Originally, I was going to call this review “I don’t even know what I’m doing or saying until it’s taken the wrong way” but that’s too long for an auto-share on Twitter, and it’s only said once, while the characters in IRON FIST say “It’s complicated” a bajillion times.
So this is going to be a brief review, as promised, although I usually have more to say about stories that don’t work than stories that do.
The first thing I’ll say is that, while the show is not great, it’s better than its Rotten Tomatoes score would suggest. (It’s 18% from the critics, although the audience gives it an 83, which is a solid B-.) It’s not even the worst season of Marvel/Netflix made so far, which would be S2 of DAREDEVIL. Like that season, it has some terrific performances, compelling characters, and real tension. It also has genuine problems.
First, as I mentioned before, put me down as someone who thinks the show would have been better (and better-received) if they’d cast an Asian-American actor as Danny. This isn’t a criticism of Jones; I think he does good work with what he’s given here, but the show would have been deeper and more complex with that change.
Second, like every Marvel/Netflix show, they don’t quite have enough story for 13 episodes, and it feels a bit padded. With JESSICA JONES (the best of the shows, imo) that padding is near the end where the pace should be building. It’s smart of IF to do what LUKE CAGE did, and slow things down at the start.
Because apparently every one of these shows needs padding somewhere. I’m hoping an 8 episode season of DEFENDERS will do away with this entirely.
So the early episodes are repetitive, and while it makes sense for the Meachums to have Danny committed, did we need an entire episode for that?
Third, it seems a strange choice to put a hero like Iron Fist into yet another neo-noir storyline, but once we get past the obligatory acknowledgement of his identity, momentum begins to build and the plots surrounding the supporting cast take shape.
Fourth, the general consensus is that Colleen Wing is a great character. That’s not wrong.
Fifth, a lot of folks are hitting Jones because the fights aren’t what we’d hope for in a show about a mystically-powered martial artist, and Jones isn’t a martial artist. But then, neither was Charlie Cox before he was cast as Daredevil, and neither was Keanu Reeves when he was cast in THE MATRIX.
What those actors did have was time to practice the choreography. As Jones has said in interviews, sometimes he only had 15 minutes before the shoot to learn the fight scenes, and you are not going to get good action scenes. They needed to give the action the attention it needed, because with a hero like Iron Fist, it’s not something you can half-ass.
Even worse are the action scenes that are badly framed and shot. I can understand dimming the lights to disguise the stunt doubles, since Danny Rand doesn’t have a mask or giant Jessica Jones hair, but we still want to see what’s happening, and see it clearly.
The fight in the hospital records room is perhaps the worse of the lot (and it comes so early in the show). It’s choppy, fake, and routinely violates the 180 rule, making it hard to follow. Later fights work better.
When the second season comes (and I’ll bet one no-prize that it’ll happen) they’ll need a show-runner willing to give the action scenes the time and energy they deserve.
Sixth, Marvel/Netflix continue to create really interesting antagonists. Loved every moment that David Wenham was onscreen.
Finally, I was interested in Danny Rand. Yeah, he’s a privileged fool in a lot of places, and he’s severely damaged, not just by the plane crash where his parents were killed, but by his time in K’un Lun. His time in the monastery turned him into a superhero, but at a terrible cost. He’s a fucked up dude, and he’s constantly stepping on his own dick.
At the same time, it’s clear he’s trying to navigate his different identities and do the right thing. Once the story turns away from “Can Danny prove his identity?” to “Can Danny stop The Hand?/find allies he can trust?/reconcile his dual identies?” the story works.
So yes, there are problems with the show, but as the reviewer at Forbes said, it’s a stumble, not a face-plant. It’s not the best of the Marvel shows, but it never sinks to the ludicrous plot points of DAREDEVIL S2 or the unconvincing character beats of something like ANT-MAN. Instead, it’s somewhat slow, unconvincing in places, and too repetitive.
I expect history to treat this season more kindly than the present, and I expect an AA Iron Fist when the MCU gets rebooted.
