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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Baby Driver, 2017

Directed by: Edgar Wright

Starring: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx

IMDb

Edgar Wright is one of the best comedic Writer/Directors working today, and he certainly doesn’t disappoint with his latest film, Baby Driver.

It’s the kind of movie probably best seen with as little knowledge about it as possible, so my very short review is to go see Baby Driver. It’s funny, fast paced and extremely well composed. It also has one of the best incorporations of soundtrack into film that I’ve ever seen.

For those who don’t care about not knowing, I’ll get into a little more detail.

My biggest criticism of Baby Driver is that it’s tonally inconsistent. The three acts are very distinct from one another, and can pretty much be judged individually. I adored the first act, I liked the second, and I really liked the third. I really want to emphasise that at no point did I stop liking it, but I feel like the differences, especially between the first two acts were quite jarring.

The first act is hilarious. It’s packed with everything I love about Wright’s style and is honestly a masterpiece of film composition. I laughed really hard. The stunt work, as well, was pretty damn fantastic.
The second act really slows down into more of a crime/action/drama. While it’s still filled with a lot of excellent film making, it’s undeniable that it’s less fun and therefore less enjoyable than its predecessor. What it lacks in comedy, it makes up for in tension, which to be fair don’t really go hand in hand, but it was just less satisfying. That said, its only real issue was that it followed the first act.
The third act breaks the tension from the second spectacularly, providing one hell of an action packed climax. The stunt driving, action and music use here are particularly excellent, and the ending is pretty satisfying.

If the film stuck to the style shown in the first act, I think it would have ended up my favourite Edgar Wright film. As it stands, it’s probably my number 3, behind Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim. It’s miles better, however, than The World’s End (and Ant-Man).

I’ve mentioned it a couple of times, but the soundtrack use was really excellent, appropriate given the importance of music to the protagonist. I’ve seen plenty of films do similar things, but Baby Driver runs with it and takes it to the nth degree. It’s awesome.

Along with the music, the cinematography and shot composition is also great, distinguishing itself from Wright’s previous films with its use of long takes, but pulls them off excellently, and never excessively. There is still plenty of the dynamic editing I’ve come to love from the director.

All the performances were good, Kevin Spacey was a little typecast I think, but worked effectively anyway. I especially enjoyed the chemistry between Ansel Elgort and Lily James.

Baby Driver is absolutely worth your time. Go see it as soon as it comes out next Thursday.

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.

John Wick: Chapter 2, 2017

Director: Chad Stahelski

Starring: Keanu Reaves

IMDb

John Wick: Chapter 2 has an interesting title. On one hand, it’s very apt, as it implies a close link to the first film, which is absolutely true. The plot relies heavily on the set up provided by the first movie (not a bad thing at all by the way). On the other, it implies that the story of the first film was incomplete without this follow up. At this point I disagree.

John Wick is one of the tightest, most focussed action films I’ve ever seen. It excelled by getting you on board with the protagonist from the word ‘go’ by giving him a very sympathetic setup and just letting him loose on an extremely satisfying revenge plot. It also delivered on a very interesting world with very interesting characters that you naturally want to know more about. Despite this, John Wick ends in a satisfying enough spot. They could have ended it there.

They didn’t however, and now we have John Wick: Chapter 2. And thank god for that.

Chapter 2 ditches the tight, simple story for a much larger, more intricate one, allowing for some much larger action set pieces, raising the stakes and fleshing out the ever-interesting world a lot more. Depending on your point of view, this can be either a good or bad thing. For my money, I prefer the first movie, mostly for its more driven story and slightly better action (in my opinion), but I can see why someone might prefer the sequel. They’re both pretty great.

I do have major criticism for Chapter 2. The thing that strikes me about the first film is the deep set respect that everyone has for John, an element all too rare in a sea of action films that set their heroes as rebels to the system. John Wick works entirely within his system, he just happens to be the best, and everyone knows it, especially his enemies. The main antagonist of Chapter 2, however, does not. This could create an interesting dynamic to differentiate the two films, but in reality it makes you just want him to die a lot more. Not in the good way either, he’s just a lot less entertaining than the excellent Michael Nyqvist from the first film.

I really liked the rivalry dynamic with Common’s character. It was totally overdone, but it was a lot of fun. I honestly feel a little bad for criticising the film at all, as it was just a lot of fun. Lightning kind of struck twice with this franchise.

Final verdict: John Wick: Chapter 2 is a lot of fun. I personally prefer the first, but there’s still plenty to enjoy here. Biggest criticism: the Australian release date.