REVIEW: AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. – SEASON 6

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013)

Starring

Clark Gregg (Captain Marvel)
Ming-Na Wen (Stargate Universe)
Chloe Bennet (Nashville)
Iain De Caestecker (Overlord)
Elizabeth Henstridge (Wolves at The Door)
Henry Simmons (Superman vs. The Elite)
Natalia Cordova-Buckley (Bates Motel)
Jeff Ward (Plus One)

Maximilian Osinski, Briana Venskus, Chloe Bennet, and Elizabeth Henstridge in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Joel Stoffer (Species 3)
Maximilian Osinski (Love & Other Drugs)
Briana Venskus (Let’s Be Cops)
Barry Shabaka Henley (Heores)
Matt O’Leary (Mother’s Day)
Brooke Williams (Spartacus)
Karolina Wydra (Be Kind Rewind)
Maurissa Tancharoen (Dollhouse)
Sherri Saum (Sunset Beach)
Anthony Michael Hall (The Dark Knight)
Coy Stewart (Deadly Detention)
Lucas Bryant (Haven)
Winston James Francis (Glow)
Paul Telfer (The Vampire Diaries)
Shainu Bala (Last Resort)

Brooke Williams in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013)Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been one of the few Marvel TV series that has successfully captured both the excitement of the Cinematic Universe and the joy of the comic books. It’s achieved this by constantly re-inventing itself. What began life as essentially a spy-fi procedural drama with the odd movie reference has evolved into a classic telefantasy, covering everything from magic to parallel worlds.Elizabeth Henstridge in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013)The new series is set before the events of Infinity War, which spares us from the show having to work in the odd movie reference here and there. (Though in fairness, a lot of the integration between the series and the movies is seamless, with the MCU elements essentially working as shorthand for the casual viewer). The agents are still reeling from the events of the last series, with Coulson seemingly gone for good, S.H.I.E.L.D. still functions as Earth’s defence against the weird, with Mack taking on the role as director. Meanwhile, Daisy, Simmons, and two other agents (who you grow to love) are scouring space for Fitz. It seems that one of the few consistent things about the show is that the adorable couple that is Fitz and Simmons are cursed to be separated by time, space, and circumstance. This particular story arc is one of the key sources of fun throughout this season. It starts off as a ‘Lost in Space’ melodrama, veers into the territory of some sort of galactic road-trip before turning into a cosmic version of couples counselling. The FitzSimmons pairing has always been electric on screen, and six seasons on these talented actors have created something rather special.Brooke Williams and Winston James Francis in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013)The more Earthbound drama is similarly full of surprises. We have a new set of bad guys with an all too familiar face returning to remind the viewers exactly why this show has been so successful. Fans of the various Marvel storylines will catch on to this arc plot fairly quickly and realise that a dimension-hopping band of bruisers who are seemingly intent on wrecking the joint are very, very bad news. The character of Sarge is, of course, the most interesting, but credit is also due to Brooke Williams as the psychotic Snowflake, who combines lunatic charm with utter ruthlessness to great effect.Ming-Na Wen, Lucas Bryant, and Natalia Cordova-Buckley in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013)There are some clunky moments, of course. Mack and Yo-Yo continue to have absolutely no chemistry, and the show struggles to integrate the character of Deke into the main story, which is a pity because he has some of the best moves in the series so far. With  S.H.I.E.L.D.’s sixth season now finished it will interesting what the creators have planned for the seventh and final season coming in 2020.

REVIEW: CAPTAIN MARVEL

Starring

Brie Larson (Kong: Skull Island)
Samuel L. Jackson (The Hateful eight)
Ben Mendelsohn (Ready Player One)
Djimon Hounsou (Guardians of The Galaxy)
Lee Pace (Pushing Daisies)
Lashana Lynch (Still Star-Crossed)
Gemma Chan (Mary Queen of Scots)
Annette Bening (American Beauty)
Clark Gregg (Much Ado About Nothing)
Jude Law (Spy)
Mckenna Grace (I, Tonya)
Vik Sahay (Chuck)
Kenneth Mitchell (Star Trek: Discovery)
Stan Lee (Avengers Assemble)
Chris Evans (The Losers)
Scarlett Johansson (Lucy)
Mark Ruffalo (Just Like Heaven)
Don Cheadle (Traffic)
Nelson Franklin (New Girl)
Patrick Gallagher (Glee)

