Having already established a connection with cinematic currency like Marvel, Netflix shows no signs of slowing down their relationship with the superhero factory after promising 1,000 extra hours of all sorts of content in 2017.
With three new Marvel shows premiering in 2017 alone – Iron Fist, The Defenders and The Punisher; joining established properties like Jessica Jones, Daredevil and Luke Cage – the streaming service clearly sees value in crossover potential amongst its titular heroes who all come with built-in audiences.
But it begs the question; which shows deserve your time and which ones can you pass on?
While we considered exploring the entire range of Marvel shows available on Netflix – like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D – we instead decided to focus on Netflix’s original content as it is often the most scrutinized and hyped fare on television and simply put, “must see.”
Here’s our breakdown of Marvel’s Netflix originals from best to worst.
1. Luke Cage
What it is: The best of the best
What makes Luke Cage the clear leader in the clubhouse is that there is something particularly relevant to presenting a bulletproof, black superhero in an era of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“The thing I always say is like this, ‘We didn’t mean to be this deeply social show, but we wanted to tell a realistic depiction of the black experience,'” said show creator Cheo Hodari Coker, who most famously adapted his own Notorious B.I.G. biography, Notorious, for the big screen before creating his own show.
“Luke Cage is a black superhero,” he added, “He’s not a superhero who happens to be black.”
One of Coker’s wisest decisions as showrunner was envisioning Luke Cage’s main antagonist, Cottonmouth, as much younger than source material dictated – which eluded to the Harlem magnate being more akin to real-life drug dealers like Frank Lucas and Nicky Barnes.
Instead, he cast Mahershala Ali in the project which was nestled between his role in House of Cards and his eventual Oscar-winning role in Moonlight.
The show’s pacing is also very satisfying. One of the main criticisms of Netflix’s Marvel shows is that they pack 40 minutes of material inside an hour-long package. With Luke Cage, things never tend to drift or wander. His world is rocked, he must come out of temporary hiding, and in turn his secret is revealed. It may not be the most complex narrative, but it’s effective.
Aesthetically, the cinematography is top notch – highlighted by framing Cottonmouth in one scene behind a portrait of Biggie Smalls so it appears as if he’s actually donning a crown.
As a total package – from acting, relevancy, music and world-building – Luke Cage is the Marvel show that you definitely need to watch.
2. Jessica Jones
What it is: A close second
What makes Jessica Jones so intriguing is that she personifies what it means to be a “reluctant hero.” Most other characters in the cinematic landscape – aside from Will Smith’s Hancock – find themselves ready to battle evil without considering the consequences of what it will mean for their daily lives.
Jones is a hard-partying gumshoe whose goodwill requires a paycheck and enough wiggle room to satiate her need to drink heavily. She feels like a real person who has real talents – albeit superhuman – who stifles them because it interferes with her addiction.
The cinematography is also key with building her world – presented in a noir fashion where we focus on micro elements like cockroaches crawling down drains as opposed to huge and sprawling wide shots associated with heroes like The Avengers.
The entire first season is essentially a show about dependency – whether that’s Jones and alcohol, Luke Cage and revenge, Malcolm and Will with drugs, or Kilgrave’s intoxication on everyone he encounters.
David Tennant’s portrayal of Kilgrave felt particularly genuine – albeit maniacal – as he forced people to do terrible things without a grand plan which often accompanies a villain’s persona.
Much in the same way that The Joker from The Dark Knight wanted to watch the world burn, Kilgrave enjoys the sheer chaos that comes with having mind control abilities. But when it comes to Jessica Jones, things get downright creepy and ultra-personal when he lays a trap for her that involves her childhood home.
Creators played this up to great dramatic effect, but were also creative when exploring what Kilgrave would be like should he choose to use his powers for good after Jessica convinces him to save a family. When combined with his tragic backstory of terrible abuse as a child, it’s hard not to empathize with the character – even for but a second.
For those who view superhero-related content as “too hokey,” Jessica Jones is a show most rooted in reality.
From her messy apartment to a wardrobe that feels lived in, Jones also cultivates a relationship with Luke Cage that feels real. And much in the same way that Alfred Hitchcock and Quentin Tarantino teach us about suspense, we’re well aware how explosive this situation will become once Cage knows the truth about Jones’ connection to his wife’s mysterious death.
What it is: Campy but fun
If you can suspend belief that superheroes exist, then you open yourself up to a whole range of possibilities as it relates to those willing to sacrifice their own well-being for the greater good.
Enter Matt Murdock, the unflappable defense attorney who moonlights as a vigilante despite being blinded as a young child.
The show is a masterclass in fight choreography and set-pieces. At times, the dialogue and story seem to be mere connective tissue in between dazzling sequences that are amongst the best on TV. Thus, the show seems light on narrative and heavy on spectacle.
But that’s okay.
As the only Netflix original having aired two seasons, the series benefitted from continuing to explore Murdock’s morality – especially after we get the introduction of The Punisher whose value system and approach to handling the scum of Hell’s Kitchen is vastly different than his. In fact, Frank Castle hadn’t even shown his face before an entire room of Irish gangsters had been blown up.
When both titular characters are pinned down on a roof, they both expunge their value systems onto one another as if two old friends sitting a bar who slowly come to realize that they no longer have anything in common.
Daredevil knows what it is; a moral man in an unmoral world. We can only hope that writers and producers continue to push Murdock in a direction where he will be forced to choose if being good or winning is more important.
4. Iron Fist
What it is: Netflix’s first major blunder
The preliminary reviews of Netflix’s latest Marvel show, Iron Fist, have been almost universally negative – called both a “super-fail” and “superhero flop” and receiving a paltry 14 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The show’s lead, Finn Jones, responded to the criticism, saying, “Well I think there’s multiple factors. What I will say is these shows are not made for critics, they are first and foremost made for the fans. I also think some of the reviews we saw were seeing the show through a very specific lens, and I think when the fans of the Marvel Netflix world and fans of the comic books view the show through the lens of just wanting to enjoy a superhero show, then they will really enjoy what they see.”
This is a similar tactic that director, Zack Snyder, employed after subpar reactions to his Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, where he tried to imply that true fans would enjoy it and he didn’t make it for critics, saying, “I’m a comic book guy and I made the movie based as much as I could on that aesthetic. And so I don’t know how else to do it 100%, so it is what it is.”
Whereas other heroes like Luke Cage, Jessica Jones and Matt Murdock’s personal bugaboos strengthen the characters – although Murdock does tend to lay it on thick – Jones’s Danny Rand/Iron Fist’s “return from the dead,” “orphaned” “white savior” origin story seems not only like a rehash of old ideas, but one that is extensively played up for the first three episodes of the series leading to an overall sense of malaise and distrust of the overall vision.
Although Marvel has the ability to smooth over rough points relating to plot and character with elaborate fight sequences and the otherworldly belief that superheroes exist, Iron Fist’s biggest fault may be in the fact that the show ever got green-lit in the first place.
With Netflix’s other superhero fare they have all brought something original to the table; a disabled hero, a female addict, and the first black superhero on TV.
With Iron Fist, we have a white, billionaire monk who fights crime. This is not the superhero we want or even need in 2017.
- Featured/Main Image: Netflix