I’m going to post three quick reviews here, so obviously there will be SPOILERS.
Logan is a solid, competent movie, the way most big budget superhero films are nowadays, but because it aims for tears instead of cheers, people are hailing it as revolutionary.
It’s not. It’s good and it’s sad. All the right buttons are pushed in the right order, and both Stewart and Jackman put in good performances and get to play their big death scenes. If you want mutant action with a tragic tone (and I do I really do) this is the place to get them.
But the emotional weight comes from 17 years of seeing these actors play these roles. Look at this:
Biggest impact of #Logan should be studios realizing they can just tell a great story.
Forget sequels. Just tell story.
LOGAN worked because it was the end of 16-20 hours of movie adventure, using characters with decades of comics and cartoons behind them. If it had been about a magical ninja whose healing spells were finally failing, it wouldn’t have gotten past the script-reading intern.
And it’s troubled by unjustified, reverse-engineered sequences. They needed a “family” scene for the little girl to see what a family looks like, so–despite being on the run from stone cold killers–they crash at the home of an Average Loving Family.
And got them all killed, which… come on. Logan and Xavier knew they were putting that family in danger, and nothing in the movie or the previous movies suggests they would put folks’ lives at risk. I call bullshit on that.
They did get the violence right, though. Finally. Rated R for brain-stabbing.
This is a game I bought on Steam because I enjoyed BASTION, although it’s science fiction instead of fantasy. The premise is simple: In a weird but pretty and possibly virtual city, a group of urban planners have unleashed something called The Process to remake things to their liking. Then The Process gets out of control, and Only You Can Stop It.
The main character is a woman named Red, with a giant-ass science sword that gives her attack powers, each of which comes from dead people she finds and uploads into the sword. The very first person to be killed and uploaded is Red’s unnamed boyfriend: he’s the “narrator” throughout the game, although he’s not really narrating because he’s talking to Red (and by extension, you the player).
They hired a great voice actor for the part, and his dialog is well-written. The city looks fantastic. The enemies are varied and fun (I especially liked the eggs w/ chicken feet). Even the music is interesting. And the game is long, but not insufferably long.
But look at those choices: the lead character is a woman who has had her voice stolen by The Process. She’s a singer and we hear her songs, but she doesn’t get to speak. Only the man does. And her name, Red, is a stage name because of her hair. In short, he’s specific and interesting, with a voice. She is a cypher who runs around doing the work. And at the end, when they realize she can’t get her lover out of the sword, she impales herself, over his pleading, so they can be trapped in the weapon together.
She gives up her life for a guy.
This is something I’ve been saying a lot about modern entertainment: it’s beautifully executed but makes questionable choices.
Do you like mopey detectives? I do. The first two seasons of BOSCH are on Amazon Prime, and they’re excellent examples of a really common and generally mediocre thing: the American police procedural.
One of the things BOSCH gets right is that it doesn’t put cops on a pedestal. Some of them are bad at their job. Some are lazy, careless, or corrupt. They’re people, not a corps of heroes who are always proved to be righteous.
And it changes things up from the books. I thought I’d spotted the killer in S1 because I read the book it was based on, but nope. They tricked me. I’m easily tricked, I admit, but I’m pleased when it happens.
I can be a cheap date, story-wise.
Season two was stronger than season one because the character motivations were more believable, and I’m hoping that, when the third season comes out next month, it’ll be another improvement.
Here’s the thing: I don’t experience fannish enthusiasm. I don’t get all excited. I don’t cheer. I don’t rattle on about the stuff I enjoy.
But I do like things. Sometimes too much. And when I do, I experience it as an unpleasant, obsessive anxiety.
I’m feeling that way about IRON FIST, which is due out from Netflix this week. I know reviews have been bad, but I’m still anxious to see it.
Yeah: Iron Fist’s origin is a racist narrative in the “Mighty Whitey” tradition. As much as I like the character, there’s no quibbling with this. But there is great stuff about the character, too.
First, martial arts is awesome and it looks fantastic in the comics.