Brie Larson in Captain Marvel (2019)In 1995, on the Kree Empire’s capital planet of Hala, Starforce member Vers suffers from amnesia and recurring nightmares involving an older woman. Yon-Rogg, her mentor and commander, trains her to control her abilities while the Supreme Intelligence, the artificial intelligence that rules the Kree, urges her to keep her emotions in check.Brie Larson in Captain Marvel (2019)During a mission to rescue an undercover operative infiltrating a group of Skrulls, alien shapeshifters with whom the Kree are at war, Vers is captured by Skrull commander Talos. A probe of Vers’s memories leads them to Earth. Vers escapes and crash-lands in Los Angeles. Her presence attracts S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Nick Fury and Phil Coulson, whose investigation is interrupted by a Skrull attack. In the ensuing chase, Vers recovers a crystal containing her extracted memories while Fury kills a Skrull impersonating Coulson. Talos, disguised as Fury’s boss Keller, orders Fury to work with Vers and keep tabs on her.Jude Law, Brie Larson, and Rune Temte in Captain Marvel (2019)Using her extracted memories, Vers and Fury go to the Project Pegasus installation at a U.S. Air Force base. They discover Vers was a pilot presumed to have died in 1989 while testing an experimental light-speed engine designed by Dr. Wendy Lawson, whom Vers recognizes as the woman from her nightmares. After Fury informs S.H.I.E.L.D. of their location, a team led by Talos disguised as Keller arrives. Fury discovers Talos’s ruse and helps Vers escape in a cargo jet with Lawson’s stowaway cat Goose. They fly to Louisiana to meet former pilot Maria Rambeau, the last person to see Vers and Lawson alive.Samuel L. Jackson and Brie Larson in Captain Marvel (2019)Rambeau and her daughter Monica reveal that Vers is Carol Danvers, who was once like family to them. Talos, arriving unarmed, explains that the Skrulls are refugees searching for a new home and that Lawson was Mar-Vell, a renegade Kree scientist helping them. Talos plays a recovered recording from Lawson’s jet, prompting Danvers to remember the crash: Lawson was killed by Yon-Rogg to prevent her from destroying the engine before the Kree could recover it. Destroying the engine herself, Danvers absorbed the energy from the ensuing explosion, gaining powers but losing her memory.Samuel L. Jackson and Brie Larson in Captain Marvel (2019)Danvers, Talos, Fury, and Rambeau locate Lawson’s cloaked laboratory orbiting Earth, where Lawson hid several Skrulls, including Talos’s family, and the Tesseract, the power source of Lawson’s engine. There, Danvers is captured by Starforce and interfaces with the Supreme Intelligence. During their conversation, Danvers removes the Kree implant that was suppressing her powers, allowing her to reach her full potential. In the subsequent battle, Fury retrieves Goose, who is revealed to be an alien Flerken. Goose swallows the Tesseract and scratches Fury, blinding his left eye. Danvers destroys a Kree bomber, forcing Kree officer Ronan the Accuser and his squadron to retreat, before overpowering Yon-Rogg on Earth and sending him back to Hala with a warning to the Supreme Intelligence.Djimon Hounsou, Brie Larson, Rune Temte, Gemma Chan, and Algenis Perez Soto in Captain Marvel (2019)Danvers departs to help the Skrulls find a new homeworld, leaving Fury a modified pager to contact her in an emergency. Meanwhile, Fury drafts an initiative to locate heroes like Danvers, naming it after her Air Force call sign, “Avenger”. In a mid-credits scene, set in 2018, the activated pager is being monitored by the Avengers when Danvers appears. In a post-credits scene, Goose climbs onto Fury’s desk and regurgitates the Tesseract.Brie Larson in Captain Marvel (2019)This is actually one of the rare examples of a prequel that “gets it right”, and explains things that happens in later films while managing to tell its own story. It also explains why the highly publicized (and until now highly off-limits due to licensing) Skrulls are absent throughout the rest of the MCU’s history. It also manages to provide some color around Ronan’s obsession with power, even though he only has a few brief scenes.
All in all Captain Marvel is a solid film on it’s own, while still connecting itself to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. Certainly worth the price of admission

REVIEW: AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. – SEASON 5

Ming-Na Wen, Henry Simmons, Clark Gregg, Iain De Caestecker, Natalia Cordova-Buckley, Chloe Bennet, and Elizabeth Henstridge in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013)

Starring

Clark Gregg (Captain Marvel)
Ming-Na Wen (Stargate: Universe)
Chloe Bennet (Nashville)
Iain De Caestecker (Filth)
Elizabeth Henstridge (Reach Me)
Henry Simmons (Taxi)
Natalia Cordova-Buckley (Bates Motel)

Jeff Ward in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Jeff Ward (Plus One)
Joel Stoffer (Death Ring)
Eve Harlow (Heroes Reborn)
Dominic Rains (Jinn)
Florence Faivre (The Expanse)
Pruitt Taylor Vince (13 Sins)
Coy Stewart (Devil’s Whisper)
Catherine Dent (21 Grams)
Lola Glaudini (That Awkward Moment)
Dove Cameron (Descendants)
Brian Patrick Wade (The Big Bang Theory)
Briana Venskus (Let’s be Cops)
Maximilian Osinski (In Time)
Spencer Treat Clark (Glass)
Peter Mensah (Spartacus)
Adrian Pasdar (Heroes)
Nick Blood (Trollied)
J. August Richards (Angel)
Zach McGowan (The Scorpion King 5)
Reed Diamond (Bones)
Ruth Negga (Preacher)
David Conrad (Roswell)
Derek Mears (Swamp Thing)
Rya Kihlstedt (Home Alone 3)
Patrick Fabian (Better, Call Saul)
Willow Hale (The Ones)
Joel David Moore (Julia X)
Patrick Warburton (Family Guy)
Jake Busey (Starship Troopers)
Alyssa Jirrels (Alexa & Katie)
Gabriel Hogan (Heartland)
Craig Parker (Reign)
Raquel Gardner (The Boy Next Door)

