The Punisher Season 1 Review

The Netflix side of the MCU has been an up and down ride. While both seasons of Daredevil have been stellar, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and The Defenders have seen their share of criticism. The Punisher has come to put boots to asses and reinvigorate our faith in the darker side of the Marvel world.

Jon Bernthal’s Frank Castle first appeared in Daredevil season two and immediately had a major impact on the Netflix portion of the MCU. Fans instantly began calling for a spinoff series and were rewarded last year during San Diego Comic Con when the first images began to surface. The wait is finally over, as season one has finally arrived.

This 13-episode season was filled with many subplots, twists and turns. With the crux of the story seeing Frank out for revenge after the death of his family, he is also enveloped in different arcs involving the Department of Homeland Security, the CIA, NSA, NYPD and the security firm, ANVIL. While there were some slower scenes and episodes, they all served the overall story extremely well and paid off brilliantly.

Likes

Starting off on the positive side, Jon Bernthal’s portrayal of Frank Castle/The Punisher was outstanding. He absolutely nailed this character in every way imaginable. His character was very deep and complex. Frank deals with the death of his wife and children, the betrayal of the US military, his own PTSD stemming from his time in Afghanistan,  and the betrayal of his former best friend, Billy Russo. This man took an insane amount of beatings, gun shots, knife wounds and blunt force trauma that made what Matt Murdock/Daredevil went through seem like a bee sting.

I absolutely loved every facet of what Bernthal brought to this series. He was intense, brutal, gruesome and then seamlessly shifted to being quiet, reserved, sympathetic and even nurturing. His interactions and relationships with different characters like Dinah Madani, David Lieberman/Micro and his family were a joy to see develop. In particular, his relationship with Micro was really special. After initially intending on killing the man, they ultimately began to trust each other and were even willing to die for each other. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what these two can accomplish in future season of this series, as Micro is Frank’s “eye in the sky”.

Comparisons between The Punisher and Daredevil regarding the extreme violence will surely be making the rounds on the internet, but The Punisher goes above and beyond. This series was insanely graphic and brutal regarding the violence and murder shown. The manner in which Frank rips through people without a second thought was ridiculous (in a good way). The flashbacks of Frank’s time in Afghanistan were also particularly gory. And can we talk about the end battle with Billy for a moment? Watching Frank destroy his face was so cringe-worthy I actually almost had to look away from the screen. Ben Barnes did a phenomenal job playing Billy Russo. He was charming, deceitful, and also a total badass. I’m very glad he wasn’t killed off, as he will later become the villain, Jigsaw.

Aside from the violence, I really got into the different plots. This season had the feel of Showtime’s Homeland regarding military and government aspects. Watching Frank, Madani and Lieberman uncovering the truth about the events in Kandahar was really interesting. Seeing the lengths people like Bennett, Schoonover, and Rollins went through to cover their tracks definitely makes a person wonder what kind of shady things our government is really doing behind closed doors.

I was very impressed with how much the writers went into topics like life in the military, its traditions, and the after effects soldiers face after coming home. Having the support group as a part of this season was such a nice touch. It was also very tragic seeing the character of Lewis Wilson struggle so badly after his time overseas, eventually losing his mind and becoming a terrorist of sorts.

The ancillary characters were also very well-developed: Dinah Madani, David Lieberman & family, and the “main” villain, Billy Russo. It was almost a total bummer seeing Billy’s heel turn halfway through episode 5 after seeing just how close he and Frank were. They were the best of friends, even being as close as family. The revelation that Billy knew about the murder of Frank’s family was particularly heartbreaking after seeing flashbacks of him interacting with the Castle family. The kids even called him Uncle Billy. Russo never got over the fact that he was orphaned as a child and wanted so badly to use his past to make sure no one could ever hurt him again, regardless of what he had to do to make sure of it.

Dislikes

I really don’t have too many things to say about what I didn’t like about this season. Sure, there were some slower sequences here and there, but as I mentioned earlier, everything was developed so well that the little things eventually added up. Even though I couldn’t stand David’s son, his rebellious nature caused his and his mother’s kidnapping. People may complain about Madnani for different reasons, but she was essential to the overall plot.

The slower points are definitely the ones that require watchers to be the most focused. I found myself missing things here and there because I became distracted and then had to go back and re-watch scenes. While this may seem like an annoyance, it shows the depth of the story because of the smaller intricacies.

Final Thoughts

As I reflect on this season, I can’t help but be overjoyed at the finished product. This season gave me everything that I wanted and expected. The storylines were great, the characters were great, the action was great. Though we did see some familiar characters like Karen Page, Turk and Schoonover, it would have been cool to see some of the other Defenders or at least get some kind of mention of them, even if they didn’t have a prominent role to play. At the same time, I totally understand their absence as there wasn’t a need to have them in for story purposes.

