Wednesday, 20 September 2017

The Defenders (2017)

I was aiming to get this little piece written and posted a month ago (when 'The Defenders' was released) but things happened and it was put to one side. However, now I have a little time on my hands to play catch up and it seemed worthwhile to share my brief opinion on 'The Defenders' and the individual series of Netflix's MCU that led up to it:

Daredevil (Season 1)
The first of the lot made. This one sees Westley Daredevil (Charlie Cox) take on Wilson Fisk (Vincent D'Onofrio). Folk seem to love this first season yet I struggle to understand why it is held in such high regard. Yes, it is certainly a vast improvement over that disaster of a film that had Ben Affleck but, to me, this felt like highly generic TV stuff with the staging and writing. There are occasional glimpses of the more interesting show I'd have preferred (I thought the first episode had promise) but it all kind of gets lost underneath an overstretched and uninvolving plot that mostly resorts to wrestling ninjas in dark rooms. I do, however, like the casting of Charlie Cox in the lead role. Unfortunately, he's surrounded by a bunch of irritating people (with Foggy being the most notable).

As for the villain, I failed to see what made him such a good villain. The character annoyed me, his subplots annoyed me. The only reason he would rate highly as an MCU villain is because the MCU has such a weak collection of villains with only a couple making any true impact.

While watchable, this first season is highly overrated and best summed up as 'meh'. There are glimmers of what it could be and I do understand there are budgetary concerns (that doesn't excuse the writing) but this ultimately winds up being a generic series.

Daredevil (Season 2)
Fortunately, 'Daredevil' ups things in its second season. Instead of focusing on one storyline over 13 episodes (a cripplingly amount of episodes that negatively affects all the series), this divides it amongst two plots.

The first sees the introduction of the Punisher (as played brilliantly by Jon Bernthal) and his bloody killing spree. I've technically watched this season twice but I skip through the parts that aren't Punisher-related (Episode 4 is the highlight) as he is the undoubted highlight in my opinion. Hopefully they don't botch it in his standalone series. The best of the plot, drama, and action are based around this character (he doesn't get a flashback yet is the far more emotionally engaging character) and it's in these moments where the series shows what it is capable of. While the early stages may get a little repetitive (repeated rooftop scuffles), it does eventually find a rhythm.

The second plotline sees the introduction of Elektra. I was fine with the character (despite the silly surname) and she is solidly played by Elodie Yung. My problem with her involvement, however, is that it means bringing in the Hand and more ninjas in dark rooms. At this stage, those plotlines are still watchable to an extent (even if they look and feel really stupid - I completely lose patience with the Hand later on) it's just that you know the Punisher is still around and he's a far more engaging watch.

Season 2 had more that I wanted in it while still insisting on spamming Ninjas to fill the runtime. The parts involving the Punisher were a good watch while everything else was still kind of 'meh', at best. But of all the Netflix MCU Seasons so far, this ranks as my second favourite...

Jessica Jones (Season 1)
...Which leads me onto my favourite. While this one also suffers by being overstretched by the 13 episode allotment (due to its obsession with the main plot when it had the opportunity to do the 'X-Files'-type thing of having episodic investigations while then addressing the big issue - instead it just kind of drifts and drags at times) and having some very irritating characters in the lesser supporting roles, it more than makes up for it with by having a great lead (Krysten Ritter), an even better villain (David Tennant - arguably the MCU's best as the horrible Kilgrave. At this stage it's either him or Loki), and using the two of them effectively to make the most of the subtext. While it may not be as adept as 'Daredevil' with the action and such (which makes sense considering the villain isn't suited for that), it replaces it with some of the more entertainingly darker scenes as people do grisly things to themselves.

Luke Cage (Season 1)
Again, this one cannot handle 13 episodes. But the bigger problem with this one is that it completely falls apart once it introduces its big bad villain Diamondback who is perhaps one of the most pathetic I've yet seen in the MCU. His motivations and character development are weak and he ultimately ends up looking like an idiot by the season's end. Why anyone thought he was a good idea, I do not know.

