The first season of Marvel’s Jessica Jones was a refreshing and surprising tilt at the genre. Rather than follow in the footsteps of its predecessor Netflix series, Marvel’s Daredevil, and give us a female vigilante out beating up New York’s criminal underclass, it was instead a feminist deconstruction of the entire superhero genre. Want to dress up in a suit and fight criminals? There’s probably something wrong you – maybe power issues, maybe toxic masculinity. The use of power to control others is something to be avoided by the individual, as it leaves both user and used damaged and changed by the experience. Combined with its use of the female gaze, in short, it was probably the first superhero show both by women and for women.
Since then, of course, we’ve had the underwhelming, rushed Marvel’s Defenders, which saw our Jessica team up with Daredevil and the rest of the Netflix Marvel crew to fight a scary new enemy. But while Defenders certainly was able to use our Jessica’s sarcastic PI ways with alacrity, it somewhat missed out on all that feminist subtext, turning her into a reluctant but still punchy advocate of extreme violence, murder et al. Was this character development, you might have wondered, with Jessica changed by her murder of arch-enemy and rapist Killgrave (David Tennant) into a different kind of heroine? What would season two of Jessica Jones be like? Would it be our Jessica in a costume at last?
Nope. It’s more of the same – at least as far as Jessica is concerned. The other supporting characters? That’s maybe a different story. A short, non-spoilery review after the jump, followed by a full review for those who don’t mind spoilers or who’ve already watched it.
The Punisher in all his incarnations has always been something of an accidental success. A former marine, Frank Castle turns lethal vigilante following the murder of his family by criminals, becoming judge, jury and executioner to those who would break the law. He had no powers, just his military training, a heap of weapons and a skull on his chest, and he was originally a bad guy – one of Spider-Man’s many badly becostumed adversaries in the early 70s.
But it was that almost unique willingness to kill in comics that made him such a success that he eventually got his own comic and no fewer than three (pretty bad) film appearances, where he was played first by Dolph Lundgren, then Thomas Jane and finally Ray Stevenson.
However, his success ended for a while when a 2011 attempt by Fox to produce a TV series starring the character fell through.
But let’s now flash-forward to the era of Netflix and its Marvel superhero shows. The plan from the outset was very clear: there would be four one-season superhero shows – Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist – which would then lead into a team-up show The Defenders.
The first sign everything was going off-plan was when Daredevil got a second season. It’s hard to tell whether that had been planned from the outset; however, it seems likely given
Netflix awarded Daredevil another season only a week after its first season aired
The whole plot of that second season is vital to the plot of The Defenders
Nevertheless, what definitely wasn’t part of the plan was the success of guest anti-hero/baddie The Punisher in that second season. That can be put down to the ‘lightning in a bottle’ casting of Jon Bernthal. Bernthal’s always been part of the supporting cast, never the lead.
He’s the guy Andrea Anders rejects in The Class to go back to her husband (although he ends up with Lizzy Caplan so it’s not all bad).
But as Castle, Bernthal was the undoubted star of the second season of Daredevil, a brutal match for Charlie Cox’s gymnastic lead – a blue-collar grunt to Matt Murdock’s white-collar, morally-torn lawyer.
Bernthal so occupied the role that it’s hard to think of anyone else being able to play the character and it wasn’t long before Netflix and Marvel realised what they’d got and decided to break with the plan and commission Marvel’s The Punisher, with Bernthal as its lead.
The question was what form the show would take. Would it follow on, for example, from the comics’, the movies’ and season 2’s general theme of a man giving ‘the punishment they deserve’ to mobsters, rapists, paedophiles et al who seem to be above the law and escaping justice? Yet, how would a white man with a lethal arsenal shooting up cities go down in an age of the alt-right, MRAs and mass-shootings by white men who feel aggrieved by society? And how would it go down against the liberal backdrop of Netflix’s other shows: Daredevil stuck up for the poor and oppressed; Jessica Jones deconstructed superheroes, male power and sexual violence; Luke Cage asked what a black man can do for his community and others against both oppression and police shootings; and Iron Fist looked at the responsibilities of the rich towards the poor and the rest of the world.
The various trailers Netflix produced in the lead up to the show’s released seemed to suggest business as usual for Frank Castle – lots of gunfire against a rock soundtrack. And yet, oddly, that’s not what Marvel’s The Punisher is. For the most part, the show is instead the white, working class male’s equivalent of Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. It’s a look at family, responsibility, friendship, parenting, class, class loyalty, what it is to be in the military and to have brothers-in-arms, the consequences of violence, and the role of government in helping the working class. And oddly, there’s very little punishment meted out.
Here are those moderately misleading and spoilerish trailers. Slightly less spoilerish review of all 13 episodes after the jump.
