Best Marvel Defenders Season So Far

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Unlike their Avengers brethren on the big screen, the Marvels Defenders on Netflix don’t get all that much attention. This is probably partially because these Netflix Original series are more “adult,” which limits the audience to a more “mature” viewers. They also don’t have the advertising budget of the blockbuster films.

However, if your parents say it’s okay for you to partake in the Defenders’ heavier use of blood, sex, and substance abuse, you should give the Marvel-Netflix Originals a chance. Here’s a mostly spoiler-free break down of how I’d rank each season of that’s out so far (as of May of 2018):

Last Place (Unfortunately)

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Iron Fist, Season One

Sorry, to kick a show when it’s down, but—

Although I like Danny Rand’s positive attitude, the first season of Iron Fist is easily the weakest of the Defenders series. The most glaring problems are the fight scenes. The Iron Fist is supposed to be a kung fu master. He should be fast, fluid, and visceral. While I applaud Finn Jones’ effort and fitness, the show fails to deliver a punch in its fight choreography.

With the public’s years of exposure to Jackie Chan’s stunt work and Jet Li’s more-authentic skill, it’s hard to watch Iron Fist‘s snail-slow choreography and buy Finn Jones as an elite kung fu master. They should’ve used more camera tricks and worked the Foley stage to mask Jones’ inexperience in martial arts.

I read somewhere that Jones was rushed through training and filming, so he and the stunt team couldn’t get the fight scenes done right. I hope that’s true, so after however many months, Jones can have a fair chance to make a better showing in the second season.

Overall, I’d still watch this season if you’re enough of a Marvel Cinematic Universe nerd (or simply love the Knight of Flowers).

Fourth Place: 

DaredevilSeasonTwo

Daredevil, Season Two

While watching this season, I found the two “parallel” story lines to be drastically different in tone and quality. In short, the bits with the Punisher was good while the parts focusing on Elektra was not so good.

With a quick Google search, I found the likely reason: The season had two showrunners who, I can only assume, worked with too much independence. They weren’t careful enough with pacing and cohesiveness of the season overall.  The story with Elektra, however, leads into the Defenders crossover, though. So perhaps the showrunners were being pulled in too many directions.

If you ask me, the flashbacks concerning Elektra’s past were shown too late. They should have built up sympathy for her much earlier so the viewers would not be so annoyed with her. As it is, Elektra’s tossed into the story in a very slapdash way, and we’re force fed some kind of supposed chemistry between her and the Daredevil. It didn’t quite work.

Third Place:

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Jessica Jones, Season One

To put it bluntly, I think Jessica Jones kind of got screwed over in terms of budget for the first season. Although I can’t find any clear evidence, I found some circumstantial evidence: The first seasons for all four superheroes plus the crossover were supposed to split a $200 million budget, and Daredevil ate up $56 by himself. The variety and quality of the sets on Jones makes it seem like an indie film in contrast to Daredevil, which came out first, and Luke Cage which came out a little later. A huge number of the scenes and property damage in Jones was limited to her one-bedroom apartment (which, by the way, is much crappier than Daredevil’s big ass loft/studio).

So despite having a solid story about Jones getting over some serious trauma paired with strong performances by the actors, I think the budget (although maybe the production was also rushed like Iron Fist) made Jones’ first season lack the luster it deserved.

Although, David Tennant does a great job playing a character whose face I want to punch whenever he shows up. Pft. Kilgrave.

Second Place:

I’m going to cheat and go with a three-way tie: Jessica Jones, Season Two; Luke Cage, Season One; and The Punisher, Season One

The pacing and apparent production value for the second season of Jessica Jones totally outshines the first. The story has more hooks and barrels forward with more momentum than the first (despite or because of the general lack of David Tennant’s character; I guess Kilgrave, and what he does, makes me uncomfortable).

LukeCage

Luke Cage is awesome, due in no small part to his much-more-impressive superpowers. However, the soundtrack, plot, and tone all work together to make the series very engrossing.

