Flashback: ‘The Incredible Hulk’ TV Pilot

Marvel’s first mainstream success outside of the comic book pages landed in the late seventies with Universal’s hit television series, ‘The Incredible Hulk’…

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The late, great Bill Bixby as Dr. David Banner in ‘The Incredible Hulk’ (image credit: Universal).

Year:  1977

Starring:  Bill Bixby, Lou Ferrigno, Jack Colvin, Susan Sullivan

Directed and written by:  Kenneth Johnson (Hulk created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby)

What’s it about?

After being subjected to an overdose of gamma radiation, Dr. David Banner finds that in moments of stress and anger he undergoes a startling transformation into a green-skinned, physically superior but uncontrollable and raging creature…

Retrospective/review

The first major live action success for a Marvel Comics property, Universal’s television series The Incredible Hulk, premiering in the U.S. in 1977 and rerun throughout the 1980s and 1990s (and now more accessible via home video releases and on demand platforms), though a more grounded take on the character continues to be beloved by fans across the globe.

Developed by The Six Million Dollar Man’s Kenneth Johnson and starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno, The Incredible Hulk would launch with a feature length pilot, written and directed by Johnson, that first aired in November of 1977.  It introduces viewers to Dr. David Banner (the change from Bruce part of Johnson’s desire to deviate from traditional comic book tropes, such as alliterative character names) a physician and scientist who having lost his wife in a car accident has focused his attention on finding a way of unlocking the enhanced physical strength that humans can display in moments of great stress.  His experiments lead to an accidental overexposure of gamma radiation (in a research lab as opposed to the Cold War era desert bomb test in the original Marvel comic), although there appears to be no ill effects, a breakdown on his drive home causes Banner to become frustrated and angry, triggering his first transformation into the goliath green-skinned creature that will become known as ‘the Hulk’.  Enlisting the help of his colleague, Dr. Elaina Marks, Banner seeks to study his condition in the desperate hope of eradicating it – requiring the pair to force another change, which leads to dramatic consequences.

Bill Bixby is superb, bringing a believable essence of intellect to Banner neatly intertwined with the innate benevolence that makes his character and performance so likeable.  In the days before CGI, green body paint was required and the elaborately muscular Lou Ferrigno would prove perfect casting as the Hulk (the transformations achieved via those iconic sequences of Banner’s shirt tearing as bulging muscles push through, together with make-up and prosthetic effects) establishing a formidable physical presence befitting the part.  Yet, despite that Ferrigno was also adept at conveying the more innocent and childlike aspects of the character – his woodland encounter with a young girl in the pilot being a prime example of the creature’s capacity for tenderness in certain moments.

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Lou Ferrigno is suitably cast as Banner’s raging alter-ego (image credit: Universal).

Portraying Elaina Marks, guest star Susan Sullivan is a great addition to the episode sharing wonderful chemistry with Bixby which (spoilers…) makes her demise all-the-more heartfelt and Banner’s tragedy greater.  Also introduced is Jack Colvin’s newspaper reporter Jack McGee, a character who would recur throughout the series and who witnesses the devastating lab explosion, resulting from Banner and Marks’ experiment and the Hulk’s emergence from the wreckage – pinning the incident and the ‘murder’ of Banner and Marks on the creature.  Beyond establishing the regular cast of Bixby, Ferrigno and Colvin the pilot also features the famous, often quoted “don’t make me angry” line and Joseph Harnell’s sombre but poignant ‘The Lonely Man’ theme music, which would close out each episode.

Although it may diverge from the source material, motivated by Johnson’s concept for an adult drama series instead of a “comic book” show (in any case a more faithful adaptation would have been difficult to accomplish convincingly given technical and budgetary limitations), The Incredible Hulk still adheres to the basic approach of the comics in that Banner is driven to find a cure for his ‘affliction’ and that the Hulk itself, though dangerous and powerful has a desire to protect the innocent.

The series would subsequently see Banner, believed to be dead, drift from town to town across America, taking on odd jobs under false names as he would search for a cure whilst evading McGee, who would continue to pursue his investigations of the Hulk.  The format, often compared to that of The Fugitive, would see Banner cross paths with various people from all walks of life, facilitating stories of social concern (covering subjects such as drugs, crime and domestic abuse) and consequently troubles that Banner would find himself becoming involved in and consequentially, situations which would trigger his anger-fuelled metamorphosis and have the titular green goliath press into action.

The pilot was followed by another extended episode, “Death in the Family“, before the first full season commenced in March 1978.  The Incredible Hulk would run for five seasons before being revived for three TV movies (for which Johnson was not involved and included appearances from iconic Marvel characters Thor and Daredevil) and remains a cherished favourite amongst fans and rightfully has prominence in the history of comic book adaptations for the small screen.

