NETFLIX SERIES REVIEW. The MCU welcomes Iron Fist ahead of The Defenders

Genre: Comic Book/Martial Arts action
Rating: ★★★
Words by: Dan Tull

The final chapter in the buildup to Marvel’s first TV crossover event has landed. Iron Fist is the fourth Netflix series following Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. With this, the stage is set for The Defenders later this year. For those who don’t know what that is, it’s essentially the “Avengers of the streets”. Iron Fist is a martial arts odyssey that sees protagonist Danny Rand (the titular Iron Fist, played by Game Of Thrones alumni Finn Jones) engaging in a one-man-war on the same mysterious organisation we first saw in Daredevil, The Hand. If I were to rate this against the other Marvel shows, I’d say it’s the weakest. That isn’t to say it’s bad, it’s just not as tight as the first series of Daredevil or Jessica Jones.

 

Iron Fist has been a show that even before it’s release endured some major controversy. For one, concerns over whitewashing became evident and there were further issues over the general quality of the show. As a result, I feel that much of the press was quite heavily influenced by this early panning and it became immediately trendy to dislike the show. With this in mind, I went into this with a mind as open as possible, which wasn’t overly difficult considering I’m probably one of the few people who actually quite liked the source material.
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To begin with, let’s just get the obvious controversy stuff out the way. Yes, more diverse representation in media should absolutely be commonplace, and we’ve seen it handled extremely well in previous Marvel shows such as Luke Cage and Jessica Jones. That said, I feel as though this is a case of there being very little Marvel could do to get it right and please everyone. If they’d cast an Asian actor to play a historically white character, there would also have been outrage from passionate fans alike. This is an issue that should definitely be included prominently within discourse around the entertainment industry, as representation is still disappointingly low for a lot of groups within film and television. It is just a case of getting the balance right and representing these people well instead of just including a token individual in order to tick a box.

Iron Fist tells the story of Danny Rand, the lone survivor of a plane crash that killed his parents over the Himalayas. He is quickly taken in by a group of warrior monks and trained in the ways of Martial Arts. Ten years later, he returns to New York City for personal reasons and finds himself caught up in a world of intrigue, deception and shady corporate dealings. It also turns out that whilst away he has become blessed with the eponymous Iron Fist and can summon it by focusing his chi. This manifests as an unbreakable glowing fist that causes varying levels of destruction.

For the first few episodes, the series hums along at a slower pace than the previous Marvel shows. However, this is not really a criticism as I found most of what I was seeing entertaining. I would say that the first third features far less martial arts than one might expect from a show like this. The plot occasionally feels overly contrived, especially when we start to unravel the truth behind series antagonist, Harold Meachum (played by Lord Of The Rings’s David Wenham). If I were to rate this against the other Marvel shows, I’d say it’s the weakest. That isn’t to say it’s bad, it’s just not as tight as the first series of Daredevil or Jessica Jones.

The show is at its best when focused on the relationship between Danny and Coleen Wing (fellow Game of Thrones star Jessica Henwick). The whole storyline that plays out here is compelling enough to maintain an interest throughout the show, amounting to a decent sub-plot. Unfortunately, the show finds a strange main plot that left me a little confused as to what certain characters were trying to achieve. Harold Meachum seems to be a duplicitous business tycoon for no other reason than it fits a stereotype. By the time we reach the end of the series he betrays Danny for no apparent reason. The same goes for Harold’s estranged daughter, Joy Meachum (played by Jessica Stroup), who spends most of the show supporting Danny only to seemingly be plotting his murder come the finale.

We also get a decent redemption arc for Ward Meachum, the brother of Joy. He starts out the series as a cookie cutter villainous board room douche and develops into a deeply sympathetic character who, moving forward, may prove to be one of Danny’s stronger allies.