ThePunisher

The Punisher, although he’s not technically a Defender, has a great first season. It, like the other second-place seasons, hooks you from start to end. They provide some great action while building a lot of sympathy for the hard-ass protagonist.

All three of these shows touch upon subjects that, outside of fiction, may be difficult to discuss. Jessica Jones is a survivor rape and tons of other sources of trauma;  Luke Cage is wrongfully incarcerated and, as many have noted, is in a show about a bulletproof black man released in the midst of the #BlackLivesMatter movement; and The Punisher deals issues veterans face (e.g., PTSD, being and feeling discarded after their service). However, the shows don’t harp too much on these social and political issues. It’s all subtle enough that you can simply enjoy entertaining stories about over-the-top heroes (and anti-heroes).

First Place:

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Daredevil, Season One

The first season is leagues better than the second. I think it’s because it doesn’t have to worry so much about leading into the Defenders crossover as its second season (AKA one of many problems Iron Fist had to deal with). The action in this season is arguably the best in all of the Defenders, with a prime example being the should-be-famous one-shot fight scene from the very first episode.

This first season also benefits from having characters who are smart. They generally make decisions which are well thought out and they speak in a manner that exudes some measure of intellect (this contrasts with the first season of Jessica Jones where people make decisions without thinking and communication is almost non-existent). The season also leans heavily on the charismatic Kingpin, played by Vincent D’Onofrio (I lay most of this out in my so-called review of the season from way back when).

Apparently, I like violence followed by pretentious dialogue.

Full disclosure: I may have a bias for Daredevil because I’m also a handsome attorney who spends too much time in a side hustle. He fights crime with his superhuman senses, and I sit around writing crap no one reads. It’s the same.

Bonus Note: Each Defender show uses the character’s designated color throughout their scenes: red for Daredevil, purple for Jessica Jones, yellow for Luke Cage, and green for Iron Fist. Although the colors are noticeable in Daredevil and Jones, I feel it’s not overdone. Yellow lights are pretty common in real life, so it’s all but unnoticeable in Luke CageIron Fist, however, totally flushes too much out with green. C’mon, Fist team.

 

 

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Avengers: Infinity War – Movie Review

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Seems as good a time as any to feel like a drop in the ocean, so I’m going to throw my opinions about the latest Marvel film at the internet.

Although the first Infinity War is less of a standalone, and packs less of an emotional punch than other Marvel films, it’s still entertaining. I’ll explain:

*SPOILER WARNING* – If you are caught up on the films or simply don’t care about spoilers, please read on.

Standalone or stepping stone

Obviously, every Marvel film is part of a greater, ongoing universe so they should naturally feed into one another to keep the momentum for the “series.” They aren’t supposed to be single-shots. However, I believe all of the earlier movies have strong “standalone” qualities; the films individually carry their own story arcs, resolving them before the credits roll.

Even the prior Avengers crossovers provide full story arcs. The characters have internal and external problems at the start, we’re given time to see the problems and potential solutions come to a boil, and then there’s a climax and resolution where most problems are solved and the characters are shown to have grown.

With Avengers: Infinity War, the character development is lacking, relying more on the viewers’ knowledge of past films than ever, and the movie ends in the middle of the rising action. Obviously, this was intentional, since Disney and the Russo brothers plan to spread the story arc over two Infinity War films (with an Ant-Man sequel and Captain Marvel debut in-between). So, with Infinity War, they wrap up Part One by crushing our heroes with major setbacks.

Side Note: This is essentially what was famously done by The Empire Strikes Back, but unlike Empire, I doubt Infinity War will be ever be referred to as being the best of the series.

Ultimately, Infinity War is unique as being the only MCU film to lack a full story arc. It probably also has the largest proportion of movie-goers thinking “WTF?” at the end (I haven’t seen such a response since watching The Fellowship of the Ring in a theater where some folks didn’t know they were only watching the first in a trilogy).

Personally, I’m fine that the movie is more a part of a series than it is a standalone. I’ve been trained since the days Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings to be okay with waiting a year or so for the next film. The folks at Disney are becoming experts at intermittently releasing films to build and maintain interest. So, although there are many unresolved threads, I’m still fine with waiting for the wrap-up, especially since we’ll have two other MCU films in the interim.

