Volume 6, Issue 33!
“TV Review: The Defenders”
Much like the solo movies of their big screen counterparts, the main appeal of the four Marvel Netflix shows (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist) was the idea that the four would join forces in their own team up series The Defenders. Now that the four have had their own seasons (or two in Daredevil’s case), it’s finally time for them to join up and crack some Hand ninja skulls as only they can. While Defenders takes a while to get going, once Jessica Jones (Kristen Ritter), Daredevil (Charlie Cox), Luke Cage (Mike Colter), and Iron Fist (Finn Jones) get together, the show becomes one of the most entertaining entries in the Marvel Netflix deal, albeit with a few small setbacks.
Having more in common with Daredevil and Iron Fist (although I still think you can skip that one), Defenders finds the criminal organization The Hand finalizing their plans that have been in place since the first time we saw Matt Murdock’s vigilante. This gradually brings our four heroes together for a common goal, despite the fact that none of them really have any interest in joining together. But at the end of the day, they all are forced to confront the Hand, lead by the mysterious Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver, who commands the screen but …well, I’ll get to that later) in an effort to stop New York City from crumbling under their rule.
The Defenders starts off slow, and it’s this slow start that really hurts the momentum of the series. Even though it’s a necessary slow start to get all four of these characters to a point where they can even team up in the first place, you’ll spend a lot of the first two episodes wondering if this whole series will work. It’s not until the third episode that the four really team up, and thankfully, it’s worth the wait. There’s a real thrill in seeing Matt Murdock, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage again, and the three stars have stepped into their roles effortlessly.
Speaking of Matt Murdock, he’s arguably got the biggest arc here, as we find the lawyer working as a public defender and giving up his life as Daredevil. There’s a sense of a lot of time passing between season two of Daredevil and Defenders, and amazingly, Murdock’s character benefits from it, because we know his struggle to be a hero but also balancing that with his personal life, and how bad he is at that. Even though we haven’t seen any of the events that led to Matt giving up being Daredevil, we understand it because of the way Matt acts around Karen Page and Foggy Nelson. It’s akin to walking on eggshells for him, and even Matt knows that when he says he’s “done with the mask”; it’s only a matter of time until he puts the costume back on. He’s just the type of person who wants to help in any way he can.
With Defenders, we can easily place Charlie Cox in the same “Perfect Superhero Casting” category as Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man, Chris Evans’ Captain America, and Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange. Cox is able to show the turmoil Matt feels at trying to help everyone in a perfect way. There’s a beautiful moment with Matt Murdock and a recently disabled teenager he’s defending in court that nearly brought a tear to my eye. I never want him to stop playing Daredevil. Ever.
Kristen Ritter’s Jessica Jones also has a lot of room to play here, and as the private investigator is the one drawn into the central mystery of The Hand and their plan for New York City. As the Defenders goes on, her presence becomes smaller, but she gets some truly spectacular one liners in. Weirdly enough, she seems to have regressed to where we met her at the beginning of her solo series, as opposed to having a newfound confidence after beating Kilgrave. But I suppose that would be like Jessica, who prefers to avoid the spotlight and drink her whiskey and coffee.
When it comes to Luke Cage, Mike Colter is still one of the most charming actors of our time, and his effortlessly cool take on Luke Cage makes him a blast to watch. Many of Defenders’ best moments are because of him, largely due to his charisma. Hearing his reactions to the outlandish stories about the Hand, or whenever Danny Rand tries to explain how he “harnesses his chi” are downright hilarious and he has a good chemistry with Finn Jones, which is necessary if we’re ever going to get a Heroes for Hire spin-off like we should. Their meeting in the third episode is one of the highlights of the series, and Luke’s “I know privilege when I see it” line is probably the single best burn someone could give to Danny Rand.
Speaking of Danny Rand, he’s basically the Macguffin of Defenders, so you should be warned that he’s the first Defender we see on screen, and a lot of the Hand’s plot revolves around using him to open a mystical doorway underneath New York City. So yes, you’ll see a lot of him. Luckily, Finn Jones fares much better in this series than he does in his solo one. While the start of the series has him still in his awful “I am the Iron Fist” angst mode, once he meets the other members of the Defenders (and has a hilariously entertaining fight with Luke Cage), he quickly becomes the over eager “younger brother” of the group, desperately trying to convince them that it’s their destiny to team up. This decision is a smart one, as it not only gives the other members a different personality to play off, but it also differentiates a bunch of characters who, let’s face it, all have a similar tragedy that defines them. There’s also plenty of moments of other characters making fun of Iron Fist, sometimes to his face (Stick calls him “a total dumbass” at one point) that also adds some of the fun, and I refuse to believe that this wasn’t a meta joke on how badly Iron Fist was received. Hell, Danny Rand is even the one character to get kidnapped, which in and of itself is a pretty hilarious commentary on his status in the Netflix Marvel shows.
The Marvel Netflix shows don’t have quite the same “villain problem” that their big brother movies do, but they still have a problem, namely with how they treat them. Yes, you’ve been warned before, but I’m about to get into a pretty big SPOILER that needs to be mentioned now that we’re going to talk about Sigourney Weaver’s Alexandra.
Skip down. I’ll wait.
Still here? Cool. Sigourney Weaver’s Alexandra is murdered before the finale by Elodie Young’s Elektra, Yep; once again the Netflix show took a cool villain and did away with them unceremoniously before the final battle. After seeing it happen in Luke Cage with Mahershala Ali’s Cotton Mouth, I was pretty bummed out by this, but at least there’s nothing as bad as Diamondback in the following episodes. However, it is strange, not just because Weaver is such a big name actress, but because we’re left with some pretty big questions regarding her character. Weaver does an awesome job of dropping hints about just how old Alexandra is, but we’re never really given any answers about that, or the disease she has that’s causing her to ramp up the Hand’s plans, or even what The Hand’s endgame is and how she’s able to boss around Madame Gao. Instead, she’s killed off by Elektra, who up until that point was a glorified unstoppable end boss. It’s one of the few missteps Defenders makes in an otherwise solid back half of episodes.
A nice difference between Defenders and the other Netflix shows is that it doesn’t over stay the welcome. Defenders is just eight episodes, and once the team gets together it really starts to flow well. While the opening episodes are the slowest of the bunch, there’s no tacked on episodes in the latter half to extend the season, and thankfully none of our heroes lose their abilities during a fight. While it’s a little strange to think of all of this happening in New York City and not one Avenger would notice, at the same time, the Netflix MCU stuff has existed in a vacuum of their own and you just have to go with it at this point.
Despite its flaws, Defenders is still a worthwhile watch, regardless of how many of the shows you’ve seen. You should probably at least watch the first two seasons of Daredevil to get some background on the hand, but you could also just jump into this and then go back and watch the solo series for the characters you like too. While it’s not as strong as Daredevil or Jessica Jones’ first seasons, the good far outweighs the bad, and hell, they even make Danny Rand not completely terrible, which might be the most heroic thing about this team.