As far as ties to the wider MCU go, we get the obligatory references to the Avengers as well as a couple of characters crossing over from previous TV shows. Jeri Hogarth (Carrie Ann Moss from The Matrix) returns from Jessica Jones and of course, Rosario Dawson’s long suffering character of Claire Temple returns. Having been promoted to a major role in Luke Cage, she finds a middle ground in Iron Fist. I have to say, she’s the most contrived part of the show. Whilst her appearances in Luke Cage and Jessica Jones felt relatively natural, her appearance here is ridiculous. She just seems to exist and tags along on the missions that Danny Rand and Coleen are on just to provide a link to the other shows. Undoubtably she’ll be the one who unites the Defenders.

 

In general, I found Iron Fist to be enjoyable. It certainly has many flaws but it’s a good enough addition to the MCU TV series as we move into the Defenders.

The Good

  • Finn Jones as Danny Rand is a great solo performance despite controversies on his casting

  • Jessica Henwick is a breakout as Coleen Wing

  • Some pretty amazing fight scenes

  • A dragon now exists in the MCU which is great

  • The hints towards mysticism are a welcome addition

The Bad

  • The plot sometime meanders to the point of being irrelevant

  • What even are Harold Meachum’s motivations?

  • Also, why does Joy Meachum now want to kill Danny?

  • Claire Temple’s appearance is simply too much, even though she’s the glue that holds these shows together she is utterly superfluous in this

FILM REVIEW – Logan

Release date: 2 March 2017

Genre: Action Drama

Rating:★★★★

Words by: Dan Tull

 

2017 is shaping up to be a mammoth year for the superhero genre. A total of six superhero films are due this year, along with countless TV series. From an avid fan of this genre, even for myself this is rapidly approaching the over-saturation point. Nowadays just to watch a Marvel or DC film you need to have done some significant homework to understand what’s going on, which in Marvel’s case involves trawling through almost ten years of film history. Whilst I understand and appreciate the idea of films that are related within a shared universe, films should still be able to stand alone and be fully experienced by viewers who are new to the shared universe. Logan is a respectable rarity in its ability to achieve this.

It is my belief, and one that many others share, that these films are soon going to lose the interest of people. There are simply too many coming out every year for the casual viewer to differentiate between them. Whilst some innovations and creative leaps are made on occasion (Deadpool, Doctor Strange), others still fall into the same boring rehash of a plot we’ve seen hundreds of times.

Swolverine-story_647_102116025055o when it came to Logan, the third solo Wolverine film and tenth overall X-Men film, I was something of a skeptic. The X-Men series has never been consistent, and while on the whole I’d say they were good, there are many that aren’t. In fact, remember the first Wolverine solo film, X-Men Origins: Wolverine? It arguably stands as one of the worst comic-book adaptations ever made.

However, with all of the above in mind, Logan categorically succeeds to satisfy and impress. The film requires no previous knowledge of other films in the series. Yes, it does call back to previous vents but the viewer does not need to have seen them to understand the context. Everything you need from this film is contained within.

This is perhaps the most refreshing superhero film I’ve seen since the Dark Knight. Logan isn’t weighed down by having to reconcile a while cinematic universe worth of plot details and it isn’t focused on crafting a franchise beyond itself. It is a self-contained story that excels in developing its own plot, setting and most importantly; characters.

article_post_width_xThe chemistry between Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and Stephen Merchant (cast superbly as albino mutant Caliban) is totally believable, as a weary and senile Professor X struggles to stay lucid while Logan and Caliban desperately try to care for him. This triad of characters serves as our hub for the first third. The action really kicks off when we are introduced to eleven year old Laura (played by Dafne Keen). Despite having barely any dialogue, Laura is a welcome addition who brings about a contrasting flare to the story line. Keen is able to communicate precisely how Laura is feeling and what she is going through, purely with facial ticks and body language.

Logan is of course an R-Rated film. This was a cause of concern to many fans, who thought that since the success of Deadpool (another R-Rated X-Men film), this was simply an effort to cash on that. This is not the case. Logan uses brutality inherent in the Wolverine character to devastating effect. His claws slice through limbs and skulls with all the gory details exposed and laid bare. It doesn’t look glamorous like Wolverine may have in past outings. It feel visceral, savage and painfully real.

