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+

So Why Are Captain America and Iron Man Fighting?

Captain America: Civil War is nearly upon us, and as I expected last time we indulged in this exercise, some of you are no doubt wondering why Cap and Iron Man are trading blows with each other. The easiest and most cynical answer would be that they are fighting because they fought in Marvel’s Civil War crossover event from 2006 and 2007, and since that is routinely among the ranks of Marvel’s highest selling trade paperbacks then it makes sense to make an adaptation out of something fans really dig. Coincidentally, Batman v Superman did pretty much the exact same thing, with much of its plot being informed by The Dark Knight Returns and The Death of Superman but I’d really rather not talk about that right now and at any rate, we need to discuss Marvel business this week.

So what exactly happens in the Civil War comic to bring about conflict between the two biggest Avengers? In the inciting incident of CW , a young and relatively inexperienced superhero team called the New Warriors try to take down a villain called Nitro, who uses his explosive powers to destroy an elementary school and a couple of city blocks, resulting in the deaths of most of the New Warriors and more than 600 people. Public sentiment starts to turn against heroes, so the government proposes the Superhero Registration Act, which would require all superheroes to register with the federal government for oversight purposes. Tony Stark/Iron Man takes up the reigns of the pro-registration side after initially opposing the SRA, while Steve Rodgers/Captain America becomes the self appointed leader of the anti-registration side. Things quickly got out of hand…

After a not bad start, CW rapidly flew off the rails. The breaking point was when Iron Man and Mr Fantastic starting dumping captured ani-reg heroes into a prison in the extra dimensional Negative Zone without any semblance of due process, culminating in Cap and his gang staging a massive prison break that spills into the streets of Manhattan and culminates in massive collateral damage. The story ends with a sobbing Steve Rodgers unmasking and turning himself in to the authorities after witnessing first-hand the destruction caused by the brawling heroes.

I do not have any great fondness for this story and I was more than a little apprehensive when Marvel announced it would be the basis of the next Cap movie.

From what I’ve seen of the trailers and promo material, Captain America: Civil War is working off that same basic framework. The movie’s Sokovia Accords appears to more or less be the same thing as the comic’s SRA, except its scale is global rather than national. Part of my initial skepticism of a straight adaptation of CW is that despite being around for nearly eight years and spanning 12 films, two TV series and two (so far) Netflix series, there still aren’t really that many superheroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Hence, a CW movie wouldn’t have the advantage of taking place 60 plus years into the existence of a Marvel Universe already inhabited by hundreds of characters. Since the CW movie we are getting is baffling still (at least technically speaking) a Cap feature and not an Avengers sequel, the smaller stakes could actually work to its advantage. At most, this titular civil war appears to be a six-on-six affair; I’m okay with that.

CW was almost a decade ago, so I’m really hoping all of those years of hindsight will allow directors Joe and Anthony Russo (who directed Winter Soldier and will also helm the next two Avengers) to avoid some of its mistakes, particularly the business where Iron Man turns into a fascistic prick and starts tossing his friends in jail (that building at the 54 second mark in the above trailer looks like a prison, so maybe we are getting that version of Iron Man). Granted, the early reviews have been positively rapturous and it can’t possibly be worse than the slog that was BvS. I’m cautiously optimistic.

So what’s the deal with Spider-Man? In the comics he initially joined the pro-reg side of the Civil War and even followed Tony Stark’s example by publicly outing himself as Peter Parker. As the story went on, he became disillusioned with Stark’s increasingly Draconian measures against rogue superheroes and jumped ship to Cap’s team. As for him being in the movie (where he’s played by Tom Holland), Sony Pictures and Marvel studios now share “joint custody” of Spidey’s film rights on account of Sony scuttling their initial plans after the dreadful Amazing Spider-Man 2 underperfomed at the box office. I’m pretty sure this Spider-Man (who already has his own solo feature in the works) won’t be revealing his secret identity to the public, but the business with him getting a conscience attack and switching sides? I’m absolutely positive that will go down in the movie.

Captain America: Civil War opens this Friday. Good movies being made from bad source material isn’t unheard of and maybe that will be the case here. I’m a huge fan of the Captain America movies and they’re largely the reason why he’s my favorite Marvel hero. As much as I don’t like stories where superheroes fight each other, I’m Team Cap all the way on this one.

My 2015 San Diego Comic-Con Top 5

As just about all of you already know, last week was San Diego Comic-Con. While SDCC has strayed pretty far from its roots over the years (and for the record, that hasn’t always been a bad thing), there’s always been at least a handful of stuff to get really excited about. This time around, though, there were five big effing deals that have captured my attention. Without further ado, here’s the SDCC announcements that I was most excited for.

  1. The newest “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” trailer:
    Putting aside all of my concerns about this movie, it’s pretty damn hard not to be excited about it. Zack Snyder is a goddamned genius when it comes to spectacle and visceral thrills, and in many ways his inner eight-year-old is perfect for Batman and Superman’s first live-action onscreen pairing. Until the movie itself rolls around, I’ll save the judgment and just take in this breathtaking three and half minute trailer. We see our first glimpse of Wonder Woman in action (fleeting, but there nonetheless), Jesse Eisenberg’s “Silicon Valley” version of Lex Luthor (I’m thinking of trademarking that description), and that money shot at the end…damn.
  2. The Darth Vader crossover: Trade waiting all of the ongoing “Star Wars” comics Marvel is currently publishing is so far my biggest regret of 2015. It seems that Marvel is hell bent on punishing me for that disastrous decision even further. In addition to that new Chewbacca miniseries we’re getting, Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada announced that the “Star Wars” and “Darth Vader” ongoing series will crossover in an event known as “Vader Down.” Jason Aaron and Kieron Gillen will be handling the writing duties and Salvadore Larroca will be illustrating. I’m about to lose so much money this fall…
  3. Grant Morrison’s new DC projects: Weirdly enough, there were quite a few really cool SDCC announcements that actually had something to do with comics. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the great Grant Morrison is doing a followup to his “Multiversity” miniseries, called (I kid not) “Multiversity Too.” Considering how awesome “Multiversity” was – the whole series is this jubilantly insane celebration of every bizarre nook and cranny of the DC Multiverse – I’m definitely hungry for more. In addition to more of that stuff, Morrison will also be doing a series of “Batman: Black and White” graphic novels.
  4. The “Star Wars” behind the scenes video:
    This video was shown to fans at “Star Wars’” Hall H presentation. Watching it, it’s hard not to get caught up in the enthusiasm shared by JJ Abrams, the cast and crew. Look at those real sets! Those on location shoots! Was that an actual explosion?! Holy crap, that bucking bronco Millennium Falcon cockpit looks like a blast! So far Operation: Make This as Different as Humanly Possible from the Prequels seems to be working out for Abrams, Kathleen Kennedy and co.
  5. This: If you don’t like this, we can’t be friends.