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Mar 20, 2017

Rating the Marvel Netflix Universe (so far)

I just finished watching the first season of Iron Fist on Netflix, aka another lost weekend spent staring slack-jawed at my TV.  That brings me up to speed with all 4 shows and 5 seasons of the Marvel Netflix Universe.  Yeah yeah, technically these, the movies, and Agents of Shield all exist in the same universe, but let's face facts, that's on paper only as there seems to be little chance of either of the two others acknowledging any of these shows whatsoever.  Don't get me wrong, I'd love to see a quick Iron Man or Captain America cameo in the Defenders, but I'm pretty sure I have a better chance of seeing these characters have a crossover with Supergirl.

Anyway, just to recap, the MNU so far is:
Daredevil (seasons 1 & 2)
Jessica Jones
Luke Cage
Iron Fist

Now, I'll get this out of the way first. I don't think there are any stinkers in the bunch. All of them are fine shows and very watchable. All of them are also quite different, which is nice. There's something there for everyone ... everyone who likes super hero shows anyway. Even the least of the bunch is well worth watching.

That said, I wanted to rate each show according to several metrics, and then talk about where the Netflix shows in general win and where they still need some work, IMHO.

Note: there may be spoilers ahead...

My Costume isn't red, I just bleed...A LOT
DAREDEVIL: The first of the MNU shows and the one that set the bar for the rest. The adventures of Matt Murdock - blind attorney by day, radar-sense equipped badass by night.
  • Plot: 3 stars. Pretty general superhero origin. A man gets frustrated by the evil pervading his town, so he begins to fight back ... a lot ... which ultimately brings him into contact with bigger and badder players, who he then also tries to kick the shit out of.  Season 2 expands upon this with more heroes and more villains as the quest to clean up Hell's Kitchen continues, along with doubts as to the main hero's state of mind, in that he's not certain who he prefers to be: Batman or ... err Daredevil that is, or Matt Murdock.
  • Action: 5 stars. Easily the most brutal of the MNU. This show doesn't hold back any punches ... or kicks, or bullets etc etc. Daredevil gets into tons of fights and they are ugly fights, definitely not the *pew pew* lasers and lightning of the MCU.  It all looks like it hurts. If there is any nit, however minor, it's that fight scenes are just that - fights between normal powered people. Sue me for being a super-power whore, but that's what I'm here to see.
  • Costume: 4 stars. The only issue I have is they wait until the very end of season 1 to put DD into his familiar costume. And yes, I realize he ran around dressed as a ninja in the comics too, but damnit, man, when I watch a superhero, I want that hero in a costume!  That said, once it's introduced, it is nice and he does wear it all throughout season 2.  Bonus, we get the Punisher's costume near the end of season 2 as well.
  • Villains: 4 stars. Vincent D'onofrio's Kingpin is pretty much spot on. No issues there. Also, Madame Gao is creepy as all fuck.  Both present a nice threat to Daredevil, but in different ways. The rest ... minor bosses who exist to be beaten up.
  • Superpower stuff: 1 star.  We get 1, *ONE* shot of how Matt Murdock "sees" the world and it's a brief shot of his then-girlfriend Claire.  Sometimes less is more, but they could have at least thrown us a few bones of DD vision now and then. It might be a petty concern, but again ... superhero show.

JESSICA JONES: Jessica Jones has superpowers, but they weren't enough to save her from months of psychological torture at the hands of the Purple Man. Now she just wants to survive, drink her troubles away, and occasionally touch Luke Cage's pecs.
  • Plot: 5 stars. An excellent, and often uncomfortable, portrayal of a woman who is one of the most powerful beings on the planet, yet is still haunted by PTSD following psychological and physical abuse at the hands of a man who's capable of dominating others with but a word.
  • Action: 3 stars. Jessica is often reluctant to throw down. She doesn't want to be a superhero. She doesn't want to be bothered with anyone else's shit. She just wants to forget her own past. There are some notable fight scenes, though, especially when she goes up against Luke Cage, but this is definitely one of those reluctant hero tales.
  • I'm a PI, not a stripper, perv!
  • Costume: 2 stars. Jessica Jones doesn't often wear a costume in the comics these days, probably with good reason. Her original comic costume is little more than skin-tight lingerie. Considering her powers of flight, she'd either have to use really strong glue to hold it in place or end up flashing NYC every time she fought crime ... which would probably make this a completely different type of show. There is a fun scene where this is addressed, though, so an extra point for that.
  • Villains: 5 stars. David Tennant's Purple Man / Killgrave is just fucking awesome. He is equal parts uber-creepy and sympathetic. But he absolutely dominates every scene he's in. Almost loses a point for a subplot involving a character named Nuke, who is ultimately not much more than filler, but Killgrave is one of the best marvel villains so far in any of their properties. Hell, give me a movie where he teams up with Hugo Weaving's Red Skull and I'd watch the shit out of that.
  • Superpower Stuff: 3 stars. Jessica Jones is super strong and they don't shy away from that. However, they kind of gloss over her flight abilities, mostly with 1 or 2 cheap cutaways. But again, this is a reluctant hero. She doesn't want to use her powers (unlike a person like me, who'd spend the entire series punching out bulldozers).

Not a man you want turning the other cheek
LUKE CAGE: A man with steel skin and super strength who just wants to be left alone ... to sweep hair in a barber shop. Hey, I don't judge.
  • Plot: 2 stars. Starts off fairly strong, as a small story of a man just trying to keep his neighborhood safe while staying under the radar. Then kind of goes off the rails, and finally introduces us to the main villain late in the game.
  • Action: 4 stars. Features probably the only true "superhero" fight in the MNU as Cage and Diamondback (in a super-suit) face off, trading super-powered punches and not trying to hide it in the least. Also, it never gets dull watching Cage kick the crap out of people. There's a lot of broken bones by the end of this one.
  • Costume: 2 stars. Modern Luke Cage doesn't really wear a costume either. That's fine. We do get a little fan wank in the form of his earlier Power Man costume, with Cage basically making fun of how he stupid looks in it. 
  • Villain: 2 stars.  Alfre Woodard is quite good as Mariah. However, she's never actually a physical threat to cage. Cottonmouth is so-so at best. Honestly, it was hard for me to figure out what his motivation was at all ... and then he dies halfway through the series. Diamondback exists to give Cage a physical challenge, however, he shows up very late in the series and his reasons for hating cage end up being kind of lame.
  • Superpower Stuff: 4 stars. It's a show about a guy who is super strong and nearly indestructible and Netflix seems to understand that you can't hide that and make it effective at the same time. I never got the sense that MNU Luke Cage is as powerful as comic Cage, but they do an effective job of getting it across that this is a guy who can step into a room with a dozen pissed off enemies and still be the only one to walk out again.

IRON FIST: Danny Rand returns to NYC after 15 years of being stranded in the Himalayas, where he was raised by kung-fu monks and defeated a dragon to gain super chi powers ... and a title that I'm sure some pornos are dying to use. Eh, whatever. Works for me.
  • Plot: 3 stars. Another pretty general superhero plot. Danny returns home to reclaim his identity, only to find that his life has been a lie and those who he thought were his friends were mostly not ... all while he's kinda too dumb to notice it until the very end. Speaking of the end, IF loses at least a half point for episode 13 which both felt tacked on and offered an opponent for Danny who had about as much chance of winning as a toddler ... and was about as convincing.
  • Action: 4 stars. Lots of kung-fu action and a touch from Marvel's mystical side. Mind you, not all of the kung-fu is convincing, and it is never as brutal as Daredevil's action, but it's mostly fun to watch. Jessica Henwick's Colleen Wing is pretty much pure awesomeness, though.
  • I'm a Billionaire, I'll wear whatever the fuck I want
  • Costume: 1 star.  Yes, he has the dragon tattoo, but of all the costumes to put together for a superhero show, you'd think his would be the easiest. Christ, just run out to Target and buy Finn Jones some PJs.  We do get a tease of an earlier Iron Fist wearing the traditional costume, but it's in the form of a grainy film - boo!
  • Villain: 3 stars.  Madam Gao continues to be creepy as fuck, but the rest are a mismatch who are either two dimensional or not really a threat unless the hero is dumb as shit.  Oddly enough, despite the Hand being a major threat in this series, there are far fewer ninja for Iron Fist to fight than there were in Daredevil. Maybe the Punisher killed them all?
  • Superpower Stuff: 5 stars. Danny's hand lights up and pulverizes pretty much anything it hits. It's definitely cool to watch. Yeah, they do the lame "he loses his powers" thing that every hero show does and then, later on, how he gets them back isn't entirely clear. Still, it probably has the best effects scene of any of the MNU shows when he uses it to utterly obliterate the floor of a building. Yeah, show me the money, baby!

My favorites in order:
Iron Fist
Daredevil
Jessica Jones
Luke Cage

Probably a controversial choice for that top spot, and a tough one. DD might be a better show, but ultimately Iron Fist is more fun and makes with the powers more often. As such, I gotta rank it the better superhero show (Mind you, it's a very close call, especially considering episode 13 of IF).  Jessica Jones is a powerful show with an A+ bad guy, but at times it can be rough to watch.  As for Luke Cage, it gets the superhero part right, but seemed to waffle with everything else.

What they all do well:  These are all fairly gritty shows that try to be grounded in our world. While they never stray too far into R-territory, the action and language tends to be much saltier than the MCU movies, lending some good realism and some really nice scenes. 10+ episodes gives us a lot of screen time to get to know these characters, which is doubly cool (except for those characters who suck).

What they all need to work on:  I think we need more diversity. And no, I don't mean in casting choices. I mean heroes and their powers. While I've greatly enjoyed the MNU, their four main heroes all have powers that are essentially minor variations on "punching stuff".  Considering Agents of Shield features Quake and had a half season of a passable Ghost Rider, I don't think this is beyond Netflix's capabilities or budget. Marvel has a rich cast of characters with some quirky powers. Pick one or two who do different things.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, realism is good to a degree, but these are freaking superhero shows, which means I want to see more superhero'ing.  Let's face facts, you have The Flash on the CW devoting entire shows to talking gorillas or giant man-sharks, yet Netflix seems reluctant to even put their heroes into a freaking costume.  At times it's almost like they're embarrassed of the source material.  Yes, that's fine that they want these to be character pieces, but when I turn on a show like Luke Cage, you can bet I'm not going to be happy until he throws a truck at someone.

Seriously, Netflix!  The Defenders is up next. So work on that shit!


1 comment:

Barry Maggard said...

Glad to see someone besides me liked Iron Fist. I agree we need more of the superpowers and more from the original comics. Don't get me wrong I'm all for changing for the times as I'm currently rereading Iron Fist and some of the old comics are just insane when you look at them today. The core essence though is what made these characters great and i want to see more of that in the future. I want a dragon netflix and some training footage with the thunderer. also love tome of bill finishing the last book as we speak