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: IRON FIST – SEASON 2

Iron Fist (2017)

MAIN CAST

Finn Jones (Leatehrface)
Jessica Henwick (Game of Thrones)
Tom Pelphrey (Banshee)
Jessica Stroup (Ted)
Sacha Dhawan (After Earth)
Simone Missick (A Taste of Romance)
Alice Eve (Star Trek Into Darkness)

Iron-Fist-Season-2-feature

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Giullian Yao Gioiello (Scream: The Series)
Jowin Marie Batoon (Master of None)
James Chen (The Walking Dead)
Julee Cerda (Passengers)
Christine Toy Johnson (The Americans)
Natalie Smith (Beautiful Dreamer)
Fernando Chien (Fast & Furious 5)
Hoon Lee (Bosch)
Murray Bartlett (Girl Most Likely)
Rob Morgan (Stranger Things)
James Saito (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
Rosa Arredondo (Blood Bound)
Gita Reddy (The Mindy Project)

ironfirst-season2-classiccostume-700x322You can always tell when a show has undergone significant changes in leadership and artistic direction between seasons because it shifts the overall energy—chi, if you will—flowing through the stories being told. Marvel’s Iron Fist has returned for a second season on Netflix and the influences of its new showrunner Raven Metzner and fight choreographer Clayton Barber are immediately evident.FM_161210_EW_05_102_V5.JPGThe difficulties with adapting a character like Iron Fist in Netflix’s MCU—a purposefully more grounded place than Marvel’s films—have always been manifold even if you don’t factor in the fact that Danny Rand is a living, breathing white savior trope. Between the magic, and the dragons, and the ridiculous (but still cool) costume, the Danny Rand of Marvel Comics has just simply never been a great fit for the MCU. And yet, Iron Fist has been doing its damnedest to make the source material work. Iron Fist’s second season is infinitely more aware of the property’s inherent narrative snagging points than the first, but rather than avoid them altogether, it makes a valiant effort of actually trying to mold them into something that feels a part of Netflix’s MCU.707979-iron-fist-season-2-2-editWhen we catch up with Danny (Finn Jones), he’s become something more of a proper New Yorker like his fellow Defenders. Even though at first he says he’s filling the void Daredevil left after “dying” during The Defenders, he conveniently sets up shop in the show’s idea of Manhattan’s Chinatown which, in reality, is a little over four miles away from Hells Kitchen. Danny’s reason for claiming Chinatown as his stomping grounds to protect are two-fold. With the Hand now squarely out of the NYC crime scene, other criminal organizations now vie to exist in that space and murder anyone willing to challenge them. At the same time, though, Iron Fist grounding Danny in Chinatown feels like a weaselly way of giving Danny a reason to fight hordes of nameless, and occasionally faceless, Asian people—something that happens throughout the season more times than it really needs to.While Danny’s narrative isn’t initially the most competitive, the thing that really does make it pop is just how legitimately enthralling the fight sequences are. Under almost any other circumstances, the arrival of a new fight choreographer wouldn’t necessarily be all that much to opine about, but Barber’s keen sense of how battling bodies move through space and connect with one another is both gorgeous to watch and obviously something the actors took to heart.landscape-1533553994-iron-fist-season-2-finn-jones-jessica-henwickThis time around Danny, the supposed Chosen One selected to defend the world with his fists actually gives off the impression that he knows a number of kung-fu variants which, shallow though it may sound, immediately elevates the show. The series sets up its central antagonists—Joy Meachum (Jessica Stroup), Davos (Sacha Dhawan), and newcomer Mary (Alice Eve)—early on and the motives behind their actions are established in ways that make you want to follow their plot lines. Still fresh from their perceived betrayals by Danny in the first season, Joy and Davos find allies in one another and set out on a mission of vengeance that culminates in robbing Danny of his legendary Iron Fist abilities.iron-fist-season-2-marvel-netflix-e1534442088624As Davos begins working his way through the NYC Chinatown underground in an effort to cleanse and purify the city of evil through draconian means, it’s Misty and Colleen who put in the work, both mental and physical, to dig into and expose the villain’s scheme. In addition to ridding the neighborhood of factional crime syndicates, Davos is on a mission to take the Iron Fist, which he believes to rightfully be his, from Danny by any means necessary. Even though it’s clear early on that Davos is a deranged lunatic who was never worthy to inherit the power, the show casts him in a somewhat sympathetic light that makes you understand why he would harbor resentment for the outsider who stumbled into K’un L’un only to become its supposed greatest warrior.
Colleen reminding Danny what it feels like to get wrecked.
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Before Danny and Davos have their inevitable showdown, Mary, a curious puzzle of a character, steps onto the scene to insinuate herself into the lives of Iron Fist’s heroes at first as a helpless bystander and later as a lethal assassin. Like her comics counterpart Typhoid Mary, Iron Fist’s Mary is a woman living with dissociative identity disorder whose different personalities are brought to the surface by external stimuli. Refreshingly, Iron Fist doesn’t treat Mary’s condition as a curious oddity or something that can be twisted into a semblance of a superpower and at no point is she ever truly made out to be a victim because of it. She’s lethal, complicated, and at literal at odds with herself in ways that make it difficult to pin down just where she stands in relation to everyone else.Iron-Fist-season-2-photosFamily and community are themes recurring throughout the show that develop into some of the season’s strongest and weakest character arcs. Danny and Davos’ longstanding brotherly rivalry has the makings of being something impactful but ultimately feels like a by-the-numbers story about familial resentment and revenge. Colleen, on the other hand, is given a meaningful arc as she tries to unpack the mystery of her biological family and build relationships with her chosen family. That includes Danny and Misty, yes, but also the people relying on the local community center for support and protection. Iron Fist’s pacing is something of a glass half full/glass half empty situation. On the one hand, the season is blessedly short—10 episodes—compared to Netflix’s other solo her shows, but as tends to be the case, much of the first half of the season drags in a number of spots. That being said, however, the last two episodes of the season take stunning dramatic turns that introduce new ideas and set up a third season in a way that will legitimately surprise and delight the hell out of you and makes the season worth watching. Iron Fist’s second season is kind of a mixed bag. There’s plenty to slog through but if you’re willing to make your way to the finale, it’s something you won’t regret.

