Marvel, Paradise Regained

Yesterday, I covered how Marvel set up a series of deals that helped rescue them from financial difficulty but horrifically tied their hands. Now, Marvel has a wonderful cinematic universe where, just like in the comics, stories cross over each other.

Daredevil

The Daredevil and Punisher licenses have lapsed (Yay!). Marvel and Netflix made a wonderful series out of Daredevil (and I daresay spent less than they did on the mediocre movie). I have high hopes for Jessica Jones (November!), Power Man, Iron Fist, and The Defenders.

Agents of SHIELD

So why doesn’t Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. work? It was sold as being part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This means The Avengers as that is basically what the MCU is, given the absence of mutants, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, and others. Yet for being based on The Avengers, there is no sign of Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Hawkeye, or any superheroes at all. The closest they come is that Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander) guest stars in two episodes. That’s two episodes out of two full seasons. In the second season, they added Bobbi Morse aka Mockingbird but haven’t done much with her.

Another part of it has to do with SHIELD. SHIELD as a comic book evolved out of the James Bond series. Nick Fury was a spymaster with a vast array of incredibly cool gadgets but that was in the 70s. The cinematic Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is based more on The Ultimates line of comics and works well.

Unfortunately, a television series could not afford Samuel L. Jackson on a regular basis so the leader of SHIELD is seen in only three episodes and even then it’s briefly. So they resurrect Agent Coulson to lead the team so that we have at least one familiar face. The gadget antics wore out their welcome long ago. It’s why when Daniel Craig became Bond, they went back to basics and ditched the outlandish gadgets. Unfortunately the SHIELD team thinks these items can substitute for plot. They don’t really understand how a Mcguffin works.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has already had a wide array of supervillains, drawn from a long history of comics. While many of the heavy hitters like Dr. Doom and Magneto are unavailable, we still have Loki, Malekith (who was much cooler in the comics), Thanos, Yellowjacket, Ironmonger, Whiplash, The Mandarin (sort of), The Red Skull, Arnim Zola, Ultron, and others, heck they even manage to shoehorn Strucker and Klaw into a movie that didn’t need them.

Who does SHIELD have for a supervillain? Umm, The Enchantress guest stars in an episode. Kyle MacLachlan periodically guests as Calvin Zabo. Who?

SHIELD has started to introduce the Inhumans, one of the few properties not sold off. Unfortunately, they do so in a rather lame fashion. Black Bolt? Nope. Medusa? Nope. I guess they are saving those for the eventual Inhumans movie.

Agent Carter

There is the real crux of the problem. Marvel appears to be saving everything for their blockbuster movies, leaving nothing for SHIELD (or Agent Carter for that matter). There was even talk of a spinoff from SHIELD featuring Bobbi Morse (Mockingbird). Why do a spinoff when you cannot even get the original right?

Obviously, the Inhumans are SHIELD’s big push this year, until the inevitable spring tie-in with Captain America: Civil War. I am a die-hard Marvel fan from my kid days but I feel I have invested too much time in this already.

Excuse me, The Flash is about to come on.

Marvel’s Deals with the Devil

Blame, blame is such an easy game. Why, with such an incredible universe to draw from, is Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. such a bore? There is quite a lot of blame to go around but it lies rooted in Marvel’s financial woes in the 90s. There is a great article on Marvel’s trip from bankruptcy to billions here so I won’t go into too much depth.

The Incredible Hulk

Marvel had a big television hit with The Incredible Hulk. It was a wonderful formula: take a well liked actor (Bill Bixby), add a champion body builder (Lou Ferrigno), and simply retell The Fugitive, a popular television series from fifteen years earlier. It worked great. They then attempted to repeat this success with Captain America (painfully bad), Dr. Strange, and others. They didn’t pan out so Marvel tried to launch a few more from within The Incredible Hulk. The Incredible Hulk Returns featured Thor and The Trial of the Incredible Hulk featured Daredevil.

As part of the recovery from bankruptcy in the 90s, numerous licensing deals were made.  It is great that Marvel was able to climb back out of the hole but many of the terms on the deals were ridiculous.