Death everywhere, but not a tear to drop

Okay, I don’t think I’ve actually shed a tear while watching a Marvel movie, but I’ll admit I’ve come close. With Black Panther, I’m driven to near-tears every time I see Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan; Seth Carr) going up to the apartment to find what happened to his father. Guardian of the Galaxy Vol 2. also got me pretty good when Peter Quill learns the details of his mother’s death. Going back to Phase One movies, I’m also moved when the scrawny Steve Rogers dives on the grenade in The First Avenger.

With Infinity War, we’re treated to a high death count. Try as I might to delve into some sympathy and empathy, I wasn’t quite as affected as I would’ve liked.

In the opening scene, we see slaughtered Asgardians and the fan-beloved Loki choked to death. I felt almost nothing. I was busy thinking, “Dude, we just saw these guys get saved at the end of Thor: Ragnarok. And where the hell is Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and that rock guy (Taika Waititi)? Are they all just dead now after Bones/Eomer (Karl Urban) sacrificed himself for them?”

Well, I also thought “Nooooo!” when Heimdall (Idris Elba) was stabbed in the heart, but that was about it. I’d already seen Loki die before, so–yeah.

Perhaps the lack of emotion also has to do with the rushed pacing of the movie. There’s so much to get through, the scenes fly by, and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) doesn’t get a fair chance to relay his pain to the audience.

I’m going to take a risk and say the lack of tears is, perhaps, partially because of the men at the helm. For the record, I thoroughly enjoyed directors Joe and Anthony Russo’s work on Captain America: Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War (it’s probably largely because of their success with Winter Soldier that Captain America didn’t shrink into more of a background character). They do great with the cloak-and-dagger stories, evoking certain emotions featuring the brotherhood between Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), and certain types of comedy. However, they don’t seem as proficient with the use of pathos in their work.

Then again, getting people to cry probably isn’t the main objective in these movies.

Awkward woman VS woman combat

The movie seems to go out of its way to force the only female villain, Proxima (Carrie Coon), to fight the female heroes. I’ll concede there are instances where they mix it up a bit, most notably in Scotland. However, the film quickly establishes an awkward C-story between Proxima and Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson).

This seems to be the result of using a dated mechanic: forcing female characters to fight each other, insulated from the males in rather contrived manners. This issue is most noticeable when Proxima faces off against Black Widow, Okoye, and Scarlet Witch at the same time. The Winter Soldier and Cap aren’t that far away at the moment, so why don’t they go after Proxima? I’m pretty sure the answer is, “All-girl Fight,” preceded by a shrug.

Fan Theory Zone

I generally don’t like to go too much into fan theorizing, but I feel compelled to make a few comments:

  1. Cheating with a bit of meta knowledge, the fact that certain movies have already been announced and certain actors are contracted for more films, a lot of the characters who “die” in the movie aren’t really dead forever (e.g., there are supposed to be more Spider-man and Guardians movies, and I don’t think those would work very well without Tom Holland and Chris Pratt as Spider-man and Star-Lord).
  2. I assume, with Chris Evans’ apparent insistence not to contract for more movies, the only character who is more guaranteed to be “truly” killed off by the end of the Infinity War is Captain America. Many other folks will likely be brought back.
  3. Dr. Strange saw all the possible futures, including one in which the good guys won; he probably had a very specific reason to make sure Tony Stark, of all the folks present, is left alive. So, it’s probably a future where Stark somehow makes it so the characters wiped out at the end of this movie aren’t quite gone.
  4. Thanos’ goal is to get rid of half the population of all civilizations so that the civilizations can continue to exist and not overuse their resources. Maybe what he does by snapping his fingers isn’t to kill everyone, but to separate them into two alternate realities. That would halve the population, like he wants. Or maybe he sends half the population into a state of limbo. Why wouldn’t he just use his all-powerful gauntlet to create infinite resources and make everyone happy? He’s called the Mad Titan for a reason; he has to accomplish his goal (halving the population), but he doesn’t have to do it in the way people expect. At any rate, I think all the people who turned to ash at the end of Infinity War weren’t really killed in the normal sense.

