Thursday, May 24, 2018

Let's Talk Marvel and Netflix

The key to Marvel's success has always been integration. That was the heart of Stan Lee's original vision for the "universe," a place where all heroes (and us) existed simultaneously and, therefore, could interact with each other in one cohesive existence. It was a radical new approach to superhero comics (and one that DC still has not figured out, having had to relaunch their entire universe as recently as 2016, the second time they've done that this decade). Marvel has continued to model this initial idea throughout their history, carrying it into the MCU and to their various Netflix series.

And, yes, I know I'm a little late to the whole Netflix game (as far as reviews go), but I don't watch a lot of TV and never binge, so it takes me a while to get through these shows. However, now that I've finally finished The Defenders, I figured it was time to weigh in on the MNU (Marvel Netflix Universe); as such, this will be more like thoughts rather than any kind of review.

Let's go in order:

Daredevil: Overall, I thought Daredevil was great. It has the gritty feel of the Frank Miller era of the character with all of the struggles that come with that. They gave the series the right feel to make it believable as existing just beneath the MCU, beneath in that what's going on with Daredevil and his associates is beneath the notice of the "bigger" heroes dealing with global issues. And Charlie Cox is great in the role.

They also managed to avoid what was probably the biggest potential pitfall of introducing Daredevil as a character: the Hand. Despite the fact that this is a superhero show, this isn't the 80s anymore, and a secret organization of ninjas is actually less believable than a Norse god with a flying hammer or a guy who turns into a big, green rage monster.

What they didn't do well was the Kingpin, which is why I have to say the show is "overall" great and not just that it's a great show. Vincent D'Onofrio is wretched in the role, a whiny man-baby. Maybe it's not his fault; I'm not familiar enough with him as an actor to know if it was him or the writing or directing. What I know is that the Kingpin of the TV series is a pale reflection of the Kingpin of the comics, and I hated him. Not in a good way. It made me wish for Michael Clarke Duncan; now, there was a real Kingpin.

Then there's the Punisher... What a controversial character for our time. For all times since he was created, actually. The Daredevil/Punisher conflict is classic, and they did a great job with the introduction of Frank Castle and making him an appropriate anti-hero to go along with Matt Murdock.

Jessica Jones: A good, solid series. I like the character, and Krysten Ritter does a great job with her. David Tennant was fantastic as Kilgrave, as fantastic as D'Onofrio was un-fantastic. Of course, I'm also biased as Tennant goes: He was the second best Doctor ever. It was also nice to see the re-emergence of Carrie-Anne Moss.

But I don't thin they handled the story as well in this one. Strong start, wobbly finish. Don't ask me what about it; I don't, at this point, remember. Look, mind control is a powerful ability, maybe too powerful for what they were working with. It just felt like some of what they were doing toward the end of the series was... a little tenuous at best.

However, Mike Colter was great as Luke Cage, and I thought it was cool that they introduced him in this series.

Speaking of
Luke Cage: I wanted to like this show much more than I actually ended up liking it. Which is unfortunate because, as I said, in Jessica Jones, Mike Colter was great. And, actually, again in The Defenders, he is great. But in his own show...?

Okay, to be fair, I don't think it's him, because the problem was with all of the actors, which means, probably, the problem was with the director. Everyone had this slow, overly enunciated speech, so much so that it was distracting and felt unnatural. It's not at all how Colter delivered his lines in either Jones or the Defenders, so it was something specific to the Cage series. Erik LaRay Harvey suffered from it the most. He became unbelievable as a villain.

And he was already unbelievable as a villain, which is not to say that he was precisely unbelievable, but he was so cliche -- the out-of-favor half brother -- as to be unbelievable.

None of which is to say that I didn't like Luke Cage, but, by the time I got around to watching it, so many people were talking about it as if it was the best thing ever that I expected more out of it.

Having said all of that, Simone Missick was great as Misty Knight, though that was countered by Mahershala Ali being wasted in his role.

