THE SHORT REVIEW: Marvel’s TV superhero team-up is at its best when it focuses on its main characters, but with a weak overarching story-line, The Defenders have a lot to improve before they become New York’s mightiest heroes.
New York’s street-level superheroes have finally teamed up for the 8-episode first season of The Defenders. The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and the Immortal Iron Fist have all had their backstories and introductions to the Marvel universe in the past couple of years – some bad, some better – and now it’s time for them to take out The Hand once and for all.
While this series isn’t perfect, and I don’t think anyone expected it to be, The Defenders has managed to create a team with great rapport on the level of their high-budget friends in the MCU. It also boasts fantastically choreographed fight scenes that we’ve come to get used to with Marvel’s Netflix series. Where this first season shines is in its attention to characters. However, it’s at its weakest during the handling of the main antagonists, The Hand.
A shadow organisation of ninjas owning and manipulating New York isn’t the most ludicrous idea ever, especially considering that just a few years ago aliens and gods were tearing down buildings and exchanging witty dialogue. But, the problem with The Defenders, and the series prior to it, is in turning the once secretive and truly brutal ninjas into nothing more than punchbags for our established superheroes. Take Daredevil for example. Matt Murdock spent much of his on-screen time lying on the couch covered into deep wounds from characters like Nobu. I didn’t mind this, because it showed that Murdock’s enemies were a genuine concern and forced Matt Murdock to develop and improve. Unlike in the MCU, where mortal threats don’t feel that threatening, Daredevil did a good job at showing The Hand as an almost indestructible force.
In The Defenders, The Hand and many of its leaders are shown throughout on the back foot. Despite the incredible performances of Sigourney Weaver (as Alexandra, the centuries-old leader of the Hand) and her cohort, The Hand spent the majority of eight episodes chasing after, conspiring against each other, or simply losing to The Defenders. The Black Sky and Daredevil’s ex-lover, Elektra Natchios, has been risen from the dead to fight on the side of The Hand. From the get-go, I found myself agreeing with the leaders of The Hand who thought using the last of the substance to bring her back was a bad idea. It’s putting all one’s eggs into one ninja-sized basket. That being said, Elektra does appear to be the only relative threat towards The Defenders. She’s definitely skilled and holds sway over Matt, Alexandra, and even Stick.
Yes, Danny Rand is whiny and quite annoying, but I didn’t entirely hate Iron Fist when it came out. Nor did I hate him in The Defenders. Each character has their own personality flaws, and Danny’s just so happens to be the least palatable. In fact, all four Defenders are, in my opinion, great in their own respects. Matt Murdock as a conflicted hero and reluctant leader has been a real favourite of mine. Jessica Jones is by far the best series and character; with her very improvised, ruthless method of fighting genuinely hilarious at points. Luke Cage is probably the most likable person on television, and I only wish he was given more of a leadership role in the series, considering he’s the most morally sound member of the team.
Whenever all four characters are together in The Defenders is when the series is at its best. Cramped into tight a corporate hallway, Chinese restaurant and underground elevator, our heroes are forced to quickly learn each other’s stories and work together as a coherent unit. Many critics are saying it takes too long for them to meet, but I disagree. By the end of episode 2/start of episode 3, our heroes are together and making their reluctant alliance. Not too bad. Really, the only time the show felt slow was during the scenes where everyone is stuck in the police precinct. What would have made The Defenders feel more like a collaborative effort is if each character was present in another’s environments more. For example, I really enjoyed the scene where Jessica was in Matt’s apartment; it feels as though each other’s worlds were colliding, for better or for worse.
The most disappointing part of the series, unfortunately. With The Hand on their last legs, their leaders dispatched and their underground project about to be taken down by The Defenders, the story becomes quickly overshadowed by Daredevil’s attempt to bring Elektra back to his side. They’re standing in the fossilised corpse of a dragon! More attention should have been paid to their physical situation and the mysticism that has been drip-fed into the previous series since Daredevil season 1. However, we’re left with a cliffhanger ending that’s hardly nail-biting. That being said, it’s a series that is a tonne of fun. Even Iron Fist, whose sometimes-unlikable personality, fanatical obsession with K’un Lun’s demise and his responsibilities is something that I think should be explored further. Preferably with Luke Cage, who could definitely teach him a thing or two.
I actually came away from The Defenders excited for what’s to come. Unlike the Marvel fatigue I’ve been feeling with the cinematic universe, I’m always excited to visit the street-level heroes and their nemeses. Both characters and villains are great enjoyable, and although the storylines haven’t always been as good as they can be, the future for Netflix’s Marvel gang seems bright. Especially the post-credit teaser for The Punisher.