Dominic Rains and Elizabeth Henstridge in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013)Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has done the impossible. It went from one of the most throwaway action dramas in recent history with season one to one of the most memorable. Over the course of five long years, the series has re-invented itself, and slowly forged a capable band of misfits that are worth watching week after week.Henry Simmons, Clark Gregg, Eve Harlow, and Michelle Toh in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013)It was somewhere around season three that I started truly enjoying the show, and by the time the artificial intelligence-driven LMD arc hit in 2017, I was hooked. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has the power to do what basically no Marvel film (with few exceptions) has done to date: make us laugh and cry in the same short span. Clark Gregg, S.H.I.E.L.D. star Agent Coulson always said that people should give the show time to grow, and while I’d argue four years is far too long of a wait, it’s worth investing in at this point. Season five mostly carries that legacy upon its back with a few missteps.Rya Kihlstedt and Dominic Rains in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013)While I’ve grown fond of S.H.I.E.L.D. it’s very easy to poke Swiss cheese-sized holes into it. The writers still don’t seem to know how to handle Yo-Yo, the Inhuman that can run so fast that it seemingly stops time, only to return to her original location. They created a figurative monster, one that could basically end every conflict before it starts, and they’ve had to come up with weird ways to curb her power, some of which are incredibly hokey. They’re also constantly wandering aimlessly with her character arc, putting much of the burden of her budding personality onto her partner, Mack — one of the brightest parts of the show.Florence Faivre in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013)The lack of John Hannah and Mallory Jansen, two of the strongest parts of last season, is felt, but others, whether it’s newcomers or old friends like Adrian Pasdar, have stepped up. Really though, the trophies should go to the principal cast, who are stuck together like a family for this long despite being on the bubble every year. Ming-Na Wen is one of the most underrated action performers on TV right now, and Chloe Bennet managed to transform Skye into the formidable Daisy mostly on her own, evolving and learning alongside of the show with charisma and relatable flaws to boot.Ming-Na Wen, Clark Gregg, and Willow Hale in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013)I miss the smaller focused arcs of the past few seasons, but this year S.H.I.E.L.D. has mostly settled on two acts: the future, and a lead into Infinity War. The former was a very bold and tricky maneuver, and I think they pulled it off. For a while, there S.H.I.E.L.D. pivoted into a bleak sci-fi operation, more so than it ever has been in the past, with some of its darkest sections to date.Ming-Na Wen and Clark Gregg in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013)The thing about the future portion of this season is that you never really know what’s going to happen. Coupled with an ominous theme bad things were always piling onto the crew, to the point where you really felt that they had no chance of making it out alive. By the end of it, when most of them do, it feels like their actions still have weight to them, something that was wonderfully communicated in the previous season. It’s not so much cheesy callbacks as it is genuine character development, as the team works to make this pseudo-MCU world one worth exploring. It’s also nice to see Marvel throw S.H.I.E.L.D. a bone, giving them at least one worthy villain and the entire Kree race to work with.Ming-Na Wen, Clark Gregg, and Chloe Bennet in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013)Its second act isn’t nearly as strong, sometimes focusing far too much on Hydra (a concept that’s been touched on nearly every season now to mixed success), it eventually culminates in a worthwhile showdown with one of the most formidable foes yet with actual consequences. Is S.H.I.E.L.D., or the Marvel universe completely done with Hydra? Probably not, but for now it seems like new problems are on the horizon.Dove Cameron in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013)Ultimately, season five of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. ends with at least one twist and several turns. It’s beautifully filmed as a series finale just in case they didn’t get that one last renewal (which they recently did), and despite the truncated action scenes that still show how little of a priority S.H.I.E.L.D. is for ABC, it more than gets the job done for a network TV show.

REVIEW: JESSICA JONES – SEASON 3

Krysten Ritter in Jessica Jones (2015)

Starring

Krysten Ritter (Breaking Bad)
Rachael Taylor (transformers)
Eka Darville (Power Rangers)
Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix)
Jeremy Bobb (The Knick)
Benjamin Walker (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter)
Sarita Choudhury (A Hologram For A
Tiffany Mack (Hap and Leonard)

Krysten Ritter in Jessica Jones (2015)

Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Rebecca De Mornay (Mother’s Day)
Aneesh Sheth (New Amsterdam)
Mike Colter (Luke Cage)
J. R. Ramirez (Arrow)
David Tennant (Mary Queen of Scots)