Geek fact!

Richard Kiel – Jaws in the James Bond films The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker – was originally cast as the Hulk and although footage was shot for the pilot he was replaced by the more muscular Lou Ferrigno.

All images herein remain the property of the copyright owners and are used for illustrative purposes only.

TV Review: ‘Iron Fist’ – Season 2 Premiere

It’s time for round 2 with the new season of Marvel’s ‘Iron Fist’…

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Finn Jones returns for season 2 of Marvel’s ‘Iron Fist’ (image credit: Marvel/Netflix, used for illustrative purposes only).

Spoiler-free review

Starring:  Finn Jones, Jessica Henwick, Jessica Stroup, Tom Pelphry, Sacha Dhawan, Alice Eve

Series created by:  Scott Buck (Iron Fist created by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane)

Written by:  M. Raven Metzner / episode directed by:  David Dobkin

What’s it about?

As criminal gangs disrupt the peace in New York, Danny Rand is faced with an old acquaintance and a possible threat to his standing as the Immortal Iron Fist…

Episode review

After a first season that was met with a fairly lukewarm reception, Marvel’s Iron Fist returns for a second go.  Following the events of The Defenders and season 2 of Luke Cage, “The Fury of Iron Fist” finds Danny Rand choosing to live a simpler life, leaving the day-to-day business of Rand Enterprises to those who are more interested in corporate affairs.  More at ease with his role as the Immortal Iron Fist, Danny continues to use his abilities to defend the innocent and uphold Matt Murdock’s plea to keep New York safe.  Colleen too, chooses to lead a more moral and purposeful existence as she helps out at a local community centre.  However, with the rise of gang warfare and the return of Davos, any peace that Danny and Colleen have established could be about to be unravelled.

Season 1 of Iron Fist was not anywhere near as bad as most would lead you to believe, whilst the story may have felt a little stretched and the focus on corporate drama a little generic and unsatisfying it still had its moments with an intriguing if familiar origin story.  With The Defenders, there was some positive growth in the character of Danny Rand with better writing and a more confident and assured performance from Finn Jones (and Jones’ cameo in season 2 of Luke Cage was a highlight).  This continues here as the series gains a new showrunner and a desire to make a fresh start.

“The Fury of Iron Fist” is very much an opening chapter with a fairly slow beginning that’s mostly set-up and puts the pieces in place whilst familiarising viewers with the world and characters of Iron Fist.  There’s some action sprinkled in, with slick and well-choreographed fight scenes that pack a more brutal punch than what we’ve seen previously in this series.  Finn Jones and Jessica Henwick are both solid and there’s great chemistry between them and are assuredly the heart and soul of the series.

The return of Davos adds a thick layer of tension as he feels Danny is avoiding his truer responsibilities as the champion protector of K’un Lun.  There’s still a bit of generic soap drama with Ward and Joy but it may turn out more interesting this time around – especially in regards to Joy, seen as she’s in cohorts with Davos.

The most intriguing aspect though is the introduction of Alice Eve as Mary, a character who seems sweet but has something strange and unsettling going on behind closed doors.  If you’re a Marvel Comics reader then you’ll pretty much know what is going in and it’ll be interesting to see how things unfold.

With the main players established, the story foundations in place and a tighter run of ten episodes that may be of benefit, season 2 of Iron Fist has potential.

The bottom line:  the new season of Iron Fist gets off to a slow but promising start that may placate criticisms of the first season.

All 10 episodes of Iron Fist season 2 are available to stream now via Netflix.

TV Review: ‘Luke Cage’ – Season 2 Premiere

Netflix take viewers back to the streets of Harlem as Marvel’s bulletproof hero returns…

 

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Harlem’s protector is back: Mike Colter returns in season 2 of the Netflix Original of Marvel’s ‘Luke Cage’ (image belongs: Marvel/Netflix, used for illustrative purposes only).

Spoiler-free review

Starring:  Mike Colter, Simone Missick, Theo Rossi, Rosario Dawson, Alfre Woodard

Series created by:  Cheo Hodari Coker

Written by:  Cheo Hodari Coker / Episode directed by:  Lucy Liu

What’s it about?

As he finds himself dealing with new-found fame, Luke Cage continues his fight against the criminals of Harlem…

Episode review

Marvel’s bulletproof ‘Power Man’ is back for his sophomore solo outing in the second season of the Netflix Original, Luke Cage.  An enjoyable start to the season, “Soul Brother #1” is very much a continuation rather than a reinvention as it evokes that same stylish sense of gritty urban soul that characterised the previous season.  There are some slightly cartoonish and surprisingly stereotypical elements that creep in every now and then (plus the liberal use of a certain derogatory term is not particularly clever) but generally, through its exemplary casting and themes of heroism as well as an exploration of the current social and political landscape, there’s enough drama and intrigue to get viewers invested.

