Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Marvel TV News

I haven't posted in quite some time--the death of my father threw off a lot of things--but here we are with an update on various Marvel Netflix shows along with a little of the broader MCU. Beware of SPOILERS for all previously released Netflix titles.

I was underwhelmed by the second trailer for Jessica Jones season two. Most of the footage is cobbled together from season one or The Defenders and at this stage I'd expect something that's a bit clearer on the plot. I understand the intent may simply be to inform newer viewers of what kind of character she is, but using recycled footage is an odd choice if that's the idea ("Watch our new show! See none of these scenes in it!"). With that said, it hasn't hurt my excitement for the show, but there's nothing to really breakdown from it. Showing Luke Cage is an interesting choice--a good one if he shows up, a poor one if he doesn't (it would be very easy for Mike Colter and/or Finn Jones, as Iron Fist, to show up as both were filming Luke Cage for much of the same time--four months--as Jessica Jones).

Vincent D'Onfrio talked about the deal he made with Marvel when he signed on to play Wilson Fisk and it's very interesting:
We made a deal, before the first season [2014], that I could come in and out of the show. We made an agreement that we would give each other a head’s up, throughout the years, so they’d know my availability. So, we picked a particular amount of time that he would give me the heads up on, if they needed me to come in. That particular amount of time, I won’t tell you, but that’s the agreement that we have.
This is a great deal for Marvel as it means with notice D'Onfrio is on-tap to appear when they need him (hopefully--and I think probably--he'll be the central villain for the next Defenders). For those who want to guess how much notice he requires I looked for potential clues from his other work: the show Ghost Wars wrapped in August and the movie he directed called The Kid ended its filming in October (A Fall from Grace was filmed in 2012 but has yet to be released, so while it sits near the top of his upcoming films isn't relevant). Given that D'Onofrio has largely kept the weight on, the only physical tweak for him seems to be shaving his head, meaning this kind of detective work has limited value.

The Hashtag Show has yet another scoop: character breakdowns for Punisher season two (this  suggests Netflix decided on a second season long before its announcement). Here's the gist:
The breakdowns below are for two series regulars [...]: ANNIE BEIR and KIM DAVIS. For the role of ANNIE, they are looking for an 18-year old female to play a 16-year old on the show. She’s been described [as] someone who is used to the streets and is both scrappy and aware of her environment. For the role of KIM, they are looking for a female in her mid-30s, open ethnicity, to become a series regular working as a therapist. ... We’re told that a casting search is underway for a [series regular] male of any ethnicity in his early 30s to play an honest detective by the name of MELVIN SKELLING
They speculate that Annie is Viorica from the comics and Kim is Jennifer Cooke--both are from the "Slavers" storyline by Garth Ennis (2005-06) which focuses on a sex slave ring (the former a victim, the latter a social worker). Melvin, they believe, is Martin Soap, a detective also from the Ennis run (he was in charge of the Punisher Task Force). These are reasonable guesses--certainly the story is evocative enough to motivate Castle into punishing those responsible. I'm curious if showrunner Steve Lightfoot will be given the go-ahead to connect Frank's stories to the other Defenders (something he was denied for the first season).

Production is apparently ramping up as well, as SpoilerTV is reporting filming will begin February 26th (with an end date of July 20th)--this would fit the usual timeframe for the Netflix shows of filming for five months.

I don't think Charlie Schneider is particularly good at breaking news (he's a summarizer, not a journalist), but in a recent video he talked about Iron Fist temporarily taking over Daredevil's identity in his second series (something that has happened in the comics under very different circumstances, such as in the first Civil War). This theory would rely on Iron Fist coming out before Daredevil, despite the latter beginning filming a month before the other (November 13th vs December 13th; albeit they both wrap in May). If this happens (and I consider it unlikely just based on Charlie), it wouldn't be the first Marvel Netflix show to appear out of sequence (The Punisher started filming four weeks before The Defenders). My belief is Schneider's theory comes from the final shot of Iron Fist at the end of The Defenders, but I haven't seen any other news to suggest it. Charlie has also been calling Luke Cage season two "Heroes for Hire" without any support from other sources--presumably this is because Danny Rand is appearing in it. I'm not saying none of this is true, but until there are other sources talking about it I'd take it as speculation. Do I think these are good ideas for the character? Absolutely. Netflix Danny Rand needs some wins to change the perceptions of him.

It's without question that The Defenders, while an entertaining series, was a disappointment for Marvel fans in the wake of the stunning success of some of the shows leading up to it. In the aftermath of that reaction--along with varied criticisms of both Iron Fist and Luke Cage--I felt like Marvel would make some adjustments to what it was doing on Netflix. The most beloved shows, Daredevil and Jessica Jones, are gritty and grounded at their best, and the reception of The Punisher (cut from the same cloth, albeit less popular with critics than fans) simply emphasizes the point.

So what is Netflix doing? Jessica Jones and Luke Cage were already filming when the team-up came out, so they were only responding to reactions beforehand (one of the few criticisms of JJ was a lack of action, while LC was criticized for pacing issues and a lackluster villain, ie, Diamondback). Daredevil and Iron First, however, got the benefit of hindsight. What I've noticed, and take this with a grain of salt, is an increase in the casting of law enforcement characters. While this makes sense contextually for all the characters, the decision to include FBI Agents seems a bit more specific and outside the normal purview. Daredevil season three has one (cast regular Wilson Bethel, whose character name is unknown) and Iron Fist season two does as well (Tanya Parker, possibly played by Alice Eve). Is this part of a larger set-up for the next Defenders? The FBI would certainly fit a Kingpin story. That said, it's just a theory.