It’s great in movies, too, obviously, because you can see movement and speed, but sometimes that speed makes it hard to follow. Martial arts illustration in the comics, when it’s done well, is beautiful and dramatic. It captures a moment, and that’s why it’s so common. The medium is a wonderful way to portray it.
Second, punching things like a wrecking ball is awesome.
This honestly worries me about the show, because sometimes I would love to just smash something without breaking my hand. Punch through a wall. Smash a tree to splinters. Whatever. Even if I didn’t do it often, just knowing I could would be intensely satisfying.
But the show runner for IRON FIST isn’t impressed. Having the iron fist is
not the greatest superpowers. All he can do is punch really hard … you can use it in some ways but in rest of his life, it’s not really all that significant.
Um, yeah. Let me introduce you to the concept of superheroes. They live in a narrative universe where punching is a significant part of life. That’s a basic part of the appeal. It’s not realistic, but it is fun.
There are several warning signs about the show, and this is one of them.
Third, Danny Rand went to a cooler school than I did, and he learned more interesting stuff.
I was 11 or 12 when I discovered Iron Fist, in the summer before seventh grade. August, 1977. I bought five comic books out of the spinner rack at a local drugstore: One was the issue where the X-Men fought the Shi’ar Imperial Guard, and I couldn’t even tell which characters were the good guys, or who had which name, or what the hell was going on. Eventually, I realized the hero’s faces were on the cover, so I went through and picked them out, and comic made more sense.
(If my sister hadn’t called me an idiot for buying a copy of Dr. Strange that ended on a cliffhanger–with Strange facing off against a warthog version of himself–I might not have gone back the next month just to prove her wrong and I might not have become a lover of comics.)
I discovered Iron Fist shortly after and he was one of the earliest characters I followed. I loved the way he was drawn in those early John Byrne issues, and when I tried to teach myself to draw comics, it was often Iron Fist illustrations that I tried to copy. And why not? Was I supposed to draw Spider-man with his nasty, gross armpit webs? Or Iron Man flying through the sky with his elbow slightly bent?
Nope, I tried to draw Iron Fist kicking some dude in the face.
This was seventh grade, and seventh grade sucks. It wasn’t just the usual teasing and other bullshit, not for me. I had a kid hold a knife blade to my throat. I had… I had all sorts of shit happen. If I could have gotten away from all of that to go to a place where a guy named “The Thunderer” would teach me how to be a superhero, I would have gone in a second.
It’s similar to the wish fulfillment inherent in Hogwarts, except Hogwarts is better because it’s not a generic racist fantasyland.
But liking the character in the comics is different from whatever they put in the TV show. Look at this fucking trailer:
It’s just so disappointing.
Every trailer has to intrigue. It has to set up the central elements of the show, establish tone, and assure the audience that they’re going to see something clever and interesting. This trailer absolutely falls on its face in the last task.
“How in the hell did he learn martial arts?”
“Where did you train?” “K’un Lun.”
I get it; they have story elements they need to set up. But you don’t put a line like “How in the hell did he learn martial arts?” in a script, let alone a trailer. Anyone can learn martial arts. I could, even, if I was willing to practice hurting people and take a cross-town bus a few times a week.
No, the line is “How in the hell did he take out a team of our best hitters?” or something like that. Something that sounds dynamic.
And you don’t need to put the name “K’un Lun” into the fucking trailer. It’s meaningless to the people who don’t know the character’s history, and the people who do don’t need it. Just say something indirect like “A far away place” or “you haven’t heard of it” Even better, make a joke:
“Where did you train?”
Montage of Danny in monks’ robes, Monks, the beautiful city of K’un Lun.
“Oh, there’s a little place near the mall.”
The trailer needs some grace. It needs to show cleverness and competence, which it absolutely doesn’t. Is it any surprise that the filmmakers didn’t seem to understand why fans were hoping for an Asian-American Danny Rand?
