Volume Eight, Issue Twenty-Seven!
We’re on the other side of the Netflix/Marvel Studios partnership, and does it feel that satisfying? As someone who watched every season of every show (even Iron Fist, which got better), I can’t say that that it does. While Jessica Jones season three has been marketed as the last season for the show and the Marvel/Netflix partnership, it’s a far cry from the stellar end cap that Avengers: Endgame gave us back in April.
When the Netflix deal was first started, there was no Stranger Things or GLOW on the streaming giant. Hell, they barely even had House of Cards out when they announced their deal. But when the first season of Daredevil finally hit, people were pretty much over the moon with it. Sure, it had some slow moments, but by and large it was a pretty sizable hit that had a big impact for the streaming service. Follow that with Jessica Jones, a show that not only received critical acclaim but had something to say, and you had the start of something that could have been the MCU on a smaller scale.
Then, the tide started to turn. Daredevil’‘s second season, while still really good, didn’t have as much of an impact as it should have (though it did give us Jon Bernthal’s fantastic take on The Punisher), and Luke Cage had a strong start that eventually fell apart once the “real” villain showed up. But the real low point was Iron Fist. I don’t want to pile on the show (enough people already have), but it’s hard not to look at that series and the reaction to it and not think that that was where the tide started to turn for this universe. From a badly miscast lead to some pretty downright embarrassing fight scenes, Iron Fist was the low point for the Defenders team mates.
Speaking of Defenders, in hindsight it’s pretty stunning how quickly that series came and went. While you have to admire the decision to keep it at eight episodes, The Defenders was still plagued with a lot of the same problems that every one of the Netflix Marvel seasons have. It took too long to get the team together, and the villain ended up being a colossal waste of time. But for the most part, the highs of Defenders far outweigh the bad, but even that wasn’t enough to turn things around, as the the most sure-fire slam dunk ended up being just okay, and it seemed like those who were waiting for Jessica Jones, Matt Murdock, Luke Cage, and Danny Rand to team up bailed as soon as their adventure together wrapped.
There was a bit of a course correction post-Defenders though. Both Iron Fist and Luke Cage improved on their faults, though Jessica Jones‘ second time around ended up being a strange misfire. Both seasons of The Punisher were surprisingly solid takes on a character that could have been done extremely wrong given our current affairs with gun violence. Instead of glorifying Frank Castle, both seasons showed the toll of his decision to take the law into his own hands, and how no matter how he tries to put things behind him, he can’t shake his violent impulses after he’s given into them.
The biggest comeback though had to go to Daredevil, which delivered the best season with it’s third (and final) one. Free from having to go up against The Hand and set up The Defenders, the final season saw Charlie Cox give his best performance yet as Matt Murdock, and had a truly terrifying portrayal of Bullseye in Wilson Bethel (even though he’s never called Bullseye in the series).
Maybe that’s one of the reason why Netflix’s Marvel universe had such a hard time connecting and staying with audiences. There’s the “watch it all in one go” take that makes it harder to remember small plot details, and the release dates for each show and season have a much longer gap than the recent crop of MCU movies, but the Netflix series all shied away from their origins, not unlike comic book adaptations from the 90’s and early 00’s. Very few of the characters were ever in costume, or even used their superhero names. They don’t need to announce who they are whenever they’re talking to one another like a Silver Age comic, but there was a few moments where it seemed like all of the series were too embarrassed to really embrace some of their comic book roots. When you compare that line of thinking with their bigger brother on the big screen, which features a futuristic African country, magical sorcerers, and even a talking Raccoon, and it’s hard not to see why audiences seemed to care more about one part of this universe over the other.