In the wake of The Defenders, we see Luke Cage as something of a reluctant celebrity, cheered and adored by the people as he continues his fight to clean-up the crime-ridden streets of Harlem.  Whilst he’s a little uneasy with being compared to the likes of Malcolm X and Barack Obama, Cage is non-the-less committed to a cause that he truly believes in but is grounded by everyday troubles, whether it be financial woes (there are plenty profiting from the Luke Cage ‘brand’, but the man himself isn’t seeing any of it), worries about endangering the lives of those he loves (Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple in particular) or the strained relationship with his father (played by House of Cards’ Reg E. Cathey), who denounces his son’s actions as he preaches the virtues of the everyday person finding the hero within themselves as a more ideal alternative to making the world a better place.

Mike Colter slips back into his role with ease and demonstrates that he can deftly convey both the physical and inner strengths of Luke Cage whilst skilfully delivering hints of emotional vulnerability.  Rosario Dawson is equally adept in her reprisal of Claire Temple, as her relationship with Cage grows and facilitates some of the moral debate about how far Harlem’s hero can push himself, reminding him that he’s not completely indestructible.  Simone Missick delivers another fine portrayal as Misty Knight as she deals with the scars of her injury in The Defenders and Theo Rossi turns in a reliably devious performance as Hernan ‘Shades’ Alvarez.  A fine cast indeed and one that’s made even more notable with an awards-worthy effort by Alfre Woodard who makes a welcome return as the devilishly unhinged Mariah Dillard who seeks to tighten her grip on the criminal underworld in the absence of Cottonmouth.

Series creator Cheo Hodari Coker writes this premiere and it’s a solid enough start (despite those aforementioned flaws) that’s enhanced by the slick direction of Hollywood star Lucy Liu.  It remains to be seen how the rest of the season fares and if the inconsistent pacing that tends to plague Marvel’s Netflix shows draws things out, but with the introduction of a promising new villain (Jamaican gangster John ‘Bushmaster’ McIver, played by Mustafa Shakir) with abilities that may prove a challenge for the central hero, there’s definitely potential for season 2 of Luke Cage.

The bottom line:  Luke Cage season 2 gets off to a decent start that’s bolstered by a great cast, well-written characters and some interesting themes.

All 13 episodes of Luke Cage season 2 are available to stream now via Netflix.

TV Review: ‘The Defenders’ Season 1

At long last, Netflix assembles Marvel’s street-level heroes…

 A note on spoilers : whilst this review doesn’t delve into major plot points there may be some light spoilers.

Starring:  Charlie Cox, Krysten Ritter, Mike Colter, Finn Jones, Elodie Yung, Jessica Henwick, Rosario Dawson, Scott Glenn, Simone Missick, Sigourney Weaver

Series created by:  Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez

What’s it about?

Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist unite to protect New York from the threat of the ancient order of The Hand…

Season review

Having established their core street-level heroes in their own individual series, Marvel and Netflix reach the culmination of their plans with the much anticipated team-up of Matt Murdock/Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Danny Rand/Iron Fist in The Defenders, a highly enjoyable – albeit not completely flawless – eight episode arc.

Like some of the other Marvel/Netflix shows, The Defenders gets off to a relatively slow start that’s somewhat burdened by its reintroduction of the principal characters in a manner that serves to both reacquaint established viewers with our heroes whilst striving to be accessible to those coming in fresh.  In terms of the latter it’s not entirely successful given that so much has happened to the individual characters in their respective series (particularly in the case of Daredevil who has two whole seasons worth of story) which supplies The Defenders with a pretty solid foundation for viewers who have already followed Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist.  It also presents a few initial narrative problems, the most cumbersome and disappointing being Luke Cage’s all-too quick and all-too convenient release from prison, which on the plus side does facilitate the introduction of Elden Henson’s Foggy Nelson into the story.

The series opener does most of the work of re-establishing the main players and their current status quo – Matt has locked away his billy club in favour of carrying out pro-bono legal work, Jessica is still hitting the bottle but has a weakness for those in need of help, Luke is dead-set on protecting the innocent and Danny, together with Colleen, continue to track and fight The Hand, the central threat of the Marvel/Netflix universe as seen in Daredevil and Iron Fist.  We’re also introduced to the current leader of that organisation – the mysterious ‘Alexandra’, played by screen icon (and Academy Award Nominee) Sigourney Weaver.  The artificially produced earthquake at the climax of “The H Word” provides suitably high stakes and a cause for our heroes to eventually unite against and Weaver is excellent in a role that’s atypical for an actor largely known for her more heroic turn as Lt. Ellen Ripley in the Alien films.  The writers provide Alexandra with a good measure of complexity yet there are moments when the character feels a little weak and never seems to fully develop into as powerful and formidable a foe as initially promised.

