Defenders: A Review

defenders

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.

 

The Crown: Elizabeth’s Vocation

the-crown

One of Netflix’s latest hit original series is The Crown, a historical drama centering on the life of Queen Elizabeth II as she deals with the loss of her father and transitions into her new life as the Queen of England. There are many things that I liked about this series, but this post will look into how the duty of being queen reminded me of having a vocation and how that vocation affected Elizabeth’s relationships with her husband as well as her sister.

The Queenly Vocation

The word “vocation” in Catholic circles often calls to mind people who become priests or nuns. Some people believe that God created us with a certain vocation in mind. In Elizabeth’s case, she knew that she would be queen eventually because it’s a duty inherited by her birthright and bestowed on her upon the death of her father. The coronation ceremony shown in “Smoke and Mirrors” reminded me of the sacrament of Holy Orders or Confirmation, as Elizabeth is anointed with oil on her hands, chest, and head.

One aspect to having a religious vocation is that sometimes, a person’s name is changed. This was the case for Elizabeth’s father and her uncle, who took on different names upon becoming king. Elizabeth chose to keep hers. However, she still goes through a different sort of change in her identity. Towards the end of the 2nd episode “Hyde Park Corner,” Elizabeth receives a letter from her grandmother, Queen Mary. In that letter, Queen Mary tells Elizabeth that “Elizabeth Mountbatten” has been replaced by “Elizabeth Regina,” her persona as Queen and tells her that “The crown must win, must always win.”

This brings me to the third aspect of the show that reminded me of having a religious vocation: the vow of obedience. While Elizabeth is both married and rich, she was still expected to obey the duties given to her. Upon her coronation, Elizabeth vowed to maintain and preserve the traditions and laws of her country as well as the Church of England. The vow of obedience to God and country is what provides the main conflict between Elizabeth and her loved ones, particularly her husband and her sister.

Queen, Wife, and Sister

The main reason I decided to watch The Crown was because I wanted to see how Matt Smith would be outside of the world of science fiction. Prince Philip Mountbatten aka The Duke of Edinburgh is Elizabeth’s husband and for a while, it’s clear that the two of them love each other. However, Elizabeth’s duties as queen put major restrictions on Prince Philip’s life. Gender roles have been reversed as Elizabeth is the one with the “breadwinning” career while Philip is stuck trying to make the most of his life as the “homemaker” and is often seen playing with the kids.

The marriage takes a great strain towards the latter half of the first season as Philip has to give up his surname, the house he and Elizabeth bought and had renovated,  and was extremely limited in what kind of leisurely hobbies he could pursue. He was still allowed to socialize, but he still wanted to be the head of the household, even if Elizabeth was Queen. By the time the first season ends, Philip is heading to Australia to help out with the Olympics, feeling like his role of husband has been erased.

Worse still, however, is how Elizabeth’s role of queen affects her relationship with her sister Margaret. From the beginning of the season, Margaret is in the midst of an affair with the married Peter Townsend. Even though Elizabeth wants her sister to be happy, she couldn’t allow Margaret and Peter to marry.

While I understand Margaret’s desires to stand out from her older sister’s shadow, I honestly think that her relationship with Peter is foolish, even if you consider him to be the “innocent party” in his divorce. Margaret is a woman in her early 20s and is already set to marry when most women her age with her personality would be playing the field in terms of dating. I’m not saying she should play fast and loose with her heart, but her belief that she will never love someone as much as she loves Peter is a foolish one. I also didn’t like how she treated her sister and undermined Elizabeth’s love for their father.

While I don’t think I’ll ever be an Anglophile the way that others are, The Crown pulls me into the drama of Elizabeth’s life because it shows how being the queen is a unique, Anglican version of a vocation and how that vocation will affect the lives of Elizabeth’s family, for better or for worse. I can’t wait to see Season 2 and I hope that Elizabeth and Peter will make an effort to keep their marriage strong.

Daredevil: A Review of Season 1

I’ve said on here before that I’m a casual fan of superhero stuff at best. I never grew up reading comic books and my first introduction to anything superhero related was the very cheesy cartoon Superfriends. That being said, I’m very glad that I watched Daredevil.

