Defenders: A Review

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As a fan of Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve had a hit and miss relationship with the four Netflix Original Series shows. On the one hand, Daredevil started off well, but got muddled in the second season. I liked aspects of Jessica Jones, but I don’t think I could watch it again because Kilgrave is a living nightmare and I didn’t feel like Jessica had any hope of moving forward by the end of the series. Luke Cage is okay, but the violence feels all too real considering current events. Iron Fist felt too derivative and mediocre.

Defenders, much like Avengers, is the story of how these four street-level heroes become a team in order to take down the Hand, an ancient criminal organization. Daredevil and Iron Fist have the most at stake, since they have dealt with the Hand in the past. However, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones still have their own character arcs as well, wanting to help the people in their neighborhoods whose lives are being affected by the Hand’s conspiracy.

The action in this series is top notch, from the signature hallway fight to the fight between Luke Cage and Iron Fist and every other brawl in between. And the overall story is solid. The members of the Hand all want to prolong their immortal lives, especially Alexandra (played by Sigourney Weaver). They resurrect Elektra to act as their enforcer.

Matt Murdock’s character arc centers on trying to live out a normal life as a lawyer while still having the desire to fight crime as Daredevil. He is the only one who actually needs to hide his secret identity, since his double life could cost him his job and all the cases he won. Elektra’s return brings back issues for Matt Murdock who’s still not over her. While I understand their relationship, it’s not what you would call a healthy one.

Danny Rand starts out as being a single-minded, immature man-child, wanting to take down the Hand at any cost. Through meeting the other Defenders, he learns that he doesn’t have to follow his duty alone. His scenes with Luke Cage are my favorite scenes in the series, which makes sense because they’re best friends in the comics. I only wished that there was a scene where they talked about their taste in music. They also fight well together, as evidence in the fight with Alexandra’s minions.

Luke Cage acts as the conscience of the team, not wanting innocent people to get hurt. He has a lot to live up to as the Hero of Harlem and while he doesn’t have a lot of personal stakes in the series, he’s smart enough to go along with everything, even when things don’t make sense. He is also the hero who captures one of the members of the Hand. He’s better at escaping an attempted kidnapping than Danny, sad to say.

Jessica has the least amount of character development, given that she has the least amount of personal stakes and connection with the Hand in this series. She’s still isolating herself, not taking on any clients except for someone who provides the MacGuffin. By the end of the series, Jessica finds the resolve to start working again. And while I like that Jessica and Luke got some closure in terms of their relationship, I still ship them so hard that I wanted them to have at least one “ship tease” moment. Since Luke is still in a happy relationship with Claire, my Jessica/Luke ship is not gonna be sailing off anytime soon.

The major villains in Defenders are Alexandra and Madame Gao. The other three members of the Hand play second fiddle. Alexandra takes it upon herself to raise Elektra as the Black Sky, the Hand’s living weapon. Madame Gao is trying to keep the Hand from falling apart and proves to be a surprisingly good fighter. She’s also very intimidating, in spite of her age. Elektra, however, is the most complex villain in the series. Even though she is tasked with helping the Hand achieve their latest goal of gaining immortality and destroying New York City, she still has feelings for Matt. In the end, she chooses her own path, though where it will lead her and Matt is still unknown.

Overall, this series is worth watching, but I recommend not binge-watching everything at once. I don’t regret spending my weekend watching it, but watching the series one episode at a time helps to remember all the little things more. And thankfully, aside from one gratuitous sex scene, the violence is the only thing that makes this series MA. It’s a soft R rating overall. Watch it for the action and the character development. These guys are awesome.

 

How Can We Be Heroes?

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Question from a reader in regards to my previous superhero post:

We all have the potential to live by their example and be heroes in our own ways, but what problems do we face in life that make superheroes important to us? How does their presence on TV, on film, and in comic books help us?


One of GK Chesterton’s most famous quotes goeth thusly: “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”

The same can be applied for comic books and all of the adaptations thereof. In Geekpriest, Fr. Roderick Vonhogen (whom you may know for his Star Wars reaction video that went viral last year) has a chapter that integrates his love for comic book heroes with his own coming of age story. I highly recommend you read his memoir because it shows how faith and culture can work together, even in the world of geekdom.