The Netflix Marvel Universe, starting last year with yellow-belt step-child Iron Fist and continuing on to the cancellations of Luke Cage, Daredevil, and The Punisher. Unfortunately, the bummer that comes with an ending does hang over Jessica Jones‘ third chapter, but in an oddly fortuitous way that dour tone actually works. This season—which was set to be showrunner Melissa Rosenberg‘s final season anyway—is a dark story, probably the least comic book-y of Netflix’s already grounded and gritty pocket of the MCU. It doesn’t always work and does suffer from the same pacing issues that have plagued, well, pretty much all of these shows. But when it hits, it hits just like its main heroine; violent, flawed, and willing to go where her more moral superhuman peers wouldn’t dare.Rachael Taylor in Jessica Jones (2015)Season 3 opens with its two leading ladies at a crossroads. Jessica is doing her darndest to get her act together and, overall, just be less of an asshole and more of a functioning private investigation. But Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor) has dived into the life of a fledgling vigilante after Dr. Karl Malus’ season 2 experiments gave her special abilities. (She’s not quite rocking her Hellcat get-up from the comics, but there are some very clever touches of yellow and purple along with some cats-eye sunglasses courtesy of costume designer Elisabeth Vastola). Jessica and Trish are estranged, but a chance encounter turned violent with a superpowered man named Erik (Benjamin Walker) leads Jessica to the case of serial killer Gregory Salinger (Jeremy Bobb). Salinger, who is absolutely bananagrams out of his goddamn mind, soon makes things very, very personal with Jessica, Erik, and Trish.Benjamin Walker and Krysten Ritter in Jessica Jones (2015)Ritter is still pretty much pitch-perfect in the title role, one of the best casting jobs in the current comic book era. But the nature of Jessica Jones as a character so reluctant to get in on the action means the quality of her stories is almost defined by the strength of her villain. Season 1 was sensational in large part thanks to David Tennant‘s Kilgrave, with the actor’s charisma drawing you to the character—much like everyone was supernaturally drawn to the character—even as the script revealed him as an irredeemable monster. In comparison, season 2 developed into a bit of a slog Jessica’s team-up with her mass murderer mother Alisa (Janet McTeer) turned the back-half of the story into a largely antagonist-less road trip to nowhere.Jessica Jones (2015)Luckily, season 3’s serial killer Salinger flips the switch by completely stripping away the pretense of a supervillain. He might by Jessica’s most dynamic villain because of how terrifyingly un-dynamic he is. In the comics, Salinger is the second person to take on the title of Foolkiller, a brilliant murderer with a penchant for killing anyone he deems, well, a fool. But Rosenberg and the writing staff have tweaked that background into an extremely recognizable 2019 threat; here, Salinger is basically an internet troll, a man with an inflated sense of ego and rage built from the fact that he’s painfully ordinary. He’s Hannibal Lecter chewing on redpills instead of fava beans. He’s Ted Bundy with a Reddit account and egg-avatar Twitter page. He’s an incel but for having superpowers instead of sex—I guess that would make him an “inhuman”—who hates vigilantes for gaining abilities they didn’t “earn.” At one point, he points the spotlight back on to Jessica by playing the victim. “Perhaps I’m an easy target,” he tells news cameras, “a single white male, and she’s this feminist vindicator.”Krysten Ritter in Jessica Jones (2015)It all gets borderline on-the-nose, but honestly “on the nose” works when you’re dealing with a character who deserves to get whacked in the fucking face this hard. Bobb—who also impressed earlier this year in another Netflix series, Russian Doll—makes a chilling meal of the role. He does great psychopath, with an ability to say menacing lines with absolutely nothing going on behind the eyes. This story isn’t exactly adding anything new to the serial killer genre—we’re talking chopped up body parts, creepy photo sessions, even a very Red Dragon-esque “Do you see?“—but it is playing with the tropes at a high-quality level.Krysten Ritter in Jessica Jones (2015)It’s an intensely satisfying story when it’s laser-focused on that simple premise, a cat-and-mouse noir tale peppered with the personal dynamic between Jessica and Trish. (A world-weary Jessica trying to rein in an increasingly-enthusiastic Trish results in some of the best quiet work between Ritter and Taylor over all three seasons.) Unfortunately—and this has been the bugaboo for pretty much every Netflix MCU show, other than perhaps the near-perfect Daredevil season 3—it’s such a tight story that it can’t pad out the episode count. I’ve seen eight episodes and the story doesn’t quite click into place until episode 3 or 4. There’s a lot of gear-spinning in those first few episodes; a slew of legal subplots do come into play later, but early on they feel like they’re just giving massive talents like Carrie-Ann Moss and Eka Darville something to do while everyone gets into place. And even then, there are a few wonky leaps that seem a bit first draft-y; a sequence later on that more or less amounts to Jessica and Salinger sending threatening Snapchats back and forth definitely played more menacing on the page than it does on-screen.Benjamin Walker and Krysten Ritter in Jessica Jones (2015)But still, as an ending, not only to a series but an entire universe, Jessica Jones season 3 feels right in its low-keyness. A significant part of that is down to the fact it doesn’t feel like an ending at all. (Not surprising, considering the fact production was well underway before Netflix started canceling these shows.) It’s not an epic culmination on the level of, say, Avengers: Endgame, but these street-level heroes were never about the bombast, anyway. Jessica Jones season 3 isn’t exactly going out with a bang, but it is bright enough to illuminate the darkest corners of the MCU just one more time.

