Review of Luke Cage, Season 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shakir and Dennis

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

Now, on to the rest of the show…

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

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

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

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

Shades and Mariah

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

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

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

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

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

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

Misty and Luke kickin’ butt

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

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

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

A few random comments:

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

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

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

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Fan-Cast: Captain America

“I fought your kind every day of that war, Zemo! You mocked democracy and said that free men were weak! Well feel this grip, Zemo. It’s the grip of a man who loves liberty! Look into the eyes of your foe, and know that he will die for his freedom! The world must never again mistake compassion for weakness! And while I live, it had better not!” — Captain America, Avengers, vol. 1, #6

Evans as Rogers/Cap

When the fourth Avengers movie comes out next year (2019), Chris Evans will be almost 38, and it will be his 10th film overall (including brief cameos) portraying the Sentinel of Liberty, Captain America. If you ask me, he could play the character for a few more years, but he might be getting a little tired of it, wanting more time to branch out into other roles. At the moment, Evans doesn’t have any other movies scheduled in which he plays Cap, and he confirmed this past March that Avengers 4 will be his last time as the Shield-Slinger. Rumor has it that Steve Rogers will die, and another hero will put on the flag costume and grab the shield — probably either Bucky Barnes (aka Winter Soldier) or Sam Wilson (aka Falcon), both of whom have taken on the mantle in the comics.

But, what if Marvel/Disney decided to go another way? What if they re-cast the Steve Rogers role, perhaps by bringing in a version from an alternate timeline? Or, they fake his death, only to bring him back after a little plastic surgery? (Hey! It could happen…) Don’t like those options? OK, let’s pretend we are in an alternate universe in which they are only now getting around to planning the MCU, and they’ve decided to start with Captain America, the First Avenger, instead of Iron Man or Hulk. Who should we cast? Hmmm…

Captain America

First, allow me to give a brief “origin story” / history / profile of the character from the comics….

Steve Rogers was a rather skinny, even frail, young man with a strong sense of honor and duty. He wanted desperately to help fight America’s enemies in World War II, but his slight physique kept him from meeting the physical requirements to join the Army. He was recruited by General Chester Phillips to participate in Dr. Abraham Erskine’s “Operation Rebirth”, a top-secret performance-enhancing experiment. With a combination of Super Soldier Serum and vita-rays, Rogers was transformed into a robust figure at the peak of human strength, speed, and agility. After combat training, Rogers was given a red-white-and-blue costume and similarly painted steel shield, then sent overseas. Later, his “uniform” was updated, and he was given his famously indestructible, disc-shaped shield of vibranium-steel alloy, designed by Dr. Myron MacLain.

Rogers went on several missions over the next few years, some solo, some with his partner (teenage Bucky Barnes) and/or a squad of soldiers. He also occasionally fought alongside other costumed heroes of the era (e.g., the Invaders). He became quite a hero and symbol for America and her Allies, fighting Nazis and other fascists, imperialists, and even a time-traveling Dr. Doom. Then, when he and Bucky were battling Baron Zemo in April 1945, an exploding plane apparently killed Bucky and cast Cap’s unconscious body into icy waters. His body was never recovered and he was presumed dead. That is, until decades later, when his frozen body was discovered in suspended animation in a block of ice. He was recovered by the Avengers, whose ranks he soon joined.

Over the following couple decades (longer in real-time, of course), Rogers fought innumerable fascists, communists, anti-nationalists, eco-terrorists, alien invaders, ninjas, evil secret societies, street gangs, fanatical militias, criminal organizations, supervillains of various types, demons, gods and demi-gods, etc. On occasion, he even mixed it up with a few superheroes and vigilantes. His personal rogues’ gallery would likely be topped by the Red Skull, Baron Zemo (both of them), and Hydra.

While Captain America has befriended many superheroes, including working with a few official junior partners (i.e., Bucky Barnes, Sam Wilson / Falcon, Rick Jones), he is best known for his membership in the Avengers. His inspiring presence and leadership abilities made him a natural leader of the team, whether on or off the battlefield, and he served in that role — off and on — for many years. There were times when he temporarily left the team, by choice or otherwise, but he eventually ended up back with them in some capacity. Rogers even spent brief periods using different noms de guerre — e.g., Nomad, the Captain — and a few civilian aliases. But, as Captain America, not only did Rogers become a prominent modern-day hero and the heart & soul of the Avengers, he also grew his Living Legend status as an icon and defender of liberty, justice, American ideals and patriotism.

