REVIEW: THE DEFENDERS

CAST

Charlie Cox (Stardust)
Krysten Ritter (Veronica Mars)
Mike Colter (Zero Dark thirty)
Finn Jones (Game of Thrones)
Élodie Yung (Gods of Egypt)
Sigourney Weaver (Avatar)
Rachael Taylor (The Loft)
Eka Darville (Power Rangers RPM)
Elden Henson (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay)
Deborah Ann Woll (Ruby Sparks)
Jessica Henwick (Game of Thrones)
Ramón Rodríguez (The Taking of Pelham 123)
Rosario Dawson (Sin City)
Scott Glenn (The Silence of The Lambs)
Simone Missick (K-Town)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Wai Ching Ho (Cadillac Man)
Carrie-Anne Moss (Chuck)
Peter McRobbie (16 Blocks)
Rob Morgan (Stranger Things)
Marko Zaror (Machete Kills)

 

The Defenders is Marvel’s best Netflix show, hands down.  While the crossover between Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, and Luke Cage can occasionally veer into a fragmented set of mini-episodes early on, the awesome foursome eventually unites to form a show greater than the sum of its parts. The street-level superheroes provide a fantastic eight-episode run with high stakes, a frenzied pace and, most importantly, effortless chemistry.Things don’t start off that way, though. The opening pair of episodes read almost as a greatest hits collection of each hero’s respective shows before the narrative eventually relents and shoehorns the plot in a comically convenient way for the four to come together. The lack of instant gratification can be grating, but this is easily relieved by the fun interaction between fan-favourites that leads up to the team-up. Misty Knight and Jessica Jones’ brief scenes are worth the price of admission alone and there are a few, shall we say interesting, crossovers you won’t see coming. Without giving too much away, a cataclysmic event is unleashed upon New York and The Defenders, each following their own leads, stumble into each other’s paths in the same building. And then things get good. Really, really good. Unsurprisingly, The Hand are the villains of the season and are led by Sigourney Weaver’s Alexandra. Her performance is tempered by an unidentified terminal illness which spurs her character on and at least drives her away from the realms of cartoonish MCU villain as  she has an actual character arc rather than the bland go there, be evil trope of prior bad guys. When the show does focus on The Defenders (and, in fairness, that’s 90% of the time) the show is a rollercoaster of wisecracks, quips and, yup, Jessica Jones’ side-eye. It’s glorious fun and, for my money, feels like a much bigger event than The Avengers ever was. There’s a spine-tingling moment, complete with an inspirational score bubbling up in the background, where the four heroes unite to take on a foe at the midway point which ranks as an all-time great Marvel moment.Yes, The Defenders run is short, but those thinking a mere eight episodes won’t cut it can have their fears put to rest. Coupled with Game of Thrones season 7’s clipped seven-episode run, it feels like we’re reaching a watershed point in television where shows don’t need to be chained to a long episode run anymore. Barely a second is wasted in The Defenders: Every quiet character moment is poignant and fleshes out something or someone; every action sequence leads to something bigger, better, and more shocking; and every one-liner and on-the-nose dig at Iron Fist will make you laugh. Nothing outstays its welcome.

 

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: LUKE CAGE – SEASON 1

CAST

Mike Colter (Ringer)
Mahershala Ali (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay)
Simone Missick (A Taste of Romance)
Theo Rossi (Cloverfield)
Alfre Woodard (Star Trek: First Contact)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Rosario Dawson (Sin City)
Frank Whaley (Broken Arrow)
Sônia Braga (Alias)
Frankie Faison (The Silence of The Lambs)
Rob Morgan (Stranger Things)
Sean Ringgold (American Gangster)
Parisa Fitz-Henley (Even Money)
Karen Pittman (The Ameircans)
Erik LaRay Harvey (Twister)
Ron Cephas Jones (Mr. Robot)
Sonja Sohn (The Originals)
Rachael Taylor (Jessica Jones)