One of the interesting things on the heels of The Punisher's release is the under reported reaction to it. The show's critical rating is low (only higher than Iron Fist among the Netflix offerings) and frankly there wasn't a lot of press material written about it (other than the obvious debate about violence). What there has been, however, is an extremely high audience score and a wide variety of reaction videos to it that continue to be posted even now--from a cursory look these are far more popular than those for The Defenders and Iron Fist and it wouldn't surprise me if it's had the most impact since Jessica Jones.


All the Netflix shows have had B-stories in them--major subplots involving supporting characters--and I thought it was worth briefly going through them to look at their strengths and weaknesses:

Daredevil season one
Karen Page - an excellent subplot where she transitions from a victim to a proactive character. Initially she serves both Matt's arc as a lawyer and as Daredevil, but becomes the hero of her own mini-story, freeing herself from Wesley (a story that literally no one knows about in-universe); she doesn't suddenly start kicking ass (a poor decision they've made, incidentally, with Claire Temple--not every character in the shows should be beating on people), but simply becomes a stronger version of who she was in the beginning.

Jessica Jones
Trish Walker - an excellent subplot whereby her complete arc is about becoming a hero--transitioning from having to be saved from Simpson to then defeating him--there are some similarities with Karen here, except Trish is never as fragile or terrified and Simpson has abilities the criminals threatening Karen do not; the arc is largely an affirmation of the work and intent Trish has to start with (she desperately wants to be a hero).
Jeri Hogarth - more of a C-plot, but a solid arc involving a love triangle where Hogarth's narcissism causes her to lose both partners; it's not clear Hogarth learns anything from this, or evolves, but it's a powerful illustration of her self-destruction tendencies.

Daredevil season two (directly carried on in The Defenders)
Elektra - a cliched mess where a sociopath...remains a sociopath? Unfortunately there's no arc for her at all--Elektra-the-child is the same as Elektra-the-adult (one of the reasons she didn't resonate with fans); this failed so poorly it's unlikely we'll ever see the character again. The fault for this rests with adapters Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez (showrunners on DD2 as well as TD), and tangentially on Frank Miller's 90s retcon of the character (the latter is still popular with comicbook readers, but I think it's a much poorer version of the character).
Foggy Nelson - a C-plot, but one that helps shift Foggy from simply serving as a Daredevil foil to rounding him out as a good lawyer--it was a smart move to have him independently defend Frank Castle and helped what was a fairly weak character in the first season.

Luke Cage
Misty Knight - the arc is a mess, with Misty fighting with the police internally due to her inconsistently written choices as a cop--the attempt to show her go from calm detective to angry isn't serviced well enough to work (the motivation is there: Scarf's death and betrayal, but it's so poorly done it's not effective). The Defenders shifts her more towards the calmer side, albeit she spends most of the show as plot-service so there's plenty of room to clean-up her characterization.

Iron Fist
Ward Meachum - my favourite B-arc in all the shows and actually better than the A-plot for Danny Rand, Ward undergoes a complete transformation from a narcissistic, self-indulgent asshole to becoming someone who recognizes his personal failings and how he has to grow and be a better person; the performance is fantastic and I'm looking forward to seeing more of him.

The Defenders
Danny Rand - technically he's one of the A-plots, but as he's largely used as plot-service (once he's taken captive he stops being an active participant in the story) so I think he fits here. Denied personal growth in his own show for the purposes of the team-up, here he undergoes the transformation from angry, single-minded man-child to a more rounded person; it's poorly written, but intermittently effective--leaving room for Cheo Hodari Coker to help grow the character in Luke Cage (when he'll next appear).

The Punisher
Micro - virtually an A-plot, Lieberman's story is entertaining as he both has a great personal stake in the main plot and an arc to go through himself (returning to his family)--he's also a welcome foil to Frank's personality. The arc's only weakness is that Micro doesn't really evolve as a person (something that isn't always required, but more evocative when it happens).
Dinah Madani - a mixed bag as her motivations are fairly bland (she's looking for career growth and recognition) that's marred by middling writing (she makes a lot of poor choices that others have to save her from--this echoes Danny Rand's arc in his own series).

Jon Schnepp, on the heels of his failed Moon Knight prediction for The Punisher, claims that Spider-Man will appear in Venom; unlike the former prediction many other outlets have reported it. The rumour has been further refined to say Peter Parker will appear as opposed to Spider-Man, but in what capacity remains unknown, as does it's implications for Sony's involvement in the broader MCU. Most of the theories I've seen believe it's an attempt by Sony to shoehorn their own films into the MCU with whatever wiggle room exists in the agreement.

With the bizarre state of it-is-but-isn't connected to the MCU, the second Spider-Man film is apparently casting a European femme fatal (this is again from The Hashtag Show), with every outlet struggling to figure out which character this might be (other than one of those from Sony's stable, presumably, as it benefits Marvel to include them in official MCU productions). Early predictions that it would be Gwen Stacy seem off-target (what would be the point when a romance with Michelle is the next logical step?).

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

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