Synopsis – Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist team up to fight crime in New York City.
My Take – It’s finally here! Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, from their own respective Marvel/Netflix shows have finally come together to form The Defenders to take down a common enemy. That also means, if you haven’t been keeping up with the other four shows there’s a pretty good chance you won’t understand what’s going on. Building up since Daredevil first came on to the scene in 2015, the partnership between Marvel & Netflix to bring the “street-level” heroes together to tell a grittier, city-level story, focusing on the denizens of New York while the Avengers are off fighting cosmic rulers has been on a role for quite some time & as expected, we’ve had highs (Daredevil and Jessica Jones), stumbles (Luke Cage’s mid-season Big Bad switch) and lows (yup, the immortal Iron Fist). Personally, I found both the seasons of Daredevil quite fantastic, and in my opinion, is the best superhero TV show ever made. Jessica Jones was fantastic as well, and works on its own as a compelling noir detective drama, Luke Cage, despite the last-minute switch in the antagonist, was also quite impressive on its own. However, as most critics & fans would agree, Iron Fist was quite disappointing. While, I did not find it as terrible as most, it did force us to question the quality of the writers & showrunners Marvel & Netflix have been backing. Thankfully, The Defenders does not suffer from the same faith, mainly as the leads seem to share a great chemistry & their charisma is no doubt the strongest part of the show. Yet, it’s hard to ignore the fact that, it’s just not as good as it could have been as the first half of the show really struggles to find its feet and most importantly to mesh the various characters and styles into an individual show. While it’s entertaining to see our quartet of heroes working off each other, it kind of wears a bit thin as the series progresses, especially when you realize that Iron Fist (the weakest character in terms of character depth and relatability) is a quintessential part of the plot. However, once you adjust to that, the 8-part miniseries shines just like everything else Marvel seems to touch these days. While, The Defenders doesn’t quite match the brilliance of that solo Jessica Jones & Daredevil outings, it’s still quite an entertaining watch.
Taking place right after the events of each character’s respective seasons, the story follows Daredevil aka Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Luke Cage (Mike Colter) and Iron Fist aka Danny Rand (Finn Jones). Matt Murdock, still mourning the death of Elektra (Elodie Yung) has retired as the vigilante known popularly as the devil of Hell’s Kitchen, and now solely focuses on being the blind lawyer who help the needy fight of greedy corporates in courts & is trying to move on by rekindling his romance with Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll). While, Jessica still consumed the tough time she had in taking down Kilgrave (David Tennant), drowns herself in booze, and discontinued her work as a P.I. despite the instance of Malcom (Eka Darville) and Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor) to move on with her life, however when a woman & her teenage daughter knock on her door seeking her help to track down their missing architect husband/father, Jessica reluctantly agrees to look into it. Elsewhere, finally released from prison, Luke Cage comes back to Harlem, into the arms of Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), and despite warning from no-nonsense police-woman Misty Knight (Simone Missick) to avoid taking the law in his own hands, Luke is persistent on helping a young kid who may be mixed up with some bad people, who turn out to be none other than criminal organization known as The Hand, who have been thought to be existing for centuries. Holding The Hand responsible for the death of his masters at K’un-Lun, Danny Rand & Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) have been globetrotting & killing as many as members of the group. However, during attack when they out about an imminent threat in New York from a dying member of the Chaste, a group opposing the Hand, Danny & Colleen decide to head back. Back in New York, in order to help Matt stay focused on being just a lawyer, Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson), hands him over low profile cases, while leads him to Jessica who he thinks is in danger & the architect’s case is connected to the hand. With situations aligning and a common enemy in sight, the four cross paths, who despite their different personalities decide must band together to take down Alexandra Reid (Sigourney Weaver), the leader of The Hand, who to make matters worse has resurrected Elektra into a killing machine known as the Black Sky. After watching all the Marvel Netflix shows and looking forward to this for years, I couldn’t have asked for a better first 4-show crossover. The feeling of seeing Matt, Jessica, Luke and Danny all together for the first time was very exciting. The best thing which I believe the writers decide here is to fix the character of Danny, don’t get me wrong, he still has nothing particularly redeeming about him, and continues to be an obnoxious, buffoon of a man child, the fix here is that everyone in the show also sees him that way, hereby making his actions & decisions seem more comical. The story also unfolds in a way and direction you wouldn’t expect but thinking on it makes complete sense. Daredevil battling with his own Demons, Jessica Jones living her reclusive life, Danny Rand trying to find his purpose and Luke Cage being shackled by the consequences of his past all come together for one purpose. Each character has their story progressed forward whilst tied into their past which gives this story true heart and feeling. New characters are bought in and feel like they’re where they’re meant to be, just like assembling a puzzle it pieced together perfectly. Easily the most disappointing aspect of the series is the tiring premise that brings them all together. The Hand was the core antagonist in both Daredevil and Iron Fist, the latter of which being the most recent installment of the saga. And since it’s almost unquestionably the weakest series so far, Danny Rand’s laser focus on the organization leaves an even worse taste in the mouth than the simple redundancy does. That’s okay, though — none of these series have been particularly thrilling based on story alone. The real fun of Marvel’s Netflix efforts has come from the characters themselves & in this regard, The Defenders delivers big.