Netflix’s latest drama may not be a great superhero series, but it’s searingly relevant and entertaining. Premiering on Friday, Sept. 30, Luke Cage is vital and alive and of-the-moment. It sings with the rhythms and swagger of Harlem and it’s a genre show that wears its intellectual curiosities like a badge. It’s so satisfying as badass street poetry and muscular urban renewal parable that after watching the seven episodes made available for critics, I barely cared that as a superhero show, Luke Cage is often repetitive and a little underwhelming. It’s the logical extension of Marvel’s niche-y approach to its Netflix offerings, a specificity that has yielded shows that are far more provocative, but far less universally accessible than the company’s blockbuster movies.The Marvel movies try to tick every box, but staying true to Netflix’s general business model, their comic book shows have just gone after one or two boxes aggressively. Jessica Jones used a snarky heroine and a mind-controlling bad guy to craft a story about consent and the power of sisterhood. Daredevil was using blindness and the darkness of Hell’s Kitchen as a platform for a story of Catholic guilt and challenged faith. Run by Cheo Hodari Coker, Luke Cage is the Harlem Renaissance intersecting with the comic book renaissance, a confrontational act of all-too-real wish fulfillment imagining a young black male as bulletproof.

Mike Colter’s Luke Cage was introduced in Jessica Jones as a haunted love interest for the main character, where we learned about his powers, basically being super-strong and impervious to bullets (or pretty much anything that might pierce/penetrate/crush his skin). We pick up with Luke sweeping the floors at the neighborhood barbershop run by Frankie Faison’s Pop. It’s the sort of community institution where people sit around all day debating the coaching styles of Pat Riley and Phil Jackson or whether Easy Rawlins or Kenyatta was the better urban fiction hero. By night, he works as a dishwasher at Harlem’s Paradise, a nightclub with a tremendous talent booker and operated by mobster Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes (Mahershala Ali), cousin of local politician Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard). Immediately, we see a harsh contrast between the greedy capitalist renewal espoused by Cottonmouth and Dillard and the grassroots Harlem that Luke Cage wants to be a part of and wants to elevate. Naturally, conflict is a-brewing between the two Harlems.Like Wilson Fisk in Daredevil, Cottonmouth is a vicious, remorseless killer, but he’s also got a somewhat noble sense of how what he’s doing is good for the borough he grew up in. Cottonmouth’s ties are to family and also to the idea of legacy and the protection of a renowned family name, key details that Coker and his writers hit hard.The Marvel movies rely on outsized special effects to capture their heightened take on reality, but the Netflix shows don’t have the budget for that, so they opt for outsized thematics instead. Like Jessica Jones before it, Luke Cage is aggressively unsubtle, but it’s also aggressively smart. Sure, having Luke Cage wandering around, wearing a hoodie as an act of defiance, reading Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man feels a bit on the nose, but once you throw in the references to Walter Mosley and Donald Goines and Ta-Nehisi Coates, it becomes clear that this show doubles as a superlative summer reading list, which has value beyond computer-generated scenes of mass destruction or a really cool mocap villain.The early episodes are so charmingly brainy and move with such a light step — Paul McGuigan of Sherlock and Scandal knows his way around a flashy pilot — and the cinematography is so stylish — not surprisingly, everybody loves photographing Mike Colter — that you only sometimes realize that the things you expect to get out of a superhero show are largely missing. Luke Cage is, to his great detriment, initially much too powerful, and while he’s certainly a reluctant hero, when he actually goes to work on the bad guys, it’s pointless to try stopping him. The “Ruckus” set piece in the third episode stands out because nothing else even comes close in scope or action execution. Of the seven episodes, the one that was least successful for me, and by a wide margin, was the most comic book-y, an origin-story fourth episode that hews reasonably closely to Luke’s ’70s Marvel origins. It’s fitting that Luke would want to debate pulp and elevated pulp-fiction African-American heroes, because that’s the tradition Luke Cage operates best in, which is great if that’s what you’re looking for the show to be.Ali makes great use of a classic villain cackle, and he gives Cottonmouth a coiled, psychotic rage and disarming glimpses of reasonableness. Woodard’s Mariah is Cottonmouth’s opposite, all superficial gentility and then undercurrents of something unhinged that become more frequent. Faison and Ron Cephas Jones, as a barbershop chess wiz named (or nicknamed) Bobby Fish, offer grounded decency, and I’m enjoying what Theo Rossi is doing, skulking around the edges, as a criminal intermediary dubbed Shades. Simone Missick’s Misty Knight and Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple are there half as proactive female leads, half as potential love interests for Luke, but sometimes are confusing reminders that Luke was mighty hung up on a deceased ex — and then on Jessica Jones — just one TV show ago and they feel like they ought to be mentioned.Just as Colter moves with purpose, Luke Cage moves with purpose, even if that purpose isn’t the same as what Civil War or Age of Ultron have led audiences to anticipate from Marvel. It’s a series infused by the conversations we’re having about race and gender and the American urban space in 2016, and it’s a series built to inspire additional conversations about black masculinity and representations of heroism in an age in which the news is too often focused on the tragic disposability of black masculinity. Luke Cage is another great staple for Marvel and its Cinematic Universe.

