A review of “The Defenders” (2017)

I hate to say this, guys — I really do.  But aside from some admittedly standout action sequences, Netflix’ “The Defenders” (2017) was generally mediocre stuff.  I’d rate it a 5 out of 10 for mostly being a clunky, messily written, rare misfire for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

What we’ve got here is an eight-episode story arc depicting nothing less than a cabal of mystical ninjas endeavoring to destroy New York City — and four superheros racing to stop them.  And yet it still manages to feel slow.  I’m surprised at how plodding so brief and urgent a story concept like that could be executed.

It’s confusing too.  The cabal in question here is The Hand, and their nature, origins, history and modus operandi are all too muddled to follow — the result of sloppy screenwriting.  Their goal within “The Defenders'” storyline is actually pretty narrow and specific by comic book standards — I’m not sure how razing New York is necessary at all.  (Their actions cause … an earthquake?  How, exactly?  And wouldn’t that jeopardize their process if an earthquake occurs earlier than they expected?  Do these mystical ninjas employ seismologists to forewarn them of that?)

Other questions abound as well.  What is “Black Sky,” exactly?  Does it matter much, considering it’s a story element that doesn’t much change things?  Is the resurrected uber-Elektra really that much different from the regular, mortal Elektra we saw in “Daredevil” (2015)?

To make matters worse, the character elements here are frequently off key.  Elektra herself feels like a mostly flat protagonist, the leads sometimes lack chemistry with one another, and the script pay far too much attention to supporting characters that viewers did not tune in to watch.  (If I hear one more saccharine pep talk between Claire Temple and Colleen Wing, I’m going to scream.)

Look, I’m not saying the show was all bad.  Like “Iron Fist” (2017) before it, “The Defenders” partially redeems a bad script with absolutely excellent fight choreography; Hell’s Kitchen is the corner of the MCU with the best martial arts action.  I cheered a couple of times.

I also think that the cast is roundly excellent.  I’ll always love Charlie Cox in the role of Daredevil and Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones.  Mike Colter is perfectly cast as Luke Cage, and we even have none other than Sigourney Weaver classing up the MCU (even if she occasionally seemed to phone it in a little).

And I’m including Finn Jones as Iron Fist here — I don’t think he’s the show’s “weak link,” as other viewers do.  The actor is actually quite good; it isn’t his fault that his titular series and this follow-up were poorly written.  In fact, I really like the character concept of Iron Fist as it’s presented here.  It’s mired in a lot of weird and dated kung-fu-type cliches, but this is a comic book property, after all.  The character’s shtick might be the closest the MCU comes to having a “Jedi”-type figure, and that’s fun.  (A good friend of mine who is a lifelong Star Wars fanatic really loves “The Defenders,” as well as Iron Fist’s solo show — I don’t think that’s an accident.)  Plus, Iron Fist is a great foil for the other characters on The Defenders team, who are each cynical and traumatized to some extent– he appears young and idealistic and with a sheltered upbringing, like a recent college graduate with superpowers.

I don’t know that I can actually recommend this, as you can tell from the above.  But I will say that nearly everyone I’ve heard from about this show enjoyed it more than I did.  Your mileage may vary.

 

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A few quick words on the premiere of “The End of the World” (2013)

An Pan-Seok’s “The End of the World” miniseries (2013) appears to be an intelligent, if a little understated, Korean epidemiological thriller.  I was engaged enough by the first episode to rate it a 7 out of 10, and I’ll probably keep watching it to give the show a chance.

It reminded me of Steven Soderbergh’s “Contagion” (2011), though the dramatic elements here are even more underplayed — at times the first episode even felt like a documentary.  It’s a bit slow, but it really looks like screenwriter Park Hye-Reon has done his homework.  (The miniseries was based on the novel “Infectious Disease,” by Bae Young-Ik.)

Assuming the series retains the tone and pace of its pilot episode, I believe this would appeal to only serious fans of disease thrillers.  To them, I’d recommend it.

 

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A few quick words on the premiere of “The Defenders” (2017)

I certainly wasn’t as thrilled with the premiere of Marvel’s “The Defenders” (2017) as I thought I’d be.  I’d somewhat grudgingly rate it a 7 out of 10.