I tremendously enjoyed the first two thirds, which the final act lagged a bit in it’s set-up, the ending certainly makes for a welcome change in superhero movies. There’s no CGI filled cluster-fuck with a thousand things going on at once. Logan doesn’t face a giant silver robot with a samurai sword. Instead, the final battle is set in some woods with all the tension and drama coming from the stakes, which the first two thirds have carefully built up.

If there is one fault I have with this film, it falls into SPOILERS so read on at your own discretion.

The ‘big bad’ of this film is a perfect clone of Logan, played by a de-aged Hugh Jackman. Whilst I feel that the film portrayed this version of Logan as a manacing, beastial threat, I couldn’t help bu remember the last time Wolverine fought a version of himself in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and it made me quite sad and disappointed.

SPOILERS END HERE

 

Logan for its minor faults is a tremendous film. It has completely bucked the superhero formula and makes for a deeply emotional journey that tells the ultimate Wolverine story. Standout performances from Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and Stephen Merchant make the whole thing believable, something that is desperately needed within this genre at the moment. I hope that more directors view this as an example of wonderful storytelling within a superhero universe.


Make sure to give the latest X-Men film a chance and watch it at your local

DT

FILM REVIEW. Marvel’s Doctor Strange

Release date: 28 October 2016

Genre: Comic Book/Fantasy

Rating: ★★★★

With the expansion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), it only made sense that the franchise was going to start introducing more ‘out-there’ characters from Marvel Comics after the runaway success of their 2014 spacefaring adventure Guardians of the Galaxy (which was truly excellent and I am beyond excited for the sequel coming next year). So when Doctor Strange was announced, I can understand why some people may have been skeptical about the characters inclusion. “Magic? In the MCU?” they cried. “He’ll be too OP (overpowered)!” Well, yeah, he kind of is. But that’s not a bad thing… I’ll get to that later. Strange had already been namedropped in Captain America: The Winter Soldier as potentially being a threat to evil organisation Hydra (which raises a couple of continuity issues as Doctor Strange is implied to be set after the follow-up to Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, so he wouldn’t have been magical at that point, but just don’t think about it too much I guess, unless Hydra simply feels threatened by good surgery), so from that moment I was personally excited to see the character in the MCU. Once Benedict Cumberbatch was confirmed to play Strange, I was even more excited. What I got when finally watching the movie was relatively standard Marvel fare in terms of basic storyline, but the visuals, concept and acting was peak Marvel, in my opinion.

 

SPOILERS AHEAD. Obviously.

 

The basic premise of the movie is this: Doctor Stephen Strange is a famous, mega-talented surgeon (with a salivating collection of designer watches – who doesn’t love foreshadowing?) who loses the use of his skilled hands after a nasty car crash that would make Richard Hammond blush. Desperately seeking the intricate use of his hands back after medical procedures don’t provide the results he feels he needs and straining his relationship with his ex-wife (Rachel McAdams), he hears of a mystic order in Kathmandu which supposedly healed a man who was entirely paralysed from the waist down, which should have been impossible. Once he travels there he meets the enigmatic (not-yet-Baron) Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who after an incredibly trippy sequence begin to train Strange in the magical arts and enlist his help in trying to defeat rogue sorcerer Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) who intends on allowing an insanely powerful interdimensional enemy known as Dormammu into our world to “save” the people of Earth (read: everyone dies).