REVIEW: THE SUPER HERO SQUAD SHOW – SEASON 1-2

CAST (VOICES)

Charlie Adler (Wall-e)
Alimi Ballard (Sabrina: TTW)
Steven Blum (Wolverine and the X-Men)
Dave Boat (Ultimate Spider-Man)
Jim Cummings (Darkwing Duck)
Grey DeLisle (The Fairly Oddparents)
Mikey Kelley (Gravity Falls)
Tom Kenny (The Batman)
Stan Lee (Avengers Assemble)
Tara Strong (Batman: The Killing Joke)
Travis Willingham (Dragon Ball Z)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Shawn Ashmore (X-Men)
Dee Bradley Baker (American Dad)
John Barrowman (Arrow)
A.J. Buckley (Disturbing Behavior)
Ty Burrell (Muppets Most Wanted)
LeVar Burton (Star Trek: TNG)
Taye Diggs (Private Practice)
Michael Dorn (Ted 2)
Suisan Eisenberg (Justice League)
Carl Lumbly (Alias)
Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street)
Jonathan Frakes (Star Trek: TNG)
Greg Grunberg (Heroes)
Nika Futterman (Futurama)
Mark Hamill (Star Wars)
Lena Headey (Game of Thrones)
Tricia Helfer (Powers)
Cheryl Hines (The Ugly Truth)
Josh Keaton (Justice League: Gods and Monsters)
Wayne Knight (3rd rock from The Sun)
Maurice LaMarche (Futurama)
Phil LaMar (Free Enterprise)
Jane Lynch (Glee)
Jason Marsden (Full House)
James Marsters (Smallville)
Jennifer Morrison (Urban Legends 2)
Scott Menville (Teen Titans)
Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory)
Adrian Pasdar (Heroes)
Kevin Michael Richardson (The Cleveland Show)
Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica)
Kevin Sorbo (Hercules: TLJ)
Ray Stevenson (Divergent)
Fred Stoller (Little Man)
George Takei (Star Trek)
Cree Summer (Batman Beyond)
Michelle Trachtenberg (17 again)
Hynden Walch (The Batman)
Jim Ward (Danny Phantom)
Adam West (Batman 60s)
Nina Dobrev (The Vampire Diaries)

When I saw a preview of The Super Hero Squad Show back in February of 2009, I thought it looked pretty interesting, but certainly aimed at the kiddies, and as it aired on Cartoon Network, I never saw an episode. In fact, I forgot all about it, and when I got my hands on this disc, I thought it was an animated take on the old Fisher-Price Marvel kiddie figures. So I had no expectations coming in. Well, my only expectation being that it would be bad. So it was with a good deal of shock that I found it to be a pretty entertaining action-comedy series, if you don’t mind the cheese-level of many of the jokes.

