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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Defenders Trailer Breakdowns

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Edited by Robert Beach

As the saga of Marvel Studios continues, the story of their Netflix offshoot has slowly become a production unto itself. Launching in 2015 with the blockbuster Daredevil series, then following it up with the even better Jessica Jones show in the fall, Marvel’s Netflix shows have become their own little universe. 

The inter-continuity of New York street-level super crime has forged the shows into their own phase 1. Heck, there's multiple dangling plot threads supporting super people who could be their own stars like Punisher, Elektra, and Nuke. 

Now, Marvel Netflix is looking to premiere another three shows over the next year and a half starting with Luke Cage this September, followed by Iron Fist in spring of 2017, and culminating in the massive team-up show Defenders in fall of next year. With all that in the cards, Netflix has now released a triple threat of teasers for each of its new shows. Let’s take a look. 

First, there’s the Luke Cage trailer, which also stands as easily the best of the three. Mike Colter is honestly primed to be the best new actor Marvel has brought to everyone’s attention since Chris Evans; he stole Jessica Jones in his supporting part. What’s more, the show has tapped Cheo Hodari Coker of Southland as the showrunner. Coker is exactly the diversity that’s required of the modern age of superheroes: there’s representation in front of the camera as well as diversity behind it. That’s been very clear from a lot of the set photos to emerge from the production. 

As for the trailer, I like how bold it is just to make it a minute and a half of Luke Cage beating people up to the strains of Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Cage has always been inexorably tied to the popularity of black urban culture, emerging on the trends of blaxploitation and disco in the ‘70s. Adapting him and his mythos to elements of hip-hop totally makes sense. Personally, I just hope they have ‘Mama Said Knock You Out’ on the soundtrack somewhere along the line. 

If you’re wondering what the brief opening was about, I’m pretty sure that’s dealing with Luke’s eventual decision to start crimefighting. If you’re unfamiliar with his origin, Luke Cage was a young man in Harlem trying to make it on the straight-and-narrow path when a local drug dealer killed his girlfriend and framed Cage for the killing. Looking to get his sentence commuted, Cage participated in a dangerous experiment to get super powers that gave him super strength and unbreakable skin. He escaped prison during the experiment and took up the role as hero for hire on the streets of New York. 

However, in the Netflix continuity, there’s an additional wrinkle to the character in that he also had a wife murdered by Kilgrave, the villain from Jessica Jones. Even though Cage got to the bottom of his wife’s death in Jessica Jones, I wouldn’t be surprised if that particular mystery came up in this series. At the very least, the show needs to address where and what Jessica Jones is doing, unless of course this show is set prior to Jessica Jones. 

What really sells this trailer is how much it understands the appeal of Luke Cage and his importance at this moment in time. Marvel has been very smart about realizing diversity is the wave of the future. The only time they actually use that representation to put forth a genuine idea so far has been Jessica Jones. Framing Luke Cage as a bulletproof black man in a time when every day seems to be punctuated by black people getting shot by those sworn to protect them really speaks to understanding Luke’s fantasy of invulnerability and the power to make the world right. 

The Iron Fist trailer is not nearly as good.  Honestly, at this point, I have to wonder if Marvel shouldn’t have just scrapped the whole Iron Fist project and started again with Moon Knight or somebody else. After an incredibly sluggish start, marred by the controversy over the ethnicity of the main character, all the set photos of the show we’ve seen have been thoroughly uninteresting. I’ve commented on this before, but I do very much agree with people that Iron Fist should’ve been cast as an Asian American. It would’ve added a neat dimension of heritage to the narrative and circumvented the problem of the story being about some random white guy proving to be the superior Asian. 

As for this trailer, it’s a lot like the casting: technically accurate while lacking any amount of flair or awareness.  If you don’t know, the story of the Iron Fist is that Danny Rand was the heir to a major company whose family jet crashed in the Himalayas. Though his parents died, he was found by the inhabitants of a secret hidden city called K’un-L’un. He trained and trained there till he became the greatest warrior in the whole city and then killed a dragon with his bare hands to claim its powers and become the Iron Fist.

Overall, Iron Fist isn’t interesting as a character, which is why all the folks proclaiming themselves massive Danny Rand fans has always been so suspicious. What’s interesting about the Fist is the hidden city and mysticism stuff; the world he inhabits is cool while he is just a bland vessel through we experience his reality. 

Unfortunately, the Netflix show has opted to drop all that cool stuff and just be “karate guy in the big city” for a plot and an incredibly cheap-looking plot at that. That hospital bed looked shockingly fake. It could just be that I'm bitter towards this series because even without the question of race, I really don’t like the casting. With the question of race, I’m pretty tired of Marvel’s weird flirtation with orientalism lately. Maybe I’ll be wrong about this one, but I really don’t have high hopes. 

Then finally we have Defenders, which really isn’t a trailer in the conventional sense. Honestly I’m not sure that this Defenders video isn’t just the intro sequence for the show. If that’s the case, it’s certainly a very cool intro. This is just confirming that everyone is going to team up with the individual news clippings and detritus linking to the various characters. 

You’ve got a few headlines about the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen, a report about Luke Cage’s escape from Seagate Prison, the Alias Investigations logo, and an investigation report from someone looking for Danny Rand. Actually, the funniest part of this to me is the way each individual character’s logo is printed up on the news boards for no explainable reason. Although, I do like the way their individual letters form Defenders. 

The only real “reveal” from this trailer is a voiceover narration provided by Daredevil’s mentor and exposition vomiter Stick.  Stick’s main purpose in the Daredevil mythos is fighting the Hand, so they’re probably the bad guys for Defenders, which is a shame because they’re also incredibly boring antagonists. Incidentally, if the Hand is the foe, that makes this logo incredibly obvious tell.

This is part of the downside to having the showrunners of Defenders be the folks behind Netflix least-interesting show so far, Daredevil. I’m not trying to rag on Daredevil, but as a series, it lacks the mindfulness of Jessica Jones, usually being buoyed by one great performance like Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin or Jon Bernthal’s Punisher. 

It’s doubly disappointing because I was hoping Defenders might continue the trend of addressing real-world injustice. So far, each of the Netflix shows has had some form of injustice very much on its mind; Jessica Jones took on sexism and rape culture; Luke Cage looks geared to address racism and police fascism; even Daredevil had corruption very much on its mind. I was hoping some of that might come to the forefront of Defenders, but if it’s just a bunch of guys getting together to fight some magic ninjas, that’s shocking shallow and subpar. 

Marvel Netflix also released a pretty fun sizzle reel of the pre-existing shows as well as new footage from Luke Cage. It’s, overall, a really good reminder of the sleazy dark corner of the Marvel universe Netflix has come to embody. It definitely seems from the trailer Luke Cage is set to be the most action-intensive show Marvel Netflix has yet. With the downside being its villain, played by Mahershala Ali, looks like the least imposing Netflix bad guy so far. 

This could just be an issue of comparison with how creepy and captivating Kilgrave, Kingpin, and the Punisher have been, or it could just be we haven’t seen enough of him yet. Really though, so long as Luke himself is compelling, which he seems to be, I’m looking forward to it. The truth of the matter is that Luke Cage is the hero we need right now, and this looks like the best version of him we could’ve hoped for. 

Luke Cage is scheduled to premiere on September 30th, Iron Fist and Defenders have no set premiere date. 

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