 

REVIEW: LUKE CAGE – SEASON 2

Mike Colter in Luke Cage (2016)

 

MAIN CAST

Mike Colter (Zero Dark Thirty)
Simone Missick (K-Town)
Theo Rossi (Red Sands)
Gabrielle Dennis (Bring It On 5)
Mustafa Shakir (The Deuce)
Finn Jones (Game of Thrones)
Jessica Henwick (Star wars: The Force Awakens)
Stephen Rider (The Butler)
Alfre Woodard (Star Trek: First Contact)

Mike Colter in Luke Cage (2016)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST STARS

Rosario Dawson (Sin City)
Reg E. Cathey (Fantastic Four)
Thomas Q. Jones (Being Mary Jane)
Elden Henson (The Butterfly Effect)
Rob Morgan (Stranger Things)

Rosario Dawson and Mike Colter in Luke Cage (2016)Is it ever okay to do the wrong thing for the right reason?” That line, spoken by Misty Knight (Simone Missick) in episode six, is the key to the excellent second season of Luke Cage. Every one of its major characters is playing a game without rules, a game to save the district of Harlem, and there’s no way to win by playing clean. The constant interest comes from watching how dirty they’re prepared to get.Mike Colter in Luke Cage (2016)Since we last saw him, Cage (Mike Colter) has become a huge celebrity. The public track him via an app. Everyone wants selfies. He is as famous as it gets, but he’s flat broke (helping the helpless doesn’t pay) and he can’t save everyone. Luke’s a plaster over Harlem’s problems, not a cure. He can’t really help Harlem unless he can bring down Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard), whose fingerprints stain almost every crime in the neighbourhood. Cage is not the only one looking to bring Dillard to justice. John McIver, aka Bushmaster (Mustafa Shakir), has arrived in town with an old grudge to settle and some dark magic that could help him defeat Cage.Alfre Woodard and Mustafa Shakir in Luke Cage (2016)The introduction of Bushmaster, who can match Cage punch for punch with the help of some herbal witchcraft, may sound like the show is heading back to Diamondback territory, but that’s not the case. Bushmaster isn’t really here to serve as an adversary to Cage, but to Dillard, who is as much a series lead as Cage. And thank God. You can never have too much Alfre Woodard. Mariah is the best kind of villain because she thinks she’s doing the right thing and doing what she has to do to achieve it. She’s building hospitals and safe homes for single mothers, but she’s selling guns, blackmailing officials and having people murdered to achieve it. If she’s only hurting bad people to help good people, is she really so wrong? Her family’s history of betraying others is what brings Bushmaster after her. He’s the only man she can’t negotiate with.Simone Missick and Mike Colter in Luke Cage (2016)Most of Marvel’s superhero series suffer a mid-season sag, without enough plot to fill their episode quota. This season never succumbs to that because it’s not rooted in plot but character. There are episodes where little happens in terms of event, but characters deepen and crack, becoming less who they want to be and more who they have to be, even Luke. Luke Cage could now remove any superhero elements almost entirely and still function as a series. It’s become Game Of Thrones-esque in its battle for Harlem, and like that show, whoever claims the prize will do so with bloodied hands.

