Still to this day, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is coming up with successful media. With “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” coming out next week, I only thought it would be fitting to talk about Marvel as a media franchise. It started out with the Avengers films, from “Iron Man,” to “Thor,” to “Captain America: The First Avenger”, and even a couple of shows on ABC, “Agents of SHIELD” and the short-lived “Agent Carter”, which only lasted for two seasons before its cancellation in 2016. Later this year, we will be getting another ABC series called “Inhumans”, as well as a Freeform series called “Cloak & Dagger” coming next year. And lastly, a medium that nobody thought possible for this media franchise, Netflix. Netflix is a perfect service to use for streaming movies and television for free. So far, Netflix has released four shows that have ties to the Marvel Cinematic Universe: “Daredevil”, “Jessica Jones”, “Luke Cage”, and the most recent “Iron Fist”. In the next few paragraphs, we will talk about how these shows veer away from the traditional storytelling of Marvel Studios and have given a darker look on local vigilantes on the streets of New York fighting to protect the city from injustice.
Back in 2003, there was a film that was released called “Daredevil”, starring Ben Affleck, who would later portray Batman in films like “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”, “Suicide Squad” and the upcoming “Justice League”. The 2003 version of Daredevil did not do so well in the box office, and got a lot of negative attention, especially the portrayals by Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner as Elektra Natchios, who would eventually star in season 2 of the Netflix series, “Daredevil”. 12 years after the film was released, the Netflix series “Daredevil” was released to critical acclaim. The series focused primarily on character development, especially with the series villain, Wilson Fisk, played by Vincent D’Onofrio. The series gave the viewers a greater depth to the villain and his motivations, leaving some to sympathize with him. The series also features a fast-paced storyline with Matt Murdock, played by Charlie Cox, and his struggles with blindness, and fighting injustice in the depths of Hell’s Kitchen. The first season of Daredevil received acclaim for its darker tone, the performances, and the action scenes. Most notably, the fight scene in the hallway during the second episode of season 1, which you can watch here. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B66feInucFY) Here, we clearly see that Marvel is veering away from traditional Marvel storytelling by adding darker tones and more graphic moments. There are even some nods to the Avengers throughout these series. The second season featured a character named The Punisher, who previously starred in 3 films, which all did poorly at the box office. Frank Castle, AKA The Punisher (played by Jon Bernthal), wishes to clean up Hell’s Kitchen by any means necessary, no matter how lethal the results are. Later this year, towards the fall, The Punisher will be getting his own Netflix series, that picks up from where Daredevil season 2 left off.
A few months after Daredevil season one was released, “Jessica Jones” began streaming, and it stars Krysten Ritter as the title character. In this series, Jessica Jones is a private investigator struggling with PTSD. She has special powers of her own, including superhuman strength and limited flight, while Daredevil was made blind due to an accident with toxic chemicals, but his other senses are heightened. Throughout the course of the first season of Jessica Jones, she begins to struggle when a man who has the ability to control minds just by speaking to them, Kilgrave, played by David Tennant (who is most well-known for his portrayal of the Tenth Doctor in “Doctor Who”) comes back to haunt Jessica. This series has a film noir tone, and covers subjects like PTSD, sexuality, rape and assault. Early on in the series, Jessica meets with Luke Cage, who would eventually get his own series a year later, which we shall cover in a moment. The series focuses on Jessica trying to take down Kilgrave and stop him from hurting the friends that she cares about the most with his mind control abilities. This goes to show that Netflix is taking a much darker tone for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, even more so than “Daredevil”. But it doesn’t end here.
In September 2016, yet another series titled “Luke Cage” was released to Netflix to positive reviews. This series picks up from where Jessica Jones left off, another series to feature Luke Cage, played by Mike Colter, as a supporting character. Like “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones”, “Luke Cage” focuses mostly on character development rather than action. This show explains how Luke got his powers, and his early days before he became a crime fighter in Harlem. And like all other entries in the Marvel Netflix universe, Claire Temple, played by Rosario Dawson, assists the heroes in any way she can. She helps out Daredevil by nursing him back to health and helping him take down a notorious organization called the Hand. She helped out Jessica Jones in the final episode, by nursing Luke back to health, even though he has unbreakable skin, which was a result from the sabotaged experiment that he took part in. And she helps Luke in his fight to protect Harlem from organized crime, set up by Cornell “Cottomouth” Stokes, and Willis Stryker, Luke’s half-brother who sets out for revenge.
The final Netflix series we shall talk about, leading up to the upcoming series “The Defenders”, which is set to start streaming in August, is “Iron Fist”. “Iron Fist” came out very recently, streaming on March 17th. This series features Danny Rand, played by Finn Jones, a billionaire who had returned to New York City 15 years after a plane crashed in the Himalayas, killing his parents. While he was stranded in the Himalayas, he is discovered by monks, who take him to K’un-lun, where he trains in the martial arts and earns the title of the Iron Fist. The Iron Fist uses his chi to make his fist glow yellow and gives the user powerful strength. When Danny returns to New York, his company, Rand Enterprises, is being run by his childhood acquaintances, Ward and Joy Meachum, who immediately dismiss the fact that he is, in fact, Danny Rand, admit him to a psychiatric ward. Ward and Joy’s father, Harold, who everyone thought was dead for quite some time, is actually still alive and living in secret, and we later learn that he has ties with the Hand, as introduced in Daredevil season 2. It is later revealed that Harold has actually died, but the Hand used methods to resurrect him from the dead. Danny’s role as the Iron Fist, is to take down the Hand and drive them out of his company, and New York as a whole. He is assisted by Claire Temple, who returns from other Netflix series, as well as Colleen Wing, who owns a local dojo. Unlike other series within this universe, “Iron Fist” received generally negative reviews for its pacing, storytelling, and portrayals of Danny Rand, and other convoluted plot points.
Later on in August, the heroes Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist will come together to form a team called the “Defenders”. They’re like the Avengers, but their job is to protect the streets of New York from organized crime. The “Defenders” series is set to be released on August 18th, and will feature 8 episodes, unlike the other series that feature 13 episodes per season. The ending of each series helps set up “The Defenders”, and brings together supporting characters from the other series, including Claire Temple, Karen Page (“Daredevil”), Foggy Nelson (“Daredevil”), Jeri Hogarth (“Jessica Jones” and “Iron Fist”), Misty Knight (“Luke Cage”) and Elektra (“Daredevil”), among several others.
Netflix is a great medium for portraying the dark side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In a time where R-rated comic book films like “Deadpool” and “Logan” are making headlines in comic adaptation history, these Netflix shows really do set up a dark and gritty environment in the darker corners of the Marvel universe, while the Avengers and SHIELD are doing their part to make the world a better place. These Netflix series feature ordinary citizens making a difference in making their local communities a safer place from organized crime, and it provides depth to a world that we are not so familiar with outside of Avengers lore. But as we move forward through these series, we get to learn a bunch of new things about Marvel that we never learned before, with these new characters, and new themes for fans of the original Marvel comics. The world is not a safe place, and it is especially not safe from organized crime, and injustice. And if the Avengers aren’t there to solve this problem, who else would we look to to help neutralize this situation? The Defenders are not regularly seen as well-known heroes who always help save the day, unlike Iron Man, Spider-Man or Captain America. They are ordinary citizens who have been through a lot of pain and trauma in their lives, and it is their pain that motivates them to do the right thing in keeping their communities safe from crime and injustice, and to protect the ones that they love.