Where The Defenders doesn’t disappoint is when it comes to gathering the team itself, which happens organically without being forced or rushed and the dynamics of the group are explored wonderfully in the confines of a Chinese restaurant in “Royal Dragon”.  By having the main protagonists simply sit down at a table together we get to see some great chemistry on display, they’re a dysfunctional group for sure and there’s plenty of conflict in viewpoints but it all feels natural and there’s a sense that they all want to get on the same page and put aside any differences in order to battle against The Hand for the greater good.  “Royal Dragon” really sets things in motion, with the team galvanising as the series progresses and there’s a good dose of wry humour (Krysten Ritter on top form as she delivers Jessica’s sarcastic jibes) and plenty of light hearted put-downs, affording Mike Colter and Finn Jones the opportunity to build the budding friendship between Luke and Danny.

Overall, the focus on each of the principal cast is well-balanced (although Charlie Cox is arguably the standout) and Finn Jones certainly gets a chance to expand his character and placate those critical of Danny Rand’s characterisation in his own series with a definite sense of growth and a stronger positioning of him as the ‘Immortal Iron Fist’ as he finds himself being targeted as part of the enemy’s unfolding plans.

Supporting characters are served fittingly in accordance with the story.  Rosario Dawson’s role as Claire Temple is generally more prominent, which is understandable given here connective appearances in the other shows but there’s still a welcome presence (among some other familiar faces) from Simone Missick as Misty Knight and the superb Scott Glenn as Stick.  Of course, with The Hand presenting the threat in The Defenders and given the events of Daredevil season two we get to see Elektra’s rebirth as ultimate ‘weapon’ the Black Sky and Elodie Yung tackles this rather well, offsetting the brutality of a lethal assassin with emotional nuance as she grapples with her true identity.

The series features, like previous efforts, some slick and decently choreographed martial arts action (including another corridor fight sequence that can’t match those seen in Daredevil but is still a highlight non-the-less).  It does become a bit overly frantic at times and even difficult to follow in some of the darker scenes but for the most part, it delivers.

Structurally, there was always the fear that eight episodes would end up being too short a run.  Despite some occasional pacing issues, it actually works out just about right – in fact it’s also evidence that Marvel’s other Netflix series could benefit from slightly shorter episode counts, which really would have benefitted Luke Cage and Iron Fist.  Things slow down a little in the penultimate episode but The Defenders reaches an increasingly tense and satisfying climax in its finale (aptly titled “The Defenders”), with an epilogue that helps tie up loose ends whilst setting up the future course of Marvel’s Netflix universe.

The bottom line:  The Defenders is a reasonably enjoyable team-up event that successfully unites the street-level heroes of Marvel’s Netflix shows.

All 8 episodes of The Defenders season 1 are available to stream now via Netflix.

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Taking it to The Hand: Marvel’s street-level heroes assemble to save New York in ‘The Defenders’.

TV Review: Marvel’s ‘Iron Fist’ S1 EP1 “Snow Gives Way”

The final Defender is unleashed in the latest Marvel Comics-based Netflix Original…

Starring:  Finn Jones, Jessica Henwick, Jessica Stroup, Tom Pelphry, David Wenham

Series created by:  Scott Buck (Iron Fist created by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane)

Written by:  Scott Buck / Episode directed by:  John Dahl

What’s it about?

Fifteen years after surviving a plane crash in the Himalayas, Danny Rand returns home with new abilities and in search of a purpose…

Episode review

Launched on a wave of largely negative pre-release reviews, the premiere season of Marvel’s Iron Fist arrives on Netflix establishing the final member of the line-up for the Defenders.  Much like Luke Cage, “Snow Gives Way” presents us with a slow yet intriguing start to the series.

As Danny Rand, Finn Jones (Game of Thrones) makes for a likeable lead, a dishevelled, humble drifter with signs of an inner strength and a wise, shrewd perspective beyond his years.  Rand’s backstory is teased via a series of flashbacks where events from his childhood and a tragic plane crash in the Himalayas are revealed.

With the Rand family being declared dead during Danny’s absence, Rand Enterprises has come under the management of siblings Ward and Joy Meachum (Tom Pelphrey and Jessica Stroup, respectively) who are in disbelief that this stranger could be their long-lost friend, Ward in particular only interested in protecting his hold on the company.