Except for those storylines where he temporarily mutated or significantly aged, Steve Rogers has always been a handsome, square-jawed, white guy with blonde hair. Thanks to the experiment that gave him his enhanced abilities and an intensive exercise regimen, Rogers is quite muscular and athletic. More recent events would, I think, put him at roughly early- to mid-40s (ignoring the 60-70 years in suspended animation, of course), but he was born in 1920 and would have been in his early-20s when he was subjected to Dr. Erskine’s procedure. The Cap that emerged from the ice would’ve been roughly 25. Marvel’s wiki lists him at 6’2″, 220 lbs, and “a ‘perfect’ specimen of human development and conditioning.” (I would like to see someone cast who is between 6′ and 6’5″, with a physique that is believable for a near-superhuman with the martial and acrobatic training Cap has had.) As for personality, Rogers is kind, selfless, even-tempered, loyal, brave, very confident, but without the arrogance someone of his abilities and accomplishments might be expected to have. He is mostly serious, especially during a mission, but can relax and joke around a bit during down-time. Sometimes… maybe.

If the powers-that-be wanted (for whatever reason) to cast a 40-ish Steve Rogers, then I suggest one of the following: Ryan McPartlin (6’4.5″,b.1975), Johann Urb (6’4″,b.1977), Justin Hartley (6’2.5″,b.1977), or Trevor Donovan (6’2″,b.1978). They all meet the physical requirements. McPartlin played ‘Captain Awesome’ (just a nickname) on “Chuck”, Urb played ‘Vigilante’ on “Arrow”, Hartley has played both ‘Aquaman’ (sort of) and ‘Green Arrow’. Donovan hasn’t played a superhero, yet, but he’s quite young-looking and could play a 30-something character. On the other hand, if they wanted someone closer to Chris Evans’ age (b.1981), here are four more great choices: Dylan Bruce (5’11.5″,b.1980), Luke Macfarlane (6’2″,b.1980), Philip Winchester (6’1″,b.1981), or Travis Van Winkle (6′,b.1982). You may remember Bruce from shows like “Arrow” and “Orphan Black”; Macfarlane plays the older Jaqobis brother on “Killjoys”, though he has appeared in “Supergirl”, too; Winchester has been in “Strike Back” and “Fringe”, among others; Van Winkle currently co-stars in “The Last Ship”. Again, they’re all very physical actors, but Van Winkle would probably need to bulk up more than the others.

My preference is to go a bit younger. I considered both Chris Zylka (6′,b.1985) and Luke Bracey (6′,b.1989) but ultimately rejected them in favor of the following three gentlemen:

Alan Ritchson

My favorite candidate is Alan Ritchson (6’2″,b.1984), who I have had in mind for the role for several years — probably since I first saw him as Arthur Curry / ‘Aquaman’ on “Smallville”. Genre fans might remember him as ‘Gloss’ on The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and he also played ‘Raphael’ in the recent Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films. Ritchson was in Lazer Team and made appearances on “CSI: Miami”, “Hawaii Five-O”, and “Black Mirror”. He was a regular as a cop on “Blood Drive”, and he will be portraying ‘Hawk’ in the “Titans” series premiering later this year. He has the perfect look and build for Steve Rogers, and he even has prior (and upcoming) experience playing costumed adventurers. This guy would make an awesome Captain America!

Greg Finley on ‘The Flash’

Greg Finley (6′,b.1984) is a lesser-known actor, but he has been in a few genre productions. For example, he appeared in Hypothermia, “Star-Crossed”, “The Flash” (as ‘Gridiron’), and “iZombie”, as well as episodes of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and “CSI”. In that last one, he played an amateur — and non-powered, of course — costumed vigilante. (One of a small group, actually.) Thus, he was credited as ‘Male Superhero’. Finley is obviously a beefy, good-looking guy, and he might actually be a surprisingly good Captain America.

Armie Hammer

Probably the biggest name — not to mention, tallest actor — among my candidates is Armie Hammer (6’5″,b.1986), who teamed up with Henry Cavill (aka Superman) in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. not long ago. He has also appeared in J. Edgar, Mirror Mirror, The Lone Ranger (as the title character), Free Fire, Mine, and Sorry to Bother You. He also provided the voice of ‘Strong Arm’ in Stan Lee’s Mighty 7. Assuming he bulks up sufficiently for the role (as the other two would, I’m sure), I think Hammer could really make a great Steve Rogers and his alter-ego, too!

