Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Defenders (Part 2)

I was listening to the Alexis Smolensk podcast on the Point of Insanity Network and, as usual, he had a lot of good things to say, not the least of which was a bit of insight into how journalists (and other writers) write stories: the subject has a carrot (they chase) and a tiger (that chases) that helps steer the course of the story based on the various complexities inherent in these elements how they interact with the subject.

This may be "no duh" stuff to folks who've actually studied writing or journalism but, of course, I'm not one of those. I studied acting at university, with a minor in partying. Is it any wonder than my blogging is mainly hack-work and stream of conscious babbling (and often booze-fueled)? Probably not. 

*ahem* AS SUCH, my "reviews" aren't much like how a real journalist would write. At least, if there is a carrot or tiger involved, they're not something I'm putting there consciously. Instead, I'm simply sharing my thoughts and opinions and (sometimes) critique. Often aimlessly, perhaps not in an entirely fair-minded manner...but then, this is a blog, not a newspaper. Maybe I'm the tiger in these reviews.

Anyhoo, if you gathered enough willpower to stomach through the entirety of my prior post on The Defenders television series (from Netflix). You'll have seen that I praised the actors and their portrayal-interpretation of these various characters despite some issues I had with the writing of the series. This post is going to be less of a "review" and more commentary on the individual characters and the actors that embody them. It will probably be long, and will certainly have *SPOILERS*.

Wait, one more time: there will be **MAJOR SPOILERS** here. Got it?

You've been warned.

Matt Murdoch/Daredevil (Charlie Cox): when writing the series, the show creators needed to find a way to bring the various "Defenders" together, and their choice for this was to use Daredevil's longtime foes, The Hand, and his dead-resurrected love interest, Elektra Natchios (Elodie Yung). This is not the road I would have taken...but then, I don't work for these people and they're not asking me to consult in their writing room. If they were, I would have said, "ah, crap." This is a crap idea. Elektra is very specific to this a Daredevil story? It should be in a Daredevil series. Can't we take a break from the ninjas? But, of course, they already made The Hand the enemy of K'un-Lun (in the Iron Fist series) so, like, fuck it, we've got to work with it now.

Cox is an excellent casting choice (all apologies to Ben're a great Bruce Wayne/Batman!) for Daredevil. His "polished-up" NY accent is so subtle, his physicality so excellent, his "blindness" pretty believable (gets better with every series). Yung is, pardon me, exquisitely beautiful and delightfully Daredevil she gave such a "playful" interpretation of the rather stoic assassin found in the comic books. Here, she does a fantastic job as a zombie coming back to her old personality with "something wrong" in the noggin. I'm not saying I don't like Yung/Elektra...damn it, Cox and Yung are so adorable in their roles that I really wish they could run off together and live happily ever after. Of course, they can't (that's one of the tragedies of Daredevil, made even more so by Yung's inherent charisma and likability)...but it's a damn Daredevil story. It pulls the character away from the rest of the group causing a bunch of extra friction that isn't needed (they already have plenty of that without adding Elektra). It sets DD apart from the team, and this particular series was supposed to be about a group of diverse (if not outright dysfunctional) individuals coming together. 

And, oh boy is Murdoch dysfunctional. I already mentioned the poor writing that lacks consistency. In the two Daredevil series, Matt seemed to have come to a point of acceptance with his double life and role as vigilante hero, even coming clean to both Karen and Foggy. Here we have a 180 reversal, he's "quit" the vigilante thing, but he wants to get back into it like some recovering addict jonesing for a fix. Another pointless distraction from what could have been a tighter storyline; there's far more drama than THAT angst in DD's life. How about the fall out of his busted partnership? The fall out with Karen? His floundering "law practice" (he's working out of his apartment). Daredevil is all about how shit continues to pile up on a guy who insists on living a double-life and the way he deals with it. In The Defenders, all he's doing is NOT dealing with it and all the shit is just bullshit in his own mind. And it doesn't help that there's the resurrected love of his life butchering people with a sword (of course)...but that shouldn't be his SUBPLOT for the series. It's too big. It washes out everything else...even his role in the group dynamic of team. Almost makes you glad he dies in the end.

Of course, he doesn't. Crap. Now what? I don't know where the Daredevil writers have to go with this, when everyone's basically buried Murdoch (including and especially Karen and Foggy).

Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter): Man, I did not know how much I missed Jessica Jones until I saw her in The Defenders. I don't think she was in either Luke Cage or Iron Fist (if she was, it must have been a "blink and miss her" moment). Ritter's portrayal of Jones is quickly becoming her Alias comic books, she is nothing like the train wreck of a person she is on the show. She is a serious antihero: yes, she accomplishes good things for good reasons, but there's not much role-model to look up to here. If she didn't have super powers where would she be? I mean, I've known some serious alcoholics in my time (not just family members), including ones with PTSD, and they had a real hard time finding a place to live or work, let alone holding down their own business. 