This is the Marvel that I love: gritty, violent, deep. If you’re someone who loves the “fun, lighthearted” flavor of the film side of things and purely just want fluff, this may not be the show for you. If you want your heroes with an edge and want to see how well a character can be developed, you’re in the right place. Season two, whenever it gets a release date, is sure to be just as great if not better than this first go-around.

 

 

The Defenders Season 1 Review

Marvel’s team up series in the vein of The Avengers has hit Netflix. After getting their own individual seasons, heroes Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones and Iron Fist are forced together in order to combat an ever-present threat in the criminal organization, The Hand.

After all of the hype and buildup from the solo seasons for each of these characters, we finally got to see this new team come together. During the 8 episode season, the team had to overcome their own personal issues to find a way to defeat The Hand and their attempt at destroying New York City. While there certainly were a lot of fun aspects to this series, I feel like it missed the mark.

I loved both seasons of Daredevil, really liked most of Luke Cage season 1 and thought season 1 of both Jessica Jones and Iron Fist were just ok, but I really held high hopes to see them together on-screen for The Defenders. The gritty and grounded nature of the way Netflix and Marvel have done these series has been a nice change up from the rest of the MCU. However, I feel like The Defenders spent way too much time deviating from the crux of the plot.

As we are being re-introduced to each of these characters, they are all focused on their own lives, which makes sense. Matt has “retired” as Daredevil, focusing on his career as a lawyer without Foggy’s partnership. Though they are still chummy, the awkwardness with Karen was off-putting. Karen really had nothing to do during this season and pretty much wasted screen time.

Luke, after being released from prison, is trying to help a family that has seen a lot of despair, as the children have either been killed or turned to crime. Jessica, still hitting the bottle heavily, is tasked with tracking the husband of a woman who has vanished. Danny and Colleen are still in pursuit of The Hand, as they have been traveling the world in their quest to take them down.

Aside from the main four characters we also see a ton of familiar faces like Stick, Claire, Misty, Trish, Malcolm, Elektra, Madame Gao, Bakuto, and newcomer Alexandra. Each of these characters have popped up in the other series, either aiding or causing trouble for our heroes. Seeing them all share screen time was pretty cool for the most part.

I first want to highlight some of the aspects that I enjoyed from this series. Getting to explore more of the mythology of The Hand was really interesting. We’ve gotten a lot of information on them with both seasons of Daredevil and season 1 of Iron Fist, but the way they became the major through line for The Defenders was really neat. Even though Luke or Jessica had no prior dealings with them, their own plots were intertwined, forcing the heroes to ban together to stop the threat. The series also did a good job in trying to rectify Iron Fist, making Danny, his power and K’un Lun a huge part of the plot.

The chemistry of the team was pretty humorous in a strange way. The in-fighting and general distaste for working together made their eventual partnership more genuine. I especially liked Luke’s and Danny’s relationship, especially when Danny first told Luke about his power. Seeing Luke’s reaction was very funny, as most of the other characters reacted pretty much the same way.

I also enjoyed how the members of The Hand were constantly at odds with each other. Madame Gao, Alexandra, Bakuto, Murakami and Sowande are seen arguing a lot and it was revealed that at different points throughout history they’ve attempted to assassinate each other. This turmoil made their alliance more believable. Having such big egos together won’t always result in success. Their relationship was a mirror of their adversaries and an aspect that I certainly picked up on.

Despite the things I really enjoyed about The Defenders, there were also a lot fo things I disliked. I previously mentioned Karen’s unnecessary role, but I also disliked Misty’s. She was all over the place in terms of her motivations. One minute she’s trying to help Luke and letting him get away with whatever he wants but then she’s actively trying to stop him. She flip-flops so much during these episodes that I just couldn’t appreciate her help in the finale, even when she got her arm cut off.

Another character that was a mess was Elektra. I really loved Elodie Young’s portrayal of the assassin in season 2 of Daredevil and was excited to see her again in The Defenders. However, her character made no sense. After being resurrected as the Black Sky and her memories erased, Elektra went from stone cold killer to confused former lover back to stone cold kill and eventually new leader of The Hand. I initially bought into her starting to reclaim her memories, but after she killed Alexandra, things started to unravel. Why, after discovering who she truly was, did she continue to try to fulfill The Hand’s mission? Maybe she was angry or maybe it was poor writing, but her plot got very convoluted for me. And you don’t bring in Sigourney Weaver on a show like this and kill her off 2 episodes before it ends.