 

In addition to acting talent and an appropriate physique, the best choice would have a good measure of charisma and likability, as well. So, who do you think would be the best pick?

Happy Independence Day, y’all!

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2018.

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+’.

Fan-Cast: Black Widow

“Hawkeye, your mouth flies faster than your arrows.” — Black Widow

Last November, a somewhat vague comment by Stan Lee hinted that a Black Widow solo film might be in the offing. Then in January, reports started coming out that confirmed this, with Jac Schaeffer attached as screenwriter and a tentative release date — well, year — of 2020. Presumably, Scarlett Johannson will star. She is a big reason for the character’s popularity in the Avengers and related movies, after all.

But, it got me thinking it was time for me to fan-cast our favorite Russian femme fatale. I mean, if Johannson wasn’t necessarily attached to the film — maybe they were looking to reboot the character after Avengers 4 –, who would I give the tight black costume and “Widow’s bite” bracelets to?

First, though, a brief review of the character…

Black Widow

The “origins” of Natalia Alianovna Romanova (aka Natasha ‘Tasha’ Romanoff) are a bit confusing, as there have been conflicting tales. What we know for sure is that she is decades older than she looks, she has enhanced human strength/stamina/reflexes and other abilities (perhaps due to a variation of the Super-Soldier Serum), she was married to a distinguished Soviet test pilot (Alexi Shostakov, who became Red Guardian), and she eventually went to work for the U.S.S.R.’s KJB during the Cold War.

With her gifted intellect and athletic regimen, Romanova mastered multiple forms of martial arts and many blades and firearms, became fluent in several languages, and she is exceptionally skilled in information-gathering and other spy-related talents. In addition to traditional weapons, she has been known to employ an electric “Widow’s bite” via special wrist-devices, which hurt like heck and can stun even a very large opponent. In short, she is a top-level spy and one of the deadliest assassins in the world, making her nom de guerre, “Black Widow”, quite appropriate.

Romanova clashed with both Iron Man and Hawkeye early in their careers, even pitting them against one another, which helped to label Hawkeye a criminal. Shortly afterward, she was seriously injured when trying to defect, and she convinced her then-paramour Hawkeye to turn to the Avengers. Black Widow has had a long, mostly friendly, association with the Avengers ever since, having led at least one team. She has worked with S.H.I.E.L.D. a lot, too. She had a long relationship/partnership with Daredevil and has been romantically linked with Bucky Barnes (aka Winter Soldier). She even co-founded the Champions of Los Angeles, though the team disbanded not long after. Despite these associations with many superheroes and the U.S. intelligence community, Black Widow has spent a lot of time as a solo operator, as well. She even retired for awhile, but that didn’t last.

Since her defection from the Soviet Union, Romanova’s foes have ranged from underworld thugs and costumed criminals to super-spies, super-soldiers, and foreign governments. As a trained spy and assassin, she learned to be very cold, calculating, practical, and it serves her well in her line of work. But, she has softened a bit over the years. Certainly, she has demonstrated compassion and loyalty to her friends, lovers, and toward the victims of her enemies. Still, she is not the easiest person to get to know, and she can be quite hard and brutal. She’s a complicated woman with decades of violence and death — often at her own hands — behind her, and that tends to take a toll on anyone. (Anyone who isn’t a sociopath, that is.)

On to the casting…

Scarlett Johansson (5’3″,b.1984) has done a decent job with the role, but she never quite felt right to me. She didn’t have quite the right look, she’s too short, and I always thought Natasha should retain at least a mild Russian accent. (I know, a good spy would probably learn to speak English without the accent. Still,…) The Marvel wiki lists Black Widow as 5’7″, so I think a range of 5’5″ to 5’9″ is fair. I’d like to cast a natural redhead and/or someone from Russia, but hair-coloring and a good voice coach could make sure those bases are covered, I suppose. She should, of course, be very attractive, able to perform “action moves”, and probably ranging from mid-20s to early-30s (though I might have to settle for mid-30s).