REVIEW: JESSICA JONES – SEASON 2

JessicaJonesS2_Horizontal-KeyArt_US-1-600x256

MAIN CAST

Krysten Ritter (Veronica Mars)
Rachael Taylor (Transformers)
Eka Darville (Power Rangers RPM)
J.R. Ramirez (Arrow)
Terry Chen (Bates Motel)
Leah Gibson (Rise of The Planet of The Apes)
Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix)
Janet McTeer (The White Queen)
Callum Keith Rennie (Battlestar Galactica)

Krysten Ritter in Jessica Jones (2015)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Hal Ozsan (Redline)
Maury Ginsberg (Two Guys and a Girl)
Angel Desai (Black Knight)
Rebecca De Mornay (Risky Business)
Elden Henson (Daredevil)
Wil Traval (Once Upon a Time)
David Tennant (Doctor Who)
John Ventimiglia (The Sopranos)
Lisa Tharps (Law & Order: SUV)
Rob Morgan (Daredevil)

The first season of Marvel’s Jessica Jones was a kind of miracle, combining a taut and entertaining superhero narrative with one of the most nuanced explorations of domestic abuse and sexual violence ever put on screen. Krysten Ritter’s prickly, guarded, hard-drinking Jessica is a female superhero with unique significance. Her very existence—a woman with literal super-strength who still fell prey to a male predator—skewers accepted narratives about victimhood, while her determined independence cuts through expectations of how women are “supposed” to act after assault.Krysten Ritter in Jessica Jones (2015)Ritter’s performance in the second season is a few degrees more emotional, as Jessica—prompted by her best friend Trish (Rachael Taylor)—finally begins to set in the trauma of her past. That trauma encapsulates not only Kilgrave’s abuse, but the car accident that killed her family and landed her in a hospital where mysterious, horrific, superpower-inducing experiments were conducted on her. And she’s not sad or scared about what was done to her; she’s furious. In an anger management support group she reluctantly attends, participants bounce a ball against the wall to relieve stress while they share their stories. Jessica bounces it so hard she smashes a hole in the wall, before confirming: “Still angry.” Female anger is often stigmatized; women put on a calm face for fear of being labelled crazy or hysterical or a bitch. To see it expressed so openly and so often in a Netflix comic-book adaptation feels faintly revolutionary.Rachael Taylor and Eka Darville in Jessica Jones (2015)That’s also true of the new season’s handling of Jessica’s sex life. When a midtown douche notices Jessica in a bar and leers—“Nice ass”—she wheels around and snaps, “What did you say?” Surely she’s about to kick his ass, you think. Smash-cut to: Jessica having joyless sex with this loser in a bathroom stall, her face a mask, her detachment painfully clear. It’s a stark contrast to her passionate clinches last season with Luke Cage (Mike Colter), which served to show that being raped did not define her. Then, sex was a way in which she reclaimed her body and her selfhood; now, it’s a way for her to dissociate. This coping mechanism is explored in greater depth following the introduction of her new love interest Oscar (JR Ramirez), a big-hearted family man who’s bewildered by Jessica’s resistance to intimacy.Krysten Ritter in Jessica Jones (2015)The plot thread driving the new season is Jessica and Trish trying to uncover the truth about 20 missing days from Jessica’s past: 20 days during which she went into hospital almost dead, and emerged with superpowers. Though she has total amnesia about this time, it gradually becomes clear that her origin story is similar to that of this season’s Big Bad (played by Janet McTeer), a mysterious, preternaturally strong young woman who was subjected to the same experiments as Jessica, and came out a “monster.” The presence of a super-powered villain terrorizing New York yet again only heightens the public backlash against “supers,” although the bigotry faced by Jessica and others like her is the one place where the show’s allegories feel clumsy, particularly in a scene where someone pointedly refers to “you people.”While the new season—at least for its first five episodes—lacks a threat as propulsive and engaging as Kilgrave, its ensemble also feels better served. Carrie Anne Moss’s steely, high-powered lawyer Jeri Hogarth, by now a mainstay of the Marvel TV universe, is propelled in a rich, moving new direction by some unexpectedly brutal news. And Trish’s history as a child star takes on new complexity when she’s forced by necessity to seek out a producer who assaulted her when she was a teenager. The moment in which Jessica confronts this particular creep, and denounces “pricks like you who think you can take whatever, or whoever, you want” would have been a thrill no matter the context, but in this Time’s Up moment in Hollywood it’s a particularly cathartic standout. As a female superhero whose anger makes her powerful, and whose trauma has no impact on her strength, Jessica Jones has never felt more essential.

