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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Review of Iron Fist (Netflix series)

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

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

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

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

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

Finn Jones as Danny Rand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few quick, final comments…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review of Luke Cage (Netflix Series)

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

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

luke-cage-netflix-cast-600x264

Primary cast for “Luke Cage”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Missick, Dawson, Whaley, Rossi

Missick, Dawson, Whaley, Rossi

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

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

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

Now for a few supporting players…

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

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

Additional, essential elements to the story…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review of Daredevil (Netflix series), Season 2

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

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

Spoiler! Spoiler! Spoiler! Spoiler! Spoiler! Spoiler!

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

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

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

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

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

Now for the new vigilantes/assassins on the block… Elektra was OK — certainly attractive — but not close enough in look or mannerism (imo, anyway) to the original for my liking. (E.g., should be a little taller and could stand to have more meat on her bones.) She had some great moves, though. Since Elodie Yung is a black belt, I wonder if they bothered with a stunt double…. I was glad that they at least retained some aspects of her “origin” story and early relationship with Matt from the comics. Not enough, though. I’m not sure if I want her back in another season (if there is one), but events from the Season 2 finale make me think she will be. Frank Castle’s portrayal was mostly satisfying, but not entirely. Jon Bernthal was a pretty good casting choice, though I’d have liked to see him bulked up a bit more. I expected Punisher to be very cold, emotionally distant, as he initially was. But, then, between the talks with DD and the scene in the hospital with Karen in ep. 6, they humanized him a bit. Not sure I approve of that choice for his story. Also, the hospital pursuit scene reminded me of something from a Terminator film, as did the times when he unloaded tons of firepower on his targets. THAT’s the sort of “machine” Frank needs to be! Lastly, I was glad that they finally gave him his trademark skull-shirt at the end. If Netflix goes forward with a Punisher series, that symbol must be front-and-center.

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

Amazing cosplayers, Kevin Porter and Tatiana DeKhtyar

Amazing cosplayers, Kevin Porter and Tatiana DeKhtyar

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

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

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

Fan-Cast: Batman, part 9: Montoya and Allen

Renee_Montoya_(Injustice_The_Regime)

Renee Montoya

This week, I was finally able to resume my fan-casting of the major Gotham City Police Dept. characters — well, two of the top four, anyway. One of these days, I may get around to Sarah Essen, “Hardback” Bock, Josie MacDonald, and “Slam” Bradley. (I’ll probably include Maggie Sawyer with my Superman-related fan-casting, since I still think of her primarily as part of the Metropolis Special Crimes Unit.) For now, though, I’ll finish with Renee Montoya and Crispus Allen.

Det. Renee Montoya

Originally created for the Batman: The Animated Series (1992), Renee Montoya’s first appearance was actually a bit earlier in Batman #475 (Mar. 1992). Montoya began as a bright, eager young police officer assigned as Commissioner Gordon’s assistant. I wasn’t long before she was promoted to Detective and partnered with Harvey Bullock. They made a good team. When Bullock was promoted following “No Man’s Land”, Montoya was reassigned to work with Det. Crispus Allen. This was another good partnership, but various events — including being framed for murder and outed as a lesbian by Two-Face — caused Montoya to become more frustrated with her job and life, irascible, and violent. She began drinking heavily to cope. After the events surrounding Allen’s death (see below), Montoya quit the police force in disgust.

448px-Renee_Montoya_0006 - hammeredDuring the “52” storyline, Montoya was contacted by and (reluctantly) joined forces with The Question, looking into some things having to do with Intergang. Amidst their investigations, The Question (i.e., Vic Sage) revealed that he was dying and was recruiting Montoya to replace him as The Question. He passed away a few weeks later, and she honored his wish. But, I don’t foresee getting into any of that in a Batman TV or movie series. I would stick to her years as a police officer/detective.