With a focus on personal strife and corporate conspiracy, the script by showrunner Scott Buck (Dexter) does tend to evoke shades of Dallas but despite those soap opera-like elements being a little generic it does help to build character and plot.  There’s also room for some comic book Kung-Fu action and whilst lacking the edge and brutality of Daredevil it has a grace and skill to it that goes hand in hand with the character’s philosophy and martial arts mastery.  Another highlight is the introduction of dojo-master Colleen Wing, played by Jessica Henwick, who gets to have some fun interplay with Jones in a couple of key scenes that help to define both characters and hints toward a developing camaraderie.

It’s fair to say that the origin story presented in Iron Fist isn’t the most original, already familiar to viewers through the likes of Batman Begins and Arrow but Finn Jones turns in an enjoyable performance and the mystery surrounding Danny Rand’s absence, eventual return and his path to heroism has potential for, at the very least, entertaining viewing…but hopefully something a bit more.

The bottom line:  Despite a slow start, there are still signs that Iron Fist could develop into another enjoyable Marvel series for Netflix.

All 13 episodes of Iron Fist season 1 are available to stream now via Netflix.  The Defenders is due for release in the summer.

The way of the warrior? Finn Jones is Danny Rand in Marvel’s ‘Iron Fist’.

TV Review: ‘Legion’ S1 EP01 “Chapter 1”

Fox explore the more bizarre corners of the X-Men universe for their first X-based television series…

Starring:  Dan Stevens, Rachel Keller, Aubrey Plaza, David Selby, Hamish Linklater, Katie Aselton, Jean Smart

Series created by:  Noah Hawley

Written and directed by: Noah Hawley / aired in the UK : 09/02/2017

What’s it about?

David Haller has heard voices all his life but soon discovers that there may be more to his ‘condition’ than meets the eye…

Episode review

In partnership with Marvel TV, Legion sees Fox bring their live-action X-Men franchise to the small screen.  Developed by Fargo series creator Noah Hawley, Legion is based upon the Marvel Comics character David Haller, created by Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz who first appeared in New Mutants #25 (published in 1985).  Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) plays Haller, a mental patient who throughout his life has been plagued by voices that he is starting to believe are real and has drawn the attention of the mysterious Brubaker (David Selby) and his interrogator (Hamish Linklater), who are interested in Haller’s telekinetic abilities and his potential as the most powerful mutant ever discovered.

From the outset it’s obvious that Legion is far less comic-y than its big screen brethren favouring a more restrained, less colourful and more cerebral approach reminiscent of a Netflix or HBO production.  Whilst fans of the X-Men comics universe may find that an initial disappointment, what unfolds in this series premiere is too compelling to ultimately ignore.  Via a series of flashbacks we learn of David’s increasingly tortured mental state from innocent childhood to teenage delinquency and his current plight as a resident of Clockwork Psychiatric Hospital where he is teased by the presence of people who may or may not be real, including his inseparable ‘pal’ Lenny (a suitably sardonic Aubrey Plaza).

Events become all the more unreal as David ‘meets’ Syd (Rachel Keller), a newly admitted patient that he quickly becomes captivated by.  To say much more would spoil things, but it’s this meeting that forms the basis of David’s present situation as he grapples with a loosening grip on ‘reality’.  As Haller, Stevens is magnetic with a melancholic, at times manic, performance that he deftly mixes with prominent shades of agitation, frustration and bewilderment intertwined with smatterings of black humour.  The supporting cast are all perfectly able in their roles but it’s Stevens that carries much of the proceedings as we’re left perplexed by the hallucinatory visualisation of this unusual story.

Written and directed by Hawley, “Chapter 1” is a predominately trippy experience that leaves the viewer in a similar predicament to the show’s central character, primarily in a state of almost maddening confusion, yet manages to leave you intrigued and hanging on for what’s next.  Hawley skilfully depicts the bizarre imaginings of his script, the interesting use of lighting, colour, camera angles, editing and digital effects (not to mention some rather spacey music cues by Jeff Russo) stringing together the non-linear construction of the narrative.  Whether future epsidoes will maintain this approach, to such a degree as it is here – and succeed – remains to be seen but it certainly proves effective for this series opener.

Legion comes off as a creative collision that feels something like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest meets Being John Malkovich via Inception but ultimately is a strange brew that forms its own personality.  In fact, part of Legion’s unusual appeal is that its setting is at times vague, it’s apparently present day but some of the costumes and decor resemble a period closer to the sixties – a neat visual homage to the times of the original X-Men comics, maybe?

