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Marvel and Netflix’s The Defenders (Review)

The Defenders stumbles in familiar ways.

The series is nominally a crossover between the four Marvel Netflix series, a small-screen version of The Avengers providing a point of intersection between Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist. In theory, this is the perfect opportunity to bring together four television superheroes to face a larger threat. There is something inherently cool in the idea of a crossover, in watching worlds collide and watching protagonists folded into a larger ensemble.

However, things are not so simple. The Defenders prejudices some of its constituent elements more than others. Most notable, it is overseen by Marco Ramirez and Doug Petrie, the producers on the second season of Daredevil. It also carries over several elements from that season, including the hole in the ground from Semper Fidelis and the death and resurrection of Elektra from A Cold Day in Hell’s Kitchen. More than that, The Defenders carries over the mythology of the Hand and the Iron Fist from Iron Fist, putting heavy focus on Danny Rand.

From the outset, The Defenders effectively handicaps itself by leaning on the two weakest pillars of this multimedia empire. The second season of Daredevil was a disjointed mess packed with poor writing and stuffed with generic ninjas. The first season of Iron Fist was a collection of Orientalist stereotypes crammed into a cheap and poorly constructed origin story fashioned from whatever meat that Daredevil had left on the bones of the template that Christopher Nolan had established in Batman Begins. These are not foundations for an epic.

More than that, this emphasis on the second season of Daredevil and the first season of Iron Fist comes at the expense of the three strong seasons of Marvel’s Netflix output. The Defenders never captures the emotional power of Jessica Jones, nor the street-level perspective of life in New York conveyed through Luke Cage. Even more basically, The Defenders never even tries to create the same sense of pulpy thrill that defined so much of the first season of Daredevil. Instead, The Defenders focuses on ninjas and mystical nonsense.

The central plot of The Defenders hinges on the revelation that the island of Manhattan has been built on a volatile foundation. The Defenders could just as easily be speaking about itself.

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Daredevil – A Cold Day in Hell’s Kitchen (Review)

This month, we’re doing daily reviews of the second season of Daredevil. Check back daily for the latest review.

And so we reach the end of the second season of Daredevil.

Except it is very clearly not the end. “This is not the end,” Elektra whispers as she lies dying in Matt’s arms. Although Elektra has hardly been the most honest or reliable character across the run of the season, she seems to be telling the truth. While the first season of Daredevil made a point to square away most of its characters and plot points at the end of the run, the second season consciously leaves things dangling. Nelson and Murdock has been dissolved. Elektra’s body has been stolen. The Hand are not defeated.

The dead only quickly decay...

The dead only quickly decay…

The first season ended in a relatively tidy fashion, with only a few oblique hints towards what the future might hold. The most significant of these loose ends, Wilson Fisk being taken to a holding cell, was consciously put on the backburner when the second season began. Although the second season would pick up on that storythread, it would not do so until the cliffhanger of Guilty as Sin leading into Seven Minutes in Heaven. There was a sense that the audience could have left Matt Murdock there and been happy. At least until The Defenders.

The end of the second season is much more ambiguous. There is no sense that anything is being left anywhere for an extended period of time. Whether those dangling plot threads will be addressed in a hypothetical third season of Daredevil or during The Defenders, it is clear that audiences are being kept on a hook.

"John Luther and James Bond both recommended this, so I thought I'd be foolish not to give it go..."

“John Luther and James Bond both recommended this, so I thought I’d be foolish not to give it go…”

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Daredevil – Guilty as Sin (Review)

This month, we’re doing daily reviews of the second season of Daredevil. Check back daily for the latest review.

Part of what is so infuriating about the second season of Daredevil is that fact that there is a lot of good material here.

The issue is nothing as simple as saying “good ideas, terrible execution”, or anything as trite. There are good ideas that are executed well and bad ideas that are handled with a surprisingly deft touch; there are also good ideas that are needlessly squandered and bad ideas that turn out to be exactly as terrible as they initially appear. It isn’t even that there are clearly discernible unambiguous flaws. Everything is a mix. For all the issues with the writing of the Punisher and Elektra, Jon Bernthal and Elodie Yung do great work with the material afforded to them.

Let us pray...

Let us pray…

The second season of Daredevil is very much a curate’s egg of a television season. There are good bits and bad bits. There is breathtaking ambition and incredible miscalculation in equal measure. The series is not entirely a failure, but it is far from a success. With Guilty as Sin, the show clumsily repositions itself as a morality play about the conflict between good and evil within the soul as Elektra Natchios. However, there is a similar conflict brewing at the heart of the show.

Even in the season’s strongest moments, there are clear weaknesses shining through. Even in the season’s weakest moments, its strongest elements are frequently in play.

Eye see.

Eye see.

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Daredevil – Semper Fidelis (Review)

This month, we’re doing daily reviews of the second season of Daredevil. Check back daily for the latest review.

There is probably no greater single missed opportunity during the second season of Daredevil than the trial of Frank Castle.

The show does not necessarily do a great job with Elektra, but that character was always going to be deeply problematic owing to her comic book origin. Ironically, the changes that the show makes to her arc do little to alleviate the issues with the character, just shunting them around a little. The Hand are also ill-served by the second season as a whole, but it is hard to imagine how the Hand might have made a credible and organic season-long threat in the first place. Even Frank Miller made a point to tie them into his larger character/thematic arcs.

This visual is more compelling than anything actually tied to the trial of Frank Castle.

This visual is more compelling than anything actually tied to the trial of Frank Castle.

In contrast, the trial of Frank Castle is a legitimately good idea. In fact, it is a brilliant idea. On paper, the idea of “the trial of Frank Castle” is one of the smartest concepts applied to the character in recent memory. The season has struggled with the challenges posed by Frank Castle, opting to smooth the rough edges off the character by having him walk through a familiar “avenging father” arc three times over the course of the year. Building a trial arc around Frank Castle goes a long way towards mitigating that; it is a story about Frank that doesn’t need to soften him.

More than that, it is an arc that seems designed to shore up some of the season’s weaknesses. The second season of Daredevil suffers from a lack of generality, a feeling that Matt and his cast exist in the tapestry of a larger New York; not the version of New York seen in The Avengers, but a real place inhabited by real people somewhat disconnected from undead ninjas and blind devil vigilantes. By providing a public spectacle, the trial of Frank Castle provides the opportunity for Daredevil to anchor itself back in a living and breathing New York.

The hole in things...

The hole in things…

It also ties neatly into Matt Murdock’s secret identity as a defence attorney, in a manner that is more interesting and engaging than simply offering a half-assed impression of Law & Order. By its nature, “the trial of Frank Castle” is a plot that is only really possible in the shared fictional space of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, it is a concept that is a more intriguing application of the shared universe than “… gee, I hope Iron Man shows up.” It plays with some of the genre’s core ideas in a way that is fairly novel and ripe for commentary and metaphor.

It is a shame that the show messes up this plot point so spectacularly.

Trial be there.

“Absolutely, one hundred percent, not guilty.”

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Daredevil – Regrets Only (Review)

This month, we’re doing daily reviews of the second season of Daredevil. Check back daily for the latest review.

And, just like that, the season’s middle act runs into trouble.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the second season of Daredevil is how carefully and meticulously the season is structured. Producers Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez have adopted a very clear three-act structure to the season, and great care has been taken to treat the year as a thirteen-episode origin story for the Punisher. Even within that, there is conscious mirroring and reversals that rely on the show reflecting its own continuity back at itself. For example, Frank addressing a defeated Daredevil in New York’s Finest is reflected in both Penny and Dime and .380.

Who punishes the Punisher?

Who punishes the Punisher?

There is great attention to detail, very careful craftsmanship. The actual plotting of the arcs on an episode-by-episode basis might not be particularly robust, but there is a definite and very precise plan laid out. However, all this delicate craftsmanship belies the fact that this structuring is built around a story with several beats missing or repeated. The second season of Daredevil is laid out like a three-act superhero story, but with the biggest issue being the nature of the story itself. There are missing structural elements that leave the formula feeling hollow.

The second season of Daredevil might consciously aspire to be a televisual version of The Dark Knight, but it actually lands somewhere closer to The Wolverine. And not just because it is a superhero love story that pits its protagonist against an assortment of ninjas.

The name's Murdock. Matt Murdock.

The name’s Murdock. Matt Murdock.

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Daredevil – Kinbaku (Review)

This month, we’re doing daily reviews of the second season of Daredevil. Check back daily for the latest review.

Although she appeared in a small cameo at the end of Penny and Dime, Kinbaku marks the proper introduction of Elektra.

Elektra is very much an essential part of the Daredevil mythos, tied to Matthew Murdock since her introduction all the way back in Daredevil #168. There was even a thinly-veiled reference to the character buried deep in the first season, with Foggy making a nod towards Matt’s Greek girlfriend in one of the flashbacks in Nelson v. Murdock. Elektra was always going to be a part of Daredevil. It seems the only reason the show waited a full season was due to the Jennifer Garner twin disasters of Daredevil and Elektra.

Enter Elektra...

Enter Elektra…

After all, Daredevil owes a lot to Frank Miller. Like every Daredevil story or adaptation after 1980, the television show is steeped in the mythology that Frank Miller carved out for the character. It was Frank Miller who elevated the Kingpin from a b-list Spider-man villain to an a-list Daredevil baddie. It was Frank Miller who introduced Stick, adding a whole host of ninja training to Matt Murdock’s back story. It was Frank Miller who turned Matt Murdock’s life into a slow-moving trainwreck. As such, Frank Miller’s fingerprints are all over this adaptation.

However, Elektra remains Frank Miller’s most lasting and enduring original contribution to Marvel. While Miller transformed and defined characters like Daredevil and Wolverine, Elektra was created from whole cloth. More than any other character, Elektra is Frank Miller’s baby. She represents the pinnacle of Frank Miller’s contribution to the character’s mythos. She is very much “peak Miller.”

Superhero sex...

Superhero sex…

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Netflix and Marvel’s Daredevil – Season 2 (Review)

This month, we’re doing daily reviews of the second season of Daredevil. Check back daily for the latest review.

The second season of Daredevil is a dysfunctional mess.

Unfortunately, it is not a particularly interesting mess.

daredevil-380b1

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