrick. Finally, the role of Johnny in his early- to mid-20s goes to the youthful Lucas Till (5’10”,b.1990). Till, whom others have also suggested for Johnny, is known for portraying Alex Summers/Havok in the X-Men films and most recently in the title role of the new “MacGyver” TV series.

James Badge Dale

James Badge Dale

Domenick Lombardozzi

Domenick Lombardozzi

Brittany Snow

Brittany Snow

Luke Bracey

Luke Bracey

 

 

 

 

 

 

The second team is a little older, with Reed in his mid- to late-30s and Ben pushing 40. Our stretchy team-leader is played by my first choice, James Badge Dale (5’10”,b.1978), whom you may recall from “24”, “The Pacific”, “Rubicon”, World War Z, and 13 Hours. The role of Benjy goes to Domenick Lombardozzi (6′,b.1976) from “The Wire”, “Breakout Kings”, “Boardwalk Empire”, Bridge of Spies, and “Rosewood”. (While looking for a photo of him for this post, I found that someone else cast him for Ben, too. Great minds…. I will note that I think Lombardozzi’s voice is all wrong for Ben/Thing, so he’d either need to learn to talk without his usual Bronx accent and/or someone else’s voice would need to be dubbed in.) Sue is in her mid- to late-20s and portrayed by Brittany Snow (5’4″,b.1986). Snow can be seen in “American Dreams” and the Pitch Perfect movies, along with such genre fare as Prom Night, Black Water Transit, and the upcoming Hangman. Sue’s younger brother Johnny is played by Luke Bracey (6′,b.1989), who is known for his roles in G.I. Joe: Retaliation, The November Man, the Point Break remake, and the recent Hacksaw Ridge.

Alright, those are my picks for Marvel’s First Family — not counting Reed and Sue’s kids that come along later, of course. I’m thinking it might be time to fan-cast some villains next. We’ll see…

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2017.

Jack Bauer and the X-Men: The Sequel

“Tick-choom! Tick-choom! Tick-choom! Tick-choom!” — “24”-style countdown timer

In my “Jack Bauer and the X-Men” post of a couple years ago, I briefly discussed the possibility of “24” returning in some form, with or without Kiefer Sutherland’s involvement. I quoted Dana Walden, Chairman and CEO of FOX, who said,

“First of all, we’re not talking about continuing the show without him. We’re talking about whether there’s one installment that he’s not in. Jack Bauer could come in very organically in the story, or [producers are] prepared to do something that would be the one installment without him.”

24-legacy-promo-posterWe will soon see what this initial, Bauer-less attempt at re-vitalizing the “24” series will look like. “24: Legacy” will premiere on Feb. 5, 2017, on the Fox Network. Corey Hawkins stars as Eric Carter, “A military hero who returns to the U.S. with a whole lot of trouble following him back. With nowhere else to turn, the man asks CTU to help him save his life while also stopping one of the largest-scale terror attacks on American soil.” (IMDB plot summary)

It’s too bad Kiefer Sutherland opted not to return (though he did exec produce 1 episode), but I am still optimistic and looking forward to the new show — even though there are only 12 episodes. Does it bother me that the new central character is so different — younger? blacker? a CTU outsider? Of course not. As long as the actor is talented and a good fit for the (hopefully likable) character, and as long as the story is well-written and compelling, with the usual “24” drama, then I’m more than willing to give it a chance. Some continuity with the original series would be nice, though. (I don’t see any of the recent players in the cast list, but it does look like Carlos Bernard’s ‘Tony Almeida’ will show up in an episode. Isn’t he still in prison?)

In the aforementioned post from 2015, I also discussed the announcement by Gary Newman, Co-chair of FOX Entertainment, that a live-action, X-Men-related TV series was in development. Without further details available, I looked at a few possibilities for what it might be about. Well, Marvel & Fox seem to have had other ideas. (Although, “New Mutants” is being made into a big-screen film!)