So in terms of basic story, it’s relatively standard “egotistical protagonist must learn humility and tap into his true strength to stop Bad Guy X from destroying/taking over the world/city (delete as applicable). But the way the film goes about this plot is a refreshing change of pace from some of the other movies in the MCU. Despite the magical powers of characters such as The Ancient One are shown to be incredibly powerful, Strange is still coming to grips with his powers and the world of magic for most of the film. The fighting set pieces are mostly based around the actual environments shifting around the combatants and how this affects them, particularly the novice Strange, rather than punching each other for 15-20 minutes. This rings especially true in the final ‘battle’ in which Strange confronts The Dread Dormammu himself in the Dark Dimension and has to rely on his cunning to defeat Dormammu instead of using brute force. This only serves to strengthen the film, in my opinion. Strange recognises that Dormammu is far, far too powerful for anybody to overpower. So exploiting the fact that Dormammu comes from a dimension where time doesn’t actually exist, he traps both himself and Dormammu in an infinite time loop using his Eye of Agamotto artefact (which turns out to be the Time Gem of the Infinity Stones; paging Thanos), allowing Dormammu to kill him over and over again until the Dark Lord grows frustrated and has no choice but to accept Strange’s bargain to leave and never return in exchange for freedom from the time loop. This, for me, was an incredibly refreshing change of pace from final battles like those found in say Avengers: Age of Ultron which rely on multiple characters beating the snot out of wave after wave of goons (or each other) for 20 or so minutes. To see a Marvel protagonist using his brain to defeat a superior foe (and frankly there aren’t enough truly superior foes in the MCU; most of them like this movie’s Kaecilius, Malekith from Thor: The Dark World and Zemo from Civil War amongst others are still mostly forgettable fodder with none of them holding a candle to Loki) is something that has been missed in the MCU. And with bigger, more powerful threats like Thanos with the Infinity Gauntlet coming up in the future, it’ll be more engaging to see films where the protagonist(s) truly have to overcome adversity to come out on top. Hey, some of them might even finally be at a real risk of dying in these encounters when it comes to such threats. For there only to have been ONE fatal casualty in the MCU in terms of primary good guys in all of the films so far (RIP Quicksilver), it’s hard to truly get engaged with Marvel movies sometimes when you just know the main characters are probably going to be fine. Sure, The Ancient One bites the dust in this movie, but she’s hardly a name as big as (or fighting alongside) Iron Man, Thor, Captain America etc. or even Quicksilver for that matter.

 

Although Kaecilius is your standard ‘one and done’ villain you get all too frequently in the MCU nowadays, the other characters are very enjoyable. Cumberbatch is excellent as Strange, although his American accent is considerably wonky at times. The dynamic between him and Rachel McAdams as his ex-wife is very well done and a more interesting ‘romantic’ one than your standard Marvel fare due to the two having already been divorced before the events of the movie. They never kiss or pretend to still be lovers, but they still very much care for each other, and it’s a more complex depth than we usually get in that regard. Ejiofor and Swinton as Mordo and The Ancient One respectively are also very enjoyable. Mordo’s contrast in attitude to Strange’s built up well throughout the movie before Mordo’s complete heel turn at the end in the post-credits scene. The issue of Swinton’s Ancient One’s hypocrisy when it comes to dabbling with dark magic despite insisting that no one else should do so is an interesting plot point and adds more credibility and audience understanding to Mordo’s eventual decision to walk away. Dormammu is very believably a serious threat; although I was a little disappointed he doesn’t appear in his human-shaped flaming skull head avatar, his almost ‘cosmic cloud’ entity lends itself perfectly to the ‘outsmarting’ angle for the final fight so I can understand why Marvel went in that direction. And it’s done in a far better way than Fox did it with Galactus in the godawful Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer in 2007 before the MCU even kicked off with Iron Man in 2008. I’m still hopeful that we’ll get flaming skull Dormammu sometime in the future though – surely it’s a matter of ‘when’ and not ‘if’ he breaks his bargain with Strange.

 

Ultimately, Doctor Strange is a hugely welcome addition to the MCU. Mindbending visuals, engaging characters (it’s nice to see the Magic Carpet from Disney’s Aladdin finding work again as Strange’s magical cape) and an enticing precedent for stakes to come (plus seemingly a team-up between Strange and Thor for the now even more stacked cast for Thor: Ragnarok) all make for highly enjoyable viewing that’s well worth a ‘watch’ on the big screen.

…get it? Because Strange loves watches and…. and there’s a watch motif throughout the…. forget it. It’s a great movie. Go see it.