REVIEW: THE PUNISHER – SEASON 2

Jon Bernthal in The Punisher (2017)

Starring

Jon Bernthal (The Accountant)
Ben Barnes (Westworld)
Amber Rose Revah (The Devil’s Double)
Jason R. Moore (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice)
Josh Stewart (No Ordinary Family)
Floriana Lima (Supergirl)
Giorgia Whigham (13 Reasons Why)
Deborah Ann Woll (Mother’s Day)

Ben Barnes in The Punisher (2017)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Royce Johnson (Demolition)
Tony Plana (Ugly Betty)
Alexa Davalos (Clash of The Titans)
Corbin Bernsen (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang)
Annette O’Toole (Smallville)
Ilia Volok (Power Rangers Wild Force)

Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Limitless TV)

Rob Morgan (Stranger Things)

Frank Castle doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who gets out to the movies very often, so we’ll probably never know what he thought about Star Wars: The Last Jedi. But you have to assume he’d identify with Kylo Ren’s infamous monologue, “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to. It’s the only way to become who you were meant to be.” That pretty much sums up Frank’s struggle since losing his family in a hail of bullets and transforming himself into a remorseless vigilante.Amber Rose Revah in The Punisher (2017)That same struggle takes on a new form in The Punisher Season 2. Having finally tracked down and punished every single person responsible for the deaths of his family, Frank is finally a free man. But can someone who spent so long being defined by hate and a thirst for revenge actually find peace? Can Frank let his past die and rebuild his life, or is he doomed to forever be defined as the Punisher? It’s a compelling dilemma. But ironically, it’s only when Season 2 clings to the past that it becomes the show it was meant to be.Jon Bernthal in The Punisher (2017)Initially, Season 2 comes across as a major departure from its predecessor. The premiere touches base with Frank (Jon Bernthal) as he aimlessly wanders the Midwest and finds his true calling as a Shooter Jennings groupie. It’s a slow start to the new season, but one that sets the mood nicely. We see Frank coming so close to remembering how to live as a normal human being again, to the point where he even develops a romance with a local bartender. But the fact that Frank so quickly and recklessly throws himself into the first fracas he can find shows that he was only ever waiting for a new mission to come along. If the driving question of Season 2 is whether Frank Castle can find peace, the first episode alone makes it pretty clear that it’ll only be with a gun in his hand.Josh Stewart in The Punisher (2017)The first few episodes of the season attempt to make a fairly clean break from the events, characters, and setting of Season 1. Sure, the show touches base with old favorites like Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah) and Billy Russo (Ben Barnes), but the focus in this early part of the season is fixed more on newcomers like wayward teen grifter Amy Bendix (Giorgia Whigham) and former Neo-Nazi-turned-God-fearing assassin, John Pilgrim (Josh Stewart).Jon Bernthal and Jason R. Moore in The Punisher (2017)Unfortunately, it’s here where one of the fundamental flaws of Season 2 becomes apparent. These newcomers struggle to measure up to the strong supporting cast seen in Season 1. Amy initially comes across as an obnoxious, conniving brat, as well as a crude attempt to replace both Karen Page and Micro in one new character. It’s a good four or five episodes into the season before she finally begins to gain some semblance of depth and forges a more believable bond with Frank.Jon Bernthal in The Punisher (2017)Pilgrim (who’s loosely based on a character from the comics called The Mennonite) often shows potential as a man whose struggle to leave his dark past behind him mirrors Frank’s own journey. But both Pilgrim and his handlers, the nefarious right-wing billionaires Anderson (Corbin Bernsen) and Eliza Schultz (Annette O’Toole) are badly underdeveloped. This season creates the impression that showrunner Steve Lightfoot wanted to create a conflict that could rip from as many headlines as possible. You’ve got your right-wing extremists, your shady Russians blackmailing politicians, and your rampant gun violence plaguing Middle America. But none of this material seems especially well thought-out or ever comes together as a satisfying whole. By the time the focus shifts back to New York and the renewed feud between Frank and Billy, the Schultzes and their dirty dealings become a light afterthought.Ben Barnes and Charles Brice in The Punisher (2017)Fortunately, at least Season 2 capitalizes on the foundation established in Season 1 where Billy is concerned. We see Billy Russo, handsome businessman, transform into Jigsaw, psychologically tormented killer. The series only loosely adapts the Jigsaw from the comics, however. Rather than depicting him as a hideously scarred supervillain out for blood the moment he escapes police custody, Season 2 takes a more understated approach to Billy. His scarring is less dramatic. Early on, he wants only to understand his sad lot in life and the