One concept that was in development for awhile, “Hellfire” (based on the “Hellfire Club” of elitist, mutant supervillains from the comics), was cancelled several months ago. CBR’s Anthony Couto notes that exec producers/showrunners Evan Katz and Manny Coto left “Hellfire” to work on “24: Legacy”. In its place is an “Untitled Fox Marvel Project” by writer Matt Nix (“The Burn Notice”). As reported by Variety‘s Elizabeth Wagmeister,

“[It] will focus on two ordinary parents who discover 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.”

Bryan Singer, Lauren Shuler Donner, Simon Kinberg, Jeph Loeb, Jim Chory, and Nix will all serve as executive producers.

“There’s comic book adventure, emotional and complicated relationships and a rich, existing mythology from which to draw. With the brilliant production crew behind this project, it has all the makings of a big, fun and exciting new series.”  — David Madden, president, entertainment, Fox Broadcasting Company

legion-promo-posterMeanwhile, Fox & Marvel have also been developing “Legion” with Noah Hawley (“Bones”, “Fargo”) over at FX, and that series is going to debut just three days after “24: Legacy” (i.e., Feb. 8, 2017). The executive producers include Singer, Donner, Kinberg, Loeb, Chory, John Cameron, and Hawley, with Dan Stevens (“Downton Abbey”) in the title role. Only eight episodes on order, so far.

“David Haller, a.k.a. Legion, is a haunted man with power beyond comprehension. His power does not come free, but at the steep cost of David’s mind. Plagued by numerous split personalities — each commanding a different aspect of his power — David is trying to find his way back to sanity. But he’s getting tired and about to give up until he meets the girl of his dreams.”

I remember Haller/Legion from my X-Men-reading days, along with the fact that he was Charles Xavier’s bastard son with Israeli diplomat Gabrielle Haller. I remember him being a scary dude, too. (Nothing like an incredibly powerful, mentally unstable, and emotionally volatile mutant to shake things up!) He also had hair that stood straight up about a foot or more atop his head. That eccentricity probably won’t make it into the FX series. In fact, other than his being diagnosed (accurately?) with schizophrenia, it is unclear how closely this version of Haller/Legion will hew to the original or how much it will connect to other Marvel-based shows or movies. According to Hawley,

“It’s a little more of a fable in my mind. If you were to say, ‘Where is it, and when is it?’, it’s not exactly clear, I think. And a lot of it is because he’s not exactly clear. It’s the world as perceived subjectively on some level. The recent ‘X-Men’ movies, starting with ‘First Class,’ are rooted in a time period and a world and playing with history in interesting ways. This isn’t doing that… It’s a standalone kind of thing.”

Here’s the trailer:

I won’t say I’m “psyched” for it, but I am intrigued….

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.

Notes on Fantastic Four (2015)

Yes, I finally got around to watching last year’s disappointing reboot of the Fantastic Four. So, I put together a brief review in the form of a few notes, much like I’ve done in the past. I’ll try not to give away any major plot points or character-specific stuff….

As with its 2005 predecessor, the acting was fine (though not great) for what they had to work with, which was a so-so (definitely not great) story & script. Unfortunately, that meant that the characters were relatively dull, too.

Fantastic_Four_2015_poster1) Reed Richards — I don’t know. Miles Tellar is a good enough actor, but he didn’t quite look the part. He played “science nerd” OK, I guess. On the other hand, Reed seemed to be just a tad bit too socially well-adjusted. I always thought he was more socially awkward, especially in his earlier years, often distracted by scientific problems/projects. My guess is he would likely be diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. (Just my take on it, of course.) Even without that consideration, some of his behavior was a little different than I think it should have been. Nothing major, though.

2) Susan Storm — Given that they were going with the brainier, scientist version of Sue (a la “Ultimate” universe), she was fine. I would have preferred a different look for her, though — like, maybe, Julianne Hough. I am guessing she was supposed to be roughly the same age as Reed (~18-20yo?), though she may have been a little older. The romantic interest between Sue and Reed was just barely hinted at, though mostly one-sided by him. Same goes for Doom’s interest in Sue. Sue’s relationship with her adoptive brother didn’t seem very close; or, maybe they just aren’t an emotionally demonstrative family.

