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Josh Reviews the Animated Wonder Woman: Bloodlines

Wonder Woman: Bloodlines is the latest direct-to-DVD/blu-ray DC animated film.  Set in the “New 52”-style continuity begun with 2014’s Justice League: War, this film is a welcome focus on Wonder Woman.  We begin with a retelling of her origin, and her departure from Themyscira with Steve Trevor.  After returning with Steve and his friend Etta Candy to Washington, DC, Diana goes to live with a professor, Dr. Julia Kapatelis, who specializes in ancient cultures.  Dr. Kapatelis’ daughter, Vanessa, grows jealous of the perfect Diana, believing that she can never equal Diana in her mother’s eyes.  Years later, Vanessa grows to blame Diana for her mother’s death, and she takes up with a group of super-villains who are plotting to locate and destroy Themyscira.

It’s great to see Wonder Woman headline one of these animated films.  Back when this animated film series began, a solo Wonder Woman film was one of the earliest projects made.  I quite liked that 2009 solo film; I’d have loved to have seen follow-up adventures with that spectacular voice cast (Keri Russell as Diana and Nathan Fillion as Steve Trevor).  In the past decade, I don’t think we’ve gotten any additional DC animated films with a female character in the lead role.  While this version of Wonder Woman (voiced by Rosario Dawson) has appeared in many of the films in this “New 52” animated continuity, it’s nice to see her given the spotlight here in Bloodlines.

This film is solid though not spectacular.  It’s a fun adventure with some interesting emotional stakes, as we follow Diana and Vanessa’s fraught sisterly relationship.  I like the idea of making that relationship the focal point for the story.

There are two main problems.  The first is that I think the film tries to do way too much in its short (fewer than ninety minutes) run-time.  Not only do we get appearances from many of Wonder Woman’s rogues gallery (Cheeta and Giganta and Dr. Poison and Dr. Cyber and more), we also get a retelling of Wonder Woman’s origin before the main adventure begins.  That was a head-scratching decision for me.  Those opening ten minutes are a perfectly fine, entertaining cliff’s notes version of Wonder Woman’s first encounter with Steve Trevor and her decision to leave Themyscira.  But why did we need it?  No only have we gotten to see this origin in prior animated films, we also saw in in the 2017 live-action Wonder Woman film.  Is there anyone watching this film who doesn’t know Wonder Woman’s origin?  Clearly the filmmakers were worried there would be.  Their aim with this film seems to have been to create a definitive Wonder Woman story, complete with her origin … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Luke Cage Season Two

November 26th, 2018
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For quite a while, I’d wished that the Marvel Netflix shows would come out at a faster pace.  We had to wait almost three years, for example, between the first two seasons of Jessica Jones.  (Though the character did appear in The Defenders in between.)  But weirdly, since the summer there’s been a bit of a glut: Luke Cage season two came out in June, Iron Fist season two came out in September, and Daredevil season three came out in October.  I wasn’t certain how I wanted to proceed.  I wasn’t in a huge rush to watch Luke Cage or Iron Fist, since I’d found both of their first seasons to be extremely mediocre.  (Click here for my review of Luke Cage season one, and here for my review of Iron Fist season one.)  But I was curious to see if they’d managed to course-correct for their second seasons.  (I avoid reviews of shows or movies I haven’t yet seen, but I’d seen headlines and it seemed that people felt that Iron Fist, at least, had improved significantly, so that was encouraging.)  The show I was most interested in seeing was the third season of Daredevil, and I debated whether I wanted to watch the shows out of order and jump ahead to that.  When news broke that both Luke Cage and Iron Fist had been cancelled before I’d started watching, I debated skipping both Luke Cage and Iron Fist altogether.  In the end, I decided to go in order and take a look at Luke Cage, and see how things went from there.  (Actually, the news that both Luke Cage and Iron Fist had been cancelled made it an easier decision to watch their respective second seasons, because I knew that I was making a finite commitment…!)