Which brings us to the apparently reviled Iron Fist.

I'm going to admit that I don't really understand the intense negative reaction to this show. It feels like one of those things that everyone decided not to like before they actually watched it, the reverse of everyone deciding they loved Luke Cage before they actually watched it. It's not that I don't understand that on the surface the show looks like just another rich, white super hero but, really, Iron Fist is much more nuanced than that. Which I don't want to get into because I'm not defending some white superhero.

The story is solid, and it leans on the origin of the character from the comic, just as Luke Cage, and all of Marvel's properties have so far, and I like that about what Marvel has been doing. They give the fans of the characters from the comics a thread to connect them rather than reinventing the character as something or someone s/he never was.

So, yeah, I liked the show.

And, man, I really want there to be some kind of Power Man and Iron Fist series, even if that's not what the call it.

Hmm... also, they really develop the Hand in the Iron Fist series which sets us up nicely for
The Defenders: Once again, Marvel shows us that they are the masters at taking disparate threads and drawing them together into one cohesive story. It's nice to see all of these characters come together, and not just the heroes, the side characters, too. In fact, it's the side characters who, in many ways, breathe real life into all of these series: Claire Temple, Foggy Nelson, Karen Page. Stick.

I like Stick.

Also Trish Walker and Misty Knight. I don't want to make it seem like it's only the Daredevil side characters I like. They just came first and have woven themselves through many of the other series as well, especially Claire. And Rosario Dawson is really good in the role.

So they pull all of these characters together and manage to mostly avoid the cliche "hero meets hero and so must fight"... but, well, where that does happen, it really works. Really. And that's all I'm going to say about that because I don't want to be all spoilery for anyone who is farther behind than I am.

So they pull all of these characters together to, of course, face off against a menace that no single one of them could handle alone. They do it well. The first half of the series is brilliant. Which brings us to the only weakness of the series: This conflict has been building and building through several of the other individual series and, then, it's just... over. It felt too abrupt to me. Too quick and easy. Not that it was easy, but... Yeah...

It's probably just me.

But, overall, still great. I'm looking forward to more.
Of all of it.
I can't wait to see where it goes and what other characters come in.

What Marvel is doing with Movies and TV is actually kind of amazing. The kind of thing that was said could never be done because the audience would never go for intricate, in depth, long term stories. I think it was probably just the (old, white) executives who couldn't understand intricate, in depth, long term stories. All I can say is that it's about time.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Deadpool 2: No Subtitle or Anything (Seems Like a Wasted Opportunity To Me) (a movie review post)

I suppose the first question people will have about Deadpool 2 is, "Is it as good as the first one?" Which is a more than fair question considering how out-of-the-box the first Deadpool was. It's the kind of thing that can be difficult to followup. You know, just how sophomore releases from bands sometimes end their careers.

You'll be happy to know that 2, in this case, is just as good as the first. I'm not going to go as far as some reviews I've seen and say it's better, because I don't think it is, but it certainly doesn't fumble the ball.
To mix a bunch of metaphors.
Maybe I should say drop the mic? Except that means something completely different.
If this was Deadpool, this would be the point he'd stick his head in your screen and say something about where you could put the mic.
Or the ball.
Or something about balls.

Actually, I went to see it as a double feature, which you might say is a lot of Deadpool, but it didn't feel like it. And that's without an intermission between the two films! The second one flowed pretty seamlessly from the first and continued on with the same tone and humor, so I would say the two movies are pretty on par with each other.

And, you know, sure, I could pick it apart; like the plot in the second one feels a bit contrived, but it feels more contrived than it actually is. When you want to introduce a time-travelling character from the future, it's hard to do other than to just have him show up. Which is not to say they didn't provide the back story for that, because they did. It all works just fine, but it felt a bit contrived, at least to me. Not enough to actually bother me, just enough to notice.