Despite the show being unconnected to Fox’s X-Men films and somewhat distanced from the Marvel comic books, “Chapter 1” still offers solid hints at the core elements of X-Men mythology as it touches on the themes of prejudice and fear of the unknown that stretches back to the stories created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the early 1960s.  Given David Haller’s connection to a certain wheelchair-bound mutant Professor in the X-Men comics universe it wouldn’t be unwelcome to see more ties into the overall mythology, whether subtle or not.

If there’s any real drawback to Legion it’s that it’s lack of lucidity can be challenging but perhaps that’s part of the plan, to lure us in and become invested in a series that could prove to be unique and addictively entertaining?

The bottom line:  Legion debuts with a complex, chaotic, weird and – in moments – quite funny premiere for a superhero based series that could prove a refreshing addition to an ever popular and increasingly exploited genre.

Legion airs in the UK Thursday evenings on Fox.  U.S. viewers can catch it Wednesdays on FX.

Insane or not? Dan Stevens is Davidd Haller in Fox's 'Legion', based on the Marvel Comics character.

Insane or not? Dan Stevens is David Haller in Fox’s ‘Legion’, based on the Marvel Comics character.

What did you think of the Legion season premiere?  Share your thoughts below!

Quick Review: Marvel’s ‘Luke Cage’ S1 EP01 “Moment of Truth”

Starring:  Mike Colter, Mahershala Ali, Simone Missick, Theo Rossi, Alfre Woodard

Series created by:  Cheo Hodari Coker

Written by:  Cheo Hodari Coker / Episode directed by:  Paul McGuigan

What’s it about?

As tensions on the streets of Harlem rise, Luke Cage finds his attempts to live a quiet life becoming more difficult and a hero’s calling hard to ignore…

Episode review

Marvel TV brings a nifty, gritty urban vibe to Netflix with Luke Cage, the latest in their run of adult orientated street-level comic book shows, following the success of Daredevil and Jessica Jones.  Judging by this first episode, Marvel/Netflix have afforded the same care and attention to Luke Cage as they did with those previous series with another strong and deftly executed production that once again boasts some great casting.

Mike Colter’s Luke Cage already made his mark on the MCU as an integral part of Jessica Jones and certainly demonstrated promise for a series of his own.  Following what transpired in Hell’s Kitchen, Luke Cage opens with Marvel’s indestructible ‘Power Man’ (and eventual hero for hire) maintaining a low-profile in Harlem, working two jobs as he struggles to live day-to-day and keeping himself uncommitted to tackling the city’s growing crime problem.  It’s not necessarily essential to have seen Jessica Jones but it certainly helps in understanding where Cage has come from and how events have led him to this low-point, as he continues to be haunted by a past that left him with unwanted abilities.

Mahershala Ali (House of Cards) is appropriately menacing and dislikeable as ‘Cottonmouth’, club-owner and crime boss who beneath a demeanour of grandeur there seethes a fearsome rage of Wilson Fisk proportions.  His influence is enforced by his cousin, corrupt Councilwoman Mariah Dillard – played by Alfre Woodard (completely unconnected to her role in Captain America: Civil War) whose gravitas provides this series’ element of star power.  As Cottonmouth connects with former convict ‘Shades’ (Theo Rossi) we’re also introduced to Simone Missick’s Misty Knight, a potential ally for Cage and who may be more than she first appears.

Written by showrunner Cheo Coker (Ray Donovan), “Moment of Truth“ favours a slow-burn approach in setting the scene and establishing the key players and status quo but by the closing credits there’s a sense of threats brewing and a storyline building (with promising hints that we’ll get to explore that back story alluded to in Jessica Jones), leaving no doubt that Cage won’t remain on the side-lines for much longer.

The bottom line:  Marvel/Netlix deliver a promising and enjoyable start to Luke Cage that on first impressions looks to evoke the same quality as their previous efforts.

All 13 episodes of Luke Cage season 1 are available to stream now via Netflix.

Bulletproof and ready for action: Mike Colter is Luke Cage in the latest Marvel/Netlix venture.

Bulletproof and ready for action: Mike Colter is Luke Cage in the latest Marvel/Netlix venture.

First Impressions: ‘Daredevil’ Season 2

This article contains light spoilers for season one of Daredevil as well as the first three episodes of season two (titled “Bang”, “Dogs to a Gunfight” and “New York’s Finest”).

The Marvel/Netflix Daredevil series has returned for its highly anticipated second season and based on the first three episodes it seems safe to say viewers (or at least those who haven’t already binged on the entire season by now) are in for another exhilarating ride.