I don’t regret watching Luke Cage season two, but the show remains far more mediocre that it should be.  I can’t really recommend it.  It’s ludicrously slow.  The first five or six hours are particularly painful.  While I have found that most of the Netflix Marvel shows start off strong and then sag, Luke Cage season two was a rare one that did get better as the 13 episodes unfolded.  But there is still barely 5-6 hours of plot stretched out over 13 episodes.  The show suffers from an unfortunate tendency to give us the same type of scene, over and over and over again.  This results in a painful sense of wheel-spinning.  In those rather dreadful first five or six episodes, how many times did we get a version of these scenes:

* Luke Cage walks into the barber shop feeling discouraged, and someone gives him … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Death of Superman Animated Film

Back in 2007, when DC/Warner Brothers began their series of direct-to-DVD animated films, the first project they tackled was an adaptation of the 1992-93 “Death of Superman” storyline from the comics.  That animated film, Superman: Doomsday, was very entertaining and still stands as one of my favorite of the now thirty-plus DC animated films.  A decade later, DC/Warner Brothers have returned to that well with another adaptation of this famous story-line, this time in an extended two-part film.  So what did I think of the recently-released part one, The Death of Superman?

It’s actually quite good!  I’m pleasantly surprised.  First off, I wasn’t that excited for a second adaptation of this storyline.  The first animated film, as I just mentioned above, was great, and the “Death of Superman” story from the comics is far from my favorite Superman story.  Additionally, this new animated adaptation is set in the “New 52” inspired continuity that has been connecting most of the past several years’ worth of DC’s animated films, and while I love the idea of a continuity between these films, I don’t love many of the creative decisions at the heart of this “New 52” style.  (And, indeed, DC’s 2014 “New 52” relaunch of its comic book universe has, only four years later, already been mostly abandoned.)  So none of this had me exactly chomping at the bit for this new film.

But I’m happy to say, it’s a very entertaining film and a very competently-made adaptation of this storyline.

When this project was first announced, I’d assumed that it would be designed as a more-faithful adaptation of the original source material, as opposed to the first animated adaptation that took a lot of liberties with the story and condensed a year’s worth of plot from across multiple Superman titles into a less-than-ninety minute film.  But, surprisingly, this new adaptation has reconfigured the source material almost as much as the first film did!  First off, as I’d noted above, the story been adjusted to fix into the “New 52” inspired continuity of these recent animated films, which necessitated a number of changes to the story as well as the look of all the characters.  And while a two-part film will surely be able to get into a lot more detail than the original done-in-one animated adaptation, there was still a great deal of condensing that needed to be done to fit this sprawling story into a film.  (Part two looks like it will include a lot more of the “Reign of the Supermen” storyline from the comics, in which various Superman-doppelgangers appeared on the scene following Supey’s death.  Superman: Doomsday skipped all of that, so I’m excited to see part two … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Netflix’s The Defenders!

September 4th, 2017
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Way back in October, 2013, Marvel and Netflix announced that they would be collaborating on four TV shows — Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist — whose characters would then cross over into a combined series The Defenders.  This would be a TV version of the approach Marvel had taken so successfully with their cinematic universe, releasing individual films that then crossed over in The Avengers.   I was excited by that idea, and bowled over by the excellent, adult-in-tone, dark and gripping first seasons of Daredevil and Jessica Jones For those two seasons alone I am glad this Netflix Marvel venture exists.  I also quite liked Daredevil season two, though I felt its ending was somewhat anticlimactic.  Luke Cage had moments of greatness but was mostly disappointing, with a particularly dull second half of the season.  Iron Fist was by far the weakest of the series, with little characterization to speak of and a terribly miscast lead role.  And so it was with excitement but also trepidation that I approached the long-anticipated crossover series, The Defenders, here at last.

The Defenders is an enjoyable romp, and at only eight episodes in length it never over-stays its welcome, nor suffers from the way nearly all of the other 13-episode-long Marvel Netflix shows felt like they didn’t have quite enough plot to actually fill their 13-episode length.