3) Johnny Storm — Would have liked to see Johnny involved in more “adrenaline rush” activities and exhibiting more playfulness, which are essential parts of his personality. (This was a detail that the 2005/2007 films got right.) It was also a little odd to see him working with the team on the final teleportation device. (I think this may have been the case in the Ultimate version, too. Can’t remember for sure.) Given his interest in fast cars, I guess it does make sense that he had some skills in mechanics and/or engineering. To stay in keeping with the comics, it should have been made clear that he was a few years younger than Sue.

4) Ben Grimm — He may have been athletic, but he was way too small. Why couldn’t they get someone who was about 6′ or so and looked more like a stereotypical, beefy jock? His childhood/family life fits the character, though it would have been nice to hear a reference to Yancey Street and the gang. As for his “Thing” form, I liked it OK, though I prefer the classic, more “rounded” and heavy-browed version (as in the previous big-screen incarnation). This one reminded me of the Stone Men (aka Kronans) of the planet Ria. Also, his voice needed to be deeper — rumbly, even — to go along with the massive form.

5) Victor von Doom — They got this character all wrong, yet again. In appearance (pre- and post-transformation) and sound (no accent) and attitude (cocky, but not imperious) and abilities (some sort of freaky psychokinesis?), he still was not the iconic figure from the comics. Why?! Why is this so hard to do? Or, alternatively, why do the powers-that-be shy away from portraying him on screen the way he has always been written? Surely, there must be some 30-or-younger actor from Eastern Europe who could pull this off. Say,… Dawid Ogrodnik. On the plus side, at least he wasn’t some disillusioned computer hacker named Vic Domashev, as had been the rumor.

6) Dr. Franklin Storm — The comics don’t give him a lot of characterization, other than being a brilliant scientist who cares immensely for his children. He doesn’t often spend time with them or show affection in other ways, being very focused on administering the scientific think-tank at the Baxter Building. From what we saw and heard, this version of Storm is pretty much on target with that, though perhaps a little more attentive.

OK, now for a few more general comments about the film…

Fantastic_Four_(2015_film)_poster_0071) Given that Reed seemed to join the Baxter Foundation after high school, I am guessing he was about 17-18 years old. (Though, you’d think a brain like him would’ve skipped a couple grades.) Possibly more like 19-20yo, if he took some college in between times. Ben and Sue would’ve been roughly the same, Johnny even younger (16?), though Victor was probably a couple years older. However, all of the actors looked to be a few years older than those ages,… which they actually are, of course.

2) I recognized a couple early scenes adapted from Ultimate Fantastic Four, but they didn’t feel quite right. Lighting too dark; Baxter Institute looked/felt too “normal”.

3) Without giving anything away,… I’m not sure how I feel about the events that followed the accident. They didn’t follow either the original or Ultimate versions. The antagonism against Reed just felt… wrong.

4) There was no mention of “unstable molecules” (that I recall) in the post-accident uniforms’ composition. Plus, Reed was wearing something else, yet it stretched when he did. What’s up with that? If there is a sequel, will they reveal that he discovered something that allows uniforms to “cooperate” with their powers.

5) The fact that Dr. Storm and Johnny were not Caucasian was fine, of course, and the brief mention of Sue being adopted resolved that question.

6) I thought the special F/X were pretty good, despite that being one of the facets the film got criticized for. Maybe I would change my mind upon a second viewing, when I had time to see them again?

7) The fights were rather lacking. I assume the original, one-by-one attacks on Doom in the finale were meant to show they couldn’t beat him on their own — which Reed stated explicitly a couple minutes later. (A bit on-the-nose, if you ask me.) But, then the coordinated effort, especially Ben’s haymaker, was telegraphed so obviously that Doom deserves to get beat for still falling for it.