X-Men

Twentieth Century Fox made a fantastic version of X-Men (2000) and the even better X-Men 2 (2003). Unfortunately, the deal allowed X-Men movies to be owned by Fox in perpetuity as long as the movies kept being made. That would be bad enough but the deal included all of the standard X-Men, their standard villains, and even extended to the term mutant.

Attempts had been made during the 90s to bring Spider-Man, Marvel’s most iconic character, to the big screen and while that failed, the rights were tied up for quite some time. Once the rights were untangled, Columbia (Sony) locked them up again, including a rogue’s gallery of Marvel’s best villains. Once again, a really good blockbuster was made, Spider-Man (2002) followed by an even better sequel, Spider-Man 2 (2004).

Daredevil

Apparently, it took a long time for Marvel to catch on that they were selling the cow instead of the milk. Essentially the same deal was made, again with Twentieth Century Fox, for Daredevil. Daredevil, Elektra, The Kingpin, and even Ben Urich were tied up. Ditto Lionsgate with The Punisher (2004) and The Punisher: War Zone (2008).

Finally, the Fantastic Four rights were locked up, again by Twentieth Century Fox. This wouldn’t be so bad as they were usually self-contained but it also included Doctor Doom and the Silver Surfer. Not just that but Fantastic Four (2005), Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007), and the reboot Fantastic Four (2015) have all been pretty dire.

Not only did Marvel practically give away their entire roster of characters but many others such as Iron Man were locked up in deals where the movie simply never came to fruition.

 

Marvel Cinematic Universe and Daredevil

Marvel’s Daredevil is currently available on instant Netflix

Daredevil

 

Daredevil (2015) – Rated TV-MA

“”Marvel’s Daredevil” is a live action series that follows the journey of attorney Matt Murdock, who in a tragic accident was blinded as a boy but imbued with extraordinary senses. Murdock sets up practice in his old neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen, New York where he now fights against injustice as a respected lawyer by day and masked vigilante at night.

Ah, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, how I love thee. My best friend, Patrick, and I used to watch all the superhero movies but he sadly passed away before Iron Man. The last two we got to see were Superman Returns and X-Men: The Last Stand, not exactly stellar examples of their genre.

The MCU movies have been, ummm, marvelous, especially in their intertwining storylines and characters. Iron Man’s humor was a nice counterpoint to the grimness of Nolan’s Dark Knight. The Incredible Hulk was a mighty balm to those who had to suffer through Hulk (2003). Joss Whedon’s The Avengers was a fanboy’s dream.

They weren’t all winners of course. Iron Man 3 was a lazy cash grab but still had its moments. Thor: Dark World was just terribly misguided with the one really good scene being a cameo by Captain America. Marvel recovered though with my two favorite movies of last year, Captain America: Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy.

The idea to have all of these interconnected storylines is wonderful and the determination to continue this on the small screen admirable. Unfortunately Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is not a good show. As a fanboy, I keep watching it but honestly its pretty bad. It has a huge hurdle that it doesn’t begin to approach (a superhero show without superheroes or even supervillains). It and the cast have little to no personality. Every once in a while they will throw MCU fans a bone and have Nick Fury or Sif guest star.

If, like me, you don’t care for that then you can have the exact same thing set half a century before with Agent Carter. Agent Carter is fantastic. That is the character, not the show. The show is more of the same, bland characters fighting other bland characters, with only Carter standing out.

When Netflix announced a partnership with Marvel to produce five separate one-season shows, I was intrigued. The idea of having a season each of Daredevil, A.K.A. Jessica Jones, Power Man, and Iron Fist, and then combining the four of them into The Defenders was marvelous (sorry). That I would be able to binge watch each season was a huge bonus. I did have some trepidation though when it was announced that they would be set in the MCU.

I needn’t have worried. Daredevil is amazing. My wife and I binged watched this the past weekend and now I can’t wait for A.K.A. Jessica Jones.

The actors are superb. Charlie Cox is not at all bland as the bruised, blind, and sadomasochistic Matt Murdock/Daredevil. As with CW’s Arrow, we get bits and pieces of Murdock’s backstory each episode but they never overwhelm the current story. The episodes are the beginning of Daredevil’s story though so he does not even have a costume to speak of. Much of the look and feel of the series derive from Frank Miller’s Man Without Fear miniseries.