Despite all the critiques I might have, I still found Avengers: Infinity War to be entertaining and I will continue to give all my money to Disney. The only problem is when I re-watch this movie, I’ll feel like I have to immediately go on to the next one because this movie offers no closure whatsoever.

Back in the Habit–Writing Regularly

My writing has been pretty inconsistent over the last year. I’ve used my UCLA Extension classes as a crutch, pretending I’m doing enough writing-related work so long as I fulfill the requirements of the class and get my “A’s.” However, the quantity of writing has dwindled to something that should be unacceptable to any half-serious writer.

Having come back “home,” I hope I can do better with my writing discipline; correct and stay the course. Right now, I’m sitting in one of my old writing spots, trying to use the location to trigger some kind of positive conditioning–to get myself to work. I managed to put together a few hundred words in my WIP novel before I decided to churn out this “quick” blog post. Hopefully, this is the start of more productive habits.

Wish me luck.

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Too Busy/Lazy

So, this is more of a personal post and update on my life than anything else.

I haven’t posted anything for quite a while. I was in South Korea (with the girlfriend) for a year, teaching English. Didn’t write as much as I wanted to, and I didn’t do as much remote legal work as intended, either. However, I am making steady progress with UCLA Extension classes and will probably end up with a certificate in fiction writing by the end of the year.

Now that I’m back in the States, I want to become more established in my careers as an attorney and as a writer. However, I’m also learning to code (java).

I probably need to learn how to focus on one thing at a time.

Without further ado, here’s a picture I took of a dog in China:

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Dog we saw while looking for an ATM during an overnight layover in Beijing.

Bronn: 1, Drogon: 0—Game of Thrones, Season 7, So Far

Game of Thrones Spoiler Alert! (With that out of the way—)

Dany and Jon Snow

I sincerely hope this doesn’t turn into a romantic relationship. The Onion Knight needs to mind his business.

As I watched Drogon bearing down on Bronn and the ballista, I found myself rooting more for Bronn than Daenerys. Actually, I was more on the side of Jaime and Bronn for the entirety of the battle. Given Dany’s insistence that Jon Snow bend the knee in the last two hours of GoT, I’ve been somewhat annoyed with her.

This season, Dany has been acting rather entitled to the Iron Throne and the whole of Westeros, and it’s gotten tiresome. The first Targaryen to sit on the throne had taken the continent through conquest and threat of violence. Robert Targaryen took it back by the same means, relieving the people from the whims of the Mad King. So, though it’s fair game for Dany to say she’s going to take the throne by the might of her dragons and her army, I find it a bit lame for her to so strongly rely on the argument that it’s her “right.”

Jon’s retort to Dany on episode 3 was on point. He basically said he didn’t acknowledge her right to the throne because her father gave up the throne when he went ballistic on the people of Westeros. Overall, I’m not a fan of monarchies and (governing) power-by-inheritance. As a person who grew up with Hollywood films touting the values of Democracy, I kind of want Daenerys to unite Westeros and then put down her crown—as cheesy as it my be.

So after Dany spent two episodes basically clashing with my beloved King in the North, and insisting that she is entitled to the entire continent and all the people’s allegiance, I wasn’t quite in support of her flying down to Highgarden and laying waste to Westerosi.

The showrunners (and, perhaps, George R.R. Martin) intended for these late-game clashes to leave the audience conflicted, and it was done well. I didn’t want anyone to die in this fight. Sure, the Lannisters have a history of being jerks, but all the lives lost in this episode are warriors who should have united to fight against the true enemy.

By the end of the episode, when Jaime told Bronn to use their secret dragon-slaying weapon, I was both hoping and expecting for Drogon to be shot down (sorry, animal lovers). I wanted the dragon to fall, somewhat selfishly, because Dany needed a reality check. I also expected it because, like most folks, you could see this coming a mile away—more lives and resources need to be wasted, from a writing/show-running standpoint, before the good guys can finally band together.

