The last of Netflix’s individual Marvel series arrived amid a flurry of poor reviews and muttering about racist casting, which didn’t bode well. Would it be their first stinker?
Yes and no. Middling would perhaps be a fair assessment for the pilot. There’s plenty here that’s promising: Finn Jones is a likeable and bright lead, Jessica Henwick is an immediate standout as Colleen Wing and I’m always delighted to see David Wenham pop up in anything, particularly if he’s playing a sleazy villain who seems to have faked their own death. I’m less delighted by his accent, mind you.
The key issue is probably the pacing: It’s a quirk of Netflix’s binge programming model - the idea of putting together a 13 hour film - that means they can adopt a more relaxed pacing (as anybody who sat through the second half of Luke Cage will attest to). This episode would have to look a lot different if it aired on a normal network and needed to hook viewers immediately, but here, knowing viewers will likely just move onto episode 2 gives them some leeway.
Possibly too much leeway, as the pilot is almost Mad Men-esque in its stately speed. I’m not too concerned about this, as I’ve already seen episode 2 and found it a distinct improvement, but it is indulgent nonetheless.
The comic version of Danny Rand is unusually happy-go-lucky and angst free for a superhero, a refreshingly chilled personality alongside his more egocentric and dramatic colleagues. We see some of that here, particularly in the sweet, open way Finn Jones’s Danny interacts with just everyone, but it has to sit somewhat uneasily alongside the hints at Danny’s PTSD and trauma regarding his past.
As such, Danny himself feels a little out of reach and more like a cipher at this point: Jessica Jones was rather more successful in being able to succinctly convey how the weight of its protagonist’s history shaped her into the woman she is as per her pilot episode AND then further unravel the intricacies of said history. Danny’s history – incomplete as it is - and his present feel like two entirely separate streams, not the formation of a single man.
Danny’s backstory is such that it perhaps makes sense to offer it as a slow reveal rather than a giant information dump, but the show has rather buried the lead on this one – why not offer a little taster of Danny’s spectacular mystic powers? The glimpses we see here of Danny’s abilities are intriguing, but a little subtle for a show setting out its stall for new viewers. They have altered some elements of Danny’s story (including, apparently, Harold’s culpability in Wendell Rand’s death), although whether these turn out to enhance or detract from the story remains to be seen.
It’s also a little heavy-handed: Ward Meachum is such a one-dimensional villain (even as a teenager in flashbacks!) that he might as well be twirling a giant moustache. Joy Meachum, however, benefits from rather more nuance. I’d anticipate a little zigging and zagging on the Meachum siblings as the series progresses – Ward’s overt awfulness is rather unnecessary given the existence of his significantly more awful father, so perhaps we’ll see him evolve into more than just a thorn in Danny’s side.
That was rather more complaining than I initially intended to do, but let’s hope there’s a lot less as we proceed.
Cast – good
Pacing – horrendous
Storytelling – a little too much like a sub-par episode of Arrow.
Not a great start, but it’s a show with sparks of life onwards.