Early reviews of the show have been pretty terrible, slamming it for being dull and talky, but you know what? I’m doing my usual Marvel Netflix thing anyway. On March 16, I’m buying two six packs, ordering a late pizza, prepping a pot of coffee for 4 am, then I’m going to binge the show straight through. I expect to finish sometime Friday afternoon. That’s what I did with the other Marvel Netflix shows. Then I watched them a second time that same weekend. Then, for Jessica Jones and S1 of Daredevil, I watched a third time the following week.
Will I be disappointed by Iron Fist? Probably. I still have hope that they’ll make his origin work somehow (After all, the MCU Punisher’s origin changed from a random tragedy into a complex plot and coverup that ran through most of Daredevil S2.) Can the filmmakers do something unusual/interesting/worthwhile with the whole “White Guy is the Best at Everything” trope? I’m doubtful, but I hope so.
Notice I haven’t called myself an Iron Fist “fan.” That’s because, as I mentioned, I don’t experience fannish enthusiasm. I’ve seen people waiting in line for movies and books who are giddy about the new thing they’re about to experience, but I’ve never felt that.
I experience my enjoyment as a sort of anxiety. I’ve been anxious and distracted for two weeks, thinking about this show. Maybe it will be terrible, but it will be a tremendous relief if it turns out to be good. Or at least not as bad as it could be.
Some time ago, on Twitter, another author was asking for Netflix movie recommendations, and I suggested THE HOST, a South Korean monster movie/family drama. I said the movie “didn’t need to be forgiven.”
That phrase surprised me, even though it was the one who typed it out. It sounded right when I said it, but I wasn’t sure what it meant or where it came from. Then it reminded me of something that happened when I was a kid:
In grade school, my second-favorite afternoon show was the Wee Willie Webber Colorful Cartoon Club. Basically, Wee Willie Webber got up in front of a camera, did a dumb joke, and said: “An now… Marine Boy!” and then an episode of that show would play. Some of the shows were racist as hell (every kid in my class loved Chongo on Danger Island but yikes) but it was running and fighting and slapstick and magic spells or whatever, so I loved it.
In the second grade, Wee Willie planned to hold a live event where he would play an episode of Ultra-Man, and I talked my parents into taking me. I was seven, and I sat in a huge crowd of kids in a shopping mall somewhere (not a theater) while they projected an episode of the show onto a little screen.
Now, this was 1973, and there was no pause button. I had never stopped a show in the middle in my life. But Webber shouted for the projectionist to pause the episode right in the middle of the fight, when Ultra-Man had his back to the camera.
“There it is, kids. Can you see it? That’s the zipper on the Ultra-Man costume.”
Which was a dick move. The costume was designed to mostly hide the zipper, so I’d never noticed it before, but of course I already knew they were just dudes in suits. The four-legged monsters went around on their hands and knees! Of course they were guys in suits!
But I loved the show anyway, because if Wee Willie was my second-favorite, Ultra-Man was my first. I was nuts for giant monster movies of any kind, even shit like Johnny Sokko. And it was a dick move for Webber to give seven-year-old me yet another thing I would have to forgive.
So, forgiving movies and TV shows is about all the things that you have to let slide if you want to keep enjoying what you’re watching. Monsters who are really just guys in suits wrecking a model city? Let’s pretend not. Did Wesley really spend five years murdering innocent people as the Dread Pirate Roberts? La la not listening! Is Neo really going to gun down all those cops and security guards just because they work for the wrong people?
In fact, why are those people dead at all? The gunfight happened in a simulation; couldn’t the evil computers just blah blah blah.
Movies and TV shows are full of plot holes, unconvincing performances, boring sequences, cringe-worthy special effects, and other errors that have to be overlooked in order to enjoy them. We have a good time despite those problems because we choose to minimize them while we watch.
Some shows have to be forgiven for more serious issues. As much as I’ve enjoyed the recent run of Marvel movies, it’s ridiculous that they haven’t come out with one with a female superhero as the lead before now.