Bronn being awesome

Take that, Drogon.

So the postman may hate Bronn, but he has my support. As for his and Jaime Lannister’s fates on the show after they dodged the flames and fell into the water—

They’re probably okay. They’re not shown in teasers for the next episode just to screw with people. The showrunners seem to be going in the direction of The Walking Dead and leaning a bit too much on cliffhangers to jerk the audience around (which, if true, is a mistake).

What Am I Doing?

Not that you asked, but I’ve been taking courses with the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and am currently teaching English in Seoul. No, I haven’t abandoned my license to practice law—as usual, the legal career is in the backseat while writing drives (life-experiences called shotgun). Before leaving California to go to Korea, I made a few visits to Disneyland.

Disneyland - California Adventure

Okay, this is technically California Adventure, but I didn’t take any photos on the other side.

UCLA Extension

I’ve been taking the Novel Writing series of courses with UCLA Extension. I started with the on-campus class (going back to the old campus is always nice), but switched over to the online version when I decided to go to Korea. Overall, I think it’s been rather helpful.

In terms of craft, the lecture and workshops haven’t taught me anything “new.” I’d already learned much of it via the internet, the Southern California Writers’ Conference, and writing groups. However, the lecture material and workshops have helped me to hone my craft, solidify certain theories (so I can actually apply them more consistently), and develop my ability to read with a writer’s eye.

The instructors at UCLA Extension seem to echo the sentiment I’d read when researching MFA programs: you can’t really teach art, you can only facilitate the growth of artists. So, that’s how the classes have been going. The instructor and other students offer valuable insights and feedback but, for the most part, each writer needs to put in the work to further their own craft.

Teaching English in Korea

The process to get the job in Seoul was a long one. Securing documentation and flinging paperwork back and forth was a bit of a hassle. After months of that, I finally flew to Seoul and was subjected to a highly stressful week of training. The bottome line: if you fail the training, you’re sent back home. Honestly, I did not expect the training to be so taxing.

I’m glad to say, however, it’s been a considerable while since training and I’m feeling fairly comfortable here now. I’m more at ease in front of the classroom, have been referred to as Handsome Teacher a number of times (the girlfriend says this has been inflating my ego), and am slowly swapping out American fast food out of my diet in favor of kimchi jjigae. So, yeah, I’m getting settled and finally feel like I have the time to start posting here again. Hopefully, I’ll also get to write a lot more and have something to report on that end.

Take it easy, folks.

Namsan Seoul Tower

Namsan Tower (AKA Seoul Tower)

Kyle from Last Man Standing = Jeff from American Dad

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A few episodes into Last Man Standing, I realized the character of Kyle Anderson reminded me a lot of Jeff Fischer on American Dad!. They’re both super-nice and kindhearted, have similar amounts of facial hair, are loyal partners to their women, have a noticeable lack of wit, are partial to Hackey Sack, and are more likable than most of the people around them. Oh, and I guess they’re both twenty-something white guys.

Of course, they’re not exactly the same, but listing differences doesn’t seem as fun.

After pointing out the similarity of these characters to my girlfriend, I jumped onto Google to see if anyone has written about it. Finding nothing, I decided I’d write this myself. My best guess as to why no one else has noted this (in an easily Googled space) is because the shows seem to appeal to different demographics (or, you know, something to do with American Dad!‘s recent ratings).

American Dad!, like other Seth MacFarlane shows, leans liberal and has a mostly “young” male audience. Last Man Standing is a bit closer to center thanks to a balance between Tim Allen’s conservative views and a somewhat-left writing room, and it’s probably more appealing to “older” folks (I watch it because I loved Home Improvement as a kid—whether or not I’m “old” may be up for debate). Ironically, the “liberal” American Dad! is probably less PC than the “conservative” Last Man Standing.

Back to my point: People who know Jeff Fischer have probably never heard of Kyle Anderson, and vice versa. Then there are weirdos like me who enjoy both shows and use Google to see if people notice the same crap I do.