Season two hits the ground running and wastes no time in neatly establishing the central characters (a skippable recap of key moments from the first season preceding episode one assists), their status quo and the escalating crime rate in the wake of Wilson Fisk’s fall from power.  The fledgling firm of Nelson and Murdock has no shortage of clients but very few who are able to pay legal bills with monetary currency, leaving the honourable and altruist lawyers with more fruit baskets and home baked pies than they can keep up with.  Matt continues his night time mission as protector of the innocent and vulnerable of New York’s Hell’s Kitchen and whilst Foggy has become more supportive of his best friend’s alter ego, he still bears a heavy dose of worry and concern and is becoming weary of covering up Murdock’s frequent absences and injuries to N&M’s faithful secretary, Karen Page.

It was great to see the growth of the ensemble of Charlie Cox, Elden Henson and Deborah Ann Woll and their respective characters throughout season one, the dramatic peaks and troughs of their relationships only making them stronger as a team, a family even.  Secrets are being kept from Karen only for her own protection but as the attraction between Matt and Karen continues to blossom there’s the potential for things to become even more complicated.

Charlie Cox slips back into the role of Matt Murdock/Daredevil with relative ease (as does Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page) but we are also reminded that Elden Henson’s ‘Foggy’ Nelson is an essential component of the series.  Considering the character could have easily become mere comic foil, Henson and the writers have delivered a well-rounded and compelling character that has deserved moments in the spotlight, from gutsy verbal jousting with a rival lawyer, to diffusing potentially lethal situations, the latter facilitating the return of ‘Night Nurse’ Clare Temple (Rosario Dawson).

With a power void left by the now imprisoned Wilson Fisk leading to the resurgence of various criminal gangs, DD has his work cut out for him yet these problems only mount when another vigilante rises, one who has fewer morale boundaries…enter Marvel Comics anti-hero the Punisher!  Last seen onscreen in woeful 2008 film adaptation Punisher: War Zone, Marvel’s Netflix universe is the right place to reintroduce the character and The Walking Dead’s Jon Bernthal is, likewise, a perfect fit for the role.  This is a no holds-barred and no punches pulled interpretation of the character.  A man on the edge and a literal one man army with a zero tolerance for crime and Bernthal brings all of those qualities powerfully to the fore.

The writers of Daredevil have wisely made the Punisher part of this season’s story from the outset and collided Daredevil’s and Punisher’s worlds quickly, their initial confrontation having great consequences for Murdock and culminating in some welcome moral debate in episode three that echoes classic Garth Ennis story “The Choice”, adding narrative depth in between the visceral action (which includes a sequence to top that infamous hallway fight from season one).

With the rest of the Punisher’s story to unfold and the impending introduction of iconic Daredevil character Elektra and a heightened sense of Matt Murdock’s vulnerabilities, the signs all clearly point to this being another great season of Daredevil, every inch as compelling and exciting as its first.

All thirteen episodes of Daredevil season two are available to stream now worldwide exclusively on Netflix.

Charlie Cox amkes an assured return as the 'Devil of Hell's Kitchen' in seaon two of the Netflix Original Series of Marvel's 'Daredevil'.

Charlie Cox makes an assured return as the ‘Devil of Hell’s Kitchen’ in season two of Marvel/Netflix’s ‘Daredevil’.

First Impressions: ‘Daredevil’ (Netflix Original Series)

Yesterday saw the long awaited worldwide release of the Netflix Daredevil series and having viewed the first two episodes, titled “Into the Ring” and “Cut Man” – both written by series creator and executive producer Drew Goddard (who exited as showrunner to pursue Sony’s now defunct Sinister Six feature film) – I can safely report that, so far at least, it’s yet another hit for Marvel.  Being a huge fan of the horned defender of Hell’s Kitchen there is a level of bias (there’s even a place for the maligned Ben Affleck film from 2003 in my books) yet beyond the series perfectly capturing the essence of the character and drawing heavily from the very best of the source material, viewers will find that Daredevil is well scripted, well cast and beautifully realised.

Drawing heavily on iconic and fan favourite comic book runs by writers Frank Miller, Brian Michael Bendis and Ed Brubaker (working with legendary artists Klaus Janson, David Mazzucchelli, Alex Maleev and Michael Lark), Daredevil is exactly as it should be – dark, gritty and brutal yet not without heart and a smattering of humour (reminiscent of Mark Waid’s current tenure).  Boardwalk Empire’s Charlie Cox looks, sounds and feels the part as blind attorney Matt Murdock  – a tortured soul whose tragic back story is presented through a series of flashbacks and is ably supported by law partner Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) and secretary Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), who provides ‘Murdock and Nelson’ with their first case.  “Cut Man” also introduces us to another citizen of Hell’s Kitchen – Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple, the woman who will patch and dress the wounds Murdock sustains in his fight against the criminal underworld.

