Monday, June 29, 2015

It's Better to Not Be All Connected: Daredevil, SHIELD, Arrow, The Flash, and the Hassle of Cinematic Universes

When Netflix introduced "Marvel's Daredevil" (Not just Daredevil, MARVEL's Daredevil) I watched a couple of episodes and then stopped watching for a few weeks.  This was when I had been binge-watching Star Trek (TOS) and like Spock I made the logical decision which is that Netflix could dump Trek any time but Marvel's Daredevil was new and a Netflix original so it would obviously be there longer.

Anyway, I finally got back to it and the show started to pick up momentum.  It is far better than "Marvel's Agents of SHIELD" which lost me mid-first season and then only tepidly got me back for the finale.  For one thing there's actual superhero stuff, which let's face it is what we want from MARVEL.  Though I continue to think if they had made AoS a gritty spy thriller show (or even a less-funny version of Archer) it would have been better.

I think the biggest positive about Marvel's Daredevil this first season is it was NOT connected to anything else.  Sure they mention the attack on New York, but that's pretty much it.  Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, the Hulk, etc. don't make an appearance.  Coulson and the Mystery Machine don't show up either.  There are no setups for Avengers 2 or Ant-Man or anything else Marvel has in the pipeline--presumably.  This allows Marvel's Daredevil to stand alone on an island and just worry about delivering the gritty street justice people want.  That's as big as the plot gets and who really wants anything more than that?

Watching this season of "DC's Arrow" (come on DC, it's called branding) and watching Avengers 2 and reading reviews of "Marvel's Agents of SHIELD" it seems that while it's cool to have superhero properties cross over, it soon starts to weigh things down.  I mean like the finale of "DC's Arrow" where Oliver's friends are all trapped in a dungeon and the Flash comes in to save them as the human deus ex machina.  Just as the night before Oliver and Firestorm showed up at the end of the episode as human deus ex machinas.  Which again while it's great to watch Oliver, Firestorm, and the Flash fight Reverse Flash, afterwards we have to come up with some lame explanation for why Oliver has to go away (and how did he even get there?) so he can be in his show.  Just like on "Arrow" Barry has to make a lame excuse for why he can't just race to Starling City and kick Ra's al Guhl's ass.  I mean if you're going to be the human deus ex machina then why play that card 3 minutes into the episode and then take it out of the deck?

From what I've read about AoS season 2 is a lot of it involves setting up Inhumans and whatnot plus they had to have a story arc to help set up the beginning of Avengers 2.  That's a lot worse than your buddies showing up to help you with a fight; that's other properties actually dictating the plot of your show.  Which I don't know why they're bothering with the Inhumans crap when that movie doesn't even come out until what, 2018?  You really think ABC is going to keep propping up AoS that long just because of "synergy?"  (It's Disney, the company that created a whole NHL franchise to promote a movie, so maybe.)

With DC bringing in 3 more shows next years (Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl, and Titans) I imagine the problem is only going to get worse for their shows.  At least Gotham is a lame prequel and thus can stay in its own little bottle universe.

To get back to Daredevil, like I said, the good thing is it didn't have those complications.  That makes the plot uncluttered and allows you the viewer to focus on just those characters and stories.  You don't need to have watched any other MARVEL show or movie to know what's going on in Daredevil, especially not the underrated Affleck movie.  It would help if you had read some of the comics to get some of the references in the show.  Since they were on sale I read 4 volumes of old Daredevil comics and that came in handy to know the players, even minor ones like Melvin Potter (Gladiator in the comics, which holy Easter Egg he has a gladiator fight poster on the wall of his shop) or Turk the low-level criminal who always seems to be the first arm Daredevil breaks when looking for information.