During individual seasons for these characters we’ve been treated to some awesome fight scenes. The mix of martial arts and straight up brawling has been a lot of fun to watch, but I feel like The Defenders was lacking in great action scenes. Don’t get me wrong, there were some great fight scenes, but none of them really impacted me the way they did in other seasons. I feel like there was a missed opportunity for these characters to have some cool tag team-style fights where they aid each other the way Thor & Captain America have or even something like Wolverine & Colossus.

Perhaps my single most disappointing thing from this season was the absence of The Punisher. I really held out hope that he’d at least make a short cameo at some point, but it apparently wasn’t in the cards. Jon Bernthal is getting his own solo season coming soon, so maybe his filming schedule didn’t coincide with The Defenders, but how cool would it have been to see him pop up and start blowing people away?

I feel like my positives and negatives are pretty even and even now I’m still having trouble in thinking about how much I liked this season. I think I wanted to like it more than I actually did. I do understand the challenge in taking four separate characters and putting them together in a way that makes sense, but again, I just feel like it missed the mark.

Now that we’ve gotten this team up, what did you think about it? What parts did you like/dislike? How would you rank each of the Marvel Netflix series? And finally, what other Marvel characters do you think would be ripe for their own season?

Game of Thrones Season 7 Review

Season 7 of HBO’s Game of Thrones has come and gone. The abbreviated season was certainly dark and full of terrors and left fans clamoring for more. Though season 8 may not debut until 2019, there is certainly a lot to talk about as we hurry up and wait. From Jon to Dany to Cersei, let’s review the season that was.

As you may or may not know, I am a massive fan of the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin. I won’t get into my love of the book series or my distaste for the TV series here, but feel free to read my article on the matter. With that being said, I eventually did catch up on seasons 5 and 6 before season 7 premiered, having an open mind. I told myself that I would do my best to take the TV show for what it was and to not associate it with the books, which certainly was difficult at times.

Though there were a number of great scenes scattered throughout this season, there were plenty of moments that left me scratching my head. The shortened season tried to be way too ambitious, causing timeline errors that took me out of many episodes. I understand that show runners D.B. Weiss & David Benioff are under strict deadlines to get to the meat of things, but this practice has been a detriment to the overall storyline. How is it that ravens sent from The North can magically make it to far away places like King’s Landing and Dragonstone in such a short amount of time? It’s little things like this that makes me dislike the show.

The world that George has created is so incredibly huge that a show like this could run for a very long time, but it seems like despite its great ratings, budgetary reasons are holding it back. The original novel was published in 1996 and the series is still being written, which shows you just how much material there is within its pages. So why, with the sheer amount of material, does the show have to cram plots, characters, and storylines together in such a breakneck way?

I don’t want to constantly bash the series in this review, so lets get into some things that I actually liked. I really have enjoyed watching Samwell’s evolution from a cowardly cast-off to what he is becoming. Sam’s steadfast manner has been paramount in uncovering the secrets of the measters, leading to the discovery of how to fight the White Walkers and the secret history of Westeros.

One of my favorite characters has always been Tyrion, and I can’t describe how much of a perfect fit I believe Peter Dinklage is to play him. I find myself hanging on every word he speaks, as his delivery and gravitas is profound. Tyrion is doing his best to keep Daenerys in check and he basically offers up his own life to Cersei in order to bring about a truce between the two queens. His belief in Dany is so strong that he will do whatever needs to be done. Knowing how Tyrion starts out as a self-involved, drunken whoremonger makes his arc even more enjoyable to watch.

The tale of Jon Snow has certainly grown. The “bastard son of Ned Stark” has gone from a brother of the Night’s Watch to Lord Commander to King of the North, even coming back from the icy grip of death. Jon is a true hero that sees the endgame, which aids in his decision-making. After Jon and Dany meet, he is able to earn her trust and enlist her help in fighting the undead army north of The Wall. After the season finale, which revealed Jon’s true parentage, it will be very interesting to see how his new identity is revealed to him and how it will come into play. According to the show, R + L DOES = J.

Besides the characters that I enjoyed watching, there were also some great set pieces and revelations. Watching the dragons in battle both against the Lannister and undead armies was quite a spectacle. It’s easy to see where a majority of the show’s budget ends up after seeing how amazing they look on-screen. I was very surprised when Viserion was killed by the Night King and turned into an undead beast. That moment was certainly one of the coolest moments of the season. To piggyback off of that, seeing him take down The Wall with his ice breath was something that fans may not have seen coming.

Though visually fun, the battle between Jon’s small band of men against the wights felt very hollow. Sure, Thoros died along with a bunch of unknown warriors, but the stakes were lowered when characters faced certain death only to miraculously saved. By all accounts, Tormund and Jon should have died. These acts go against the grain of what the books and show to date have been doing in terms of killing off characters.