Overall, a fairly interesting variation on the FF origin story, but not quite satisfying. Too dark, for one thing, both visually and in tone. (Might’ve worked a little better as a graphic novel.) Familiar characters weren’t left familiar enough to feel like the “friends” fans were expecting. Or, at least, not this fan. Still,… it didn’t suck as much as some of the reviews (when it came out) led me to believe.

736784-namor3What can we expect going forward? Well, at one point, it looked like Fox and Marvel had worked out an agreement that put the Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer, Dr. Doom, and Galactus back under control of The House of Ideas (i.e., in this case, Marvel Studios). But, more recent reporting indicates that Fox still has the rights and may try for a FF sequel or reboot around 2020. Of course, that could be inaccurate or could change in the future. One interesting piece of related news is that the rights to Namor, the Sub-Mariner, are back with Marvel Studios. (Yet another imperious foreigner with a thing for Sue!) If Marvel also regained control of the FF, they could introduce Namor and the Atlanteans as the villain. He/they could return as an ally in a sequel down the road. This could be really cool, if done right and, of course, faithful to the source material. Keepin’ my fingers crossed….

P.S.  I really need to fan-cast the FF!

Artist Appreciation Day: Alex Ross

For sometime, now, I’ve been wanting to post something in tribute to my favorite comic & graphic novel artists. There are quite a few — both “regular” artists and “painters”, some of whom specialize in covers and some who do mostly interiors and others who do a lot of both. Since I don’t really follow the current batch of “new artists” (i.e., since I stopped collecting 7 or 8 years ago), my faves have been around awhile. But, I don’t have encyclopedic knowledge of all their work and didn’t want to take a ton of time researching individual careers. Plus, I wasn’t sure how much you, my readers, would tolerate of my reminiscing, etc.

Aaaanyway, I finally decided that, once in a while, I would just pick one of my favorite artists to honor with a post dedicated to them — minimal text + an assortment of sample images displaying their talent. Who better to start off with than “the Man” himself, Alex Ross? He captures both the physicality and the psyche/emotions of his subjects *so* well that really does bring them to life! Simply awesome!! The tough part is choosing which ones to feature here…

With Ross, I suppose it is only natural to begin with the limited series that gave him his big break — “Marvels” (1994). I grabbed this image because it shows all four covers (plus Ross in the upper right corner), but he also did the interiors.

Marvels covers - Alex Ross

And he only got better from there, as evidenced by his next big project (inc. interiors), which garnered him even more avid fans and critical accolades alike: DC’s “Kingdom Come” (1996). Hard to believe that was 20 years ago! Unfortunately, we can’t see all four wraparound covers, but this poster is still pretty cool…

poster-kingdomcome

For a little compare and contrast fun, here’s a diptych showing classic line-ups of DC’s Justice League and Marvel’s Avengers…

JLA Avengers diptych - Alex Ross

Here’s a nice triptych of DC’s “Trinity”…

DC Trinity triptych - Alex Ross

Before I leave DC, here’s a popular piece of everyone’s favorite Joker and Harley Quinn doing the “Tango of Evil”…

Joker & Harley, Tango of Evil - Alex Ross

I had to get Spidey, the Fantastic Four, and a couple “editions” of the X-Men in here, too…

Special TV Guide cover

Special TV Guide cover

 

Fantasticfouralexross-500x500

Original X-Men

Original X-Men

 

Classic, Uncanny X-Men

Classic, Uncanny X-Men

And, we’ll wrap up with a few sci-fi faves…

Star Trek TOS - Alex Ross

star-wars-1-alex-ross

(Original Battlestar Galactica, riffing on classic Star Wars poster)

(Original Battlestar Galactica, riffing on familiar sci-fi/fantasy poster pose)

I’d love to display more (e.g., Daredevil, Hulk, Iron Man, Astro City, Squadron Supreme, etc.), but I gotta stop somewhere. Hope you enjoyed the unauthorized Alex Ross gallery. If you have the dough, go buy some of his prints at alexrossart.com.

Have a Great Day (or Night, as the case may be)!