skull-clad demon that haunts his dreams.Jon Bernthal and Jason R. Moore in The Punisher (2017)The result of all of this is that Billy remains a sympathetic figure throughout the season. Even when his dark, depraved side begins to burst forth again, we understand the pain and trauma fueling his actions and the profound sense of loss that plagues him. Barnes’ performance improves leaps and bounds over that of Season 1. At times it’s bigger and flashier, but often Barnes is able to bring a wounded subtlety to the character. In some cases, Barnes is even required to act from behind a mask for prolonged periods, showing a gift for using body language and voice to make up for his concealed features. Jigsaw may not quite rival the likes of Wilson Fisk and Kilgrave as the best of Netflix’s Marvel villains, but he’s close enough.The new season also further cements Bernthal’s Frank Castle as the best live-action incarnation of the character to date. To be fair, Bernthal has had far more time to make the character his own than actors like Thomas Jane and Ray Stevenson. Regardless, the show really benefits from that crucial combination of nuanced characterization and Bernthal’s captivating performance. This season is careful never to paint Frank as either hero or villain. If anything, it’s preoccupied with the narrow line separating a soldier like Frank from a craven mercenary like Billy. Bernthal brings a wide range to the role, playing Frank as a roaring powerhouse of rage, a grieving survivor, and various degrees in between those two extremes. Season 2 is also kind to both Revah’s Dinah Madani and Jason R. Moore’s Curtis Holt. Both characters are able to take a more active role in the conflict, including directly joining Frank in his war against Billy. Dinah’s emotional gauntlet is one of the highlights of the season, as she continuously grapples with her profound betrayal from Season 1. As for Curtis, we see his loyalties tested and his life begin to buckle under the weight of being Frank’s friend, culminating in his decision to forge his own path and choose for himself what he believes to be the greatest good.Ben Barnes in The Punisher (2017)Season 2’s fundamental flaw is that it forces viewers to accept the good with the bad. It makes some significant improvements to Season 1’s formula in terms of pacing and action. Following the methodical “Roadhouse Blues,” the season’s narrative quickly builds momentum. Whereas it seemed like Season 1 was content to go multiple episodes without giving Frank a chance to do some punishing, pretty much every chapter of Season 2 includes at least one significant action sequence. There’s also a greater variety to the action this time around, with some fights unfolding as raw, gritty, hand-to-hand brawls and others ending with hundreds of bullets littering the streets of New York. Honestly, the best thing that can be said for Season 2 is that, unlike its predecessor, it didn’t seem overly drawn out at 13 episodes.Jon Bernthal and Giorgia Whigham in The Punisher (2017)But the flip side to this is that Season 2 leaves me wanting so much more in some areas. Again, so much involving the Schultzes, John Pilgrim, and that whole halfhearted conspiracy feels poorly developed. These characters disappear for multiple episodes at a stretch and even when they return, they connect to Frank’s struggle only in the most tenuous ways. More often than not, Pilgrim comes across as a refugee from a completely different show. This season may be more eventful than its predecessor, but it’s also far less focused. Krista Dumont (Floriana Lima) may be the biggest offender of all. This is a character who is obviously a villain lurking in plain sight from her very first appearance. Yet never do the writers make more than the most rudimentary effort to flesh out her background or justify her erratic behavior. She functions in her capacity as someone to shine a brief, fleeting light into Billy Russo’s demented life, and that’s it.Ben Barnes in The Punisher (2017)Looking back at Season 2 as a whole, it was like watching two completely different story pitches being crudely grafted together. And that’s to say nothing of some of the other questionable storytelling choices made over the course of the season. However little this season succeeded in tying together these loose narrative threads, it did at least manage to give characters like Frank, Dinah, Amy, and Billy’s story the closure they needed. “The Whirlwind” is both the most action-packed and most emotionally charged installment of the season. It’s here we see Frank take those final steps toward becoming the Punisher through and through. With little prospect of a Season 3, it’s heartening to see the series end on such a definitive note. The Punisher Season 2 improves on the first in some key ways, establishing a stronger sense of narrative momentum and giving fans much more action. At the same time, the series also falters in other areas. Its narrative is more unfocused, and its new characters struggle to measure up to the old guard. This season does capitalize on the foundation established by Season 1 in terms of the Punisher/Jigsaw rivalry, however, and it leaves Frank Castle in a good place in the finale.

