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What To Take From Each Marvel-Netflix Show, And What To Leave Behind

It’s far, far from the worst thing coronavirus has screwed up for us, but another claim in its tally of things ruined is delaying the release of the MCU TV shows on Disney+. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is still scheduled for release in August, but with filming incomplete and not due to resume until it’s safe to do so, it’s fair to presume that date will be pushed back.

In that gap where we have little Marvel news to geek out about (can you believe the last time that happened was 2007 prior to the release of Iron Man?), I thought it would be a good time to reminisce about the doomed Marvel-Netflix partnership, the last of which released in June last year. It produced some of the best and worst ever seen in the MCU, with plenty of lessons for Marvel to learn from – join us as we go into the cautionary tales and shining examples of each of these curious shows, starting with the worst.


Iron Fist

What a disaster. Before Disney+ loomed on the horizon, we used to think that Iron Fist and the all-round lacklustre second round of Marvel-Netflix shows were the reason for the cancellation of the series. Now we know that Marvel wanted to launch shows on their own streaming platform, and due to contractual obligations wouldn’t be able to make new shows for some years after Netflix – hence the hasty, shocking snap of the whole sub-franchise. Regardless, Iron Fist was the only one that was universally agreed to be ‘bad’; they were no Robin Hood, but the others still managed to hit the bullseye some of the time, whereas Iron Fist may as well have been blind and facing the wrong direction for all the shots it missed.

Example To Follow – Scrape The Barrel

I really struggled to think of something positive here. David Wenham killed it in his role, but he’s far from the best villain the franchise has to offer. I think the main takeaway is not to be afraid to reach for the less immediately-marketable Marvel properties. Let’s not forget that Iron Man was practically a B-lister before Robert Downey Jr. brought him to the wider public eye. With proper timing and execution, you can pull off anything. Except Cypher. Cypher is the worst superhero.

Lesson To Learn – Entitled Rich White Men Are The Worst Protagonists

In order to pull them off, they either need to learn their lesson and become philanthropists, or possess a ridiculous amount of pathos. Even the ludicrously popular Iron Man and Batman are difficult to empathise with, more resembling Elon Musk and Patrick Bateman than any real human being. Danny Rand on the other hand was just bland and whiny. The Marvel TV shows partly owe their success to the diversity they had (a lesson Marvel didn’t properly learn until after Black Panther made them over $1 billion) and it’s a smart move to tell these endless stories from a variety of perspectives.


Punisher

Probably the only one that didn’t feel like an MCU property, Punisher easily established itself as the show for people who didn’t find Daredevil dark and violent enough. It’s almost an anti-The Flash, emerging from the shadow of the godfather of their respective universes with an immediately compelling supporting role. Except the Punisher killed people. Lots of people. Like, so many people in so many horrible ways that it was actually a little hard to watch sometimes. But Jon Bernthal and Ben Barnes’ talent and charisma is so great that you could watch them watch paint dry and have a good time.

Example To Follow – Don’t Be Afraid Of The R-Rating

Not everything has to appeal to the widest demographic possible. Spider-Man will always rake in a billion across every age range, but when it comes to TV on a streaming platform you don’t need every viewer to tune in, especially when Marvel has other shows to capture other niches. Fellow murderous anti-hero Deadpool proved how entertaining (and profitable) something can be when you remove the shackles of 12A/PG-13, and while gratuity is distasteful, with thought and creativity, violence can be elevated to an art form like it has for years in Eastern cinema.

Lesson To Learn – Be Fun

This might be an unpopular opinion, but I think superhero fiction should be mostly fun to watch. Yes, Logan was fantastic; yes, The Dark Knight was revolutionary. But I cheered for those heroes at a dozen points in both of those films, and even when things got their most tragic and morally murky, there was a sense of triumph in good against evil. The Punisher lacked the cartoonish tone and clear good-guy/bad-guy divide found in Deadpool, and in their pursuit of a gritty, relevant realism, made it frequently uncomfortable to watch. Yes, Joker was a masterpiece: would you binge 10 hours of it?


Luke Cage

This was the biggest let-down of the lot. The flawed-but-entertaining first season was a multi-sensory stream of raw culture. A genius diegetic soundtrack that will go down in history, blaxploitation-era visuals, and characters that hailed African-American figures as their heroes from Biggie to Basquiat, all glued together to make a joyous celebration of modern black America. There were flaws, yes, but we all thought that they would be fixed in the sophomore season – alas, it wasn’t meant to be, and Luke Cage went out with a whimper rather than a bang.

Example To Follow – Tell Meaningful Stories

Was there a more perfect concept to explore in superhero fiction in the 2010s than a bulletproof black man in America? It’s the kind of idea that people wish they’d thought of first, and immediately speaks for itself. All it took was one episode for Luke Cage to immediately become a powerful living metaphor, an inspiring role model for an underrepresented group, and a timely vehicle for contemporary political debate – and all of this when Black Panther was a twinkle in the eye of Kevin Feige. That movie steered towards conflict-averse inclusivity however, and Luke Cage should be saluted for its willingness to confront real-world issues without compromise.