The show’s first episode suffers a bit from an inescapable challenge — how to satisfy the fanbase for each of four superhero characters who have had their own shows.  I’d honestly say that this show so far interests me about 50 percent of the time — I love Daredevil and Jessica Jones, but I don’t much care about Luke Cage or Iron Fist.  Complicating things further is the show’s need to logically tie together all of their respective storylines, while arousing interest in a new overall story for this nascent ensemble team.  (It … looks a lot like Daredevil’s story from both the second season of the Netflix series and the original comics.)

I’m optimistic I’ll enjoy it more as I catch the rest of the series.  Marvel properties almost always have good writers.  And the large cast here (including none other than Sigourney Weaver) is uniformly excellent.

 

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A review of Season 2 of “Black Mirror” (2013)

“Black Mirror” seems to me to be  the best science fiction show on television; I’d rate Season 2 (2013) a 9 out of 10.  (I’m never quite certain whether to group British shows by “season” or by “series,” as they do.  I’m also a little uncertain why the fourth and final episode here, “White Christmas,” is included in Season 2, as it aired nearly two years later as a 2014 holiday special.)

I commented to a friend of mine after seeing “White Christmas” the other night that the show was “brave” — it just isn’t afraid to alienate mainstream audiences by being too dark.  Not all of “Black Mirror’s”  episodes have “twists,” but they typically have an unexpected plot development, and their outcomes and implications are arguably depressing.

It’s just such a damned good show, though, in terms of its writing and acting.  My friend told me she wasn’t aware of anyone who had seen it and disliked it.

“White Christmas,” for example, was one of the best hours of science fiction television I’ve ever seen.  It consists of three blackly tragic vignettes seamlessly woven withing a wraparound story, and it employs a sci-fi plot device that is mind-bending and brutal.  I believe this is the first time I’ve seen its lead actor, Jon Hamm, and I was extremely impressed with his performance.

My only quibbles with the program are extremely minor.  As with the first season, I think that not every episode truly requires a 44-minute running length.  I thought two episodes  (“Be Right Back” and “The Waldo Moment”) seemed like they could have been tightened up into one, maybe with tighter writing allowing for shorter segments.

I’ve noticed another minor relative weakness with “Black Mirror” in general as well — the show does not always present the viewer with likable protagonists.  Occasionally, the various characters we’re asked to identify with are either slightly off-putting or even annoying.  Again, “Be Right Back” and “The Waldo Moment” spring to mind.  This wasn’t enough to greatly affect my enjoyment of the episodes, though.

What an incredible show.

 

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A very short review of “Spectre” (2015)

[THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE FILM.]  “Spectre” (2015) was an impressive James Bond film, if not an unforgettable one.  I’d rate it an 8 out of 10.  It’s got style, terrific action sequences and absolutely gorgeous shooting locations.  Daniel Craig is still a decent Bond, too, even if I always find him a little understated in the role. And Dave Bautista makes a sufficiently intimidating henchman.  (The man looks gigantic, too.)

It brings little new to the franchise, however, and it doesn’t rise above being a standard action film in the same manner as its predecessor, 2012’s nuanced and surprisingly emotional “Skyfall.” (I’ve gained a greater appreciation for that movie after having watched it a second time.)

It occurs to me, too, that “Spectre” seems a little easy to nitpick — at least to someone who’s enjoyed a lot of spy films and novels that are intended as procedural thrillers.  We watch Bond gain easy access to a super-secret meeting of the titular cabal, for instance — he just kinda bluffs his way in.  Then the organization’s Big Bad calls him out, after apparently feeling his presence, as Darth Vader felt the presence of Luke on a passing ship in “Return of the Jedi” (1983).  Later, we watch Bond employ incredibly risky and haphazard tactics to rescue a kidnap victim — it seems to me that the consequent random vehicle crashes, explosions and gunshots could just as easily kill her as they might free her.

Still, this was a fun movie.  I’d recommend it if you’re looking for an enjoyable action flick.

