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+

You Need to Watch ‘Turbo Kid’

This Netflix recommendation comes courtesy of my cousin Jake, because I give credit where it’s due.

If the fantastic Stranger Things has not sated your appetite for all things ‘80s genre flicks and sythwave, then you need to give Turbo Kid a shot. This delightful 95 minute action/comedy/parody/homage romp is the massively positive force you need in your life right now. It’s a joint Canadian-New Zealand production that was shown at Sundance and SXSW in 2015 and it got a super limited release last August. This thing needs to be in your queue right the hell now.

Set in the post-apocalyptic wasteland of 1997 (no, really) it follows the adventures of a kid who idolizes the fictional comic book hero Turbo Man and rides around on a bicycle (the primary means of transportation in this wasteland) salvaging junk and doing his best to be like his hero. Along the way he meets a delightfully whacky robot girl named Apple, teams up with a foul-mouthed, arm-wrestling cowboy with an Australian accent named Frederic (Aaron Jeffery) and does battle with the warlord Zeus (Michael Ironside, the only recognizable actor in this), who seeks to control the wasteland’s limited water supply.

The whole affair is aggressively cheeky and self-aware but balanced out with some gloriously over the top violence that is always hilarious. More than anything else though, you’ll be watching it for all the callbacks and references. The most obvious inspiration for Turbo Kid is George Miller’s Mad Max films, but just about every other ‘80s action/adventure and sci-fi flick you can think of gets a send-up: Indiana Jones, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Starfighter and The Terminator were just some of the few I spotted and there’s no doubt many more I missed.

Turbo Kid is has the budget equivalent to a YouTube fan film, but the cheap production value is highly endearing, especially since it makes the retro effects work and props seem even more authentic. To give you some idea on how committed this film is to its retro-ism: it opens on the Epic Pictures (its US distributor) logo, which includes the line “#1 leader in laser disc sales.” Damn, that’s good.

Cheeky self-awareness can be fun and all, but it can get a bit trite and obnoxious after awhile. The brilliant thing that co-writing/co-directing team of François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell do is know when to be sincere. The titular Turbo Kid’s (Munro Chambers) adoration and emulation of his hero is treated with utmost seriousness and his relationship with Apple (Laurence Leboeuf; manic and brilliant) is genuinely sweet in spite of everything else in the movie. The scenes where they play tag in the wasteland will bring a non-ironic smile to your face.

Look, I don’t even know why I’m still talking about this. Michael Ironside is in full ham mode! It’s silly Mad Max on bicycles! A dude gets speared with a freaking umbrella! Go watch this thing. You won’t regret it.