If a Batman TV/movie series begins with Batman’s debut, Montoya should not be there. In fact, I would prefer to not add her into the mix until roughly Year 8, which is about when I think her comics debut fits into the comics Bat-timeline. But, a slightly sooner appearance would be acceptable. By my calculations, she is maybe 5 or 6 years younger than Bruce Wayne, which makes her about 27 or so when she debuted. She is an attractive Latina of Dominican descent with characteristically dark hair. DC’s wiki lists her at 5’8″, 144lbs. So, I think she would best be played by a Latina (or someone who can easily pass as one) in her mid-20s to early 30s, between 5’6″ & 5’10”, with an athletic build.

As I usually do, I considered more than just the three finalists I settled on below. Rosario Dawson (5’7″,b.1979) might be a good choice, if not for her being a little too old for Montoya during her GCPD career. Same goes for Michelle Rodriguez (5’5″,1978), who is also a tad under our height parameters. Speaking of too short, Alice Braga (5’4″,b.1983), Floriana Lima (5’4″,?), and Ilza Rosario (5’3″,b.1985) all look great and are in the right age range, but they are just too short, and no police officer or detective is going to wear 3-inch heels on duty, unless she’s undercover. (I have seen Dawson, Rodriguez, and Braga suggested by others, too.) Thus, I present to you my Montoya finalists…

Alyssa Diaz

Alyssa Diaz

Alyssa Diaz (5’6″,b.1985) has been in Ben 10: Alien Swarm, “The Nine Lives of Chloe King”, the Red Dawn remake, “Revolution”, “The Vampire Diaries”, “The Last Ship”, and “Grimm”, so she is definitely familiar with the genre. She barely meets our height requirement, is almost 30 (as of this writing), and reminds me of a slightly younger Michelle Rodriguez. She could fill Montoya’s shoes quite well.

 

 

Genesis Rodriguez

Genesis Rodriguez

You may remember that I recommended Genesis Rodriguez (5’7″,b.1987) for another Bat-family role: Helena Bertinelli, aka The Huntress. She has appeared in “Entourage”, Man on a Ledge, The Last Stand, Big Hero 6 (voicing Honey Lemon), and the recent Run All Night. I think she needs a regular role in a crime/adventure series, and Det. Renee Montoya could just be that breakout role.

Mercedes Masohn

Mercedes Masohn

Finally, I recommend Mercedes Masohn (5’9″,b.1982or3). She is of mixed heritage but can pass for a Latina, as she often does on-screen. I remember noticing her on “The Finder”, “Chuck”, and “NCIS: Los Angeles”. She has also been in “666 Park Avenue”, Sniper: Legacy, and will be a regular in the new “Fear the Walking Dead”. She often plays tough “chicks”, and Renee Montoya is definitely that. She’s a tad older than I’d prefer for the part, but I’m sure Masohn would be great!

Det. Crispus Allen

Crispus Allen

Crispus Allen

Crispus Allen’s first appearance was in Detective Comics #742 (March, 2000). Gordon had just returned to duty after grieving his wife’s death during the events of “No Man’s Land”, and he was staffing up the GCPD after losing several personnel in the preceding months. Detective Allen transferred in from Metropolis, and he would prove to be a great asset to the Major Crimes Unit. Partnered with Montoya, Allen was an excellent detective who helped take down a lot of bad guys, from average skels to corrupt cops to “super-villains”. He was always a serious, analytical, “straight arrow” type, if a bit arrogant. As such, it is not surprising that he reluctantly accepted Batman as a “necessary evil” for fighting crime in a place like Gotham City. He was also a happily-married father of two.

In one incident, Allen shot and killed the Black Spider, who was about to murder Montoya. This began a course of events that led to Allen being killed by a corrupt crime scene tech named Jim Corrigan. Allen later became the new host for the Spectre, but those events are beyond anything I want to see in a Batman series.

allen - you're my partnerAs with Montoya, if a Batman TV/movie series began with Batman’s debut, the Allen character should not be included. However, I don’t expect the events of “Knightfall/Knightquest” and “Cataclysm/No Man’s Land” to be adapted, so they could transfer him from Metropolis sooner in the Bat-timeline. I would prefer to see him introduced after Montoya has spent some time (as a Detective) partnered with Harvey Bullock, first. That said, he should be 40ish and, therefore, roughly 10 or so years older than Montoya. DC’s wiki entry for Allen does not give a height or weight, but I would say he’s roughly 6′, give or take, and in (very?) good shape. Appearance-wise, Allen is a Black man, bald with a trim “goatee”, and he wears rimless glasses. He is a sharp dresser — earning him the nickname “Peacock” by Harvey bullock — and is always seen wearing a suit, often a three-piece. He is sometimes seen smoking a cigarette, too. Obviously, any actor to be considered should be Black, early 40s, athletic build, look good with a bald head and “goatee”, and probably be between 5’10” and 6’2″.

Many Bat-fans have suggested Idris Elba (6’2.75″,b.1972) (“Luther”, “The Wire”, Thor) for the role. He’s a little taller than I’d like, but he’s the right age and build, and I agree he would be terrific. Still, I wanted to look into a few others. I’ve been noticing another “The Wire” alum lately, Gbenga Akinnagbe (5’10”,b.1978), particularly in “24: Live Another Day” and “The Following”, where he plays a federal agent in both. But, he is a little young for the part, and I’m not sure he has quite the right look. I also considered “The Blacklist”‘s Hisham Tawfiq (?,b.?). Again, not sure he’s old enough or has quite the right look. So, that leaves the following three:

Richard T. Jones

Richard T. Jones

I think Richard T. Jones (6’2″,b.1972) could play a great Crispus Allen. I mostly remember him from “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” and more recently on “Hawaii Five-O”, but he was also a regular on “Brooklyn South” and “Judging Amy”, appeared in “Nikita” and “Revolution”, and he has popped up in movies (e.g., Event Horizon, Godzilla) and series for many years. He fits the appearance and age parameters, and I’m sure he would have no problem portraying the by-the-book Detective Allen.

 

 

Lamonica Garrett

LaMonica Garrett

Slamball champ-turned-actor LaMonica Garrett (6’2″,b.1975) often plays firefighters, military, or law enforcement roles. He has appeared in Transformers: Dark of the Moon, “NCIS”, “The Game”, “Justified”, etc., but he may be best known as Deputy Sheriff Cane on “Sons of Anarchy”. Garrett is barely 40 and is probably the most athletic of our candidates. He doesn’t have as much acting experience as the others, as many of his parts are minor, but I think he could be a convincing Crispus Allen.

 

 

Brian White

Brian White

I’m not positive the first thing I saw Brian White (6’2″,b.1975) in, but what I remember him for are his roles on “Beauty and the Beast” and “Hostages”. He has also appeared in such genre fare as DOA: Dead or Alive, “Ghost Whisperer”, In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, “Moonlight”, and “The Shield”. Like Garrett, White is barely 40 and in great shape. He would make a fine Det. Allen, especially since he has played police detectives before, so I can totally see him in the role.

 

 
As usual, I’d love to know what you think of my choices and if you have anyone else in mind that you think fits the bill(s)….

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2015.

Review of Daredevil (Netflix Series)

“It ain’t how ya hit the mat. It’s how ya get up.”  — Battlin’ Jack Murdock

daredevil0107151280jpg-7f7705_1280wI never binge-watch any TV show — partly because I have many other shows I like to keep up with, partly because I like to make a good thing last a long time. That said, when Netflix released all 13 episodes of “Daredevil” at once, I thought I might be too weak to control myself. But, I managed. In fact, it was 5 days until I even saw the pilot and a full week until episode 2. Meanwhile, the rest of the world — I imagined, at least — were watching multiple episodes per week. Just like with other cult-favorites — e.g., “The Walking Dead”, “Game of Thrones”, “Orphan Black” –, I was several episodes behind everybody else.However, when a recent vacation threw my usual TV-watching schedule all out of whack, I took the opportunity to watch a few more “Daredevil” episodes. Then, I kept to a mostly bi-weekly schedule, and… I finally watched the season finale last week. So, this will be my first review of a new series where I watched the whole season first. I wonder, are there any genre fans who haven’t already watched the entire series by now? (If so, consider this a SPOILER ALERT!, though I will try to keep the spoilers to a minimum.)

I will admit that, as usual, there were changes from the comics that annoyed me. And, yes, I’ll refer to some of them below. But, for the most part, I will try to contain myself. In fact, I have to say that, despite my being irked by certain changes, overall the characters and the feel/tone of the show was… shall we say, reasonably faithful to the source material. Plus, whether I liked the casting or the writing or not, I thought all the performances were top-notch.

I thought the seasonal arc made for a decent story, paralleling Murdock’s initial efforts in crime-fighting with Fisk’s start as a mover-n-shaker in NYC, both in the criminal underworld and as an ostensibly (but not really) legit real estate investor and city benefactor. (More on them below.) Or, as producer Jeph Loeb put it more simply, “This season is about both the rise of the hero and the rise of the villain.” It made for pretty good drama and was certainly about more than just a costumed crimefighter battling punks and villains. (Especially since Murdock didn’t get a real costume or the titular nom de guerre until the final episode.) At the risk of using some overused descriptors, there was a very realistic, “gritty”, street-level feel to the series. This was partly due to the lack of any flashy superpowers but also because the fights were rather nasty & violent. Bone-crushingly, sinew-tearingly, flesh-rippingly, blood-drippingly brutal, in fact. And that’s a good thing.

Now, allow me to give my reactions to and impressions of the primary and main supporting players, beginning with the good guys:

Matt Murdock/Daredevil is quite impressively portrayed by a British actor who was not previously on my radar (pun alert!), Charlie Cox. Even if I had heard of him, I would never have thought of casting him for this role. In my opinion, the role calls for someone a bit taller and more muscular. (I suppose he might bulk up more for the second season.) Also, there is something about his mouth & jawline that doesn’t look right behind the mask, and I think it would be quite identifiable by anyone who knows Murdock fairly well. That could be a problem when you’re trying to keep your identity a secret. Plus, he didn’t seem to try to mask (hah!) his voice, either. So, for those reasons, Cox isn’t my ideal casting. But, he does have talent and did a terrific job showing the different sides of Matt Murdock — from loyal friend to driven vigilante. Also, it was good to see him struggling (as in the comics) with what he thought he needed to do “on the street” and when dealing with Fisk et al., as opposed to what the law allows and what his Catholic faith would seem to allow.

Daredevil_Armor_SuitI don’t know why, but the people who adapt comics for the screen seem to have an aversion to red hair, especially for the heroes. Both Barry Allen (aka “The Flash”) and Matt Murdock are supposed to be redheads, but they both have dark hair on TV/Netflix, and I haven’t read anything about why they couldn’t apply a little coloring to keep the character authentic. Is that really too much to ask? Anyway,… Regarding Matt/Daredevil’s abilities, the martial arts and gymnastics were well-done. They need better F/X to demonstrate use of his radar-sense, though. As for the costume, it definitely looks bad@$$! (Or, DD looks bad@$$ in it.) I don’t know if he’ll ever get it completely red, but I think I can accept the red/black combination. Now, if we can just get a swingline (or whatever) to eject from the billy clubs, so we can see him swinging between buildings and onto rooftops and such….

Franklin “Foggy” Nelson is ably played by baby-faced Elden Henson, another actor that I was not familiar with. I know I’ve seen him here and there, but nothing really stands out in my mind. I don’t know if I would have considered him for Foggy, though he does fit the general physical description. On the other hand, the character was written as a bit more jovial and playful (and with longer hair) than he is in the comics. I would have preferred sticking to the original characterization, but maybe they decided the show needed someone who was (usually) a little more fun and able to joke a bit amidst the doom & gloom. I didn’t care for his relationship with the lawyer (their former colleague) at the big firm. It just seemed like a really unlikely pairing, and the only reason he let her treat him like that was because she was hot and would “sleep” with him.