Many people compare Daredevil to Batman and Spider-man. I’ll admit that the parallels are definitely there. Like Spider-man, Daredevil has a sort of supersensory powers and fights in just one district of New York City. And like the many Batman films, Daredevil grew into becoming his own superhero with the help of a mentor and has a day job. Granted, he’s not a genius billionaire playboy philanthropist, but he wants to do the right thing.

I want to actually talk about how well the villains are written in this series. Like Batman, Daredevil has a very large Rogues Gallery and in the first season, you see them all working together as an organized crime syndicate. It starts with the Russian brothers, Vladimir and Anatoly. They prove to be more than just some Russian stereotypes.

s01e01_522

They’re the first major villains for Matt to deal with and they don’t disappoint. Although the first encounter was kept off-screen, they were able to beat up Matt so hard that he ended up in a dumpster. They’re also the most sympathetic villains aside from Wesley and Fisk because they wanted a better life for themselves and they have a loyalty to each other that a lot of villain duos don’t have. Anatoly’s death was brutal but the gore was kept off-screen.

It was in the early episodes that we were also introduced to Karen Page.

s01e01_677

Karen started out as a damsel in distress who’s way in over her head. I liked that she actually saved herself half the time that she got into trouble and was able to defend herself every time, even with somebody saving her. Her worst flaw is her naivete. She has this unrealistic view of what justice is and she gets tunnel-visioned about what she wants to the point of putting herself and others in danger. I’m all for being idealistic, but the implications of Karen’s dark and troubled past imply that her idealism came from a really dark place, which is a very dangerous place for idealism to come from. She’s ship-teased with both Foggy and Matt, but given that Foggy is now semi-involved with his old girlfriend, Marci, and Matt doesn’t exactly have anything with Claire, it’ll be interesting to see if the show will tease Karen and Matt in the second season.

s01e02_231

Claire wasn’t as major a character as the hype would lead you to believe. She plays a prominent role in the earlier episodes, but breaks things off with Matt when he seems to take things too far for her. Her flickers of romance with Matt were genuine and sweet, but ultimately, it ended because of the usual “It’s not you, it’s my enemies” trope.

s01e04_130

Wesley James turned out to be the most surprising character on the show for me. He started out as a ruthless right-hand man, but it’s shown that he genuinely cares for Fisk, like a brother or a best friend, and was the only one in Fisk’s crime syndicate that supported Fisk’s growing relationship with Vanessa. He is willing to protect Fisk at all costs and makes sure that everything runs as smoothly as possible. His death came as a shock because he ranked up so high on the villain totem pole that I thought for sure he’d live to see the next season.

s01e04_276

Vanessa was also an interesting character to watch because villain girlfriends don’t usually get that much development. In fact, the last villain girlfriend I remember off the top of my head who had as much development as Vanessa is Harley Quinn from Batman: The Animated Series. Vanessa, however, has all her sanity intact. She’s a woman who’s attracted to powerful men like Fisk, but her love for Fisk is genuine and sweet. It’s shown that her relationship with him actually improves Fisk psychologically, but I’ll get more into that when I talk about the man in question. As much as I love Ayelet Zurer’s acting, I couldn’t help but imagine Stephanie Romanov playing Vanessa in a similar manner. But maybe that’s just the Whedonite in me.

s01e04_170

I loved Ben Urich’s determination and wisdom throughout the season. It was sad to see that his wife had Alzheimer’s and that he couldn’t really take care of her. He also symbolized the journalists of old, who were there to witness history in the making, enduring in spite of the technology and the seemingly growing disinterest in “real news.” I honestly wish that he didn’t get killed off.

Side note, btw: I’m docking points for having Mrs. Cardenas die just to bring Daredevil out into the open. Women getting killed to provoke men into action is a trope I’m not a huge fan of.