The Super Hero Squad (sort of a loose version of the Avengers) is made up of an assortment of Marvel heroes, including Iron Man (as the leader), Captain America (who provides aid on a regular basis), Wolverine (adding the X-Men’s popularity,) The Hulk, Thor, a spacey surfer-dude version of the Silver Surfer, and Falcon (obviously added to bring some diversity.) Joining them is the mostly unknown Reptil (a dinosaur-powered bit player from the Avengers comics) who is both a young guy and Hispanic, helping fill out the P.C. scorecard a bit more and give younger viewers a stand-in.  They go up against Doctor Doom and his legion of bad guys (and ineffective henchmen), as he searches for the Infinity fractals, shards of the Infinity Sword (which seems connected to the Infinity Gems of the Infinity Gauntlet. Infinity.)


Though the storylines are pretty solid and offer big action-packed battles, the bulk of the show is comedy, with the character’s out-sized personalities carrying the jokes, be it Thor’s overwhelming concern about his appearance or Captain America being stuck in the ’40s. Maybe I don’t give kids a lot of credit, but I can see a large portion of these gags flying over their heads, which will make the show far more enjoyable for adults than one would have expected. There was more than one joke that got a genuine laugh out of me, though many of them rely on bodily functions or pratfalls for the punchline. The wordplay and character-generated jokes are much more entertaining and fun, especially Thor’s Asgardian versions of modern language, the Silver Surfer’s alien view of Earth life, and anything involving the always-ridiculous floating head known as M.O.D.O.K. (voiced hilariously by Tom Kenny.) One joke about the Hulk swallowing a yo-yo is technically genius. The only thing about the show that doesn’t really work is Reptil, who feels like the Poochie of the show, coming off as a bone tossed to kids, with his dino-focused power, youthful role and extreme behavior.


This version of the Marvel Universe smartly keeps the same look for its characters, giving long-time Marvel fans an in for the series, but presents them in a super-deformed style (squat bodies, large heads and feet, four fingers) that’s kid-cartoon friendly and which easily separates it from any other version of the Universe you’ve ever seen. That way, there are no issues with continuity or previous incarnations, and the show can be enjoyed on its own merits (allowing them to do something like make Dr. Strange a complete lunatic.) That’s a good thing, because the show is loaded to the gills with fan-service goodies, like the episode titles (which reference famous comic titles) and title cards which replicate memorable cover art. The show also pulls characters from the depths of the Marvel roster, like Screaming Mimi and the Melter, and having silly cartoon fun with them. Taken simply as a silly, almost What The–?! treatment of the characters, it’s well worth a look for comic-book fans out of grade school.

On a non-story note, the theme song, provided by Parry Gripp of Nerf Herder, is an energetic blast, while the voice cast for this series has to be one of the best for a non-prime time animated series, with tons of veterans of the cartoon industry, like Kenny, Tara Strong, Jess Harnell, Grey DeLisle, Cree Summer and Charlie Adler, along with plenty of genre stars, including Robert Englund, Tricia Helfer, Jennifer Morrison and Adrian Pasdar. It’s rare to see a show like this pull this kind of voice cast.

the overall plot of the cycle will feature the villain Thanos seeking the six stones of the Infinity Gauntlet, a powerful cosmic weapon. Opposing him will be the titular Super Hero Squad, which is made up of goofball takes on Iron Man, Thor, Falcon, Wolverine, Hulk, Ms. Marvel, original character Reptil, Scarlet Witch, and sometimes Captain America. While the first two shows focus specifically on the Thanos plot, other episodes detour into one-off excursions. For instance, “World War Witch!” takes the heroes back in time to when Cap was fighting the Red Skull alongside the Invaders in WWII, while “Support Your Local Sky-Father!” pits Olympus vs. Asgard, and it features the Marvel Universe rendition of Hercules.