Of course, it's already been established Jones is financially assisted by her adoptive sister, Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor), who appears here again, for the first time since Jessica Jones. Her role is minor, though important, and again it makes me want another season of Jessica Jones. I have a feeling she will not be morphing into her comic book alter-ego Hell Cat (how could she compete with the Daredevils of this world), but she's helps provide the Yang to Jones's darkness. Come to think of it, so does Malcolm (Eka Darville) who is so goofy and almost exhibits the same hero worship of Jessica that his comic book character does (even more funny, given that Mr. Darville's an adult...but since Jones saved him from Kilgrave's influence, I suppose he's entitled to be forever in her debt). 

Anyway, Ritter is redefining a character who outside of her original series (and until recently) made most of her comic book appearance's as the wife of Luke Cage. In the comics, she's opted out of the hero biz because her powers are dwarfed by those of The Avengers, Spider-Man, etc. Here, at the street level, she holds her own just fine. The fight scenes that mix in her brawling with Daredevil's parkour with Rand's mixed-martial arts are pretty cool. It makes me almost wonder if they had multiple fight choreographer's working together on the action sequences. 

However, her whole relationship with Luke Cage? That's going nowhere fast. I already commented how, in her series, things ended on a particularly sour note between the two. Going back and re-watching the last episode I see that's not exactly true. Yes, the last time they spoke face-to-face (without Kilgrave's influence) Luke was ready to do some violence. But once he comes out of his coma (after having experienced Kilgrave) his attitude seems a little softer. But his interactions with Jessica in The Defenders seem almost forced...especially given the relationship between him and Claire (Rosario Dawson). In the comics, they are the loves of each others' lives (more or less) they seem fairly star-crossed considering the relationship Claire has built up with Luke through two-and-a-half series. The whole wife-mother thing seems pretty much off-the-table for Jessica at this point...just adding a whole extra layer of misery to her character.

But I love her. She is so dependable in her undependability. She is a rock.

Luke Cage (Mike Colter): Which brings me to Power Man. Colter is so good in this role. I mean, the casting is fantastic anyway, all of them. But having watched Colter in Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and now The Defenders, he's becoming the only "Luke Cage" in my mind. And like Ritter, his interpretation of the character is so different...he's no mercenary, "hero for hire," simply concerned with "getting paid." He's a REAL (street level) hero: concerned with the community, the neighborhood, being a model citizen, doing the right thing. When The Defenders have an argument over blowing up The Hand's headquarters, dramatically it feels like a real waste of the end, they're going to do it (and, yes, they all agree to it and Luke doesn't walk off the site). It's a stupid argument that doesn't actually move the plot forward. But it illustrates something about Luke's character for him to's a character development moment for Cage to make a stand about hurting innocent people, even though the others are more than willing to do the "expedient thing."

[it's just that it's not done very artfully. Again, just poor writing, really. Daredevil, Mr. I-Don't-Kill-Ever-Ever, seems to have no qualms about dropping a building on people in the scene. *sigh*]

I love how they film Colter's action scenes. I love that he moves methodically through a hail of bullets, gauging his strength when he smashes someone (probably so as not to kill them). I love how he's become adept at shielding others...he's a real "tank" in every sense of the term. The action sequences, for me, are the most fun when he's involved.

But what I really wanted to see was Luke's interaction with Danny Rand. Power Man and Iron Fist were a power couple in the Marvel universe for nearly a decade (1978-1986) and so firmly established as team that they often crop up in each other's solo titles. In fact, in the comic books, Luke Cage's daughter (with Jessica Jones) is named Danielle in honor of Cage's best friend, Danny Rand. What I wanted to know was how these two would interact, how they would work together, how they would resolve their different backgrounds to become partners and (hopefully) friends.

And, it was okay. There are some good scenes between the two: Cage telling Rand he's a privileged asshole who should be using his money to help people instead of his fists (great), Cage trying to be nice with Danny (who was tied up at the time), humoring him by asking about his "fight with the dragon" (which Luke clearly has difficulty believing). And, of course, the mandatory First Meeting Fight where Danny just about knocks Luke out (in the comics, they fought the first time they met as well). Yeah, some good stuff...but lukewarm and tentative. Too hesitant, too reserved at times.

But that's part of the reinterpretation. I've been re-reading old Power Man & Iron Fist comics (I have a collection of some 20 or so from the early 80s, bound in a trade paperback). The pair worked well together because they had a certain balance: Cage was bold and brash, but shrewd while Danny was reserved and calm, but naive. When Luke is pounding the bejesus out of someone, Danny will remind him to keep his cool. When Danny bites off more than he can chew, Luke is there to pull his fat out of the fire. They have a lot of mutual respect for each other, they're "comrades in arms," but they don't always understand one another (Cage always gets a bit hinky about Danny's monkish habits and zen weirdness). 

Here's the thing, though: Colter's Luke Cage isn't the big ball of raging stereotype found in the old Marvel comics. He's as cool as a cucumber...and so what does that lead Finn Jones to play off of as Danny Rand? They can make him the angry guy who's likely to go off half-cocked (and sometimes, the show does just this), but A) that makes him an unlikable jerk-wad, and B) seems at odds with the rest of his character. The fun parts.

[man, this is getting long...going to have to break it into a new post; sorry!]

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