REVIEW: THE PUNISHER – SEASON 1

MAIN CAST

Jon Bernthal (World Trade Center)
Ben Barnes (Westworld)
Ebon Moss-Bachrach (Suburban Girl)
Amber Rose Revah (Indian Summers)
Deborah Ann Woll (Daredevil)
Daniel Webber (11.22.63)
Paul Schulze (Zodiac)
Jaime Ray Newman (Bates Motel)
Michael Nathanson (The Wolf of Wall Street)
C. Thomas Howell (The Amazing Spider-Man)
Jason R. Moore (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST STAR

Shohreh Aghdashloo (Star Trek Beyond)
Geoffrey Cantor (The Tick)
Clancy Brown (Highlander)
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Limitless TV)
Rob Morgan (Starnger Things)
Kelli Barrett (Mr. Popper’s Penguins)
Tony Plana (Ugly Betty)#
Ripley Sobo (Batman V Superman)
Tim Guinee (Iron Man)
Nicolette Pierini (Annie)

The Punisher begins with Frank Castle believing he has completed his mission for revenge against the mobsters who killed his family and hanging up his skull-adorned costume. Six months later everybody thinks Frank Castle is dead and, having grown a hipster beard, he’s taken a new name and landed a job on a construction crew where even though more modern equipment is available, he’s able to take a sledgehammer to concrete walls. Frank is about to discover that he did a lot of punishing for nothing, or at least that his punishing was only partial, because it turns out that the death of his family relates to his black ops military service in Afghanistan and he’s going to have to start punishing again. This time, he has an ally in a former NSA analyst Micro, whose family thinks that he’s dead, too. Frank, who works better alone, finds himself in an unlikely partnership and almost a friendship. Castle has to reconnect with former brothers-in-arms Curtis (Jason R. Moore), now working to support soldiers suffering from PTSD, and Billy Russo (Ben Barnes), now the slick head of a private security concern. Meanwhile, the bad stuff that happened in Kandahar has attracted the attention of Homeland Security agent Dinah Madani, a child of Iranian refugees. Also involved, and providing links to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, is Daredevil regular Karen Page, whose status as compassionate, frequently endangered Marvel TV sidekick/innocent bystander remains intact.punisher-110The Punisher was a gritty, great start for the character. It helped build the character’s past while presenting a self-contained and intriguing story. There are some definite current modern themes explored and it feels very different from anything on the Marvel Netflix side of things in the past. It was nice to see a character in this series once again take pain and have many potentially fatal situations.  I enjoyed watching the season, fans of the character will find this captured the anti-hero very well though some may feel it’s rather slow to get going. Once it does all move quickly and things are all well developed it doesn’t hold back on the action or tension. The Punisher is a solid character so it’s nice to see a full season actually deliver on what potential there is for this badass within the universe.

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)
Amy Rutberg (NCIS: New Orleans)

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.