One thing to really notice about this team-up show compared to the previous Marvel shows is the tone. This show truly feels like a MCU movie, put in place for a 7 to 8-hour length. It’s much more light-hearted and simple than the previous entries, which for the most part, especially Daredevil, took a more serious route than what we’ve seen before from the MCU films. The series chief strength is that it’s telling its story in just eight episodes, as opposed to the other series’ 13. Lumpish pace and thin plotting has blighted other Marvel Netflix shows, and while this one isn’t exactly breakneck (it still has the steady, unhurried canter of a cable drama), it only takes three episodes for our heroes join forces. In what is undoubtedly the series’ best moment, Matt, Jessica, Luke and Danny simply get to know each other and figure out whether they can actually be a team or not, and there’s some real chemistry between them. Even Jones’ Iron Fist, introduced into the team dynamic as the goofy new kid hanging out with these street-smart veterans, works better here. There’s also a noticeable uptick in the number of action beats which keeps the pace up nicely in the show’s back-half. Each character feels designed to complement one another — the aloof Daredevil, the sarcastic Jessica Jones, the hard-nosed Luke Cage and the obsessive Danny Rand play off each other well, and it’s a lot of fun to watch them interact. The thrill of seeing them as one unit and the smart way in which they are written help overcome some of the show’s downfalls, like the aforementioned uninspiring storyline or the tropes the show can’t help but indulge. By the time the team is unified you mostly forget about such problems, and if you let yourself just enjoy the ride. More importantly, when the four heroes are on-screen together kicking ass as a team, it works gangbusters as you get to see how their skills complement each other. Luke and Jessica are the powerhouse brawlers, stolid and simple in their efficacy, while Matt and Danny are acrobatic ninjas adding flourish and flair. Yet, with only eight episodes, there’s no way Trish or Clare or Malcolm or Karen or any of the others were ever going to get the same screen time they got when introduced. Instead, the makers of the show decided to cram them all in at the same time. And putting them all in the police station may have been convenient, but it’s ridiculous. It doesn’t work at all. None of these characters gets a chance to shine. Second, the baddies are extremely weak and bring nothing new to the series. The best example of this is Sigourney Weaver. What does she really do other than talk, eat, and get her head cut off? Yes, Nothing! I kept waiting for her to do more, but it never happened. And we’ve seen The Hand before and know exactly what to expect and what they’re capable of. There are enough twists and turns to keep the plot moving at a solid enough pace most of the time, though by the end it can feel uneven as the show grinds to a halt. A faux shock manages to keep suspense up for a little while, but after it’s resolved it ends up feeling entirely hollow. The team must do something pretty abhorrent to defeat The Hand, which at once feels intriguing and icky, especially since we’re never given a concrete reason to hate The Hand besides “they’re bad.” Their nebulous plan is never really explained, making it hard to latch onto their story. Elektra is thrown in to sweeten the pot, but she too has undefined goals and her entire arc is a bore.
And I’m not really one to question the verisimilitude of shows that feature bulletproof, superhuman men fighting ancient ninjas, but god damn, for the Defenders to get away scott free after that conclusion, Foggy Nelson must be the world’s greatest lawyer. The one thing that had my amazed were the fight scenes. Hands down Marvel and Netflix have the best hallway fight scenes. I think the series was pretty action packed and suspenseful, taking turns at corners unexpectedly. Every time there was a fight scene you knew right away it would be good, the movement and how they transitioned to different fights at the same time made the show awesome to watch. An extended mid-season office building brawl is a major highlight, with a showstopper season finale fight also being noteworthy despite a jarringly out of place music choice during the scene. Both of these and more feature top notch choreography and clear cinematography, but some other pugilist offerings are a mess of incoherent over-editing and unforgivably sloppy lensing. Another thing I loved was the way they used colors, whenever a certain character is on-screen, the colors in the background are either red for Daredevil, purple for Jessica Jones, yellow for Luke Cage and green for Iron Fist and when they were together the colors would mix up and I loved it. Coming to the performances, as expected they are really good. Krysten Ritter steals scenes with her acerbic drunken wit and Mike Colter maintains the solid center. Charlie Cox, as the de facto leader, has the most drama to shoulder and he handles it with aplomb, even given a lighter side to break away from all Catholic guilt sullenness he had to endure in his own show. Finn Jones as the Iron Fist is still a bit middling for me. I think he has become more likable than he has from his own solo TV Show, but his acting and character still comes off a bit whiny and poorly written at times. Also, Sigourney Weaver as the main villain, didn’t impress me too much. She really was your typical average MCU villain that was there to make demands, and be that rich and powerful old character like we’ve seen many times in MCU films. Her henchmen, aka other fingers of the hand, Yutaka Takeuchi, Babs Olusanmokun, Ramon Rodriguez & Wai Ching Ho get better moments to shine. Carrie Anne Moss is ok in a cameo. In supporting roles, Elodie Yung is alright, while Scott Glenn, Jessica Henwick, Rosario Dawson, Elden Henson, Simone Missick, Eka Darville, Rachael Taylor and Deborah Ann Woll provide ample support. On the whole, ‘The Defenders’ is yet another successful addition to the growing the Marvel/Netflix universe, which despite its story telling flaws, never stops being entertaining. It’s obvious that the story of The Defenders is far from over, but this first season proved that despite hiccups from individual shows, they work well together as a team. My fingers are crossed that the coming seasons for each individual Defenders show can only help make the second season of The Defenders even better than the first.
Status – Season 1 (Completed)
Network – Netflix