The Defenders: Better Together (And Shorter)

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After the double-stumble of the generally entertaining but stuttering Luke Cage and the thoroughly tone-deaf and lazy feeling disaster of Iron Fist, the Netflix/Marvel universe was on decidedly shaky footing. It was beginning to seem like the growing promise of Daredevil and Jessica Jones had been blown in two seasons of stretched-out superheroics, so I’m happy to say that The Defenders puts our heroes firmly back on track.

Marvel’s anti-team alternative to The Avengers began in the pages of Marvel Feature # 1, in 1971, before gaining its own long-running title the following year. The reluctant, non-team initially consisted of Doctor Strange, the Sub-Mariner and The Hulk, but soon expanded to include a rotating cast of heroes. Although both Daredevil and Luke Cage tagged along for a while, they were never core members.

Netflix’s The Defenders takes this group in name only, instead bringing together the casts of their previous shows: Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist. Also brought along for the ride are returning supporting characters and villains.

The first big plus point here is the big bad, none other than Sigourney Weaver. Weaver is quite obviously having fun with the role, clearly relishing her many arch lines of dialogue, but the character is given some essential moments of vulnerability too, leaving us with another in the stable of successful Marvel TV villains (after Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk/The Kingpin and David Tennant’s Killgrave).

But you came here for the heroes, and of course The Defenders delivers these in spades. Daredevil continues to be tortured (though with some welcome added humour), Jessica Jones is all-snark and snap, Luke Cage is the picture of wounded noblility and Iron Fist is, well, he’s actually rather likeable here. Consider that a triumph after being an asshole for thirteen episodes of his own show. In fact, for long-term comic book fans, seeing long-term buddies Luke Cage and Danny Rand spar off against each other will be a genuine buzz.

Which brings us to another big score for The Defenders. I’ve said repeatedly that the fixed thirteen episode season format has harmed the Netflix/Marvel shows (even the good ones), taking interesting stories and stretching them way beyond their shelf life. The Defenders is a relatively brisk eight episodes and boy, can we feel the difference!

The first two episodes take their time to get moving, somewhat pointlessly reintroducing the various characters and their supporting casts, but they soon begin to pick up speed and then the third episode is where everything comes together: narratively and literally.

Episode three is one of the best hours of Marvel TV to date, with a fast-paced, driving narrative, kick ass action sequences, snappy dialogue and great interaction between the leads. In fact there were one or two moments that had me punching the air in delight, definitely a first for Marvel TV.

From here the story moves deliberately and enjoyably, neatly pulling together a lot of threads which had been left dangling in other shows and at last we have a show which doesn’t feel like a chore to get through. Netflix/Marvel, please take note: eight episodes is the perfect format for these shows and unless you have an incredibly compelling reason otherwise, this should be your model!

There’s still the odd bit of clunkiness lurking around and overall I’m not sure there’s too much in the way of character development (except, surprisingly, something of a maturing for Danny Rand/Iron Fist), plus The Hand have proven to amongst the most ill-defined and ineffectual bad guys ever (after four whole seasons yet) but despite these failings, and in terms of watchability, Netflix/Marvel have definitely upped their game with The Defenders. Whatever failings the show has are more than compensated for by its brisk pace and fun antics. And there is a lot of fun to be had here.

With more seasons announced for all four main characters, plus a first run for Jon Bernthal’s Punisher, it’s clear the superhero train will keep on running on Netflix. Let’s hope they learn all the right lessons from this enjoyable Marvel team-up!

Netflix’s Super Friends – Marvel’s The Defenders

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After the hugely disappointing Iron Fist, my hopes for The Defenders, Netflix’s all-star Marvel mash-up, were seriously on the wane.

Thankfully, positive word of mouth and this latest trailer have done a great deal to restore confidence.

The pilot episode was screened at the San Diego Comic-Con yesterday and reports are largely positive, including this review from Birth.Movies.Death. Alongside the good news, a second trailer has been released which not only makes the show look like a whole lot of fun (a quality seriously lacking from Iron Fist) but also promises a terrific performance from the show’s Big Bad, the legend that is Sigourney Weaver.

The thought of Evil Ellen Ripley going toe-to-toe with Jessica Jones is worth the price of admission alone. Throw in Daredevil and Luke Cage too (…okay, and Iron Fist, if we must) and I’m certain I’ll be bingeing come release day. That this show is only eight episodes is also a huge plus point, as all of the Netflix/Marvel shows have suffered from over-extending their dramatic life.

All episodes of Marvel’s The Defenders drop on Netflix, August 18th.

Iron Fist – Not Such A Master of Kung Fu!

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Regular readers will know me as an unabashed fan of the Marvel franchises, heck I’ve even been known to say kind things about Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. This act alone, while possibly wiping out any standing I have as a critic, should firmly place me as a fully-fledged Marvel geek. I carry my F.O.O.M. card proudly.

So it’s with a heavy heart that I have to label Marvel’s Iron Fist on Netflix their first real misfire.

So full of problematic elements it’s kind of difficult to know where to begin, but let’s start with an issue common to all the Marvel/Netflix shows: folks, it’s just too darn long! The first four or five episodes are a genuine slog to sit through, it’s the first Marvel effort I’ve had to convince myself to continue. All of the Netflix shows have suffered from this, eight or at most ten episode seasons would make things feel far more palatable. It’s possible a shorter season would have made Iron Fist more entertaining but then there would still be… well, Iron Fist.

Boy oh boy, the showrunners make Danny Rand, A.K.A. Iron Fist, tough to like. Brash, entitled, aggressive and… well, I’m not quite sure what else he’s supposed to be. There’s a final moments line about Iron Fist becoming a shining beacon in the darkness, yadda yadda, but by this point we’ve sat through thirteen episodes of him generally acting like a complete ass to everyone around him with only a few glimmers of anything nice from star Finn Jones shining through.

And, Marvel… come ON!! Thirteen episodes of Danny Rand wandering about in a hoody is just plain dull. Audiences are now so well versed in the Marvel world that we’re quite happy to accept masks and long johns… Thor and Doctor Strange even wear capes. Without the costume this frequently comes off like just another straight-to-DVD action flick. The costumes are what makes the characters visually distinctive, so please stop wussing out when it comes to getting your characters to suit up!

Finally, for a series about a legendary, mystical kung-fu dude, the fight choreography was unforgivably dull. There wasn’t a single sequence with the gusto or panache of Daredevil season one’s hallway fight or season two’s stairwell scrap.

There are still pleasures here, including Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple, an increasingly important thread in the Marvel Netflixverse (ouch) and the nods to the wider universe are fun – not to mention vital since Iron Fist leads to the forthcoming all-star mash up show, The Defenders. Good value is also provided by Tom Pelphrey and Jessica Stroup’s Meachum siblings, whose arcs are infinitely more interesting than that of Jones’s Rand (who pretty much remains an ass throughout).

But these few pleasures are unfortunately outweighed by a storyline that’s too afraid to let the crazy elements of its central character through, and so it ultimately lands with a dull thud instead of a kick to the groin.

Sorry Marvel, you know I love you, but Iron Fist felt more like a limp slap.

Iron Fist, The Defenders and… Sigourney Weaver!

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With Luke Cage seemingly another success for Marvel and Netflix (albeit one receiving more of a mixed signal from critics – and I mean regarding its dramatic qualities, rather than the absurd non-argument about the wonderful diverse cast coming from dull witted racists), excited viewers have been looking towards their next fix for binge watching from this team.

And this weekend at the New York Comic Con, the companies have dropped two fabulous pieces of information. First up, the first, full teaser trailer for Iron Fist (which finished filming just yesterday).

There’s been some discussion from fans of the comics that this might be the show to veer furthest away from its four colour origins, but for those concerned with such things (and you can count this author among those) the signs are encouraging in this latest and more revealing trailer. Full on kung fu action? Check. Dragon tattoo on his chest? Check (Though if he gains that tattoo by fighting with a giant, fiery dragon, a la the comics, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle). Glowing fist of power? Check and double check.

As you can see in the trailer, “The Final Defender Arrives” which leads to the other major morsel dropped by Marvel, that the villain for the big team up series, The Defenders, featuring Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist, is none other than Ripley herself, Sigourney Weaver.

The thought of these superb characters coming together in one, big Netflix-tastic mash up is enticing enough, but the knowledge that they’ll be squaring up against La Weaver is enough to make this must see TV already.

Iron Fist drops March 17th, 2017 while The Defenders is expected to drop later in the year. I’ve already booked my place on the sofa for both!

Netflix’s Power Man & Iron Fist get real!

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As an avowed Marvel Comics geek from way, way back (heck, I was even a member of F.O.O.M. – the Friends of Ol’ Marvel fan club – in the 1970s, and still have my membership card), I’ve been following the rise of Marvel’s film and TV properties with great excitement and enthusiasm. The fact that their productions are of a high standard has pleased me all the more.

After the huge success of the Netflix Daredevil show (the second season was given the green light virtually hours after the first one dropped to big ratings for the channel), it was genuinely thrilling to see them pushing ahead with some of Marvel’s lesser known properties.

Jessica Jones also proved to be a hit, and now here we are with trailers for not only Luke Cage but also Iron Fist. We’ll speak more of these guys after you’ve feasted your eyes on the trailers:

 

Cage, created in 1972 by Archie Goodwin and John Romita Sr.(with help from Roy Thomas), and Iron Fist (AKA Danny Rand), created by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane in 1974, were attempts by Marvel to capitalize on the Blaxploitation and Kung Fu crazes, but were later paired up as Power Man & Iron Fist – Heroes for Hire.

So it’s genuinely thrilling to see these second tier characters emerging to digital life (in the shape of Mike Colter and Finn Jones), especially as both look set to kick some major ass. I’m now hoping we’ll see Marvel dig a little deeper and give us major productions for Forbush Man and Frog Man (try Googling them) or, dare I even whisper it, Howard the Duck (after his cameo in Guardians of the Galaxy)!

Meanwhile, Luke Cage drops on September 30, 2016 and Iron Fist hits sometime in 2017.

UPDATE: As if that wasn’t enough excitement from Netflix for one day, we’ve also been treated to the first teaser (set to Nirvana’s Come As You Are, no less) for The Defenders, the show which will see all their characters team up. It’s a Marvel-icious overload: