Iron Fist: Yup, it’s just kinda there.

The latest Marvel Netflix outing, Iron Fist, came out last Friday with some pre-emptive strikes from critics.  But keep in mind, critics only saw the first six episodes; I (and many other fans) have now binged the whole thing in less than a week (less than a weekend for some), so I’m here to give my spoiler-free thoughts.

Marvel's Iron Fist

In short, I enjoyed it, and if you were already planning to watch it, or have seen the other shows and are interested in The Defenders, I think you will too.  Just keep your expectations on the low side going in, because it is not nearly as good as the three previous series (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage), and if you have no interest in superheroes/the MCU/etc. don’t even bother.

I went into Iron Fist hoping for a kung fu show, but what I got was a corporate drama with some occasional ninjas…sorry, not even ninjas, mostly just random thugs.  Unlike the three previous shows, this show didn’t really have much to say.  Danny Rand’s origin story appears as a watered-down version of Batman or Oliver Queen.  His parents are killed in a plane crash in the Himalayas; he’s rescued to the hidden mystical city of K’un Lun where he trains and earns the title of Iron Fist; he returns to reclaim his parents’ company.

It gets off to a very slow start.  The first episodes that the critics saw could easily have been condensed into two or three with better pacing.  (It even manages to make sex scenes boring.  How does that happen?!) But it does pick up quite a bit in the second half as new characters are introduced and twists revealed, and I really enjoyed the ride.

Unfortunately, we hardly get to see anything of K’un Lun or Danny’s time there.  There are a few flashbacks, but mostly just the same one of his parents dying over and over.  There’s a reason the first season of Arrow worked so well, and I think this show should have taken some notes.  We don’t get any sense of where Danny is coming from until really late in the season, which I think hampers our ability to relate to him and understand his mood swings.

The show also suffers from lack of focus on a villain.  DD season 1, JJ, and the first half of LC all have one thing in common: a strong, compelling, central villain.  There are several antagonists throughout this series, and while some are great (particularly Madame Gao and Harold Meachum), it sometimes felt more like a set-up for the Defenders series than a story for Iron Fist in his own right.

The side characters are the real shining light in the show.  Colleen Wing is great overall and has a great character arc.  The clip of her cage fight in her classic white tracksuit had already convinced me I would like her.  Ward Meachum consistently improves as the series progresses, also getting his own character arc.  Danny’s friend Davos is a wonderful foil for Danny, and I hope we will see more of him in the future.  And Claire Temple immediately breathes life into the show when she appears in episode five.

My biggest disappointment with the show was probably the martial arts action.  Again, it wasn’t bad…it was just kinda there.  I was hoping for a real martial arts show, but the choreography was no more impressive than Daredevil, and I really disliked the use of lots of quick cuts during the fights.  There is a bit of discussion of different styles of martial arts, but I wish they had shown the differences even more, especially when Colleen with her katana faces off against a Chinese wuxia-style fighter.

The best fight comes in episode eight where Danny faces a Hand guardian who’s using the “drunken master” style.  (During that fight, I said to my husband, “Can we keep this guy instead of Danny?”  Because he has about 10x the charisma.)  But if you really want to see a martial arts show, go check out Into the Badlands instead—the first season is now on Netflix and the second season is currently airing on AMC.

I would put this show at least on par with the DC shows currently airing on the CW (Arrow, Flash, etc.)–least anyone think that is an insult, I’ll reiterate that I enjoyed all of them.

Anyone else have opinions?  We can get spoilery down in the comments if you want.

Luke Cage

Image result for luke cage netflix logo

The third Marvel/Netflix series released last weekend, and why, yes, I have already watched all 13 episodes of Luke Cage.  Although it didn’t quite reach the heights of Daredevil s1 and Jessica Jones, it’s a solid addition to the line-up and really has me excited for the upcoming Defenders team-up.

Luke Cage, previously introduced in JJ, has decamped to Harlem where he’s trying to hide his super strength and impenetrable skin while working two jobs.  He’s trying to live a normal life.  But he gets caught up in protecting a local kid who’s crossed a powerful nightclub owner known as Cottonmouth, and little by little he steps up into his role as a protector for the neighborhood.

My primary issue with the series was that the story did not have as tight a narrative as DD and JJ.  It was slightly messy at times, which lead to a little unevenness and confusion.  I felt the series started out a little slow, but it really picked up steam as it went, and by the second half it was definitely binge-worthy.

Luke Cage has a very different feel, lacking the exciting fight choreography of DD and the psychological thrills of JJ.  I think this is the first time I felt like a Marvel property was not made for me…and that’s great!  I lacked a lot of cultural touchstones that would have helped me relate to LC.  I never felt that way before because of elements like the Catholic guilt that infuses DD and the unapologetically female lens of JJ.  But LC doesn’t slow down to explain African American cultural references; it just lives and breathes them.  (For a black perspective on the show, check out Evan Narcisse’s roundtable on io9.)

It’s about time we had a superhero show like this.  The creators don’t shy away from social commentary, whether it’s the difference of opinion between the characters on the use of the n-word, or the powerful image of a bulletproof black man in a hoodie.  I think Luke Cage is the best contemporary update of a superhero since the first Iron Man movie eight years ago.

Also, the use of music is amazing.  The score had echoes of Daredevil to me, and the club scenes allow for a constant flow of hip hop, R&B, jazz, soul, etc.  And even I know who Method Man is!

Marvel fans will notice plenty of little fun details throughout the series.  There’s a great visual joke about Power Man’s original costume, a flier for Colleen Wing’s self defense classes, and the requisite Stan Lee cameo.  There’s also some great crossover with DD and JJ, including characters Turk and ADA Blake Tower from DD, and an episode of Trish Talk from JJ.  (I was hoping for a Danny Rand/Iron Fist appearance, but no such luck.)

The crossover with the rest of the MCU is less impressive.  The “incident” of the first Avengers movie is still mentioned and seems to have lingering effects, but there’s no mention of the Sokovia Accords, or Ultron, or Inhumans, any of which might have been known to the characters.

One last gripe: the science is…not good.  They did try a little to explain scientifically how Luke got his powers, but they just kind of ended up flinging around sciencey terms like CRISPR that don’t really add up to a plausible explanation.  But it doesn’t bother me too much because, hey, superheroes.

Favorite good guy: Misty Knightmisty-knight-poster

Misty’s character has a pretty rough job in LC: she’s both a black woman and a cop, and she has to carry a good chunk of the show.  And she pulls it off with flying colors, showing great range of character.  In a show that featured so many different of women of color, Misty stood out to me as being intelligent but still having her heart in the right place.  She’s already confirmed for Defenders and I couldn’t be more excited.

Runners up: Bobby Fish and Claire Temple

Bobby Fish, the chess-playing fixture at Pop’s barber shop, contributed his humor and practicality, helping to keep this superhero show grounded.  Claire Temple, who has already appeared in DD and JJ, kept on being awesome.  I was pleased with how much she was in the show, and I loved her “old married couple” relationship with Luke, but it does seem to be a little problematic that she keeps falling for all the superheroes she patches up.

shades-posterFavorite bad guy: Shades

Shades really stood out to me with his ubiquitous sunglasses, unshakably cool demeanor, and “I know something you don’t know” attitude.  He always has a plan, and I had no doubts he’d come out on top.  Also, I swear this actor looked super familiar but I can’t figure out what I know him from.  Any ideas?

Runner up: Mariah Dillard

Mariah, played by the wonderful Alfre Woodard, had the most interesting character arc in the whole show.  She’s the only bad guy here that could possibly reach Wilson Fisk/Kilgrave territory in terms of awesomeness.  Looking forward to seeing more of her in the future.

What did you guys think of Luke Cage?  How did it compare to the other Marvel properties for you?



Review: Runaways (v1)

So going along with my well-established love of stories about teenagers with superpowers comes the collected first volume of Marvel’s Runaways.  I picked it up because I love love love the writer Brian K. Vaughan’s current work Saga, and the premise sounded interesting: what if you discovered as a teenager that your parents really were evil?

runawaysI totally devoured this in a weekend, and there’re just so many things to love about it.  Great character design, quirky humor, drama and plot twists, and small nods to the wider Marvel universe.

The cast of characters is so great it’s hard to pick a favorite.  Gertrude, Nico, Alex, Chase, Karolina, and Molly decide to band together and run away from home when they discover their parents are all part of some sort of the secret evil organization.  They all have special abilities and items, from pet velociraptor to magic staff to alien psychedelic flight.  But one or more of them may actually have ulterior motives…

Nico Minoru

I particularly enjoyed the four female Runaways, and I especially gravitated toward Nico Minoru, aka Sister Grimm.  Maybe it has something to do with the Asian goth vibe she has, like Scarlet Witch meets an anime magical girl.  She’s smart and loyal, has great fashion sense, and her magic is interesting with potential to be really powerful.

This volume is really great because it compiles the first 18 issues of the comic, which is a complete story arc.  So the volume is a completely self-contained story, and you don’t need to read any other comics at all to enjoy it.

I would also give a special shoutout to issues 11 and 12, which were drawn by Takeshi Miyazawa in a slightly more anime style and feature a story arc with Cloak and Dagger, two Marvel characters who were themselves young runaways.  I really loved meeting these two and am looking forward to their upcoming TV show on the Freeform channel (formerly ABC Family).

5 / 5 stars

A few of my favorite things from Captain America: Civil War

Let’s start by saying that CA: Civil War is a great movie, and if you haven’t seen it, you should.  If you have seen it, please continue reading this post to geek out with me about some of my favorite parts of the movie.

I love how Hawkeye isn’t actually fighting anyone.  Maybe he’s fighting Spidey, who’s not even in this promo art.

Our local drive-in was sadly unable to show CA: Civil War this weekend because Disney’s contract was too demanding.  So we had to go to the regular theater with the masses.  It was still fun.

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