Marvel’s The Defenders S1 Review.

Creators: Douglas Petrie, Marco Ramirez

Starring: Charlie Cox, Kristen Ritter, Mike Colter, Finn Jones

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4230076/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Ok, so I just finished watching The Defenders. Strap in kids, this is gonna be a long one.
Normally I’m writing about 2.5 hours of cinema, but here it’s around 60 hours of television.

To those that don’t know, The Defenders is a follow up to four Netflix shows set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe where characters come together. I want to start this by outlining my thoughts on those shows. For some of these, it’s been a while, so these will mostly be general thoughts.

Daredevil Season 1 surprised the hell out of me. Fantastic action scenes, surprisingly good characters and dialogue and an amazing villain in Wilson Fisk – a truly interesting character in his own right. It went on a little too long (all of these shows do) but otherwise its story was really well contained. Great Start.
The second season, I felt was a little weaker, and this absolutely had to do with the villains, replacing the singular kingpin with an entire shadowy organisation of ninjas. That said, the writing was still on point, giving a real depth to the whole masked vigilante thing that movies simply can’t because it’s not in the runtime. The addition of Jon Bernthal as the Punisher was the real redemption of this series. He was awesome. The dialogue scenes between him and Daredevil were great.

Jessica Jones among my favourite TV shows full stop. David Tennant plays Killgrave, one of the most intriguing and entertaining villains I have ever seen in any medium. He’s creepy, he’s legitimately threatening and he’s a lot of fun to watch. The entire story arc of the season was centred so tightly around his character and the titular Jessica Jones (who is also played fantastically by Kristen Ritter) that I don’t really see how they can follow it. The show drags a bit when it switches its focus away from the core storyline, but the highs reach much higher than the lows ever sink.

Luke Cage the show was ok. Luke Cage the character is fantastic. All of these shows are super dark so it’s a breath of fresh air to see a guy who doesn’t walk around with a total chip on his shoulder. He comes off as the kind of guy you’d want to grab a beer with and that does wonders for watchability. The villains are a mixed bag here. There are four, and they range from great to bad. Guess which one ends up being the main baddie of the season? The show has a phenomenal soundtrack which aids in the creation of one of the most distinct locations I’ve ever seen on screen. This show *loves* Harlem. I remember when it first came out it had a pre-release available only to those who lived in Harlem and during that period of time the IMDb rating was almost 10/10. The show reeeaallly takes a long time to get going though, and the writing isn’t as strong as the two before it.

Iron Fist, in my opinion, is the first actually bad Marvel Cinematic Universe property. The closest contender would probably be some of the earlier seasons of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. but at least they had their moments and kept a generally fun vibe. First off, Danny Rand is straight up an unlikeable character and Finn Jones isn’t a very good actor nor martial artist. Huge issue for a character centric martial arts show. Additionally, the fight choreography isn’t very good either, and end up seeming to intentionally hide how crap it is by not letting us properly see it with shaky-cam. The show is also directionless, never sticking to a strict goal for the character, making the show really quite boring, and feeling like it’ll never go anywhere, which it doesn’t. Not helping is that the antagonists are the same shadowy organisation, ‘The Hand’ from Daredevil S2, who are even more boring here. The only thing that kept the show afloat at all, if you ask me, was David Wenham’s performance, which was so over the top that the show became enjoyable for his moments of screentime.

Ok, Now: The Defenders. It was good. Thank god. That wasn’t really ever going to be a certainty though, as nothing like this has ever been attempted. The writing and directing staff was essentially a ‘Dream Team’ of the better episodes of each series before it, which could have led to clashing, but it worked out fine. The obvious comparison is with ‘The Avengers’ but unfortunately it doesn’t give the same sort of climactic feel to this series of shows as Avengers does for its series of films.

I winced when it was first teased that the antagonistic force of the show would be my dreaded ‘The Hand’ from Daredevil S2 and Iron Fist, and yet at the same time wasn’t surprised at all. It only made sense, as all team up stories apparently require an army to fight. Fortunately though, they actually kind of pulled it off. Sigourney Weaver appears for the first time as the mysterious leader of ‘The Hand’, Alexandra, and while not as iconic as Killgrave or Kingpin, she is certainly very interesting and Sigourney does an excellent job portraying her. Most importantly though, she gives the whole ‘Shadowy Organisation’ thing some actual personality and character. Also, unlike in the previous two shows, we get actual insight as to what The Hand’s goals are, the people who run them, their motivations, a little of their backstories. You know, stuff that interesting characters have. Good performances are given by all of the other antagonists as well.