The lack of complication made for better watching and also the fact it's on Netflix, so they can use naughty words and so forth, unlike AoS.  The plot is pretty easy to follow:  there's a blind guy with ultra-sensitive other senses and ninja training who goes around in a mask to beat people up.  At first he's taking on low-level criminals but eventually has to go toe-to-toe with Wilson Fisk, aka the Kingpin in the comics.  They call him the Kingpin in the comics because he controls all crime in the New York area, despite that New York City is home to like a thousand superheroes.  And it's pretty much the same in the show where he leads an alliance of all the major factions:  Russians, Chinese, Japanese, and old-fashioned American gangsters.  In retro "Robocop" and "Darkman" fashion Fisk wants to tear down Hell's Kitchen to rebuild it into Delta City or whatever.  (Really I thought they already gentrified Hell's Kitchen and called it Chelsea or something in real life but I don't live in New York so maybe that was a different neighborhood.)  To build his city of tomorrow he has to buy up old buildings and push people out and all that stuff.  Gradually "the man in the mask" ie Daredevil starts to wear down his well-oiled machine.

If there was one problem I had it's that they introduced Fisk's future bride Vanessa too early.  I mean the first few times we really get to see Fisk he's acting like a lovesick 14-year-old over this chick.  He's supposed to be this big badass crime boss, not some emo kid.  Then he kills a Russian guy with his bare hands (and a car door) and it's a little better.  I don't know, I just think they should have led with him going Darth Vader and killing some flunkie before introducing the whole love story thing.  That's probably just me.

It's good by the end Daredevil gets his real costume because that whole black sweater, pants, scarf ensemble was pretty lame.  And they show his real costume on the Netflix show icon so it's like, When's he going to get that?  Not until the last fucking episode because basically this whole season was an origin story.

(Spoiler) I was pretty shocked when Ben Urich, the intrepid reporter, died because obviously he's still alive in the comic books.  Or at least the ones I read.  Is there a Lazarus Pit or experimental brain surgery to bring him back?  The thing is now that MARVEL has Spider-Man back maybe they can work the Daily Bugle into the show because in the comics Ben Urich worked there with Peter Parker, albeit Parker was freelance, but whatever.  Then they can get someone to play J Jonah Jameson.

Anyway, the trouble ahead for this show is that Netflix has 2 other series coming (AKA Jessica Jones and Luke Cage) which will all lead to a Defenders movie or miniseries or some damned thing.  Which means a great street level superhero story will have to start incorporating more shit to form a "cinematic universe."  Or whatever universe you'd consider Netflix to be.  Next thing you know Daredevil will be fighting the Kingpin and Luke Cage will come in as human deus ex machina and then the next time Daredevil is in trouble you have to wonder why the hell he doesn't just call up Luke Cage to bail him out.

3 comments:

  1. I loved Daredevil. The fight scenes were incredible, the story was tight, and I loved seeing the actress from True Blood that I really liked. All of these superhero movies including Agents of Shield are better than the Batman series from the sixties and the Wonder Woman series from the seventies. So as far as that kind of television goes, they are a vast improvement. I only bring this up because I think people tend to "nitpick" in trying to find ways for it to be better, when it/they are already better than previous iterations that were (for lack of a better word) cheesy. Agents of Shield panders a little too much too the propaganda machine that is Marvel/Disney and I wonder if they'll do the same with Star Wars Rebels. I hope not.

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  2. You make great points Pat. It's very possible to have too many connections in a show. The finale of Flash (which was amazing) felt forced to have the others come in. Especially when Arrow is going through a transformation and then has to act like nothing is different. I imagine comic book writers have the same problem. On the other hand, whenever AoS (MAoS) connects to the movies it's always awesome because then Marvel let's them do big things that they normally couldn't do. Vanessa is a risk on the show since it does show a softer side of Fisk, but then it gives him a reason to get really angry which is when he shows that he's not just smart, but lethal. I was totally blown away by Urich getting killed since he's a major character in the comics and awesome. But, frankly, it wouldn't make sense for Fisk to leave someone alive that's probing into his personal life.So it was inevitable. What really bugged me was then killed Owsley who was awesome and became one of Daredevil's smartest foes in the comics. Sorry to lose them both.

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  3. I agree, it was cool to be able to start fresh without worrying about where the other superheroes are.

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