 

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A short review of “Jigsaw” (2017)

I’m going along with the crowd today where “Jigsaw” (2017) is concerned; I concur entirely with the other reviews I’ve read.  It’s a story fraught with logical problems, but it’s entertaining enough to please fans of the franchise (of whom I am one).  Based on my own enjoyment of the movie, I’d rate it an 8 out of 10.

Yes, some of it doesn’t makes sense.  And the twists and coincidences seem pretty forced.  There was another problem for me, as well — at this point, the writers seem to have run out of ideas for the film series’ trademark moralizing booby traps.  (The one involving a grain silo is particularly uninspired, and seems like something out a Bugs Bunny cartoon.)

But what the hell.  I’d be lying if I said that this was a movie that didn’t distract and scare me.  I think what attracts me to the “Saw” films is not the blood and gore.  (Gory horror movies are a dime a dozen.)  It’s the character concept behind their brilliant, merciless killer — he’s like a combination of James Moriarty, Rube Goldberg and one of the Inquisitors of old.

Besides, I still like the twists.  They may be forced, but they always take me by surprise despite my best efforts to predict them.

And I think every movie is made better by the addition of Callum Keith Rennie.  (He’s a shady, grizzled police detective here, though he’s far better than so cliched a role.)  I’ve always thought Rennie was terrific — he deserves the lead role in some sort of extremely dark anti-hero film.  (Are they remaking 2005’s “Constantine” anytime soon?)

 

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A review of “Jeepers Creepers 3” (2017)

Jeepers.

The first two “Jeepers Creepers” movies are vastly underrated classics, in my opinion — they’re well scripted and boast a truly original and frightening bogeyman.  The third, regrettably, struggles to retain even a B movie charm.  It’s a substandard horror film that I’d only grudgingly rate a 4 out of 10.

“Jeepers Creepers 3” (2017) is cloddishly written and awkwardly filmed.  The film also suffers from action sequences that are absolutely cartoonish.  A lot of this stems from the titular Creeper’s antique vehicle, which is now inexplicably depicted as being … conscious?  Possessed by the Creeper?  It drives itself, deflects bullets, launches projectiles, and contains booby traps that defy physics.  This leads to some Wile E. Coyote-style fight scenes with the story’s various protagonists, in which the saddest victim is the franchise’s credibility.

About those protagonists — there are far too many to examine with any real success; the two ostensible teenage main characters fall a bit flat.  There are so many characters that have backstories connected with the Creeper (and his signature, decades-hopping supernatural murder sprees) that the film simply becomes confusing.  And that confusion is made worse by this film’s chronology with the previous movies — it takes place immediately after the first, but before the events of the second.  (In all fairness, maybe the problem is me … I am being quite honest when I write here that I just do not follow movies as well as other people.)

With all of this exposition, though, one bit of lore is egregiously omitted – contrary to some of the movie’s advance press, we learn nothing about the creature’s origins.  And this is extremely odd, because a bunch of characters do.  There is a befuddling central plot point where the good guys methodically gain knowledge of their otherworldly foe by … touching one of its severed body parts.  But we, the viewers, learn nothing.

Even the makeup and special effects were inferior to the prior films.

I’m confused by all of the things I’ve written above, as “Jeepers Creepers 3” was written and directed by Victor Salva, who wrote and directed the excellent previous movies in 2001 and 2003.

I hope I’m not being too hard on the movie, because there’s still some fun to be had.  Jonathan Breck still chews the scenery quite nicely as the Creeper, and the monster’s character concept still manages to please.  In a horror movie market often dominated by seemingly interchangeable serial killers and undead little girls, the Creeper is a truly inventive monster — part human; part gargoyle; part body-stealing, feral Frankenstein’s monster.  He’s fun to watch, particularly for horror fans who’ve grown tired of the Patrick Batemans and the various angry ghost children that endlessly haunt the zeitgeist.  You could do a lot worse for a plot-driving antagonist.

And, thanks to so brutal a bad guy, there are occasional moments of tension in the movie.  It’s a bit scary, for example, when he attacks a group of teenaged motorcyclists.

This isn’t enough to make recommend paying for the movie, however — even if you’re a fan of the franchise, as I am.  I’d wait for “Jeepers Creepers 3” to hit Netflix or Hulu, or wait until it’s playing on SyFy again.

 

 

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