It's a sham Diamondback had to pop up to shit on everything because 'Luke Cage' had some fairly interesting villains in the form of Shades, Mariah, and Cottonmouth (a pre-Oscar Mahershala Ali), even if it does take a few episodes to warm up properly. The problem, however, is that they're all involved in a fairly repetitive story that revisits more of the same criminal underworld stuff 'Daredevil' has already tackled and is spread out too thin over the 13 episodes. Basically, while I'm fine with some of the characters (including Luke Cage - who is a nice enough bloke) and I do like how Harlem is given life (at least until the later episodes with Diamondback), it's all a bit dull save for the occasional episode, moment, or detail.

Iron Fist (Season 1)
The is when it all goes completely off the rails and you get a disaster from start to finish. Bad acting, bad writing, bad staging, everything. With maybe that 5 minute scene with the drunk guy halfway through the season and perhaps some of the Ward-based stuff, this was utter crap (to put it nicely).

Again, this insist on doing 13 episodes but, with Danny Rand as the centre, this is even more stretched than usual and it was a chore to get through the first few minutes. Rand (as horribly played by Finn Jones) is a bratty, whining bitch of a human who you are given no reason to sympathise with. Making matters worse is that he is a complete idiot, gullible to whatever obvious trick and lie someone throws his way (he is frustratingly stupid and then just throws a tantrum when things don't go his way). You'd have thought he may go through a character arc throughout the season and come out a better person. Ha! If you expect that then you're best off looking elsewhere. This guy finishes the season just as unpleasantly as he started it.

But he's not the only problem. All the characters appear to be really dumb. Decisions and motivations don't make sense, occurrences don't make sense, and the fact that nobody picks up on how fake and cheap their surroundings look doesn't make sense. As for the return of the Hand, well, by the end of the season had had absolutely no patience for their boring little tale involving some pretty boring villains and developments.

And what happened to the supposed street-level 'grit' this Netflix series were supposed to be going for? And where is the noticeable identity of this series? This was all so bland and badly made. It's atrocious and a real chore to get through. I deserve a reward for sitting through it.

The Defenders (Season 1)
This feels more like 'Iron Fist' with guest stars than it does anything else. While seeing the likes of Daredevil and Jessica Jones again is nice, you do have to endure the Hand again (this time revealing their really dumb scheme - that's still dumb even if they have Sigourney Weaver explaining it all) and lots and lots of Danny Rand still acting like the petulant idiot he is and still not learning anything (hence why Daredevil beating him up is probably the most satisfying scene).

Because of the presence of the others, though, this is at least an improvement over 'Iron Fist' and, while 8 episodes is still a stretch, it's not forcing itself to 13 episodes. Still, the thing drags, feels cheaply assembled, has practically nothing that stands out, doesn't have any identifying factor about it (it's a generic superhero slog), and everyone's strengths & abilities come across as aggravatingly inconsistent. And like 'Iron Fist', what's happened to the 'grittier' Avengers we were promised. As for the Battle for New York they were building up to? It's just fighting goons in the dark and in front of unconvincing greenscreen.

However, the key detail here is how forgettable it all is. I watched it a month ago and it feels like I've forgotten it all (I can remember it, but it's more that it doesn't illicit any kind of reaction from me beyond a 'whatever' when I do recall it). It's a dull, wasted opportunity crippled by its insistence to stick by Iron Fist and not quite realise what made the better series more watchable.

(And what was with the camera in the second episode? It seemed to be doing its best to hide behind any object it could find)

So there you have it. Netflix's foray into the MCU started with some promise but, after hitting a high mark with Jessica Jones, it's all been downhill from there with the low point being whenever Danny Rand pops up on the screen. Hopefully they don't botch the upcoming 'Punisher' or 'Jessica Jones Season 2'.

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