I’ve also been hoping we could get another Remo Williams movie, but that doesn’t mean I think it’s a good idea to cast Joel Gray in yellowface as the Korean teacher, Chun. That’s a terrible idea. An amazingly terrible idea. Having said that, I also recognize that it’s Gray’s performance that makes that movie so much fun. RW:tab was a bore until he was introduced. He shouldn’t have been there, but he’s the one who made that movie work.
Finally, I’ve been recommending that people should watch The Man From Nowhere on Netflix because it’s amazing. Unfortunately, it has only four parts for women, three of which are vanishingly small. The last is for the little girl who needs to be rescued.
Another problem with the film: Manpain.
Despite all that, I found the movie incredibly affecting, and I’m hoping to create a similar feeling in the book I just sent to my agent. I love that movie. That movie has problems.
Now, I am absolutely not saying that a plot hole about the Dread Pirate Roberts is equivalent to casting a white actor to play an Korean character. They aren’t equivalent at all.
It’s in our responses where the similarities lie. You’re watching something on screen, and then [thing] is there. Suddenly, you have to choose whether you want to Nope all the way out of the show or shrug it off and continue watching. Maybe the flaw is something incredibly minor, like costuming choices, but you nope out because the show has literally nothing enjoyable in it. Maybe the flaw is a massive dose of racism or sexism, but you keep watching because other aspects are so good, or because the show is old enough that you were expecting it, or because noping out of a show for this sort of flaw means you’d never get to enjoy anything in the genre.
Of course we can’t expect everyone to have the same tolerance for a particular flaw. Lots of folks reading this, after what I’ve said about The Man From Nowhere, will think ‘Meh. Not for me.’ And that’s cool.
That goes for Remo Williams, too, or for any film. It’s easy for me, a middle-aged Irish-American, to say I “forgave” the shitty choice of casting Joel Gray as a Korean. I grew up with that stuff. Tony Danza playing a Japanese guy on Love Boat? I watched that as a kid without understanding why it was a bad idea. It doesn’t have the same meaning for me that it would have for others.
And forgiving a show for its flaws is something that happens in the moment, while the show is still playing. It doesn’t require the audience to defend those choices later, or be silent about them. If we want to change the world for the better, we must speak out. The fact that I didn’t turn off The Man From Nowhere when I realized how few female roles it had doesn’t disqualify me from saying “Women deserve fair representation.”
So then: Forgiving our entertainments so we can enjoy something. We’ve all done it. It’s a rare treat when we don’t have to.
And, obviously, my goal is to write books that never need to be forgiven, even though I’m sure I fall short.
On a personal note: on Sunday I finished revisions on One Man, and spent the rest of the day watching crime thrillers and drinking fancy beer. Monday, was the first day for work on The Twisted Path. (That’s the new Twenty Palaces novella I promised to work on.)
To start things off, I cracked open Circle of Enemies again. I haven’t looked at it since 2010, and I wanted to reacquaint myself with Ray Lilly’s voice. What I really did was remind myself of how many little details I’ve forgotten over the past 5+ years. I’ll keep at it, while continuing to take copious notes.
I was sort of excited to stay up all night and binge-watch season two of DAREDEVIL, even though I expected it to be a disappointment. What can I say? I like staying up.
First thing: the show is really good.
Second thing: except for the parts that aren’t.
Third thing: the good parts outweigh the bad by a lot. A whole lot.
The first episode of the season was by far the worst. It wasn’t just that it was unimaginative; it looked weird, too, like cheap video. Were some scenes shot on someone’s phone? I couldn’t tell.
The first, second, and most of the third episodes were also full of bullshit about What It Means To Be A Hero. You know what? At the start of the season, I don’t want to hear two vigilantes have a philosophical discussion. I just don’t.
Then, near the end of the third episode, the show gives us another of its excellent fight scenes, and it seemed to find its groove again.
Part of the problem is the costume. When it showed up at the end of season one, I was upfront about how much I disliked it. The full red suit from the comics would look ridiculous, and while the devil suit at the end of S1 is an improvement, it still doesn’t work. I suspect the showrunners realized this, because they contrived to change it slightly. That’s another improvement, but it still doesn’t quite work.