Moving on to Matt’s mentors.

s01e07_180

Stick is a mercenary and I don’t have that much love for him. Little Mattie needed somebody with him growing up and Stick dropped the ball by leaving Matt on the premise that he wanted Matt to be a soldier and not a son. Say what you want about the Ninja Turtles, but at least Master Splinter raised the turtles as his own sons and never abandoned them.

s01e11_380

Fr. Lantom, on the other hand, was a more reasonable ally. I want to personally thank the writing team for creating a great portrayal of a Catholic priest. He is neither corrupt nor shown as a living saint, but just an ordinary man with Catholic perspectives. His perspectives on the Devil are, in my opinion, in line with what I learned about the nature of sin and spiritual warfare. The last time I saw a priest portrayed this realistically was Fr. Jack Landry from 2009’s V.

s01e10_271

At first I thought that Foggy Nelson would be this dudebro character, the slacker stereotype who makes the main character look awesome by comparison. Later episodes develop Foggy to act as Matt’s moral conscience whenever Claire wasn’t in the role. I think having Foggy in on the secret was a smart thing because Matt needed to be held accountable in case he took things too far. Foggy may not be a future sidekick, but he helps Matt out when it matters the most. He’s actually got ideals underneath his desire for money, so much so that he was able to persuade his ex-girlfriend to contribute to the cause at the risk of betraying the well-paying law firm she works for.

s01e09_227

Nobu didn’t contribute much to the series aside from possibly bringing in the ninja order called the Hand. He’s strictly business to the point of being borderline volatile. I will give him credit for being the only villain so far to have almost defeated Matt through usage of some pretty sweet weapons. Go ninja, go ninja go!

s01e12_585

Madame Gao, on the other hand, is a force of nature, like a tidal wave. She starts out being a meek and quiet, if not very self-assured woman who happens to be head of a drug ring. It’s implied that her drug ring was more of a cult and that Madame Gao may not be as human as she appears to be. I hope to see her again in the second season.

s01e12_572

Leland Owlsey was supposedly based off of a major villain in the comics, but in the series, he’s seen as the financial manager who keeps his eyes on the big picture. I pretty much called it that he was behind Vanessa’s attempted murder because of his unusual behavior and he proceeded to make things worse for Fisk towards the end of the series. I understand making sure that Fisk keeps on task, but as stated before, Vanessa was actually helping Fisk in accomplishing his goals.

s01e08_740

I love complicated villains. I also love to hate Fisk. He actually garners sympathy at times, but his brutality and ambitions remind me of what separates him from Daredevil. Fisk is shown to be psychologically damaged. Like many a villain, he grew up with an abusive father and a mother who was weak-willed. Killing his father at a young age was a serious shocker and it’s shown in “Shadows in the Glass” that Fisk is still haunted by it. He wants complete control over his life and his ideals to make the city better fall to the wayside when things spiral downward for him. It really stinks that in spite of everything that happened, he’s still going to get the girl, but I love Fisk and Vanessa together too much to really hate it.

MARVEL'S DAREDEVIL

Matt Murdock aka Daredevil has finally come into his own. Matt is shown to have ideals, but he’s more realistic in what has to get done. I don’t like how brutal he can be when interrogating mooks at times. Some of the violence he’s done seems excessive and unnecessary. However, Matt makes up for his pugilism by having his own moral code. He won’t stoop to killing anyone, he’s willing to work with anyone who can help (see his short alliance with Vladimir), and he embraces the idea of being feared, of being the one to keep people on the path of the righteous. Even though he dresses like and takes on the name of “Daredevil,” his story arc also reminds me of Angel. 

But unlike Angel, the series of Daredevil flows a lot more smoothly. There aren’t any filler episodes or soap opera plot lines that take away from the action and character development. There’s room to breathe in scenes here and there, but I can’t think of a scene that feels dragged out. I also like the action sequences and how some scenes were kept off-screen while others were shot atypical from your usual action shot. Yes, the show is dark and gritty, but it doesn’t have the cynicism of shows that have a similar tone. Nor does it reek of nihilism or even anti-nihilism the way that Angel does. Best of all, the angst in this show is not done for the sake of looking cool or adding drama. It’s all justified and the characters open the lines of communication in a realistic manner.

I would recommend the show to fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as well as casual fans like myself. I don’t recommend anyone who has kids to share the show with anyone under the age of 13, but given that some of my second graders play M-rated games, your mileage may vary. As far as I’m concerned, I can’t wait for the second season!

 

 All screencaps are copyright to Marvel Entertainment and Netflix and are used for editorial purposes only.