Latest posts by Alexander Vandewalle (see all)
- Inferno (2016): When A Success Formula Wears Off - August 20, 2018
- Why Marvel’s Netflix Shows Are Among The Best Things In The MCU - June 25, 2018
- Travel Videos: How Do They Work? - May 21, 2018
DAMN I have been loving Luke Cage‘s second season so far. It was released on Netflix a few days ago, and I have just finished watching the ninth episode of the season. This season really ups the ante in comparison to the first season. The dialogue is amazing, the cast has expanded vastly without any character feeling out-of-place, Bushmaster (Mustafa Shakir) has made for some incredible fight scenes and I also love how some scenes are filled with music, but other, more emotional sequences completely lack any musical score. It makes for a more intimate and realistic experience of the story and is something that definitely deserves praise.
It is no secret that I’m a sucker for these Marvel Netflix shows. Ever since Daredevil first hit the streaming service in 2015, I’ve been amazed at how these shows are so different from anything else in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but somehow still share continuity with it and are set in the same city as the spectacular blockbuster extravaganza of The Avengers (2012, Joss Whedon) all those years ago. Nevertheless, there have been some recurrent criticisms of these Marvel Netflix shows, and recently I’ve even seen some signs of online fatigue with them. So, with LukeCage‘s second season just having been released, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about why and how I feel these serials are among the very best things the people at Marvel have to offer.
First, let’s talk about the different stories and characters. Initially, these shows more or less dealt with the aftermath of the Battle of New York, i.e. Thanos and Loki’s Chitauri invasion of the city in The Avengers. Daredevil showed us how the real estate prices went down after the destruction of the city, and in one episode of Jessica Jones, the titular character (Krysten Ritter) was even attacked by a normal citizen whose mother was killed during the invasion (even though Jessica had nothing to do with that). These shows almost never directly/explicitly reference the larger events of the movies (the names of Tony Stark and Captain America have been dropped from time to time, but the characters never actually say the name “Chitauri”, etc.), yet still acknowledge their existence as well as the fact that whatever happens in them impacts the shows themselves (however mildly). Some have criticized the loose way in which the Netflix shows are connected to the films, but I think that the continuously practised restraint with which the writers handle the larger Marvel story is a testament of creative skill rather than a flawed exercise in narrative continuity.
In contrast to the extraordinary superhero antics of Thor or the Guardians of the Galaxy, the Netflix shows concern themselves with a pedestrian group of heroes. They show how Matt Murdock/Daredevil (Charlie Cox), Jessica Jones, Luke Cage (Mike Colter) and Danny Rand/Iron Fist (Finn Jones) come into contact with arms dealers, money launderers, rapists, mobs, and corporate crime lords. In 2017, these four heroes banded together in the crossover miniseries The Defenders, to battle the mysterious criminal organisation known as The Hand. The same year also saw the release of The Punisher, which went further in-depth into the character of Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) who was introduced in the second season of Daredevil. Above all, the Marvel Netflix character slate is diverse, and all of them represent different ways of living in (various parts of) New York City. Thematically, these shows are radical departures from the movies as they thrive on their gritty realism and perhaps even relatability. Even though the subjects might sometimes border on the magical (e.g. The Hand’s quest for immortality through harvesting a mysterious substance out of dragon bones which can only be unlocked by punching a luminescent super-powered fist into a solid wall), the undertones are almost always socially relevant and deal with actual day-to-day problems. This is something that other Marvel shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013-) or Inhumans (2017) lack, for example.
One problem that the Marvel movies have struggled with for a very long time (though they seem to be handling it quite well nowadays), is the portrayal of interesting villains. Ivan Vanko, Malekith or Darren Cross are hardly antagonists that will be remembered for a long time. The Netflix shows usually tend to fare better in this respect. From Wilson Fisk’s (Vincent D’Onofrio) raw, terrifying presence to the psychologically disturbing Kilgrave (David Tennant) or the aforementioned and utterly determined Bushmaster, these street-level narratives are characterised by strong antagonistic forces that stop at nothing to achieve their goal and aren’t just defeated by challenging them to a dance-off. It also helps that these shows are not bound to any restrictions in terms of the depiction of violence. There have been some plainly brutal scenes (The Punisher‘s final episodes are probably the best examples), and while I obviously don’t encourage violence like this in real life, the depiction thereof does serve as a strong characterisation device that many of the Marvel movies missed over the years.
Speaking of the visuals, the Marvel Netflix shows probably stand out the most on the subject of cinematography and mise-en-scene. I have previously analysed the cinematography of The Defenders, but it is definitely possible to do similar analyses of every single one of these shows. They excellently play with hues of light & dark (and with colours in general) or with architectural lines within the frame, and sometimes even provide shots nothing short of iconic, such as the famous hallway fight scene in Daredevil 1×02 “Cut Man”. I think that fight scene was one of the early defining moments of the Marvel Netflix canon, which proved that Marvel had officially succeeded in making Daredevil cool again, after the huge failure of the 2003 movie directed by Mark Steven Johnson. These shows all exhibit the telltale signs of the TV quality drama genre, and are able to do some really interesting things compared to the oftentimes bland cinematography of normal broadcast TV.
Obviously I am not blindly defending these shows (pun intended), and there have indeed been some notable problems (I thought that The Punisher, while definitely containing some interesting story elements, was overall structured very poorly, for example), but I honestly believe that these shows contain some of the best things that Marvel has to offer. They are gritty representations of present-day problems and thrive on their powerful antagonists and strong visual style. No show is perfect, of course, but time and time again these shows have succeeded in providing great binging experiences and in daring to do something different from the lighthearted, humouristic tone of the movies. These shows are, I think, very interesting case studies and I already have some more or less concrete ideas to discuss them further in the future. The exact details on the release dates of the following seasons have been a little foggy (…), but with Iron Fist season two, Daredevil season three, The Punisher season two and Jessica Jones season three reportedly all being in (post-)production, the future looks really, really good.
Now please excuse me, I have some more Luke Cage to watch. Sweet Christmas.