REVIEW: ANT-MAN AND THE WASP

Starring

Paul Rudd (Our Idiot Brother)
Evangeline Lilly (Lost)
Michael Peña (American Hunstle)
Walton Goggins (Tomb Raider)
Bobby Cannavale (I, Tonya)
Judy Greer (Jurassic World)
Tip “T.I.” Harris (Monster Hunter)
David Dastmalchian (Blade Runner 2049)
Hannah John-Kamen (Ready Player One)
Abby Ryder Fortson (Forever My Girl)
Randall Park (Sex Tape)
Michelle Pfeiffer (Batman Returns)
Laurence Fishburne (Justice League)
Michael Douglas (Traffic)
Stan Lee (Avengers: Infinity War)
Michael Cerveris (Gotham)
Hayley Lovitt (The Gifted)

Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly in Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)Two years after Scott Lang was placed on house arrest due to his involvement with the Avengers in violation of the Sokovia Accords,[N 1] Hank Pym and his daughter Hope van Dyne briefly manage to open a tunnel to the quantum realm. They believe Pym’s wife Janet van Dyne might be trapped there after shrinking to sub-atomic levels in 1987. When he had previously visited the quantum realm, Lang had unknowingly become quantumly entangled with Janet, and now he receives an apparent message from her.Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly in Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)With only days left of house arrest, Lang contacts Pym about Janet despite the strained relationship they have due to Lang’s actions with the Avengers. Hope and Pym kidnap Lang, leaving a decoy so as not to arouse suspicion from FBI agent Jimmy Woo. Believing the message from Janet to be confirmation that she is alive, the trio work to build a stable tunnel so they can take a vehicle to the quantum realm and retrieve her. They arrange to buy a part needed for the tunnel from black market dealer Sonny Burch, who has realized the potential profit that can be earned from Pym’s research and double-crosses them. Donning the Wasp outfit, Hope fights off Burch and his men until she is attacked by a quantumly unstable masked woman. Lang tries to help fight off this “ghost”, but the woman escapes with Pym’s lab, which has been shrunk down to the size of a suitcase.Paul Rudd in Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)Pym reluctantly visits his estranged former partner Bill Foster with Hope and Lang. Foster helps them locate the lab, where the ghost captures the trio and reveals herself to be Ava Starr. Her father Elihas, another of Pym’s former partners, died along with his wife during the experiment that caused Ava’s unstable state. Foster reveals that he has been helping Ava, whom they plan to cure using Janet’s quantum energy. Believing that this will kill Janet, Pym refuses to help them and escapes with Hope, Lang, and the lab.Evangeline Lilly in Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)Opening a stable version of the tunnel, Pym, Hope, and Lang are able to contact Janet, who gives them a precise location to find her but warns that they only have two hours before the unstable nature of the realm separates them for a century. Burch learns the trio’s location from Lang’s business partners Luis, Dave, and Kurt, and informs a contact at the FBI. Luis warns Lang, who rushes home before Woo can see him violating his house arrest. Pym and Hope are arrested by the FBI, allowing Ava to take the lab.Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly in Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)Lang is soon able to help Pym and Hope escape custody, and they find the lab. Lang and Hope distract Ava while Pym enters the quantum realm to retrieve Janet, but Burch and his men also attack Lang and Hope which allows Ava to begin taking Janet’s energy. Luis, Dave, and Kurt help incapacitate Burch and his men so that Lang and Hope can stop Ava. Pym and Janet arrive safely from the quantum realm, and Janet voluntarily gifts some of her energy to Ava to temporarily stabilize her.Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer in Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)Lang returns home once again, in time for a now suspicious Woo to release him at the end of his house arrest. Ava and Foster go into hiding. In a mid-credits scene, Pym, Lang, Hope, and Janet plan to harvest quantum energy to continue helping Ava. While Lang is in the quantum realm doing this, the other three disintegrate.After the events of Infinity War, knowing that I would be watching a movie that took place before the events made me skeptical about whether or not I would enjoy this movie. Ant-Man and the Wasp is a film that as a standalone would be amazing. The synergy between the actors and actresses was perfect.   It’s just a charming movie. Funny. Heartwarming. Action Packed. The perfect film to make you forget that half of everyone in the Universe disappeared.

REVIEW: DAREDEVIL – SEASON 3

Charlie Cox in Daredevil (2015)

Starring

Charlie Cox (The Theory of Everything)
Deborah Ann Woll (Mother’s Day)
Elden Henson (The Butterfly Effect)
Joanne Whalley (Willow)
Jay Ali (The Fosters)
Wilson Bethel (Hart of Dixie)
Stephen Rider (The Butler)
Ayelet Zurer (Man of Steel)
Vincent D’Onofrio (Jurassic World)

Charlie Cox in Daredevil (2015)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Peter McRobbie (Licnoln)
Amy Rutberg (Recount)
Annabella Sciorra (Cop Land)
Geoffrey Cantor (Maniac)
Matt Gerald (Solace)
Meredith Salenger (Lake Placid)
Danny Johnson (Shades of Blue)
Sunita Deshpande (The Ridge: Origins)
Royce Johnson (Ghost in the Graveyard)
Ayelet Zurer (Man of Steel)