 

Warning: Spoilers for Supergirl, The Flash, and other shows will ensue.

While it’s true that none of us have superpowers or face nefarious villains on a daily basis, we are all given talents, gifts, and special skills that we can use to help make the world a better place. One reason I love Flash and Supergirl is that while the heroes have awesome powers, their real special ability is something that we can all have: the power to believe in the best in people, the ability to empathize and be compassionate towards others.

In a recent episode of The Flash, Barry Allen helps Earth-2 Harrison Wells find another option when faced with the ultimatum of “Drain Flash’s speed or your daughter will be tortured and killed.” In spite of Harry betraying everyone, Barry is willing to help the scientist by offering to save Harry’s daughter, even if that means going to Earth-2 to do so. Keep in mind, Barry basically did all of that without using any super speed. Barry is a selfless person at heart, which means that he’s willing to go the extra mile, with or without his powers.

Another example of ordinary traits being used in an extraordinary way can be seen in the DC Animated Universe direct-to-video movie Superman vs. The Elite. Eric Rodriguez, AKA Channel Awesome’s “Blockbuster Buster,” says that this short movie exemplifies Superman’s greatest power: his strength of will. He does what is right, no matter what.

While we may not face situations where we have to sentence some form of justice on a criminal, we all have the power to try and be compassionate and fair, even towards those who’ve hurt us. In a similar way, we encounter situations where we are called to have conviction and do the right thing, even if it means facing insurmountable odds or a situation where vengeance could be an easier option.

Another reader pointed out that both Jessica Jones and Matt Murdock are not particularly role model material, due to Jessica Jones being an alcoholic with severe PTSD issues and Matt Murdock having Catholic guilt over not being able to save everyone. While Jessica Jones’s cynicism leaves a bad taste in my mouth, I and many other fans of Jessica Jones found her willingness to fight and prevent Kilgrave from hurting anyone else inspiring. And while Catholics are often mocked for having a major guilt complex, some people have used those doubts to find a sense of self-worth. Faith and doubt actually go hand in hand because doubt opens up questions that help further understand ourselves and our beliefs.

I also have a personal belief that nobody is beyond saving or redemption. While it’s true that the characters in Suicide Squad are only doing black-ops missions for the hopes of getting shorter prison sentences, these same villains could’ve been heroes in another universe. There’s a movie in the DC Animated Universe called Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths in which the Justice League find themselves in a Mirror Universe in which the Justice League encountered evil versions of themselves and heroic versions of the villains.

The same can be said for the character of Captain Cold and his complex character development in The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow. Although Captain Cold started out as a major villain, he developed a more complex personality when it was revealed that he was very protective of his sister and would not resort to killing in order to get the job done. In Legends of Tomorrow, it’s implied that he resorted to becoming a criminal as a way to survive. He felt as if he had no other choice, given that he lived with an abusive father, and never thought that he could ever be a hero. However, DC Comics showed his heroic potential in an event called Flashpoint in which The Flash creates an alternate universe due to actions he did when he traveled back in time. In this series, Captain Cold becomes a hero called Citizen Cold.

But why bring up the villains at all, you ask? As I said: Everyone is capable of being a hero. We can look at the villains and see ourselves in them. We could’ve taken on a dark path if our circumstances were different and if we made different choices in life. However, even if you or someone you know is on that dark path, these same villains show that there could be a way out of the dark.

The Importance of Superheroes

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It’s easy to write off superhero movies as being all the same. It’s easy to get cynical about comic book movies, especially ones that are dark and angsty (*sideglances at Batfleck and Man of Steel*). But the genre of adaptations based on comic books has come a long way from how they started in the early 2000s and despite what some people may think, it’s not a rinse-and-repeat formula. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if there’s one thing that the current lineup of superheros has shown us, it’s that there are many ways to be a hero, just as there are many ways to be a saint.

WARNING: I’ll be making references to both the Marvel Cinematic Universe AND the DC shows currently on TV, so if you’re one of those people who wants me to pick a side between Marvel and DC, this post is not for you. Also, I’m more familiar with the current lineup of movies and TV shows and not with the comics themselves, so apologies to you diehard comic book fans.

