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Review: Iron Fist - Season 1 (Netflix)

Posted on March 24, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Netflix's Marvel's Iron Fist

Marvel took the movie world by storm with The Avengers, a little film one or two of you may have seen. One of the most important aspects of The Avengers was the fact it wasn't the first movie to features its protagonists, all of whom had appeared in the preceding movies Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, either as the leads or as co-stars.

A staple of the comic book world, the crossover was something that had never really been tried in the movie world before and audiences loved it.

With a few reservations. The most notable of these was that there wasn't a huge amount of diversity in that superheroic line up: lots of straight white men as leads and usually as the villains, too, but women, people of colour et al were either in the supporting cast or completely absent. And while the movies have slowly added black characters such as Falcon and Black Panther and bumped up the role of supporting superheroine Black Widow to the point where Captain America: Winter Soldier was as much about her as about Captain America, solo movies with black or female superheroic leads are still a little way off.

So, when Netflix and Marvel announced they would produce a series of comic book TV shows together, three things were almost compulsory. The first was lower budgets. That meant having none of the movie universe characters in any of the shows, which meant having to pick completely new characters. The second was that there would be crossovers, which in turn would lead to one great big TV series featuring all the new heroes. The third was diversity would be key.

And thus we have a new group of superheroes: 'The Defenders'. Not to be confused with 'The Avengers', obviously. The Defenders is also the name of the ultimate TV show at the end of the list.

The sequence started with Daredevil, a really superb opening featuring probably the one character many people would have heard of, thanks in part to the Ben Affleck adaptation over a decade ago. Daredevil's also blind and a lawyer who does pro bono work defending the poor and helpless from big business.

That was quickly followed up with the suprisingly excellent feminist deconstruction of the entire genre, Jessica Jones, and then Luke Cage, an affair almost plotless because rather than being a superhero show, it largely was more interested in discussing black culture, history and what is the true and correct course of action for the modern black man of honour. A quick second season of Daredevil proved less satisfying, as it ditched gritty reality to pit our hero against a bunch of immortal ninja called 'The Hand'.

All the same, for all their pros and cons, diversity - globs of it everywhere.

Which makes Marvel's Iron Fist something of an odd choice. Because although it fits well with Mark Zuckerberg's idea of diversity, it's almost a slap in the face to the other shows' efforts.

Young Danny Rand, the white male son of white corporate mogul billionaries, is on their private jet to China when it crash lands in the mountains of Tibet. Coincidentally, that's just as the mystical city of K'un-L'un appeared from heaven on its 15-year regular cycle, journeying between planes of existence. Taken in by the warrior monks who guard K'un-L'un, the orphaned boy is trained in their ways and eventually succeeds all trials to become 'the Iron Fist', K'un-L'un's 'living weapon' who uses the power of the heart of the Shou-Lao the Undying dragon, to defend the city from the Hand, whenever it appears on Earth.

However, when K'un-L'un returns to the Earthly plane again 15 years later, Danny abandons his post and heads to New York where he discovers the Hand are already in residence at his parents' company, Rand Enterprises. Soon, he must prove who he really is, take back his company from the bad people who now run it, and stop The Hand.

Yep, that's right: Iron Fist wants you to care about boardroom politics and a spoilt, immature billionaire who wants to clear his family name.

Bad decision by Marvel and Netflix? Well, actually, despite some very odd decisions, a very shaky start, and a very long list of flaws, Marvel's Iron Fist turned out to be really, really enjoyable stuff - due in part surprisingly because it features Sacha Dhawan (Outsourced24, The Tractate Middoth, Line of Duty, An Adventure in Time and Space) as a sarcastic warrior monk named after a Swiss ski resort.

Big spoilers after the jump…

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Third-episode verdict: Taken (US: NBC; UK: Amazon)

Posted on March 14, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerTaken.jpgA Barrometer rating of 3

In the US: Monday, 10/9c, NBC
In the UK: Tuesdays, Amazon

Three episodes into NBC's Taken, a prequel of sorts to the movie franchise, it's now reasonably clear that the show wants even less to do with Liam Neeson's European family drama than the first episode intimated. Instead, what it really wants to be doing is a slightly smarter version of 24, but without the full-on, balls-out belief in the efficacy of torture that being on the Fox network brings.

What it really doesn't want to do is have prequel Liam (Clive Standen) acting in any way even remotely resembling Liam Neeson did in the movies. Things like being a father, working by himself for no-one but himself, having contacts. That kind of thing.