For the most part, I feel like Bran’s arc was a waste. After his initial return to Winterfell, he did very little to enlighten those around him regarding the knowledge he possesses. Being basically omnipotent, he should have been telling everyone about everything he knows, which could have prevented so much, but he doesn’t. I hope Bran has more to do next season after Westeros is invaded.

Staying in The North, I very much disliked Arya’s and Sansa’s storyline this season. The payoff of Littlefinger’s death after episodes of Stark squabbling was almost unsatisfying for me. I don’t really see the point in everything Littlefinger was trying to accomplish in terms of getting between the Stark sisters. What would his plan have been had Arya not returned? Petyr Baelish had been a master of deception and chaos leading up to this season, causing the rift between the Starks & Lannisters while growing in power and influence. The way he went out made everything he accomplished seem pointless for me. Going back to season 6, his whole arc really started to go downhill for me and I didn’t care for him in this season either.

One of my biggest gripes of the season was the wasted characters and plots. Besides the very end of the finale, Euron Greyjoy was a waste of a character. His  capture of Yara does nothing to move the story forward, as Theon has no bearing on anything

important going on currently. The deaths of Ellaria and the Sand Snakes angered me, as it totally discounted anything to do with Dorne. The Dornish plot in the books is one of the most intriguing cogs in the machine and this single act threw it all out the window, much like the destruction of House Tyrell.

It was no surprise that Cersei had lied to Dany after forming a truce in order to do battle with the coming undead army. In typical Cersei fashion, she had ulterior motives, only thinking of herself instead of the good of the realm and ultimately the entire world. It will be very fulfilling to see her plan backfire next season when King’s Landing is besieged by wights.

The final images of the Night King taking down The Wall while mounted on an ice dragon will be long-lasting and was pretty cool to see. The impending invasion is already being felt as we saw snow begin to fall in King’s Landing. It will certainly take everything these Houses have to stop the White Walkers, but will they eventually be able to work together?

There are plenty of other plot points, characters and things that I simply can’t remember off the top of my head. Again, I’m doing my best to try to keep the show and book series separate, as they are vastly different in terms of the current happenings. So many things currently taking place in the books make the events of the show illogical, but I digress.

What were your favorite moments of season 7? What were some things you wanted to see but didn’t get to? And finally, what are your predictions for season 8? Let’s hope George finishes The Winds of Winter before it arrives. Valar Morghulus.

 

Glow Season 1 Review

Mousse up your hair, put on your finest 80s outfit and get ready to wrassle!

Netflix‘s new series, Glow, is an incredible homage to 80s culture and the world of women’s professional wrestling. Centered around a down on her luck actress in Ruth (Alison Brie), the plot of season one follows her on her quest to make it in the entertainment industry. Ruth’s acting career is floundering when she gets the opportunity to audition for a new women’s wrestling TV show, Glow (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling) directed by Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron). Along with Ruth are a cast of 13 women trying to learn the necessary skills to put on a good show. The bulk of the season is spent dealing with training, financial issues, and personal drama, as we get an insight into the girls’ backstories and personal lives before the taping of the first pilot episode.

I really enjoyed this first season, it had the feel of Orange is the New Black in the sense that different episodes were centered around backstories of the different girls. And much like OITNB‘s “main character” Piper, Glow’s Ruth is similar in the sense that she starts off as the “main character” before we start to get more information and plot points for the supporting cast.

The interactions between the girls were hysterical, as we see them come together from differing lifestyles and bond over their new career; one they didn’t plan on pursuing. I felt very invested in most of the cast members, especially the dynamic between Ruth and Debbie. Their drama and “reconciliation” was a major throughline that made things interesting over the course of the 10-episode season.

Marc Maron‘s character, Sam, was very interesting. He’s the classic “scumbag with a heart of gold” that kept you rooting for him during questionable decisions and situations. Sam is very complex and I liked how he became so invested in the girls while dealing with his own demons. The girls and Sam all bonded in such a genuine way despite the early tension, making them feel like a true family.

Another high point in the series for me was the 80s culture. Filled with rockin’ 80s tunes, big hair and bright outfits, the feel of the series was spot on. Netflix is doing a great job with their shows being set in different time periods (think Stranger Things). Everything felt so fluid and definitely brought me back to when I was growing up and I really appreciated the overall flare. We even got some cameos from real-life professional wrestlers like Awesome Kong, John Hennigan, Brodus Clay, Carlito and Alex Riley. Seeing the girls trying to develop and implement different characters and gimmicks was one of the best parts of the show.

This show has something for everyone, and whether you’re a fan of professional wrestling or not, it’s captivating enough to get past. I’m very much looking forward to season 2, as the ending of season 1 seemed to arrive so quickly. Though the ending goes out on a high note, there are certainly dangling storylines that will be sure to pop up next season to cause dissention between the cast. All in all a very well done show.

My rating: 8/10