The biggest pleasure of the show comes from seeing these characters on screen together.   Charlie Cox as Daredevil, Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones, and Mike Colter as Luke Cage are all terrific.  I love those actors and I love those characters, and it is a hoot to get to see them bounce off of one another.  The best episode of the show is the fourth, “Royal Dragon,” the one that spends most of its time with the four main characters hanging out in a Chinese restaurant together.  I still think that Finn Jones is woefully miscast as Iron Fist, but he’s a little more tolerable here than he was in his own show.  It helps that all the other characters on the show (except for Colleen) seem to find Danny as annoying as I do!

Anyways, as I was saying, it’s a huge amount of fun to get to watch these actors and these characters play together.  The show wisely takes pains to explore their different perspectives and background, which result in their usually being at odds with one another.  This could feel fake, false drama or manufactured disagreements just to prevent the heroes from working together and thus defeating the villains too quickly or easily.  But as executed on the show, for the most part I felt … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Iron Fist

Netflix’s Marvel shows came out strong from the gate, with the one-two punch of Daredevil and Jessica Jones.  Both of those first two seasons were extraordinary, with adult, sophisticated story-telling brought to life by a phenomenal cast of actors.  Both shows looked gorgeous, and were fun and action-packed.  Things started to slip a little with the next two Netflix shows, though.  I liked Daredevil season two more than many people did, but I freely admit the season ended in an anticlimactic whimper rather than the epic finale I’d been hoping for.  As for Luke Cage, I loved the cast and I loved the look and feel and music of the show, but narratively it was a bore.  Things have gotten worse, not better, with Iron Fist, which is huge misfire and Netflix’s first big disappointment of a Marvel show.

As the show opens, Danny Rand (Finn Jones) has returned to New York City after 15 years away.  As a child, his parents were killed in a plane crash.  The world thought that Danny, too, was dead, but Danny survived and was raised in the mystical city of K’un-Lun.  There, he trained to become a living weapon, the Iron Fist.  Returning to New York, Danny expects a joyous reunion with childhood friends Joy and Ward Meachum, but in Danny’s absence Joy and Ward have turned their parents’ company, Rand Corporation, into a global behemoth and they are not eager for Danny to come in and mess things up.  Danny is also shocked to discover that the Hand, the ancient enemy of K’un-Lun, is operating in New York, and that the Hand is using the Rand Corporation as their tool.  With enemies all around him, Danny’s only ally is his new friend, the martial arts instructor Colleen Wing.  But even Colleen has a secret that she is hiding from Danny.

That plot description sounds like the basis of a cool TV show.  Unfortunately, Iron Fist does not deliver on that promise.

The biggest problem with the show is Finn Jones as Danny.  The biggest strength of both the Marvel Studios movies, as well as the Marvel Netflix shows, has been their perfect casting of their lead characters.  But they’ve stumbled here with Danny.  I am sure Finn Jones is a great actor and a fine human being, but to me he seems totally miscast as Danny.  I also have to put a lot of fault on the show’s writing, which failed to craft a story for Danny that a) makes much sense and b) allows the audience to engage with his character.  Together, this proves to be a problem the show is unable to overcome.

Let’s start with the … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Netflix’s Luke Cage!

Season one of Netflix’s Daredevil was a revelation.  I was blown away by that gritty, intense, adult take on Marvel’s blind super-hero.  Season one of Jessica Jones was just as good if not better: a riveting take on a character whose life was torn apart by a trauma and a chronicle of her achingly slow, step-by-step effort to put her life back together.  I also quite enjoyed the second season of Daredevil, with its great take on the Punisher (presented as he should be: not as the hero of his own story but as the complicated villain of Daredevil’s story), though they dropped the ball somewhat with the season’s ending.  So I was pumped to watch Luke Cage, Netflix’s third super-hero show and fourth super-hero season.

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There is a lot to like about Luke Cage.  I love the atmosphere of this show, the characters, the music, the idiosyncratic camerawork.  I love that this show, about a proud, strong African-American super-hero, has so many African-Americans involved creatively, both in the cast and behind the scenes.  This gives Luke Cage a strikingly different look and feel from the other three Netflix super-hero seasons we’ve seen so far, and I love that.