So, each week since the pilot, we've had our Clive off with his team, doing team things together, at the behest of boss Jennifer Beals. He's not learning his very particular set of skills, either, since he already has them. Unlike in the pilot, though, there's absolutely no reference to the movies, no foreshadowing, no characters who'll show up in the movies.

Indeed, beyond the fact it's called Taken and features 'Brian Mills', there's nothing Takenish about it. Even Standen's hint at a Northern Irish accent in the pilot has disappeared, perhaps suggesting it wasn't deliberate, although getting him to be a soccer player in the third episode suggests the producers want to hint at some kind of European background, at least.

That said, the scripts are a lot less stupid, Standish is a vastly more compelling lead and the action scenes are about 1,000% better than those of 24: Legacy. Certainly, you can usually rely on each episode to serve up an unexpected fillip to a fight or a scene that you've never seen before in a TV show.

But other than that, in its foundations, it's unremarkable. There's nothing unique about its set-up, characters or scenarios that you won't have seen in a dozen other TV shows. Characterisation is shallow, perfunctory and uncompelling, and there's certainly nothing that makes you think, "Ah, that's why Liam Neeson is so frightened of Paris in the movie!", for example.

If you can get by purely on action scenes and the occasional signs of intelligence, Taken's worth a punt. If you miss 24 and find 24: Legacy an unsatisfactory replacement, give Taken a whirl. But if you need involving plots, dialogue and characterisation, Taken's not for you.

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What have you been watching? Including Arrival (2016) and The Americans

Posted on March 13, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

It's "What have you been watching?", my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently and your chance to recommend anything you've been watching.

Grrr. Aargh. Sundays. They really make this whole thing harder. As of last week, there was already The Good Fight, Billions, Time After Time and Making History, but now American Crime is back and there's The Arrangement to watch, too. So, given I do actually have a day job and the whole of Marvel's Iron Fist is coming out on Netflix this Friday, let's face facts and accept I'm going to be a week behind with everything that airs on Sunday from now.

Soz.

All the same, Time After Time will be getting a third-episode verdict later this week, seeing as I reviewed the first two last week; and I'll be casting my eyes over the first two episodes of The Arrangement (US) as well, so there is at least hope in sight.

Elsewhere this week, I reviewed the first episode of Making History and passed verdict on The Good Fight, which means that after the jump, I'll be looking at the latest episodes of: 24: Legacy, DC's Legends of Tomorrow, The Flash, Imposters, Legion, Lethal Weapon, The Magicians, Powerless and Taken, as well as the season finale of Man Seeking Woman. The observant will notice I haven't watched Fortitude or Prime Suspect 1973 this week. Sorry about that, although it probably says something about both them that I haven't pushed myself to watch either.

However, I did watch the first episode of the new season of The Americans, which I'll also be covering after the jump. And in other news, I'm going to drop not one but two regular shows this week. Can you guess which?

I also managed to watch a movie at the weekend, mind.

Arrival (2016)
Mysterious aliens 'the heptapods' arrive on Earth, but they don't speak Earth languages. It's the job of linguist Amy Adams and theoretical physicist Jeremy Renner (a 'Christmas Jones' on the plausible casting scale) to try to learn how to communicate with them and find out what they want.

Arrival was heavily hyped as the new 2001 of intelligent science-fiction movies, so we went into this with high expectations, particularly given what language nerds lovely wife and I both are. Disappointed we were. Disappointed.

While there was a little bit about the difficulties of learning any language, this was a bowdlerised version of the original book's linguistic intrigue…

The heptapods have two distinct forms of language. Heptapod A is their spoken language, which is described as having free word order and many levels of center-embedded clauses.… Unlike its spoken counterpart, Heptapod B has such complex structure that a single semantic symbol cannot be excluded without changing the entire meaning of a sentence.

…in much the same way as The Martian changed the original book's constant Macgyvering-in-extremis into a far simpler tale of surviving against the odds.

Even so, despite some beautiful visual direction, Arrival is largely a film in which Renner and Adams repeatedly go into a room, see some circles, then go away again, interspersed with Adams thinking about her dead daughter. Tension and excitement there are not.

That said, there is a point in the movie when Adams finally learns the aliens' language where Arrival comes together, everything becomes clear and the movie becomes a much more interesting piece thanks to a couple of properly genius ideas. There are a couple of scenes that probably will linger for a long time in the memory, too.

Not so much the new 2001, then, so much as the new (spoilers, because they're very, very similar) Interstellar.

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