I had not seen any Marvel TV shows until 2020, which was strange because I’m a big Daredevil and Elektra fan. Last year the COVID-19 lockdown and the Marvel section on Disney+ ignited an interest in also watching some of what Netflix had to offer. While I’d heard good things about Jessica Jones, her character, Luke Cage and Iron Fist were all rather unknown to me.
Here is a relatively spoiler-free ramble about the first six Netflix/Marvel shows on the list. While they’re not a scratch on the latest offerings on Disney+, I really liked the series-spanning intertwining of the stories of the Netflix shows, the reuse of supporting characters and some individual performances. I found bits to enjoy in each show and thought Defenders was great. However, the 13-episode shows suffered a lot from slow pacing. They could’ve told the same story with the same amount of style, depth and atmosphere in 10 episode series or alternately kept to 13 episodes but shortened each one by 10 minutes or so. The smaller format of The Defenders proves that a shorter run and/or shorter episodes works well.
Having slogged my way up to the point where one of my friends said I should stop, I refused to listen to their advice and pushed on into The Punisher Season 1.
The Punisher (Season 1) was actually pretty good fun. Unlike the rest of the characters in this post Frank Castle doesn’t have any superpowers, he’s just very handy with guns, explosives and knives. This skillset adds up to some very hardcore scenes and a vigilante no-nonsense sensibility to the action that has you grimacing and laughing in equal measure. I’m sure there are people living in forests in North America who worship this guy for all the wrong reasons.
Jon Bernthal is brilliant in the lead role and has some strong supporting cast members that helps this show stand out from the rest of the dross. Ebon Moss-Bachrach is great as Castle’s computer-geek helper, Ben Barnes puts on a good show as special forces veteran Billy Russo, and Deborah Ann Woll playing investigative journalist Karen Page provides some connective tissue to Daredevil S2 in which we first encountered Castle.
Where Charlie Cox’s performances give Matt Murdock a tangible level of inner turmoil over his actions as Daredevil, Bernthal plays The Punisher as a man focused solely on the mission with no doubts allowed. The mission in this case is to exact revenge on the crooked special forces crew that may have been the cause of his greatest personal loss.
Jessica Jones (Season 2) started the downhill spiral for me and the advice of my friend ‘leave it there’ echoed in my ears several times as I trudged through episode after episode of tiresome writing. It’s certainly not the cast’s fault and Krysten Ritter remained solid throughout. The problem is basically the story. It’s just generally very boring compared to S1 and secondary characters seem to be acting, well.. out of character while Jessica has to deal with her psychotic and powerful mother played by Janet McTeer, who I loved as the bad-ass lawyer in Ozark, but really felt wasn’t right for the part in this show.
Jessica has to investigate her own past and get beyond the curtain of lies to reveal the truth behind her super-strength. Meanwhile the ghost of Kilgrave (David Tennant) continues to haunt her and everyone else seems to sit around having dull conversations and doing stuff that seems totally inconsequential to the story. Meh…
Luke Cage (Season 2) was another disappointment compared to the first season which I enjoyed a lot. The bulletproof man has cleared his name and become a celebrity on the streets of Harlem he has sworn to protect. But his high profile only paints a bigger target on his back and leaves him discovering the limits of who he can and can’t protect.
Season 2 introduces a new villain in the form of Bushmaster (Mustafa Shakir) who is a drug-fuelled strong man with some handy moves intent on bringing down the arch-criminal come politician Mariah Dillard. Much like Matt Murdock in Daredevil, Luke is forced to explore the fine line that separates hero from villain. There are some cool moments to enjoy but they are sadly interspersed with some pretty laughable plotting and this time even Shades (Theo Rossi) couldn’t keep me interested. Little did I know that the next show would be even tougher to get through.
Iron Fist (Season 2) was the hardest slog of them all. I started in January 2021 and only finished in September 2021 after a midpoint hiatus because I simply wasn’t feeling it at all. However, it was the prospect of watching Daredevil Season 3 that got me through. It really is quite dreadful and I think it’s quite nicely summed up by the Screen Junkies:
Daredevil (Season 3) on the other hand is the shining light among all this mediocrity. I watched it over the course of a few days and found that the pacing was great – something exciting happened in every episode and there were a number of cliff-hanger endings. The performances were up there too – especially from Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page and Vincent D’Onofrio as the menacingly idiosyncratic Wilson Fisk aka Kingpin. The script and story were excellent too compared to the other shows in this post. To be honest it stands up very well to the more recent Marvel shows on Disney+. It has a grittiness and realism lacking in those shows and more akin to the darker DC stuff I really love.
A highlight for me was a set of scenes in which Matt Murdock pretends to be Foggy to get inside a prison and talk to an Albanian convict who might help him understand what Fisk is up to. However, Murdock doesn’t realise that most of the prison guards are on Fisk’s payroll and he will be lucky to get out alive. Add the fact that a riot breaks out and it’s really genuinely exciting to watch him make his way through the chaos that ensues and escape his predicament.
The addition of Dex (Wilson Bethel), who I eventually realised was bad guy Bullseye (so laughably portrayed by Colin Farrell in the 2003 Ben Affleck movie), adds an extra layer of interest to the show. Here we have a well-layered character with a solid backstory of childhood psychosis and an adult barely clinging on to a normal life only to be groomed for villainy by Fisk. Juxtapose his character with that of Agent Nadeem (Jay Ali) who just wants to earn a good living to support his family and you have another layer of the Biblical good versus evil story that thematically pervades Daredevil. I am really surprised that I enjoyed it as much as I did given how little I enjoyed the other Netflix Marvel hero instalments in this list. I am thankful that I only have two to go, and that Disney are doing a far better job at producing good TV shows based on characters from the MCU.