The problem is that the story-telling here in this first season of Luke Cage is extremely weak.  Character-arcs are disjointed and disconnected, and plot twists are either head-scratching obvious or so out of left-field as to be equally frustrating.  This show makes the narrative stalling of Lost seem incredibly fast-paced; shockingly little actually happens over the course of these thirteen episodes.

The result is that while I certainly enjoyed watching this season of Luke Cage, this was unquestionably the weakest of the Marvel Netflix shows so far.

Let’s circle back to what’s good.  The cast is phenomenal.  Mike Colter was immediately amazing and iconic as Luke Cage when he appeared in Jessica Jones, and he easily shoulders the burden of being the lead now in his own series.  I love Mr. Colter’s performance as Luke, he absolutely nails this character.  He is noble and courageous while never losing the reality of what it would be like to be this man, gifted with bulletproof skin but who doesn’t consider himself a hero.

I have been a fan of Mahershala Ali ever since he appeared in the short-lived sci-fi series The 4400.  (Back then he was credited by the even longer and more amazing name of Mahershalalhashbaz Ali.)  He was phenomenal back on that show, probably the best thing about it, and I have enjoyed his work in the years since in films like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Predators, and the Hunger Games sequels.  He’s terrific here … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Season 2 of Netflix’s Daredevil!

I thought that the first season of Netflix’s Daredevil was spectacular, dark and complex and very adult, a triumphant declaration of intent for Netflix’s Marvel shows.  Jessica Jones, the second Marvel show, was every bit as good, telling a wrenching story of a young woman trying to put her life back together after a terrible assault.  (Click here for my review of Daredevil season one and Jessica Jones season one.)  Luke Cage (a character introduced so wonderfully in Jessica Jones) is scheduled to be the third Netflix Marvel show, but I was delighted that first we got a second season of Daredevil.

This terrific run of thirteen episodes make Netflix three for three, as they have followed up Daredevil’s terrific first season with an encore that is every bit as compelling and thrilling as season one.  I have read some reviews on-line that felt this season didn’t live up to the promise of season one, while others felt that it blew season one out of the water.  I didn’t have either reaction — instead, I was impressed with how consistent in style and tone and quality this second season was to season one.  (This is particularly impressive because of some behind-the-scenes change-ups that I have read about.  At the start of this second season Daredevil was on its third set of show-runners, which is not usually a good sign.)  I loved the vast majority of season two, and though I felt they stumbled a little bit at the end, this is still a phenomenal season of television and probably the best superhero TV show I have ever seen.

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With the Kingpin off the streets, at the start of season two all seems well for Hell’s Kitchen and Matt Murdock.  But that happy status quo is quickly upset by a series of challenges.  While the city has begun to embrace the vigilante Daredevil, those tentative good feelings are shattered by the arrival on the scene of another, more violent vigilante, the Punisher, who murders criminals.  Daredevil and the Punisher immediately come into violent conflict.  Then, Matt’s long-lost love Elektra returns to the city and his life.  Elektra is revealed to be involved with the same war against an ancient evil that Matt’s old master Stick has been fighting, and Matt soon finds his city overrun with the vicious ninjas known as the Hand.  Will Elektra fight on Matt’s side or will she turn fully to the darkness inside of her?

Daredevil season two is filled with a LOT of plot and a LOT of characters, and I was impressed with how well the show was able to juggle everything.  I commented in my review of Jessica Jones[continued]

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Josh Reviews Jessica Jones

I was excited when Netflix announced that Daredevil would be the first of their Marvel universe TV shows.  But I was even more excited when Netflix announced that Jessica Jones would be their second.  I was also somewhat concerned, since as an enormous fan of the character I was worried about whether she would be faithfully translated to the screen.  I adored Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos’ twenty-eight-issue series Alias (published from 2001 to 2004) in which Mr. Bendis & Mr. Gaydos introduced the character of Jessica, and I have thoroughly enjoyed Mr. Bendis’ depictions of the character ever since (in his follow-up series The Pulse as well as various issues of The Avengers).  Jessica Jones is one of most interesting and complex new characters introduced to the Marvel Universe in the past several decades.  The potential of seeing her brought to life on a new TV show was delicious, but I also would have hated to have seen the character not done justice.