Deborah Ann Woll does a fine job as Karen Page. My gripes are that she is too tall and, to be honest, not pretty enough. (My personal preferences, of course.) She can look quite attractive, especially with red hair. I just wanted someone with a very different look. So, I obviously would not have cast her. But, acting-wise, I thought she was very good. They obviously gave her a different “origin” than in the comics and had her be more personally involved in the case(s) in the show. There were hints at her instant attraction to Matt but a growing attraction to Foggy. (Of course, she spent more time with Foggy, who is also a more open person.) It will be interesting to see how her relationships with her two bosses develop next season, as well as how involved she gets in the cases. Also, will Matt reveal that he is Daredevil to her? I suspect he will, especially if they get romantically involved, though I don’t think it is as necessary as it was to reveal it to Foggy.

Ben Urich is played by the terrific actor/director Vondie Curtis-Hall. He did a great job as the dogged-yet-weary investigative journalist. Unlike in the comics, they gave Urich some extra, emotional stuff to deal with — namely, his wife’s slowly succumbing to dementia and the financial struggles to continue her care. His interactions with Karen Page were interesting, and I can’t help but wonder if she will eventually start a blog of some sort. (Sort of like Iris West did in the early episodes of “The Flash”.) The Urich character is white in the comics, and as usual, I would have preferred a white actor. However, Urich’s race is not integral to who he is, so I did not mind the change. And, while Curtis-Hall is a few years older than the character should be at this stage in DD’s career, I couldn’t have asked for a better talent to portray him. That is what makes Urich’s fate in this series doubly troubling. (I think it was a mistake.)

daredevil-tv-series-on-netflixTo be honest, I don’t remember the Claire Temple character from the comics. Maybe she appeared at a time when I wasn’t reading “Daredevil” for awhile? A quick check of Marvel’s wiki reveals that she had connections with Luke Cage and Bill Foster (aka “Black Goliath”) but it says nothing about Daredevil. (Will she show up in Netflix’s “Luke Cage” series?) Nevertheless, I think Rosario Dawson was a great choice, and she knocked this version of Claire out of the park. As suspected, Scott Glenn’s portrayal of Matt’s gruff, pain-in-the-butt mentor, “Stick“, was spot on. My only complaint is that he was only in one episode! We need more Stick, even if only in flashbacks to young Matt’s earliest training. Matt Gerald’s Melvin Potter is also pretty good. I think the writers made the character a bit more dim-witted than in the comics, but generally they got him right.

Fisk’s “business associates” are an interesting bunch and each deserve a brief mention. The Russians, Vladimir and Anatoly Ranskahov, are played by Nikolai Nikolaeff and Gideon Emery, respectively. The characters were stereotypical, macho bullies — Vladimir in particular — but well played. Too bad they weren’t around longer, but they did serve as, er, object lessons re doing business with Fisk. Yakuza representative Nobu is played by Peter Shinkoda, who brings a sufficiently serious (and cocky) air to the character. Wise and wizened Madame Gao is a great character, played by the wonderful Wai Ching Ho. I hope we see more of her next season, or maybe after that. The only “business associate” not created solely for the Netflix series is that of ruthless financier, Leland Owlsley. The comics version creates his own small criminal empire, calling himself “the Owl” and his organization “the Owl’s Gang”, and becomes one of Daredevil’s persistent foes. He also gains powers of limited flight, enhanced strength, enhanced senses, and sharp talons. Of course, this version pushed Fisk too far and will not be able to do any of that. (He did refer to a son, though.) Still, Bob Gunton does a fine job playing the role of the perpetually perturbed “money guy”.

Famed Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer was an interesting choice for Vanessa Marianna. I would never have thought of her for it, but, of course, she did a wonderful job. (I don’t find her particularly attractive, but that’s neither here nor there.) Though I don’t know a lot about the comics version, I do know that she and Fisk married and had a son long before Daredevil appeared in Hell’s Kitchen. In fact, the adult Richard Fisk would become a deadly thorn in his parents’ side. That Vanessa was eventually driven to try to clean up the underworld (while Wilson was out of the picture for awhile), but died of “heartbreak”. I am curious how any of this may play out in the Netflix series, though I doubt there will be any Fisk heir to cause trouble. I also wonder if Vanessa will get the white streak in her hair like the original has.