Much like this review, the show took quite a while to get the ball rolling. Despite there only being 8 episodes, none of the four core characters actually met one another until the very end of the second episode, the first acting as more of a reintroduction to all the characters we might have forgotten about since we last saw them. This may be the shortest of all of these shows, but it doesn’t speed up its pacing at all. It’s still quite slow, just less overall happens. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as the show has a pretty clear sense of direction to it. It doesn’t really have proper subplots, it just starts in four places which slowly stream into one story. One word of warning though, the show relies relatively heavily on you having watched the previous shows. I recommend brushing up on Daredevil S2 and consulting wikipedia on the ‘plot’ of Iron Fist.

The show is at its best when it’s letting the four leads bounce off one another. Put simply, these are enjoyable characters to watch (for the most part) and Charlie Cox, Kristen Ritter and Mike Colter all bring their A material to the table. Finn Jones, however, is still unlikeable as Danny Rand, though not in the same way as before. It seems as though the show runners have decided to figuratively steer into the skid and made the Danny Rand character intentionally unlikeable, stupid and annoying. Pretty much everyone hates him and that brought a smile to my face on more than one occasion. He also sort of becomes a bit less insufferable by the end of the season.

My biggest criticism of the show would have to be with the side characters. The supporting cast of all the other shows are all also here, essentially trapped together and we incessantly cut back to them. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if these characters actually did anything. Towards the very end of the season a couple of them do actual things, but for the most part it’s just talking about stuff related to the plot, that has 0 bearing on the progression of the story itself, meanwhile not progressing even slightly as characters. It just takes up time and it’s kind of boring. These are good characters played by good actors. Either let them do something or don’t have them at all.

Beside the characters, the filmmaking was actually pretty admirable. Soundtrack, cinematography and editing were all solid, with a few moments that really shone. I also noticed a few allusions to classic films which I appreciated.

There really is just simplistic joy to seeing a team of characters that you like getting up there and kicking ass together though. Even though these shows have proven that they’re more than just that, we can’t deny that it’s the reason that The Defenders was ever even made. Thankfully, it’s done well. Makes the whole experience worth it. Overall this is a fun show, the humour is actually pretty great. Additionally, it doesn’t pull its punches. It gets intense, it has big reveals and it delights. It isn’t really *about* anything in the same way that the better of its predecessors were, but it’s still a solid show.

I have a relatively major criticism about the way the show ends, but for the sake of not spoiling it, I’ll talk about it another time. It doesn’t really impact on my overall thoughts of the show, however, which I thought was a good one. Not amazing, but not really disappointing either.

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Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, 2017

Directed by: Luc Besson

Starring: Dane Dehaan, Cara Delevigne

IMDb

Valerian and the City of a Thousand was a pretty crap movie and I had a great time watching it.
 
To be clear, there are actually some solid points to the film. The visual direction and style is pretty stimulating, a bunch of the ideas pulled from the source material were pretty unique and very neat, and surprisingly not totally played out as far as hollywood sci-fi movies are concerned. Dane Dehaan’s performance was pretty good when the script allowed him to be, and I’d be lying if the film didn’t manage to get a few laughs out of me, even if it didn’t mean to in every case.
 
The dialogue, and indeed the writing as a whole, was cringeworthy and hilarious. I didn’t buy the banter/romance between Dane Dehaan and Cara Delevigne for even a second. Still funny though.
 
Speaking of funny, Cara Delevigne’s performance was amazingly terrible. There were points where it looked like she had to struggle to remember her lines, her accent slipped between british and american liberally, and I swear the majority of her line delivery was in the style of a sitcom. I’m not sure why hollywood is so insistent on making her an actress but if this kind of performance is going to become her standard I almost hope to see her on screen more often.
 
The CGI was at an interesting level, particularly with the alien creatures. It was at a level of competency that these creatures would look fantastic if they were featuring in an animated film, but unfortunately we, the audience, are meant to buy that they exist side by side with live action human characters. It’s honestly kind of hilarious how jarring the differences are. Early on in the film there’s a jump cut from a fully CGI rendered world to a close up on Dane Dehaan and I actually laughed from how silly it looked.
 
Rihanna has what amounts to an extended cameo in the film despite how heavily the marketing focused on her presence in the film. Of the approximately 10 minutes of screen time she gets, about 2 of those are dedicated to a shapeshifting pole dancing routine, which ends up being a highlight of the film if only for the awkward reaction shots of Dane Dehaan. Her implementation into the film was incredibly dumb, and despite her evident lack in acting talent (I never saw Battleship so as far as I’m concerned this is her debut) she still ended up being one of the most endearing elements in the film.
 
 
 
One last comment is that this is one of the most explicit offenders of telling rather than showing in order to translate as much of the source material as possible. Literal minutes straight of nothing but exposition plague this film. Some of it, especially towards the end, was absolutely hilarious. Trust me. This movie is actually a great time if you have 0 expectations.
 
It tries its best to have actual tension but it never quite makes it. It has half hearted attempts at emotional moments and never comes close. No, the best parts of this movie are the laughs and some of the visuals, in addition to some neat ideas which can’t even be attributed to the film, as they were from the graphic novel.
 
It’s bad, but the good kind of bad. If you’re into that kind of thing, go ahead and enjoy.
 

Spider-Man: Homecoming, 2017

Directed by: Jon Watts

Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr.

IMDb

Spider-Man was a really big deal to me growing up, and to this day there’s still a simplistic glee to seeing a new Spider-Man movie on the big screen (even with Rise of Electro). So, I’ve been excited by the prospect of a new Spider-Man set in the Marvel Universe for years, even more so with the new direction that they’re giving the franchise. I mention all this to explain that emotions are high for me on this one, and I’m struggling to totally think about it objectively.

I really liked Spider-Man: Homecoming. It’s a load of fun. I love Tom Holland’s version, giving us something completely different from any other Spider-Man, even any other on-screen superhero. What got me excited about Homecoming from the start is that this version of Spider-Man is a teenager through and through. Despite Holland being 20 years old, he, and all of his co-stars look and act like teenagers. Sure, the previous incarnations’ first films took place in school, it was laughably unbelievable, and they ditched the school setting as soon as possible. Homecoming goes all the way with it, incorporating the themes of the film to the kind of struggles a teenager would go through while trying to be a superhero at the same time as his normal teenage life.

Something the film perfectly portrays is what it would be like if a kid got superpowers. The excitement, the fun, the inexperience and the consequences of that inexperience. It’s as a result of this that the character is really nothing like the previous two iterations, who’s conflicts are much more based around heavy heroic responsibility and dark broody revenge respectively. This new one is about Peter Parker discovering the role he fits in this larger universe. I feel this direction is more appropriate, given the context of its modern audience, and the character’s place in a world that is already full of superheroes. Spider-Man is less of a big deal in this universe than the previous, but he’ll get there.

Speaking of, this film relies heavily on its universe in its narrative, which I see as both a good and a bad thing. It heavily benefits me, being the super-nerd that I am about this franchise, having direct ties and assumed knowledge of The Avengers and Civil War, but less avid fans who just like Spider-Man might find themselves a bit lost in the first act. It doesn’t quite stand on its own in the ways that the other sideline Marvel movies do (Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, Guardians). Additionally, I feel a little conflicted by the role Tony Stark/Iron Man has in this movie as a pseudo-father-figure. He’s definitely more of a plot device than he is a character, and without giving anything away, the way he influences Spider-Man’s costume I found a little troubling, as it almost has the character drift a little too far from his fundamentals. It doesn’t cripple the film or anything, and does sort of come full circle by the end, tying in with the themes nicely, but it still feels a little lost in amongst the bucketloads this movie has to go through.

Comparing to the other Spider-Man films, here are my thoughts. It’s better than both of the Amazing Spider-Man films. It’s better written, has better characters (villains in particular) and has more satisfying themes. While Homecoming is familiarly cluttered, it’s definitely better than Spider-Man 3. I don’t know exactly how to compare it to the original 2002 film, I think both have their strengths and shortcomings, the main thing letting the original pull through is how iconic and timeless (mostly) it feels; Homecoming focusses so heavily on its contemporary context that I feel it won’t age as well. Spider-Man 2 (2004), however, certainly remains the superior film, being the full package of endearing characters and themes, as well as excellent filmmaking.

I actually really liked Michael Keaton as the Vulture. While I was less of a fan of his goofy entourage, his motivation was pretty relatable and I liked how organically his animosity towards Spider-Man grew. The philosophy that he followed also had an interesting mirroring of Spider-Man’s. Also, without spoiling anything, a certain revelation about his character around the start of the third act led to my absolute favourite part of the movie.
Also, the irony of the whole Birdman thing isn’t lost on me. I love it.

Some minor complaints include some sloppy editing at the start of the film, especially in the High School scenes, some unconvincing CGI of the Costume, some of the humour doesn’t really land, and the entourage around the main villain is kind of lame. A bigger issue is the pacing; while it never gets all that slow, it ruins its own momentum by having three or four scenes that are so large in scale that they each could act as the climax, but don’t. It doesn’t have subplots that go nowhere like the Andrew Garfield movies did, but it does feel bloated.

Spider-Man: Homecoming does deliver on a fun Spider-Man story, featuring a vastly different character than what we’ve seen before though, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it quite a bit. Don’t go in expecting a masterpiece, as much as I wish I could say you should, but rest easy in knowing it ain’t bad.

Wonder Woman, 2017

Directed by: Patty Jenkins

Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine

IMDb

Wonder Woman was a bunch of things. It was the first actually good DC extended universe film. It was the first actually good Superhero movie with a female lead. It was also somehow the first ever Wonder Woman movie. It really is baffling that despite being such a ubiquitous character, it took over 75 years for her to get a live action film.

There’s been a lot of talk about the importance of a movie like this in establishing female heroes/role models into the cultural psyche, especially for little girls. Thankfully the film pulls off this aspect of its existence very well. Starting the film with Diana as a little girl: brilliant. Not only did it work well in fostering a connection between young girls and Wonder Woman, but it worked well for the character. It fit seamlessly into her motivations and character traits. Also, it doesn’t fall into the trap of confusing ‘strong independent woman’ with ‘perfect, infallible badass’. What we have here is an actual character with flaws, who makes mistakes and has to learn from them. She is independent, but not beyond asking for/needing help, even if it is from a man. Incidentally, she is a total badass. It’s pretty clear that the filmmakers knew they had to handle this aspect of the film carefully, and I applaud them for taking a few risks for the cause of enriching the character. They did well.

Cultural stuff aside, the movie is overall pretty good. The story is not going to blow anyone away, but at least it was simple and enjoyable. It also had colour, both visually and tonally. Given DC’s track record, this is greatly appreciated. It’s actually a pretty funny movie. The action scenes were pretty exciting and had a nice aesthetic to them. There was a bit too much epic slow-mo for my taste, but I feel like this won’t bother most people. I also quite liked the way the film depicted WW1. It was a clever way to tie into the protagonist’s arc.

I quite liked Chris Pine in his role. In fact, I quite liked all of the supporting cast and their characters. Without spoiling anything, knowing what I know about how the main villain of the film is portrayed in other media, I am thankful for the depiction that we got. It really could have been much more generic and mundane.

This was a fun one. I’m curious to see what the overall reception will be like. The current level of praise it’s getting (based on IMDb and RT scores) would imply it’s phenomenally good, which it isn’t. It’s not even the best superhero movie this year (Logan). I’m anticipating some minor backlash to some of the ‘risks’ I mentioned. Hoping I’m wrong.

Anyway, go check it out. DC finally did it. They took their damn time, but they actually did it.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, 2017

Directed by: James Gunn

Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker

IMDb
I think Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 bares many similarities to Avengers: Age of Ultron. Both films had a lot to live up to, both tried valiantly to outdo their predecessor in every aspect, both are very entertaining movies. Both don’t quite live up to the impossible expectations.

How does one outdo Guardians 1? Apparently the answer is take the aspect most praised and play them up tenfold. As a result, the soundtrack is back and more prominent than ever. The humorous tone was praised, so the sequel was given many more jokes. To be perfectly clear, each of these aspects taken individually make for a really good time. The issue is balance. The first film worked so well because it managed to balance its own quirky style with the typical marvel movie formula. Guardians 2 feels overloaded, unbalanced.

Not helping in the slightest is the story, which I feel is Guardians 2’s biggest shortcoming. Instead of one story, the film opts to tell about three or four, and none of them are really all that original. Honestly, they’re all pretty predictable. The first film wasn’t really anything all that special when it came to story, but what I can give it is that it was one thing, it was pretty tight.

All this said, I really enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. I’m still working on my ability to communicate my feelings towards movies, especially while criticising them. To be as clear as I can: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 isn’t even a bad movie that I enjoyed bits of à la Batman V Superman or Suicide Squad. It’s a good movie, that entertained me thoroughly, but I couldn’t help but feel a tad let down. My expectations were a bit too high, and I criticise because I care.

The film did better its predecessor in a few respects, however. Depictions of much of the peripheral cast was much better. I really enjoyed spending more time with Drax, Yandu, and Rocket. Also, in its attempts to out-scope the previous film, it actually succeeded in setting up some awesome scenarios. Overall, the cinematography was also better, some really beautiful shots. The movie was really colourful and was overall really enjoyable to look at.

If you were planning on see Guardians 2, I say go right ahead, you’ll enjoy yourself.

Top 10 Scenes in Raimi’s Spider-Man Trilogy

So about a year ago, long before the existence of this blog, I made a youtube video outlining what I think are the 10 best scenes in the original Spider-Man trilogy. I was surprised to find that there didn’t already exist such a video, only to find that the same is true for most movies. In the public conscience, moments are prioritised over scenes these days, so I suppose it isn’t really surprising.

I recently had to edit and re-upload the video due to a copyright claim (I basically played an entire scene in the original video), so I thought I’d share it here.

Enjoy!