I considered several actresses for the role, mostly from Russia or Eastern Europe: 1) Slovak-born actress/opera singer Apollonia Vanova (b.1966), known for various genre roles, including ‘Silhouette’ in Watchmen and the leading Wraith Queen in “Stargate: Atlantis”; but, she’s too old. 2) Ana Alexander (5’10”,b.1976), a Serbian-born model/actress, has appeared in Glass Trap, a couple CSI series, “Bones”, et al. Great look, but still too old and too tall. 3) Ukrainian-born actress/model Olga Kurlenko (5’8.5″,b.1979), known for roles in Hitman, Quantum of Solace, Oblivion, Momentum. She’s a little too old, as well. 4) I have long thought that French actress/model Eva Green (5’6″,b.1980) (Casino Royale, The Golden Compass, 300: Rise of an Empire, “Penny Dreadful”) would make a great Black Widow, but she’s a tad older than I’m looking for, now.

I eventually narrowed it down to four other talented ladies, whose ages (at the time of writing) range from 32 to 35. They are…

Olga Fonda

Russian-born Olga Fonda (5’6.5″,b.1982) came to my attention a couple years ago while watching the short-lived “Agent X” TV series, in which Fonda played supporting player and enemy agent ‘Olga Petrovka’. Others might recognize her from Real Steel, “The Vampire Diaries”, or appearances in “Nikita”, “Hawaii Five-0”, or “Altered Carbon”. She’s pretty, a native Russian, almost the exact height of the comic character, and has genre experience — even to playing a Russian spy. She’s also trained in martial arts (both armed and unarmed), extreme sports, and likes to do her own stunts Works for me!

 

Yuliya Snigir

The only thing I’ve seen Yuliya Snigir (5’5.75″,b.1983) in is A Good Day to Die Hard (see pic), which I just re-watched a few weeks ago. I immediately thought that this Russian beauty would be perfect to play Natasha Romanoff. She also starred in the Dark Planet movies, Delirium, and Blockbuster. As with Fonda, Snigir is very attractive, Russian-born, and has genre credits. Looks good riding a motorcycle or firing a gun, too, both of which Black Widow has an affinity for. She’d be great!

 

Tereza Srbova

Tereza Srbova (5’8″,b.1983) is a model/actress/singer from the Czech Republic, who I noticed when she guest-starred in a few episodes of “Strike Back” as ‘Major Nina Pirogova’. She has also appeared in “Eastern Promises”, Inkheart, Siren, and The Inside. I’ve only ever seen pics of her as a blonde, but that shouldn’t be a problem. She holds a masters degree and speaks four languages (none of them Russian, though) and has a bit of familiarity with guns (thanks to “Strike Back”). Another wonderful choice to play ‘Tasha!

Emily Beecham

In “Into the Badlands”, British actress Emily Beecham (5’5.25″,b.1985) plays a deadly, red-headed warrior woman, who wears black and calls herself “The Widow”. Too on the nose? Sure, but she has both the looks and the skills, thanks to the martial arts training she and others go through for the show. She has appeared in “Afterlife”, 28 Weeks Later, “Merlin”, Basement, “The Fear”, “The Musketeers”. She also did a little voice work for the “Mirror’s Edge” video game. As long as she can do a decent Russian accent, she’d make a great Black Widow for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

There you have ’em. Four lovely and talented candidates to play the lethal assassin/spy/superhero, Black Widow. Choose one, if you dare….

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2018.

Notable Genre Anniversaries in 2018, part 2 of 3

This week, we continue the list I began last month, celebrating anniversaries of some of the more significant genre works. Care to share in some nostalgia?

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968): 50 years

This sci-fi/”philosophical fiction” novel was by the legendary Philip K. Dick. I never actually read it, but years ago I did watch the 1982 movie adaptation, Blade Runner, starring Harrison Ford. (I have not seen the 2017 sequel, Blade Runner 2049.) The character of Rick Deckard is probably Ford’s third-most famous role, after Han Solo and Indiana Jones. I enjoyed the dirty, dystopic look of the movie, the dangerous, fugitive androids, and the action scenes. (Couldn’t tell you how faithful the movie depictions were to those in the book.) For some reason, though, the ethical and philosophical questions just never appealed to me, so I’m not a big fan of Blade Runner. However, I realize that a lot of people are, and the film has become somewhat of a cult classic within sci-fi fandom. The novel was nominated for a Nebula Award in 1968 and thirty years later won a Locus Poll Award, placing 51st among “All-Time Best SF Novel(s) before 1990”. Interestingly, the novel has also been adapted for radio, audiobook, theater, and comics; there are three book sequels, as well, written by K.W. Jeter.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1948, 1953, 1968): 70, 65, & 50 years