Lesson To Learn – Focus And Pacing Matter

It’s such a prosaic point, but even showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker acknowledged the criticism that Season 1’s pacing felt way off. This was mostly in response to the bizarre decision to snuff initial antagonist Cottonmouth by the halfway mark, ending the unresolved plotline of a genuinely intimidating but compelling villain, led by the star power and acting chops of Mahershala Ali. The vacuum he left was huge and wholly unfilled by replacement villain Diamondback – a kooky, unfocused character that never made as much of an impact. However, it turned out Coker hadn’t actually learned his lesson, and made the same mistake of never giving either Alfre Woodard’s Emmy-worthy Black Mariah or new-entrant Bushmaster enough attention to really dominate the show.


Daredevil

The one that started it all. I distinctly remember the excitement when this show first dropped, and how for the most part, it lived up to the hype. Daredevil never pushed the envelope, but everything it did came with an air of quality, becoming known for its long-take action scenes and mature writing. In retrospect it was the most consistent Marvel-Netflix show with a general consensus of 4-out-of-5 throughout its three seasons. If there were an actor from these shows I would love to see reprise their role most, it would be Charlie Cox as Daredevil. He’s just so dreamy.

Example To Follow – Good Heroes Need Good Villains

I don’t feel the world gives Vincent D’Onofrio enough credit for being one of the foremost character actors alive. Kingpin may very well be his finest work, and aided by some excellent writing, he brought us a villain that was all at once idiosyncratic, sympathetic, believable, and terrifying (did you forget the car door scene?). It’s usually the case that the better the villain, the better the story; how good of a hero can they be if they’re fighting a weak villain? As we all know, Marvel’s been a bit hit-and-miss on this front, but Kingpin is a testament to how a Marvel antagonist can carry a show as much as the protagonist.

Lesson To Learn – Don’t Paint The Green Arrow Red

This title is probably a bit misleading – after all, CW copied Batman’s formula when they made Arrow their flagship superhero show, and to be fair, regularly acknowledged that (the Arrowcave still gets me every time). But the success of Arrow was bound to breed similarity in other shows, and you can feel those influences in Daredevil. It’s the brooding, Machiavellian hero who just cannot stop talking about justice and maybe pushes his violence a bit too far – and it’s not very compelling. Fine for a starting point, but sustaining it over three seasons? Make room for someone with more than two dimensions.


Jessica Jones

Every Marvel-Netflix second season was a disappointment; Jessica Jones was no exception. But boy, what a first season. Every good example from all of the previous entries applies to this show: it wove a good yarn out of a lesser-known hero; it wasn’t afraid to get dark; it told a meaningful, timely story; and finally it had a villain for the ages. There’s literally nothing wrong with Season 1 – Melissa Rosenberg, you rock. Season 2, on the other hand, was… okay. The less said about Season 3, the better.

Example To Follow – Play With Genres

Time was, ‘superhero’ was a genre of its own. As we carried on and different creative minds took the helm on stories, and started adapting them to different mediums, the ‘superhero’ became a feature that could appear in any genre. We’ve seen horror, western, comedy, Arthurian tales – everything. Not only is Jessica Jones a good superhero show, it’s a damn good neo-noir detective show. Playing to genre can help establish a mood, which can be vital in separating a show out from an incredibly bloated market.

Lesson To Learn – Soap Operas Are Bad

It’s a common mark of a bad superhero flick that resorts to the most tired and overused tropes:

  • “Oh no, my parent/uncle/father figure was killed! I must avenge them!”
  • “Oh no, my sibling/parent/best friend is the villain! I must defeat them!”
  • “MARTHAAA!”

Okay, that last one is just stupid, but Jessica Jones managed to make the central plot of Season 2 about mommy issues for its two lead characters. This was a fantastic subplot with Trish’s abusive pageant-mom in the first season, but it really only works as a subplot in service of a more pressing struggle. There’s only so much material you can wring out of family drama before it becomes boring.


So that’s the lot! What I think Marvel should take away from them, and what they should leave behind. Here’s hoping they’re already well aware of this and the new wave of shows blows us away when they arrive later on in the year – whenever that may be!


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<strong>Drew Friday</strong>
Drew Friday

I literally can’t define myself without pop-culture.

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1 COMMENT

  1. All of your main points are completely right, but both critical & audience consensus on Iron Fist 2 and Luke Cage 2 is pretty much the opposite of yours: Both were seen as distinct improvements over their first seasons, not as disappointments or as “going out on a whimper.” Season 3 of Daredevil changed things up a lot by including another viewpoint character in Nadeem and by placing Matt & Fisk in different mindsets than before. And season 3 of Jessica Jones is way better than season 2 was; you really need to unpack that “the less said about it, the better” comment.

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