Deborah Ann Woll (True Blood’s vampire ingenue) is good as Karen Page, who, thankfully, is not just a damsel in distress. Elden Henson effortlessly steals the series as Matt’s law partner, Foggy Nelson. Vincent D’ Onofrio shows quite a range in humanizing Wilson Fisk. The writers too wrote each of these characters well.

Even the supporting cast is good with the standout being Toby Leonard Moore as Fisk’s wonderfully efficient majordomo, Wesley. Vondie Curtis-Hall plays our long-suffering reporter, Ben Urich. Bob Gunton is Leland Owlsley (The Owl in the comics). Ayelet Zurer is Vanessa, Fisk’s love interest.

The writing is astounding and keeps the whole enterprise grounded in reality. All of the events, except flashbacks, take place after “The Incident” in New York (the alien invasion in The Avengers). Daredevil’s abilities are much more subtly conveyed than in the movie version. The violence is extremely brutal, especially for a superhero show. In addition to the well-filmed fight scenes, the show also deals with the aftermath of the brutality.

There are also numerous perks for long-time marvel-ites. Scott Glenn guest stars as Stick in one episode. Melvin Potter appears in a few episodes in a rather specialized occupation and there are nods to his other identity from the comics. Turk appears and is still a low-life who is always getting in trouble. Many other things are hinted at.

New Netflix Streaming Releases for the Week of 4/14/15

I guess the big news is Netflix’ Daredevil, which I’m hoping to binge on this weekend. There are also a slew of new documentaries and foreign (African) films.

Crank

Action & Adventure: Crank

Documentary: Actress, The Invisible Front, Monk with a Camera, Breath of Freedom, The Great Invisible, Helicopter Missions: Viet Nam Firefights, Hindenburg: The Untold Story, History in HD: Shooting Iwo Jima, The Hunt for Bin Laden, The Incredible Bionic Man, My Life Directed By Nicolas Winding Refn, Speed Kills: Jungle, Speed Kills: Ocean, Speed Kills: Savannah, Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon, The Teacher Who Defied Hitler

Drama: The World Made Straight

Pioneer

Foreign: Pioneer, The Awakening (2013), Broken (2013), Burning Bridges, Confusion Na Wa, Finding Mercy, Finding Mercy 2, Flower Girl, Forgetting June, Keeping My Man, Knocking on Heaven’s Door, Lagos Cougars, Lies Men Tell, Mad Couple, Mad Couple 2, Matters Arising, Mission to Murder Hitler, October 1, Onye Ozi, Ties That Bind, Yves Saint Laurent

Daredevil

Television: The Code, Daredevil, Halt and Catch Fire, Super 4, Air Disasters, and new episodes of Legit, Transformers Rescue Bots, and Wilfred

Thriller: Preservation

Yahoo Screen, Community, Sherlock, Daredevil, The Killing

Yahoo Screen

* Community has been renewed for a sixth season. The catch is that it will be available on Yahoo’s streaming platform, Yahoo Screen. Currently Yahoo Screen appears to be a very confused repository of clips, trailers, music videos, and Saturday Night Live reruns.

Sherlock

* Another of my favorite shows will be coming back. In spite of the two main actors being movie stars, Sherlock has been renewed. Martin (The Hobbit) Freeman and Benedict (Star Trek Into Darkness) Cumberbatch will be returning for a fourth season.

Netflix

* I’m really looking forward to Netflix’ Daredevil series. Charlie Cox (Boardwalk Empire) is Daredevil, Deborah Ann Woll (True Blood) is Karen Page, and Elden Henson is Foggy Nelson. Strangely Vincent D’Onofrio is playing the Kingpin. Obviously he is the wrong size so I’m curious how he will be portrayed.

* On August 1st, Netflix will have the new streaming season of The Killing. I’m looking forward to watching it as I enjoy the two very flawed lead characters but The Killing never quite gelled correctly. The Killing always had potential but never seemed to realize it.