This one is a bit unusual, in that there are actually three connected anniversaries. Seventy years ago (1948), 30-year-old Arthur C. Clarke wrote a short story titled “The Sentinel” for a BBC competition. He lost, but the story “introduced a more cosmic element to Clarke’s work.” (It was eventually published in 1951 with the title “Sentinel of Eternity”.) Five years later, Clarke had a short story titled “Encounter in the Dawn” (aka “Expedition to Earth”) published in the magazine Amazing Stories. These two stories are considered the primary bases for much of 2001: A Space Odyssey, though elements were also borrowed from several of Clarke’s other writings.

2001 was a concurrently-developed, joint project with filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick and Clarke collaborated on the screenplay, and (at the same time) they originally worked on the novel together, too. But, for a number of reasons, Kubrick ended up focusing on the film, while Clarke focused on the book (and retained sole author credit). Kubrick’s cinematic masterpiece was released in May 1968 to mixed reviews, but it developed “a cult following and slowly became the highest-grossing North American film” of the year. Since then, it has become widely recognized as one of the top films of all time. As per Wikipedia, the film “deals with themes of existentialism, human evolution, technology, artificial intelligence, and the existence of extraterrestrial life. It is noted for its scientifically accurate depiction of spaceflight, pioneering special effects, and ambiguous imagery.” And who can forget that theme music, eh?!

Clarke’s novel was published in June/July that same year. There are many differences with the film, since Kubrick deviated in places from the early drafts that the novel is based on. Some were due to creative/stylistic differences, while others were more practical (i.e., because of the difference in media). Naturally, the novel has more emphasis on narrative and is able to flesh out some things that are left somewhat vague or mysterious in the film, which “is a mainly visual experience where much remains ‘symbolic’.” Three sequel novels were written, but only the first of them, 2010: Odyssey Two, has so far been made into a film (1984).

Planet of the Apes (1963, 1968): 55 & 50 years

Only a pair of anniversaries this time. Pierre Boulle’s original La Planète des singes novel was published in 1963, with an English language version close on its heels. Within a few years, the book was adapted for the silver screen, and the first Planet of the Apes movie debuted in April 1968. It spawned four sequels, then a short-lived TV series, followed by a short-lived animated series based on the original movie. I don’t think I ever watched the animated show, but I loved the movies and the live-action series as a kid/teen. Wonderful performances by movie & TV stars like Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowell (who returned for the live-action show), Kim Hunter, James Franciscus, Maurice Evans, and James Whitmore, all lent an air of respectability to what could have been considered goofy kids’ stuff. Plus, the writing was pretty good, and the action and adult themes (e.g., slavery, bigotry, nuclear war) made the content pretty grown up.

I finally read Boulle’s novel about 10 or 12 years ago and enjoyed it. You might, too. But, don’t expect it to be the same as the films. Many of the same elements are there, and anyone familiar with the films and/or TV series will quickly identify versions of the characters and events they know. But, there are also many serious differences. It makes me wish that a new and more faithful adaptation of the novel might be made. Maybe one day. Meanwhile, not only can we still enjoy the old films and TV series, but we have the terrific new series of PotA films — three, as of this writing. (We won’t talk about the 2001 movie by Burton and Wahlberg, though it had some positive points.) I think it might also be time for me to read Boulle’s novel again….

Avengers (1963): 55 years

Confession time: Originally, I was going to celebrate Spider-Man’s debut here. But, then I remembered that The Amazing Spider-Man #1 (1963) wasn’t the first time Spider-Man appeared. That was in Amazing Fantasy #15 the previous year.

But, the Avengers, “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes”, did debut with the first issue of their own title in 1963 (cover date Sept.). They might not be quite as iconic as ol’ Webhead, but given the team’s popularity these days, they certainly merit the attention. I was a “Marvel Zombie” from my pre-teen days, and the Avengers was one of the earliest books I collected and one of my favorites. I mean, how could you not love a team that included Iron Man, Captain America (as of issue #4), and Thor, among others? Even the Hulk was a founding member, though he quit at the end of issue #2 and would go on to fight against them on occasion. The team’s ever-changing lineup meant readers got to see many superheroes (including the occasional rehabilitated villain), new and old, work and fight together. They also had some of the most fearsome arch-foes, like the Masters of Evil, Kang the Conqueror, and the Kree. I haven’t kept up with the Avengers in recent years, but I do have a lot of great memories of roughly 3 decades’ worth of stories. Plus, of course, we get to see them live-in-action in the theaters these days. Avengers Assemble!

Iron Man (1963): 55 years

While Iron Man #1 didn’t premiere until 1968 (directly following the Iron Man and Sub-Mariner one-shot), the character of Anthony Stark and his armored alter ego actually made their debuts in Tales of Suspense #39 (1963). I’ve written about the character briefly before. Tony was equal parts brilliant and screw-up, playboy and warrior, arrogant jerk and kindhearted philanthropist. He had the rugged good looks and engineering genius, with all the money and toys a guy could ever want, yet he was insecure and battled his own “demons”. In other words, he was very “real” — a flawed hero, but not an anti-hero — and that’s part of what made him so interesting. I don’t think Robert Downey Jr. quite captures the character I remember from the comics, but I do enjoy finally getting to see him on the big-screen. If only they would see fit to add Mrs. Arbogast to the cast…. (In fact, I have a story idea that could do that, but that’s a whole ‘nother post.)

X-Men (1963): 55 years

As with the last two entries, I was a huge fan of the Uncanny X-Men waaay before the first movie (2000). I wasn’t around for their 1963 debut, but I did start collecting them back in the ’70s. Again, they were one of my favorites, possibly even edging out both Avengers and Fantastic Four for favorite team title. I started reading it shortly after the best X-Men lineup debuted — Cyclops, Storm, Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Banshee, Phoenix, and, of course, Professor X. Those were some classic stories with classic art, by creators like Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum, John Byrne, Terry Austin. Ah, those were the days…. There was just something about Marvel’s (not so) Merry Mutants, the “outcasts” of the Marvel universe, that appealed to me. They had some of the coolest powers and costumes, and the stories were well-written, with characters that became increasingly complex — sometimes for the better, sometimes not — over the years. Good times!

Alright, folks! I’ve rambled on long enough. Hope you enjoyed Part 2. I’ll talk about some really old stuff in Part 3 next month….

Inhumans Mini-Review and Fan-Cast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philip Winchester

Nicole Steinwedell

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

Roman Reigns

Nicholas Tse

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

Andy On

Saoirse Ronan

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

Rains as Kasius

Dominic Rains

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

Artist Appreciation Day: Greg Horn

About 18 months ago, I did my first “Artist Appreciation Day” post on Alex Ross. I’m long overdue to post another, so I’m gonna squeeze one in before 2017 closes out, OK?

I can’t quite remember the first piece of Greg Horn’s that I saw, but it was very early on when he hit the “big time” doing covers for Marvel Comics. I think it was probably one of his Elektra covers (see below). His clean lines, rich colors, often intense expressions (on his characters, not him), and, of course, gorgeous women have all made him a fan-favorite cover artist for many years. He does work outside of comics, too, so you might recognize his trademark style in advertising, magazines, novels, board and video games, etc.

Here are a few (mostly comics-oriented) pieces that showcase Horn’s talent. (I kept it PG-rated.) Since he is probably most known for his Marvel work, I’ll start there…

Elektra

She-Hulk

Three Avengers

The Power (and Snarl) of Galactus

Skrull reveals from Secret Invasion

Spider-Man

Wolverine

Ms. Marvel

 

Here’s a fun “Movie Opener” he did for Wizard Magazine a few years ago…

 

Now for some DC love…

DC’s triumvirate

Bat w/ cape and ‘scrapers

Joker & Harley, everyone’s fave homicidal clowns

 

And a few miscellaneous…

Legolas for PSM

Ghost Wars for HIP

Lebron James for ESPN Gamezone

 

If you want to see more of Horn’s digital paintings, start with his website. (Fair warning, though: The design is terrible, and a few of the links don’t work.) Of course, you can also throw his name into your search engine and see what comes up.

In case I don’t put up a separate post, let me wish you a “Happy New Year!”, and I’ll see you all on the other side….

Review of The Punisher (Netflix Series)

I realize that most interested parties have probably already watched the show weeks ago, but I just finished it last week and wanted to throw a few thoughts out there. If you haven’t watched it, yet, beware that there may be a few SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!