The one thing that is decidedly better is the closing credits scene, and that's saying a lot considering the scene at the end of the credits from the first movie is one of the best ones ever done, almost as good as the one from Ferris Bueller. And this one is better. So much better. If the movie had sucked but still had this end-credits scene, it would be still be worth seeing. Yes, it's that good.

A few other good things of note in the movie:

Josh Brolin. You have to hand it to him; he's captured roles of two major Marvel characters. That's pretty impressive in my book. And, well, I like Josh, and he does a good job as Cable.

Zazie Beetz: She's awesome as Domino. I don't really remember much about Domino from the comics other than that she was supposed to be a big deal character. I have a stack of issues of her first appearance in fact and, for a while, she was a big deal character. I guess. But I have no strong memories of her beyond her introduction. Which just so happened to be the first appearance of Deadpool, too.

X-Force: OMG LOL!
Now I can't wait for this movie.

Brad Pitt: What? You didn't know he was in the movie?

Basically, if you liked (loved) the first Deadpool, there is no reason to expect that you won't feel the same way about this one. They even managed to make an opening credit sequence that nearly matches the opening credit sequence of the first one in yummy goodness, and that's saying something considering the opening sequence from the first Deadpool may be the best opening credit sequence ever made. Or, at least, since Star Wars dispensed with one altogether.

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Weekly Pep Rally: Churches Without a god

Being someone who grew up in the church and who, then, worked in churches for about two decades, I know what church is like. Or, well, I know what church is supposed to be like. Church used to be a place of moral authority, which is what it's supposed to be like, sort of, but, these days, it's become more of a... slot machine. It's a change largely instituted by Boomers through their wholehearted embrace of the prosperity doctrine and the idea they've pushed that church should be FUN! WooHoo!

And I'm not saying necessarily that church shouldn't be fun, but it shouldn't be about being fun. Of course, the whole fun thing is really only about making money.

And I'm also not saying that those morals in the "moral authority" were correct, but, at least, the people who attended paid some semblance of respect to those morals and tried to live lives that matched.

Without going through the history of the decline of the church in the United States, it abandoned any pretense of moral authority with its embrace of Trump (#fakepresident). You can't tell people they shouldn't commit adultery while supporting a man who views adultery as a victory. You can't tell people to "love your neighbor" while supporting a man who abuses his neighbors of other skin tones. You can't tell people to "love God" when you support a man who only loves himself.

I could go on...

Church is no longer about "being good" or "bringing people to Christ" or helping the needy. In fact, "christianity" is no longer about following Jesus at all. "christianity" has become a political position, and church is nothing more than a weekly Right-wing pep rally.

Which, you know, was a very eye-opening thought. It explains why a fairly small minority of the population is able to stay so organized and retain so much power.

Lookit, "the moral majority" Right-wing fundamentalist fascist fuckheads makeup, at best, about 30% of the population, and, yet, they have been able to stay in control of the reins of power for far too long because they are able to stay focused on a small number of issues. It keeps them motivated, and it's why they turn out for all of the elections.

It's like this:
A "friend" of mine from Texas with whom I went to college told me he "literally would have voted for the Devil rather than vote for Clinton." He used abortion as the excuse for his stance (though it sounded more to me like it was about having a woman in charge because "christians" hate women in power). Another "friend" (also from Texas and also from college) quickly echoed the sentiment. Having their votes be about an issue also allowed them to be able to doublethink (look it up if you don't know), "Sure I voted for Trump, but I'm not a Trump supporter."

But let's not go down all of those rabbit trails, as appealing as they are. Or not appealing.
Tempting?
Anyway...

All of that to say that I think those of us on the Left could probably benefit from some kind of similar weekly pep rally that would help us to stay focused on particular issues and motivated about getting out to vote. We could call it Church of the Godless, which would not be substantially different from "christian" churches, but it would be more honest.
But, then, it is rigid fundamentalists who are the ones more prone to hypocrisy. It must hurt to have so many planks in one's eyes.