I’m gonna start out with what is being called the “Arrowverse,” AKA the current lineup of shows created by Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg. Arrow is the series most similar to the dark and gritty DC movies we’ve been seeing in recent years. It’s not a perfect show, especially with its soap-opera worthy levels of poor communications and misunderstandings, but my brother, who is a huge fan of the show, loves Arrow because of the characters. He says that the Green Arrow represents “the idea of a ray of light to combat a dark town. I think that things may always get worse before they get better, but you shouldn’t stop when it gets either way.”

Similarly, the protagonists in Daredevil and Jessica Jones are more like anti-heroes because these heroes don’t try to do the right thing for the sake of being good, but for other reasons. Matt Murdock wants to reform Hell’s Kitchen and Jessica Jones wants to believe that she can be a hero, even though she doesn’t think that she’s good. Neither of them realize it, but they are being heroes just by being selfless and putting other people before their own personal happiness. Maybe it’s my Catholic bias, but I liked that (so far) Matt incorporated the advice that Fr. Lantom gives him. And while I still have problems with Jessica Jones, I love that Jessica’s motivations throughout the show are for Hope’s safety as well as protecting humanity from Kilgrave.

In contrast, The Flash and Supergirl both have a more optimistic and idealistic view on heroism. Neither of the titular heroes resort to killing their adversaries. Instead, Flash gets help from his friends and mentors and come up with a smarter plan of action. The best example of this was during the Christmas special “Running to Stand Still.” Facing off against two of his deadliest opponents, Flash works together with his friends at S.T.A.R. labs to prevent a mass bombing. He also helps out a police officer who had a grudge against one of the bad guys. Another example can be seen in the crossover episode with Arrow “The Brave and The Bold” (Arrow Season 3) in which Flash’s team worked together with Green Arrow’s team to stop five bombs in the city from going off all at once.

Supergirl relies on her empathy and willingness to believe in the best in people in order to save the day and her optimism and compassion compel most people to imitate her. A recent example was shown in “Strange Visitor from Another Planet” in which Supergirl helped changed the mind of an anti-alien senator simply by saving her from the Monster (or rather White Martian) of the Week. She also helped her mentor take another step in dealing with his personal grief. (I’m applying this to both Hank Henshaw and Cat Grant.)

One other thing I also like about the latest crop of heroes is that they allow for original conflicts and concepts. Movies with superhero teams such as Guardians of the Galaxy, The Avengers, and Big Hero 6 show that while heroes may not always get along or agree, they will come together and be heroes when the situation calls for it.

What’s even better is that there are even shows out there that center on people who don’t have any superpowers, but are still considered heroes because their actions go beyond the ordinary. Agent Carter is an awesome show for many reasons, but one thing I love is that none of the protagonists (Peggy, Jarvis, or Howard) have any standard comic book superpowers. Instead, Peggy relies on her intuition and quick thinking in order to save the day. Jarvis trains in martial arts and is always willing to lend a hand. And the only superpowers Howard has are his genius mind and his charm.

The most interesting thing I’ve been seeing in the superhero genre, however, is that every character is given the opportunity to be good. Most of the time, villains are too selfish or sociopathic to want to be good. However, there are more complex villains that have a moral. Legends of Tomorrow and Suicide Squad show that even bad guys have the potential to be heroic under the right circumstances.

In Legends of Tomorrow, there are three characters who are morally ambiguous: Captain Cold, Heatwave, and White Canary. In my honest opinion, these guys have been the most interesting characters to watch. I love their snark, but I also like that they’re trying to figure out their own purpose in a team where most of the characters tend towards following rules or morals. While they don’t consider themselves to be good, Captain Cold is more than willing to help out a “crewmember” in need. Back in The Flash, he establishes his own code of honor with the main hero and goes out of his way to protect his sister. And while I’m on the fence about White Canary partaking in cannabis, she’s efficient in battle and wants to be more than just an assassin. Even the characters with typical morals, such as Martin Stein, are becoming more aware of their flaws as people and are making efforts to change in order to become better heroes.

In short, we need comic book superheroes. Why? Because we all have the potential to be heroes, even without the ability to gain superpowers. Superheroes, in the end, are people who have “an increased capacity to act and exert power and to demonstrate agency.” And as David Bowie said: “We can be heroes, just for one day.”

So go be heroes, people!