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Thankfully, Marvel’s Netflix team is two for two as, just like they did with their tremendous first season of Daredevil (click here for my review), they have created in Jessica Jones a show that is thrilling, sophisticated, dark and very adult that is also a huge amount of fun and a delightfully riveting adventure.  I loved pretty much every minute of it.

(Please note that I will be discussing this show in some detail.  I will try to avoid major spoilers, but there’s no way to discuss the show without also talking about some of its plot twists.  If you haven’t yet watched this show I advise you to go watch it immediately — really, it’s excellent, you’ll thank me later! — and then come back to read this review.)

When we are introduced to her, Jessica Jones is private eye in the Marvel Universe.  Though not a very successful one.  She’s reduced to mostly taking photos of cheating husbands on behalf of their broken-hearted wives.  Jessica has super-powers: she’s very strong, able to run fast and jump high.  But Jessica is no super-hero.  She is gruff and grumpy, short-tempered and hard-drinking.  As she tells Like Cage early in the show: “I don’t get asked on a lot of second dates.”  But what we gradually learn as the show unfolds is that Jessica has become who she is because she has been deeply broken by a trauma in her past.  A trauma with a name: Killgrave, a super-powered individual whose voice gives him absolute command over anyone within earshot.  At some point before the show begins, Jessica fell under Killgrave’s control for many long months, and I probably don’t need to go into … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Justice League: Throne of Atlantis

I had read that DC was planning on creating a new continuity amongst some of their animated films (while still continuing to release some one-shot, stand-on-their-own films like Assault on Arkham) that would parallel the newly-relaunched “New 52” DC Universe in the comics.  Justice League: War was the start of this new animated continuity (fitting since that film adapted the story by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee that launched the “New 52” DC Universe), and the next film, Son of Batman, maintained the look and voice cast with Jason O’Mara as Batman.  Justice League: Throne of Atlantis is the third film in this new continuity, but I was surprised that many members of the voice cast were changed since War.  Nathan Fillion, who has voiced Green Lantern so wonderfully in many previous DC animated films, is back as the character (replacing Justin Kirk from War).  Michelle Monaghan is out as Wonder Woman, replaced by Rosario Dawson (who, interestingly enough, had a supporting role as Artemis in the Wonder Woman stand-alone animated film from 2009).  Alan Tudyk is also out as Superman, replaced by Jerry O’Connell (who has also previously appeared in these DC animated films, playing Shazam in Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam from 2010).  Lastly Shemar Moore is out as Cyborg, replaced by Sean Patrick Thomas.

Most of these changes are definite steps up.  I love Alan Tudyk, but he was terribly miscast as Superman in War.  And while I thought Justin Kirk did well as Green Lantern, Nathan Fillion is way better.  I am surprised by all these changes and wonder what the behind-the-scenes story is.  I am particularly surprised that they are using Nathan Fillion as Green Lantern, since I thought the intention with these new films was to really set themselves apart from the previous ones.  But I’m not complaining.  These voice changes are a big step in the right direction of correcting some of the many problems with Justice League: War.  (Though of course this begs the question: if they’re OK using Mr. Fillion again, then why can’t we also bring back Kevin Conroy as Batman, Tim Daly as Superman, and the other great voices from the classic DC animated series and films from the past???)

Throne of Atlantis is a loose adaptation of one of the early story-lines of the Justice League in the relaunched “New 52” DC Universe, written by Geoff Johns.  In both the comics and the film, the story focuses on a conflict over who will rule the undersea realm of Atlantis, which eventually spills over into a battle between the warriors of Atlantis and the surface world.  Here in the animated film, the story also serves as … [continued]