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)

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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: 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.