What’s more, I don’t think they quite understood how to make a live-action masked superhero story really work. Basically: use the mask as little as possible.
The best and cheapest special effect a show can have is an actor’s face, and most masks that are reasonably faithful to their comic book versions look flat and silly on screen even after you’ve been awake for 27 hours and have been watching a show for ten. So I’m not really a fan of actors wearing their supers costumes when they’re not a) hurrying to the rescue, b) scaring the hell out of a bad guy or c) beating the hell out of a bad guy. Action scenes. That’s what masks are for. Otherwise, give us human expressions.
Because a dude in a superhero costume just standing around having a conversation looks like a grade A fool. For example, if a costumed vigilante is going to have a conversation with someone, it should not look like this:
Yeah, that’s a bit dark, but you can see Daredevil on the right standing face-to-face with Turk on the left. Just two dudes standing around chatting, except one is wearing a horned helmet.
This is a much better choice:
In case it isn’t clear from this single shot, the man foregrounded on the left is on his back, slightly raised off the floor. The background is the roof.
It’s an unusual framing. It’s interesting. It’s dynamic. It’s not two dudes chatting.
Oh, one last thing: Hey Karen Page, is season two filled with bloody violence and hair-raising sound effects just like season one?
Again we get great performances and fast-moving plots with lots of twists. Also, instead of a mini-boss structure like season one, there are two separate ongoing plots for each of the featured guest stars that compete for Matt’s attention.
Like other Netflix shows about superheroes, this is more like a miniseries than a weekly program, so get ready to binge or follow a complicated plot over an extended period of time.
So, despite a shaky start and a costume that doesn’t quite work, season two of Daredevil is fantastic. Check it out.
With the second season of everyone’s favorite blind masochist about to air, it’s time I finished this post:
I’ve watched Marvel’s Netflix series JESSICA JONES all the way through three times. Twice on my own and once with my wife. I’ll say this: It’s very good. Flawed, but very very good.
For kindness sake, I’ll do a brief recap on the assumption that there’s one or two people reading this who haven’t heard of the show: it’s a 13 episode Netflix Original series that’s loosely adapted from the comic book ALIAS, which launched in 2001 as part of Marvel’s MAX line. Basically, it’s an R-rated comic, where characters can say Fuck and occasionally do fuck. Nothing ground breaking about that, except that this comic also featured Captain America and a bunch of other characters from the main branch of Marvel publishing, where the Comics Code mentality still had a lingering influence.
The lead character was created at the last minute for the comic; originally, it was supposed to be Jessica Drew, aka Spiderwoman, but Marvel’s editors decided to use her for something else, so Brian Michael Bendis created Jessica Jones to replace her. Jones’s story in the comics: After a traffic accident with a truck full of chemicals (like Daredevil) she gained superstrength, limited invulnerability, and the ability to fly (awkwardly), so she did what she thought she was supposed to do. She put on a costume and fought crime, taking the name “Jewel”.
Then it went all wrong. She fell under the sway of mind-controlling villain The Purple Man for months. When she finally broke free, her life was ruined. What’s more, she realized that she had vanished for months but no one had noticed. She threw away the costume and, with her anger and pain and PTSD, became a hard-drinking private investigator.
It’s a great idea: a super-powered private eye in the Marvel comics, which is a world where superpowers have been around for generations and there are a whole lot of people with dearly held secrets.
For the TV show, Jessica is pretty much the same but the setting is not. Jessica still has powers (superstrength and superjumping, with a smidge of toughness thrown in) and she’s still self-medicating for her PTSD from her clash with a mind-controlling villain, but she inhabits a world where superpowers are a rare thing, largely hidden and mysterious to the public at large.
So the show has some superhuman abilities, but there are no costumes, no masks, no secret identities, and no thwarted bank robberies. Instead, it has great characters. Yeah, the pacing falters late in the season, but those characters carry it through.