This weekend offers the return of one of the greatest superhero TV shows of all time, as Daredevil season 3 begins streaming on Netflix. The Marvel-Netflix partnership has mostly resulted in top-tier high-quality series, two seasons each of Jessica Jones and Luke Cage enjoying widespread acclaim, and one season each of The Punisher and The Defenders receiving solid positive reactions as well. The two prior seasons of Daredevil were fantastic, so season 3 has a lot to live up to.Vincent D'Onofrio in Daredevil (2015)Last month’s release of second 2 of the superhero series Iron Fist was followed weeks later by the sudden cancellation of that show by Netflix. This followed mostly negative reviews of the first season, and a season 2 critical consensus that recognized the show had improved a great deal while still being the weakest entry in the Marvel-Netflix lineup. Whether Iron Fist will appear in cameos or supporting roles in any of the other shows remains to be seen, but I’m betting he’ll pop up in Luke Cage season 3, or perhaps Cage and Fist will team up for a brand new show called Heroes For Hire. Regardless, the Marvel-Netflix corner of the MCU’s has quickly rebounded from the Iron Fist situation and negative news, as Daredevil season 3 proves.Taking loose inspiration from the 1986 fan-favorite comic book story arc “Born Again” by writer Frank Miller, season 3 picks up where The Defenders left off — Matt Murdock, aka Daredevil, is missing after a building exploded and collapsed on him and the assassin Elektra. Presumed dead, Murdock is critically injured and recuperating while imprisoned crime lord Wilson Fisk, aka the Kingpin, sets in motion a plan to get out of prison and eliminate all of his enemies. The story is a return to the crime-and-vigilantism focused narrative of the show’s first season, which evolved into a bit more of a fantastical/mystical narrative in season 2 (which was still great, just different from the seasons bookending it). There’s just enough sprinkling of adaption of certain plot points, character arcs, and scenes from “Born Again” to be familiar, while overall bringing entirely new concepts and storytelling to make it fresh and unpredictable.Charlie Cox in Daredevil (2015)The returning cast are all in top form again. Charlie Cox as Murdock/Daredevil delivers a complicated performance as a hero struggling with a complete emotional and moral breakdown, as well as a physical breakdown that challenges his sense of self and his mission. Cox also perfectly captures Murdock’s spiritual crisis within the larger themes about sin, forgiveness, and accountability. Cox’s fantastic, nuanced performance brings such believability to the situation, you can imagine this is how someone would act and feel if they actually ran around at night wearing a mask to save lives and fight crime. His sense of inevitability, that it’s his singular calling in life to live as Daredevil — more so even than living as Matt Murdock — makes even his most extreme decisions understandable and rational within his worldview.Elden Henson and Charlie Cox in Daredevil (2015)Deborah Ann Woll returns as Karen Page, with another tour de force performance making the character almost worthy of her own superhero series as a crusading reporter willing to stand up against the same villains against whom the superhuman costumed vigilantes do battle. Woll’s role is the single most important supporting character in any of the Marvel-Netflix shows, in terms of the dramatic weight and relevance she has for the narratives and for providing an audience surrogate at times. Woll treats every scene like she’s the star of the show, and it’s easy sometimes to forget she’s not. Elden Henson’s role as Foggy Nelson takes some particularly interesting turns this season, including of a moral nature, with Henson keeping an air of “in over his head” sensibilities to Foggy while also revealing how much the character can surprise himself in moments of crisis.Elden Henson and Jay Ali in Daredevil (2015)Henson smartly plays to the fact the character must be simultaneously frustrating and endearing, alternately Murdock’s friend who is reliable and trustworthy while also a guy who screws up and spills the wrong beans or lacks adequate faith in Matt, Karen, or himself. Vincent D’Onofrio continues to awe as Wilson Fisk, a role I’d previously thought was nearly impossible to fill because I couldn’t imagine any actor capturing the delicate balance between cunning villainy, secret vulnerabilities, and sheer larger-than-life presentation required to really get the character right. D’Onofrio not only proved me wrong, he actually managed to improve upon a character who already had decades of exceptional stories in the comics featuring many iconic arcs.Vincent D'Onofrio in Daredevil (2015)There is an undercurrent of pain and purpose to this incarnation of Fisk, as if even simple daily activities like eating or sitting quietly by himself take a toll on his soul and inflict physical discomfort. D’Onofrio’s Kingpin is magnificent, and worthy of transitioning into some of the MCU theatrical releases for at least a few cameos and supporting turns — it would be amazing to see him in a Spider-Man movie, for example.  fear saying too much about any of the newcomers to the cast, because their roles and specific natures are all better revealed to you through watching the episodes. However, I need to mention a few things about three actors in particular.Charlie Cox and Wilson Bethel in Daredevil (2015)Joanne Whalley is sublime in a role requiring quiet dignity in the face of a world that laughs at faith and belief in higher purpose, and the scenes between her and Cox are among the best moments of the season. Jay Ali brings an authentic sense of purpose and integrity coupled with the sort of self-righteousness and frustrated entitlement that can blind even good people to their mistakes, exacerbating the damage to themselves and others around them. And Wilson Bethel is ideal as an iconic character torn apart by inner demons he has long suppressed, fighting a dark desire to give in to his worst nature and put his amazing talents to use for those who were once his enemies.Vincent D'Onofrio in Daredevil (2015)The directing in Daredevil is always splendid, but this season requires even more inky noir than usual, as well as a gothic tone beyond what we saw in the first two seasons. The battle between the angels of our better nature and our base inclinations, and how often people can confuse the two — or justify blurring the lines between them when it suits a desired outcome — is at the heart of this season for all of the characters in one way or another, and that’s reflected consistently in the visual presentation. From lighting and color that speak to the overarching concepts as well as to individual shots and scenes, to the use of wide open space juxtaposed against literal or metaphorical restraint and confinement, season 3 is elevating the entire visual approach to the show.Charlie Cox and Deborah Ann Woll in Daredevil (2015)The fight choreography and action are once again the best of the entire Marvel TV category, and even superior to much of the action and fight scenes we seen in big-screen theatrical releases. They love their long tracking shots in Daredevil, and this season delivers the goods in spades once again — if you loved that hallway fight in season 1 (and let’s face it, who doesn’t love that sequence?) you’re in for some thrills in season 3, I assure you. img_2785Daredevil season 3 keeps that tradition of excellence alive once again. I’ve only seen the first six episodes that were available for preview, so I’ll be watching the clock til the entire show is available for me to binge on Friday like the rest of you fans. If the back half of the season is as good as the first, this looks to be the best season yet for the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen.