Grading The Defenders

Marvel’s Netflix experiment will be getting its first real test on Aug. 18, when The Defenders graces our small screens. At the moment, this train is carrying quite a bit of hype and its fair share of baggage as well. I’ve overall enjoyed this corner of the continually growing Marvel Cinematic Universe, but, uh…yeah, we’ll get to that soon. Below are my rankings of all the Marvel Netflix shows we’ve gotten so far, from worst to best.

  1. Iron Fist Let’s get this shit out of the way first: Iron Fist sucks hard. Danny Rand (Finn Jones) was a thoroughly unlikeable lead, the plot kept stretching into 10 different uninteresting directions, the villains were non-entities and the characters who weren’t completely awful were subjected to some extremely stupid twists (Colleen Wing is in The Hand, but they’re actually good! No actually they’re bad but Colleen is still good! Joy Meachum was behind everything the whole time!). Any time IF seemed like it was getting into a groove, something dumb would happen and knock it off course. As much as people complain about the abundance of superhero origin stories, I actually think strictly following that route could have at least made this show a little bit better. Watching Danny learn magical Kung fu in a legendary hidden city would have been much more fun than watching him run around barefoot in NYC, get in board room arguments and talk about Chi. It’s nothing short of criminal that this fun character and the world he inhabits got turned into such a boring chore of a show to watch. It you’re looking for a good Iron Fist story, read this instead. Grade: F
  2. Luke Cage In retrospect, the cracks were definitely starting to show on Luke Cage. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still pretty good but Cage‘s meandering second half certainly foreshadowed some of the problems that doomed Iron Fist. I didn’t dislike Diamondback as much as other people did; Erik LaRay Harvey’s scenery chewing was delightful and that powered suit he wears in the last episode is bonkers in that awesome comic book sense. But having him show up out of nowhere midway through the series and giving him a personal connection to Luke’s past that is never previously alluded to didn’t do Diamondback any favors. But occasionally wonky second half aside, there’s a lot to like in Cage: awesome soundtrack, superbly executed flashbacks, fun action scenes and a solid supporting cast. Mike Colter is terrific in the title role, possessing charisma that borders on Chris Evans as Cap-levels of brilliance. And the guy can rock the hell out of CarharttGrade: B-
  3. Daredevil Vincent D’Onofrio and Jon Bernthal are beyond amazing as the Kingpin and the Punisher, respectively. There’s really nothing more I could say about those two that hasn’t already been said better elsewhere, so I’m just going to focus on all the other stuff I like about DD. First off, it has the best action scenes of all four of these shows, by at least a mile. And for how much he gets overshadowed by certain other cast members, Charlie Cox is a damn good lead when he gets a chance to shine. For one thing, it’s pretty astounding how effectively he channels Matt Murdock’s Catholic guilt without ever having it spill into melodrama (though the writers deserve credit for this as well) and he sells the hell out of all the lawyer stuff. DD certainly has its share of missteps: the pacing, the Hand business, and Daredevil’s over-designed suit all come to mind. But it set a strong foundation for this Netflix sub-universe while still being pretty great in its own right. Grade: A-
  4. Jessica Jones The key to an awesome Marvel Netflix series is to have an alliterative title, I guess. So how exactly does one go about topping Daredevil? You just take most of what it does well and simply execute it better; Jessica Jones is tighter and more dialed in than its predecessor while also covering much more ground. I’m kind of embarrassed by my complete lack of familiarity with Krysten Ritter’s work prior to JJ, on account of how phenomenal she is here. Maybe it’s because I don’t watch enough TV, but I feel like we rarely get to see women play those tough, abrasive, take-no-shit-from-anyone types that a lot of people seem to like. Ritter as Jones is all of those things, and it helps that she faced off with the most skin crawling-ly evil bastard that the MCU has ever coughed up. David Tennant’s turn as Kilgrave is just…damn. I’m pretty sure I pumped my fist in the air when Jessica annihilated that POS in the final episode. JJ was a blast from start to finish, and I’m both thrilled for its second season and wracked with anxiety over how the showrunners are going to top this incredible debut. Grade: A+

Star Wars Trailers! Star Wars Trailers! Star Wars Trailers!

The problem I have with Star Wars movies is basically the exact opposite of the problem I have with upcoming DC films: I tend to get so excited for them I have to actively fight off impossibly high expectations. And with Star Wars Celebration in full swing (Why am I not there?! Agghhhh!), the hype machine is in overdrive and so is my fanboyism. There’s all sorts of Star Wars news breaking at the moment, but below I’ve outlined my big three takeaways from Celebration so far. Let’s get cracking:

My enthusiasm for gaming tends to go through extremely dramatic and unpredictable ebbs and flows so I have no idea how interested I’m still going to be by the time Star Wars Battlefront II (curiously, it’s the second such game to be called that) is available to play on Nov. 17. But for the time being, this looks cool as hell. It’s supposed to be the first Star Wars game in the new continuity to explore a post Return of the Jedi setting and it appears to also set up the rise of the First Order. I’m a bit iffy on video game stories being made into franchise canon (good riddance, Force Unleashed), but Battlefront II gets the benefit of the doubt for now.

I was totally wrong about Star Wars Rebels concluding with its third season despite appearances to the contrary, but I wasn’t off by much. It’s been officially announced that it will end with the upcoming season four. Truthfully, I didn’t expect this show to last; in addition to the fact that cartoons for kids don’t usually have deep runs, the five years before A New Hope time frame didn’t give its storytellers tons of wiggle room. Nonetheless, the pieces of an emotionally satisfying conclusion are in place, especially since Hera’s somber narration doesn’t imply a happy ending. We know from that Easter Egg in Rogue One that she’ll probably be okay. My credits are on Kanan buying the moisture farm, since I don’t think Disney is about to kill off any 15-year-olds. I’m pretty sure Thrawn will go down too, which would take him “off the board” during the events of the OT. At any rate, I’m glad Rebels will get to end on its own terms, rather than get abruptly yanked off the air like Clone Wars did.

And that wolf! I don’t know what it is, but I love it already!

I’ve saved the best for last: the first trailer (it’s April; there’s going to be several more) for The Last Jedi. I’m super bummed that the elderly versions of Luke, Han and Leia won’t get to share the screen but it’s nice to have Luke back even though the last 10 or so years haven’t been kind to him. Luke took on a mentor role in some of the later post Saga books in the now defunct EU and getting to see that version of him onscreen is going to be treat, especially since Mark Hamill is really selling it with that magnificent beard. The only major plot point we can cull from this is that a despondent Luke, haunted by his failure with Ben Solo/Kylo Ren, will be ending the Jedi Order. Everyone – me included – thinks this means Star Wars is trying to move past the Light side/Dark side dichotomy (Luke’s “It’s so much bigger” line is lending that theory major credence). The idea that the Force has more than just two paths was touched upon in the previous season of Rebels via the Bendu character and hopefully it will get explored further in TLJ. I stand by what I said about Star Wars needing to take creative risks and this feels like a step in the right direction.

The Last Jedi comes out on Dec. 15.

Star Wars Rebels is Back on Saturday

Part of me kind of dreads the return of all the fall TV series. I mean, sure, I like Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Timeless, Supergirl and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D but all that viewing feels burdensome at times. Between going back to the gym regularly (hello 2017) and Final Fantasy XV my non-work hours are rapidly eroding. I’m in for a long winter, even without the imminent presidency of the Tangerine Troglodyte.

But Star Wars: Rebels? Hell, yes, I have time for that. The above three minute trailer heralding the second half of season three is a jam-packed doozy. I’m a fan by default at this point, but if you’ve just seen Rogue One (fantastic, by the way) and you’re still craving Star Wars, then start watching this show.

Season three has really expanded the scope of Rebels, something this series badly needed after mostly two seasons spent meandering about Lothal. It looks like that trend is continuing as season three comes to a close. I’m guessing Rogue One really lit a fire under the asses of executive producers Dave Filoni, Simon Kinberg and Greg Weisman because it sure looks like big things are a coming and…possibly the end of not just this season but the whole series?

From what we can gleam from the trailer, the various Rebel cells are coalescing into a larger whole, there’s some familial drama with Sabine, her mother and the other Mandalorians (the darksaber from Clone Wars is back) and oh, shit, that Obi-Wan reveal…hopefully Old Ben will finish Maul off for good this time. This all looks conclusive; now we just need to know what will happen to Kanan and Ezra. Are these dudes even still alive during the events of the OT? I don’t think it likely but we shall see.

Star Wars: Rebels is back this Saturday (Jan. 7). Order a pizza, grab a six pack of some delicious beer and tune in at 8:30 p.m. if you’re on the West Coast.

All Hail the Millennial Nostalgia Industrial Complex

The Millennial Nostalgia Industrial Complex is real.

It reared its head over the holiday weekend in the form of not one, but two marathons. The Harry Potter marathon on the channel formerly known as ABC Family wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, but coupled with the Disney channel airing every single one of their original movies, it created a force of devastating nostalgia overload.

Millennials on the older end of that generational spectrum are no doubt already aware of this, but if you’re in that sweet spot between late ’80s and early ’90s? This might be news to you; you are now just old enough to notice that the “Hey, remember how awesome this old shit you loved as a kid is/was?” marketing apparatus is now being pointed directly at you. We saw the beginning of this with the launch of Pokémon GO, and there is only going to be more of it as we get older.

This doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing, but seeing as Generation X has had to deal with a deluge of hot donkey shit made from adaptations of stuff they loved, we should absolutely be prepared to deal with it. The new Power Rangers movie could very well be awful enough to generate multiple existential crises. Accepting that possibility now will make coping with it later much easier. In the first grade, I used to sprint home from school (we lived in walking distance) to catch episodes of Power Rangers and sometimes I would practice their fighting moves while I watched. Nothing will take those memories away from me; not even a shitty Power Rangers movie.

I hope everyone had a lovely weekend, regardless of what you were doing. If anything, we should feel lucky Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon didn’t decide to jump on the nostalgia bandwagon. That would have been a bloodbath.

On ‘The Flash’s’ Metahuman Problem

The Flash has a serious metahuman problem. That much is a given but the one I’m referring to depends entirely on how invested you are in the show. I like The Flash a great deal and I’m still fully onboard with it even though I’ve been less than impressed with the last few episodes. It’s because I like it so much that I’d like to see the writers tackle this telepathic gorilla in the room: what is up with Barry Allen and his friends running a secret prison under S.T.A.R. Labs?

This is something that’s been an issue since season one, but now that the captured meta population has doubled in light of this week’s episode, in which Flash and the gang subdued all of the rampant Earth-Two villains, it’s laughably impossible to ignore. There are now a substantial number of super-powered people imprisoned in a high tech dungeon without due process by four STEM geeks, only one of whom has any connection to law enforcement (Barry is a forensic scientist). No one on the show appears to be aware of this moral quandary.

What the hell, Flash? Assorted musings below:

  • These cells are very small and they do not have beds or toilets.
  • There is no reason to believe the imprisoned metas are getting any sunlight, which is awfully harsh. There’s no yard for these guys to shoot hoops or lift weights in. They’re just living in a glass and steel box 24/7.
  • Do you know what else regular inmates have that these prisoners don’t? Showers.
  • S.T.A.R. Labs must have some extremely powerful ventilation and air refreshers; because there’s no way that the metas aren’t pissing and shitting in the corners of their cells.
  • Are the metas even getting fed? What about water?
  • Provided they haven’t perished from a gruesome combination of malnourishment and dehydration or asphyxiated from the fumes of their own bodily waste, all of these prisoners have most certainly been driven insane.
  • Can we please get a whole episode devoted solely to the starving, smelly, now insane prisoners of S.T.A.R. Labs? I’d be fascinated to know more about their day-to-day existence.
  • Maybe The Flash actually takes place in Earth-Three (or the Anti-Matter Universe in Post-Crisis comics) and Barry and his friends are all villains except their evilness is only manifested through their brutal and callous treatment of captured badguys? Eh…I’m really reaching on that one.

Listen, Flash writers, I get it; this is another one of those things you just don’t want to deal with because it might slow down the story and maybe you guys didn’t even realize the implications of the S.TA.R. Labs prison, but at this point it can’t be glossed over anymore. I know I have zero right to give professional TV writers advice, but you guys really ought to address this in season three. And if you think that’s a boring waste of screen time, know this: one of the all-time greatest DC graphic novels has a substantial chunk of its plot devoted to the imprisonment of rogue metahumans. If Mark Waid and Alex Ross can pull a mesmerizing tale out of that, I don’t see why Flash can’t.

Season three’s finale airs this upcoming Tuesday. Here’s the preview:

Why Do TV Superheroes Need Their Own IT Teams?

First off, I know damn well why this is becoming a trend: it’s a ridiculously useful plot device. How does this superhero get the costume? Who made it? Who fixes it when it gets damaged? If the hero uses gadgets then where do those come from? How does the hero gather information on villains and find their weaknesses? How does she or he know when and where something bad is going down? All of these can easily be explained away with what I’m officially calling the superhero IT team.

That sounds like a terribly reductive way of putting it, but I don’t know how else to describe this phenomena. Three of DC/Warner’s premier superhero dramas – Arrow, Flash and Supergirl – have it to some extent. Green Arrow/Oliver Queen has Felicity Smoak. The Flash/Barry Allen has Caitlin, Cisco and Dr. Wells (evil imposter or otherwise). Supergirl/Kara Danvers has a sister at a top secret government organization, photographer/Superman pal James Olsen and Winn Schott, who is an actual IT guy. All three shows milk this trend it for all its worth.

I get it, to an extent. There are a lot of superhero stories out there and people are getting less patient with origins and minutiae. We want to jump right into the action and the superhero IT team is an excellent way to brush aside small world-building stuff that not everyone cares about. While I like most of Supergirl’s not-super friends and Flash’s S.T.A.R. Labs crew have acquitted themselves admirably over the course of a season and a half, I can’t help but to feel that this trend is becoming far too convenient of a crutch and it’s giving these shows a “samey” feel.

I’m not going to call the hardworking professional TV writers behind these shows lazy (like I can talk; I barely post anything on the Starship these days), but this plot device definitely encourages laziness. It can also lead to some pretty massive unforeseen problems, such as the one Flash has. At this point, there are so many people who aware that Barry Allen is the Flash that it is downright insulting for him to not tell his love interests when half of Central City already knows. Sheesh.

If I had to put my thumb down on where this all started (at least in regards to TV/film superheroes, who are usually a decade or more behind their source material) I would pick the perennially uderappreciated Superman: The Animated Series, whose Superman would occasionally seek assistance from that show’s own version of S.T.A.R. Labs. The expanded role of Lucius Fox in The Dark Knight trilogy, in which he was basically the Q to Batman’s Bond, probably has a lot to with the IT trend, too.

The superhero IT team was a novel idea that has now become a minor annoyance. I don’t think it diminishes Flash or Supergirl, both of which are fine shows despite their occasional hiccups. The good news is that DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, the latest entry of the Arrowverse, is already breaking this mold by being a team-based show that features STEM-savy heroes who can do the technical and science stuff in the field on their own. I don’t want this trend to go away; it would just be nice if it got less trendy.

‘Flash’ Season Two to Feature Two Flashes

Perhaps the most pleasurable thing about The Flash is the way it has been delightfully unafraid of showcasing the weirdest and silliest aspects of its title character. Throughout the initially bumpy but overall brilliant first season, Barry Allen has traveled through time, ran through worm holes and even threw down with an evil psychic gorilla. It may not be the perfect Flash show, but it’s far better than I ever could have hoped.

And now there’s this latest promo, where Barry meets his Earth-2 counterpart, Jay Garrick, the superhero that your dad could probably cosplay. This isn’t exactly surprising; Jay’s distinctive helmet made a super conspicuous cameo in season one’s finale and sharp-eyed viewers may also have spotted a figure on the Central City Police Department’s mural that bears a striking resemblance to him. Once Flash made it clear (from the very first episode, no less) that it wasn’t going to shy away from the time travel and alternate universe stuff, I expected Jay to show up at some point in the series.

So who is Jay Garrick? Simply put, he is the original Flash, having first appeared in Flash Comics #1 all the way back in 1940. Created by Gardner Fox and Harry Lampert, Garrick was a key member of DC Comics’ Golden Age lineup and was also part of the Justice Society of America, the first ever superhero team both in real life and in DC Universe continuity. Jay’s solo series was cancelled in 1948 and DC rebooted the Flash eight years later in the form of Barry Allen. The two Flashes famously teamed up in The Flash #123 (September 1961) by Fox and Carmine Infantino. More so than the team up itself, that story is best remembered for introducing the concept of multiverse to DC Comics, which is where things get interesting…

Will Earth-2 (Jay’s native world) appear in The Flash’s second season? Will we be introduced to the multiverse? Hell, is the freaking JSA going to show up? That I’m asking all of these questions should indicate to you that I’m yearning for Flash to come back on the air almost as much as Star Wars: Rebels. To my knowledge, no live action DC movie project has ever tried to take a crack at the dense and endlessly confusing multiverse. It may have come up in Smallville at some point during its decade run but that would require me to actually watch Smallville, which is a fate I wouldn’t wish upon anyone except for maybe these people.

The Flash season two will premiere on Oct. 6 on The CW.