I’m gonna be honest and say up front that this wasn’t the Punisher I wanted to see. Jon Bernthal (5’11”,b.1976) obviously bulked up for the role to add a little muscle and definition. However, in addition to being shorter than I’d like — Marvel’s wiki lists the character at 6’3″ — he wasn’t nearly as broad-shouldered and beefy as I feel Frank Castle should be. At least, that’s how he is usually drawn in the comics. (The same criticism goes for Thomas Jane (5’10”,b.1969), who nevertheless played a convincing Castle in 2004’s The Punisher.) It’s part of what makes him so physically intimidating.

This version, while sufficiently bad@$$ and coldly efficient in the midst of battle, too often (over the course of the series) revealed him to be vulnerable and even unsure of himself. I suppose this effort to “humanize” the character is understandable, if Netflix is hoping to maintain a broad(er) audience. His missing his family and repeated nightmares about their deaths are also understandable, especially if that tragedy only happened a year(?) or so earlier. I certainly don’t mind watching a hero, even a violent vigilante, struggling emotionally with trauma or his “mission”. But, what I would have preferred to see was less vulnerability and… whatever else that was, and more hard-edged, laser-focused planning, hunting, and slaughtering of bad guys. Granted, there was some of that, and it was great. But, there should’ve been more of it. (Heck, there was even one episode where Frank wasn’t involved in any fights!)

As for the villains of the piece, while it was a somewhat interesting story, the whole corrupt-CIA-and-psycho-veterans thing was tired, cliche, and seemed like a bit of a copout. The fact that it was mostly tied to Castle’s past and the death of his family made some sense, I suppose. But (and I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised), they changed part of his “origin story” drastically. The comics version, as many of you know, was that Frank’s family was slaughtered in Central Park by some overzealous Mafia gunmen. Frank survived but couldn’t get justice through the system, so he adopted the ‘Punisher’ persona in his “one-man war on crime” to eliminate as many mobsters, drug dealers, etc., as he could. THAT is the story I wanted and expected to see in this series. We saw a bit of it in season 2 of “Daredevil”, and early on in “The Punisher” he killed several members of the Nucci crime family. So, I am hoping that this will be followed-up on in season two of “The Punisher” (assuming there is one).

We already knew from things like “The Walking Dead”, Fury, and Baby Driver, that Jon Bernthal can play tough, intense, bad@$$ characters. And he did a fine job in that respect in “The Punisher”. However, his performance at times was so reminiscent of his co-star from “The Walking Dead”, Andrew Lincoln, that I had to look twice to make sure it was Bernthal. (Rick? Is that you?) On another note, his yelling/roaring at times while firing a machine gun was too much like Rambo (or some other Stallone or Schwarzenegger character), and it annoyed me. I will also say that I prefer Bernthal with a regular (though short) haircut and not the supershort, nearly bald look, or shaved on the sides.

Revah, Bernthal, Barnes, Moss-Bachrach

The David “Micro” Lieberman character (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) was done well, yet his departures from the comic version — starting with the overweight computer hacker “Microchip” Lieberman becoming a lanky CIA analyst who is presumed dead — bugged me. The chief bad guys — Agent Orange / Rawlins (Paul Schulze) and Billy Russo (Ben Barnes) — were well-played and sufficiently detestable, particularly Russo’s betrayal. The Agent Madani character (Amber Rose Revah) was good at times, yet annoying at others. The sex scenes between her and Russo were gratuitous. I really liked the supporting character of Curtis Hoyle, played by Jason R. Moore, and I hope to see him again. (Maybe Moore will show up in something else, too.) The rest of the supporting characters were pretty good, too, especially the always enjoyable Jaime Ray Newman. The sub-plot with Lewis Walcott (Daniel Webber) was somewhat irritating, but I think that was partially due to Webber, who often plays this type of disturbed/ing character. (E.g., Lee Harvey Oswald in “11.22.63”.)

Despite these faults, overall it was a pretty good solo outing for ol’ Frank. As hinted at before, the firefights and hand-to-hand combat scenes were bloody, intense, and generally satisfying for this action-lover. (Not quite as good as those in “Daredevil”, but decent.) The acting ranged from satisfactory to quite good, and the plot, though not great or without holes, was definitely passable. I also liked the opening theme music, which somehow fit the tone of the show quite well.

For what it’s worth, I’m one of those people who liked “Luke Cage” (I love big, superstrong guys) better than “Jessica Jones” (I generally dislike surly, cynical drunks). That said, I would rate “The Punisher” about the same as Cage — roughly a B, maybe B+.

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-‘.