MCU: Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, The Iron Fist, Daredevil, or whyTF do you insist on clinging to that superhero mumbo-jumbo?
[no spoilers, I think]
I saw (at least parts of) all these current TV series and films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) on Netflix recently. Except IMO The Iron Fist they have much in common, such that it warrants treating them in a single article.
So, in the following paragraphs, before I get to the individual series, I am talking about the Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Daredevil TV series.
For those who don't know it (like me obly a few months ago) the MCU is more or less a common background story for all the series playing in it, meaning they share some characters, backstory, etc.
These three series have well-modeled, believable characters, well-written dialogues, and are well placed in the spectrum between cinematic traditions (film noir, blacksploitation, crime movies) and a modern desire for authenticity and more individual, less stereotyped characters.
Especially in the latter they really shine -- their heroes as well as their villains *are* clearly heroes and villains, respectively, but they are not one-dimensional, rather really human with strengths *and* weaknesses, good *and* bad intentions, all. Even the villains are quite believable, and even -- while misguided or greedy or reckless -- likeable in some respects, or at least pitiable.
So, yay, great films! And above all that, very entertaining! So, what's not to like?
I watched Jessica Jones as the first, not quite knowing what that would be. It turned out to have a great film noir atmosphere, with the eponymous protagonist a Philip Marlowe if I have ever seen one; really believable characters, great actors, believable story... But then, after a while I paused and thought WTF is *this* particular thing, I mean *very* particular thing, meant to mean? and things. And it turned I was watching some kind of superhero film, with some people in it having special "abilities" or "gifts".
And with that, all of it wasn't true any more. What had seemed believable suddenly turned out not even intended to be believable. I mean, with people who can jump up or down buildings, whose skin cannot be broken, or who can make others do things just like that, what believability is left?
What could have been a true glimpse into the world suddenly wasn't true any more, it was fantasy, something that shared truths with the real world only incidentally, or where the authors/creators found it convenient.
And I wondered, why? What could have been a really good, "real" thing kind of devalued itself, in my eyes, to something restricted to "genre" fiction.
Of course the answer to the "why?" question is clear -- if you make films after Marvel comics, this is what must come out. But to me it seems so unnecessary for the films themselves.
There is, IMO, no actual need to let the great seductor have superhuman abilities -- people in the real world have done similar things, so a more realistic route would have been possible. The up-and-down-buildings-jumping seems particularly needless. A really strong and smart guy needs no unbreakable skin or superhuman strength to make a good and convincing(!) protagonist. And why does a guy who comes, from having supposedly died in a plane accident, back after 15 years need not only (*nearly* superhuman) kung fu skills, but also a right hand that could double as a torch light? Beats me.
In my eyes these films/series could have been made *better* if there hadn't been the (assumed) imperative to do something with these figures out of comic books, ones that are not intended to be out of the real world. These films seem to pretend they are, but it turns out they aren't.
Jessica Jones is the one I watched first. The title character is a just so slightly more modern Philip Marlowe in Hell's Kitchen, and she is great at that. She is smart, troubled, dark, broody, lonely, a skilled and successful (not financially, though) private eye, but still unhappy, very afraid of opening up to others. A case brings back memories she would have liked to forget, and they haunt her in her actual life now. The complicacy of her starting relationship to her bar-owner neighbour unravels very slowly at first, other than the chemistry between both, which goes up like a rocket.
Really good start, only then it turns out she jumps up and down buildings without a hitch and tears apart padlocks with her bare hands. Said neighbour doesn't stay behind either.
Convincing characters, excellent cast, well written and well played, suspenseful and entertaining, but still a superhero flick.
One season so far.
After the events in the previous series, former bar owner Luke Cage relocated from Hell's Kitchen to Harlem. Originally trying to avoid any attention, he feels driven to right a few wrongs, which gets him the attention he did not want and into trouble with the local police, mobs, and politics.
Even more than in Jessica Jones lots of truly excellent characters (who wouldn't love Misty!), with even some of the villains being likeable in a way, and here and there heart-tearing developments. I really loved it -- no, make that "loved parts of it", because it is still a superhero flick. There goes the believability.
But still, really compelling and even moving in parts. One season so far.
The Iron Fist
This is different from the two above in that while the story is not uninteresting (guy who everybody thought dead in a plane crash comes back after 15 years and tries to get his life back) I did not like the protagonist, and none of the other characters. Entertaining to some degree, but I lost it after 3.37 episodes and didn't come back.
Starting a law firm isn't easy for two brand-new lawyer friends; I'd say this isn't made easier by misunderstanding their role as persons who must fight injustice instead of being the legal aid and representatives of their clients. Also, one of them is blind, but still has a better perception of everything around him than the normal people (oh, fuck, a superhero again!) and fights injustice at night with his bare knuckles.
I found the misrepresentation of what the task of lawyers is (why, don't guilty people have the right to decent legal representation, too?) really irritating at first. This feeling dumbed down after a while, and I enjoyed the convincing characters, and the good dialogue. There are even really well-drawn villains in the first and second season, especially the first is a convincing love interest.
Still, while quite entertaining, a superhero flick. Avoid if long fight scenes bore you (too much) -- I find it too fist-heavy at times. This is the one that would probably be hard to make without the superhero stuff. Or, rather, come out quite different. I'd make something else of it, but with these great characters -- sans the superheroicity, and with a better understanding of the legal system.
Anyway, I continue to watch it into the second season now.
So, in the end, except Iron Fist I find all these very watchable, despite their singular major flaw. Without that, I might *really* love them -- but so, they are just quite good. Missed chance.
Supergirl was different: (a) It did not try to reach this level of earnestness, of realism, of emotional power that I felt was tried and to some parts achieved in Jessica Jones and Luke Cage; (b) the superhero-mumbo-jumbo was the *point*. The Supergirl character was presented as super right away, nothing else, so the whole thing was firmly rooted in genre territory from the start.
Buffy was different: The cognitive dissonance between the remarkably real "real world" and the superhero-vampire-monster-mumbo-jumbo was the point of the whole thing. Writing was always very much tongue-in-cheek -- with the most remarkable exception being the episode where Buffy's mother died. It shows that Joss Whedon was able to pull off something that was just normal, not funny or horror-related at all, no one-line quips, no stakes or crossbows, no martial arts, and it is easily the most captivating and powerful episode of all. He just was that good. (And maybe still is, dunno.) Ah, right, there was a vampire at the end after all. Maybe just a reminder that this is the same Buffy show after all.
So, while I got/get my pleasure out of Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Daredevil (and I will also look into The Punisher, after his guest appearance in Daredevil), with those there is this disappointment, the idea that they wouldn't have *needed* this superhero trope. It is a needless complication, and it diminishes the respective series' sense of reality and emotional power.
 leading actress Krysten Ritter made me do it; I liked her already a lot in Breaking Bad and something (forgotten) else and wanted to see more of her; turned out well