Murdock’s night time pursuits (beautifully shot by cinematographer Matthew J. Lloyd) as the vigilante who will become known as ‘Daredevil’ fulfil the brutal element of the series.  Not being hindered by the constraints of television censorship, Daredevil is not family entertainment and handles the bone-cracking violence (and general adult themes) appropriately.  It’s certainly not gratuitous, but, appropriate.

I’m very much looking forward to the full reveal of Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk (aka ‘Kingpin’), who is teased during the premiere episode and the further development of the Murdock/Nelson/Page ensemble and the evolution of Murdock’s Daredevil persona – especially the costume that Murdock teases is “a work in progress”.

Daredevil is the first of five Marvel/Netflix Original Series with A.K.A. Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist due to follow, culminating in a crossover for Marvel’s street-level heroes in a Defenders limited series.  If the quality of Daredevil is anything to go by then these are exciting times to be a Marvel fan and indeed, a Netflix subscriber.

All thirteen episodes of Daredevil season one are available to stream now worldwide exclusively on Netflix.

Charlie Cox is perfectly cast as the defender of Hell's Kitchen in the gritty and brutal Netflix Original Series 'Daredevil'.

Charlie Cox is perfectly cast as Marvel Comics’ defender of Hell’s Kitchen in the gritty and brutal Netflix Original Series ‘Daredevil’.

TV Review: ‘Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ S1 EP18 “Providence”

Starring:  Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson, Ming Na-Wen as Melinda May, Brett Dalton as Grant Ward, Chloe Bennet as Skye, Iain De Caestecker as Leo Fitz, Elizabeth Henstridge as Jemma Simmons

Series created by:  Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancharoen

Episode directed by:  Milan Cheylov / Written by:  Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancheroen/ aired in the UK:  2/5/2014

What’s this episode about?

On the run from the U.S. government, Agent Coulson and his team seek refuge at a secluded S.H.I.E.L.D. installation…

Episode review

As Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. begins hurtling towards its first season finale (and renewal for a second looking likely), it continues to maintain the upswing in quality which has steadily been gathering momentum since the show’s return from hiatus.

The aftershocks of recent big screen smash Captain America: The Winter Soldier (read the GBUK review here) are well and truly felt and AoS finally begins to hit the ground running and start fulfilling its potential.

“Providence” opens with Coulson and his team still reeling from Hydra’s decimation of S.H.I.E.L.D. facilitating a much needed sense of purpose the series has sorely been lacking and presents scenarios that continues to define its main characters and their relationships.  Notably – and much like the show itself – Skye has a new sense of direction with her commitment to the cause of S.H.I.E.L.D. (even as the organisation crumbles around her and the rest of the team) and the recent revelations of May’s deceptions causes a rift within the team, allowing some wonderfully played and tense scenes between her and Coulson who pulls no punches on his feelings about her ‘betrayal’.

Brett Dalton is given more meat to chew on as (much like Skye) viewer’s perceptions of Agent Ward are shook up as we learn that it is he who is the traitor amongst the team.  This considered he still remains one of the show’s weaker characters but maybe this will be a chance to redefine him?  On the whole, the characters have grown and raising the stakes has added a sense of urgency which is providing the series with an edge via nifty plot twists, dramatic tensions and scintillating action.

In terms of guest stars this episode, Heroes star Adrian Pasdair makes a brief but significant entrance as Colonel Glenn Talbot whilst the legendary Bill Paxton makes a more than welcome return as the (now) devious John Garrett and Patton Oswalt provides an enjoyable turn as Eric Koenig, the very Whedon-esque quirky caretaker of the ‘hush hush’ S.H.I.E.L.D. installation the episode’s title is derived from.  The weakest link has to be B.J. Britt whose Antoine Triplett who is proving rather flat and one-dimensional, despite attempts to build a love interest for Simmons.

Once again, though, Clark Gregg is rightfully the focal point and main draw of the series which simply couldn’t endure (or arguably, exist) without him – let’s hope we see a return of Coulson’s appearances on the big screen in future offerings from Marvel Studios.

I’m glad AoS is still on the air but the real question now is can the show’s creative powers continue to fulfil their ambitions and deliver consistently exciting live-action comic book entertainment?  I wouldn’t ever expect it to be ground breaking in the same vein as 24 or Battlestar Galactica, but if it satisfies the hunger for more Marvel excitement between big screen releases then I’m all for it.

The bottom line:  Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is beginning to shape-up and points to a potentially exciting future for Marvel’s presence on the small screen.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs in the UK on Fridays at 8pm on Channel 4.  US viewers can catch it Tuesday nights on ABC.

What did you think of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. “Providence”?  Share your thoughts below!

'Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' continues to show signs of improvement in "Providence".

‘Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ continues to show signs of improvement in “Providence”.