Marvel’s The Avengers was one of the highest grossing movies of all times. Small surprise therefore that Marvel should attempt to reproduce its unique superhero formula on the small (laptop) screen with its Netflix series, giving us four individual superheroes in their own shows before finally bringing them together in a fifth show – The Defenders.
And here we are at last. Two seasons of Daredevil (one excellent, one poor), one season of Jessica Jones (excellent), one season of Luke Cage (weak) and a season of Iron Fist (I’ve watched it three times now, so screw you, haters) has allowed some of the supporting cast to move around a bit, but here we finally are, getting all four superheroes interacting with each other, teaming up and even sometimes twatting each other with sticks.
The show picks up a few months after the other shows. Daredevil (Charlie Cox) is ostracised from his former legal partner Foggy (Elden Henson) and would-be girlfriend Karen (Deborah Ann Woll), and a bit mopey after his ex-lover Elektra (Elodie Yung) was killed by some immortal ninja called The Hand. He’s hung up his costume and is now trying to lead a normal life as a lawyer, mostly doing legal work pro bono for the downtrodden. But Foggy is looking out for his former friend and his new boss Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss) might have some legal work for him, too – looking after a certain private investigator friend of hers called Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), who’s bound to get into trouble sometime soon…
Not yet, though, since she’s still buried in a bottle, following her murder of mind-controlling rapist David Tennant. Thankfully, she’s managed to brush off both the legal charges and infamy that came with that, but she’s not ready to take on any new clients yet. That is, until a woman comes to her door asking her to track down her missing architect husband and she starts to get threatening phone calls.
Meanwhile, Jones’ former boyfriend Luke Cage (Mike Colter) is just getting out of prison, thanks to some nimble legal work by Foggy, and has to work out what he can do to look after the people of Harlem, particularly the young black men who are succumbing to the allure of crime in his neighbourhood – particularly that instituted by a white clad man known only as ‘the African’ (Babs Olusanmokun).
Could it all have something to do with the errant billionaire Danny Rand (Finn Jones), currently off hunting down the Hand in the Far East with girlfriend and former Hand-member Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick), following the Hand’s apparent destruction of the seventh city of Heaven, K’un-Lun, which Rand was charged to protect, being the immortal weapon known as The Iron Fist?
You betcha. And you can bet that somehow it’s all going to involve their various storylines intersecting at some point to fight a common enemy – Sigourney Weaver, as well as some ‘Big Bads’ from previous seasons.
Of course, the Marvel Cinematic Universe isn’t the only time that a whole bunch of superheroes with independent lives ended up uniting to defeat a baddie: the once much-adored Heroes did the same thing on the small screen. I say once because as soon as everyone got together, the whole show went to pants.
So the question is: is Marvel’s The Defenders more Avengers or more Heroes? Answer coming up after the jump. Spoilers ahoy and liable to smack you in the face.
In the US: Mondays, 10/9c, NBC
In the UK: Thursdays, 9pm, Syfy. Starts tonight!
Every so often, someone has the bright idea of taking all manner of previously separated supernatural beasties and sticking them together. Universal is trying it right now at the movies with Dracula, The Mummy, et al, with almost no success, but cast your mind back just a little bit and you’ll remember Sky/Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, which brought together the likes of Frankenstein, his monster, Dr Jekyll and Dorian Grey.
Cast your mind ever further back and you’ll hit HBO’s True Blood, which gave us a world populated by vampires and subsequently fairies, et al, as the series progressed, and when you hit 2010, you’ll come across The Gates, an almost forgotten ABC show about a gated community in which vampires, werewolves and the like all tried to co-exist peacefully, but usually failing miserably in the attempt.
Now NBC is giving it a whirl, this time by following the True Blood route of adapting a series of Southern-set Charlaine Harris books. Here, the eponymous Midnight, Texas is merely an informal point where over the years, all manner of “different” people have decided to settle down. As well as having its own Hellmouth™, there’s
An energy- and blood-sucking, blue-eyed vampire Peter Mensah (Spartacus)
Local vicar Yul Vazquez (Seinfeld) is a werewolf
Tattooist Jason Lewis (Sex and the City) is a fallen angel, albeit one who hasn’t gone to Hell
Arielle Kebbel (90210) is a freelance assassin with no apparent special power other than to run around in a bikini with a bow and arrow
Potentially all manner of other, equally odd individuals
All seems quiet, even when the Sons of Lucifer are around. But then along into town comes psychic François Arnaud (The Borgias), persuaded by his fraudulent fortune-telling dead grandmother that he’s better off hiding out in Midnight, Texas, from whomever’s after him.
Unfortunately, just as Arnaud turns up, someone is murdered and before you know it, the police are investigating, sometimes with the help of Arnaud and his ability to speak to and raise the dead. Will they discover the town’s great big secret? And if they do, what will the denizens do to ensure their secret is kept safe?