Toby Leonard Moore does a great job as Fisk’s multi-talented and always reliable right-hand, James Wesley. In the comics, the character is never given a first name, seems rather quiet and bookish, and is only seen in four issues of “Daredevil” — in the “Born Again” storyline (see below). Moore’s Wesley is a bit more calm and cold-hearted, but it works for this version, this Fisk, this story. I just wish we could see more of him next season. (Perhaps a twin or clone…?)

My thoughts & feelings about Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk are rather mixed. On the one hand, D’Onofrio is a wonderful and talented actor who did a terrific job revealing the intellectual and emotional layers of the latest screen-version of Fisk. Some might even say it was “masterful”. There were interesting eccentricities — from Fisk’s social awkwardness (especially with Vanessa) to his oddly-paced speech patterns to his sudden and deadly fits of rage. The problem for me is that none of that — with the possible exception of the rage — is part of the Fisk/Kingpin who I grew up reading. The comics version is much more confident, for one thing. He is also clearly a brutish thug with only a veneer of control and respectability. D’Onofrio’s version, it could be argued, was that, but it just wasn’t the same. These and other elements (e.g., the bit with his mother) make me think that the writers/producers were trying to make Fisk more relatable and sympathetic, despite his ruthlessness. IMHO, this was a wrong move.

kingpin-netflixThen there are the physical issues. D’Onofrio is in his mid-50s, which seems a little too old for this stage in his and DD’s careers, but that’s a minor point. While D’Onofrio is a large man, 6’3.5″ and barrel-chested, he is nowhere near big enough to fill the Kingpin’s shoes. However, I have to admit that it would be difficult to find someone who is over six-and-a-half feet tall, roughly 450 lbs. of muscle, and have sufficient acting ability to do the character justice. (Btw, Fisk is supposed to be trained in multiple martial arts, sumo being his primary discipline, and the comics often show him working out.) So, that being said, D’Onofrio was probably quite a coup.

Fisk’s character arc, if you can call it that, had two major focuses: 1) dealing with his criminal business associates as they all tried to keep their plans on track; and, 2) figuring out how to attract the lovely art dealer, decide how much to tell her about his business, and then allow himself to be loved (or some such thing). Of course, Murdock vexes Fisk et al. in both of his identities, which was very faithful to the source material. The bit about Fisk’s childhood was, as far as I remember, not in the comics, but it was believable for someone who turned out the way he did, and it served the writers’ apparent purpose of making him a tragic figure. Not sure how I feel about that. What was more interesting was how they gave Fisk a real love for Hell’s Kitchen, much like Murdock’s own, so that he really is trying to help in his own, twisted way.

I don’t think anyone ever called Fisk “(the) Kingpin (of Crime)” in this season of the show — perhaps because he is only beginning to form his criminal empire. If he returns for season 2, perhaps he will then take on that appellation. I also hope that he will begin wearing his trademark white suits and carrying his jewel-topped cane. Those nods to the comics would help fans like myself accept him even more as “The Kingpin”.

Despite my misgivings over areas that break from established comics history & characterization, I greatly enjoyed Netflix’s “Daredevil”. As I said, for these versions of the characters, the performances were fantastic. The story was pretty good (though not great), and I eagerly await the second season, which we already know will include Frank Castle (aka “The Punisher”). Hopefully, we’ll get a few more familiar faces — Bullseye? Elektra? Rosalind Sharpe? Avengers cameo? Keep your fingers crossed….

P.S.  I highly recommend reading the TPB titled Daredevil Legends Vol. II: Born Again (or, just Daredevil: Born Again) by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli, which reprints one of the best and best-known story arcs for the title and possibly within all of Marvel. One might even call it “iconic” in many respects, in terms of characterization of the main characters — especially Matt/DD and Fisk/Kingpin. (Note, this is the one where Karen betrays Matt by selling his secret identity in exchange for drugs.) There have been other notable runs, of course, but this one is certainly representative of a significant time in Matt/DD’s life and career(s), not to mention Karen’s. It also demonstrates Fisk’s physical size, the size of his empire (at one time, anyway), and just how patient, sadistic, and menacing he can truly be.