Marvel’s The Defenders Review
Netflix’s take on Marvel’s superheroes has been largely hit or miss for me. Both Daredevil and Jessica Jones were absolutely fantastic and got me originally hooked on the series. Yet I struggled to complete both Luke Cage and Iron Fists’ first season, as the both had problems with the pacing and the writing. Regardless, after 2 years, 5 seasons and 60+ episodes, we’ve reached the climax of what Netflix has been building towards, The Defenders. We are going to dive a little into the series here, so if you haven’t seen the season yet, spoilers abound.
To say that fans have been waiting for this series with eagerness would be an understatement. After the excellent first season of Daredevil (DD) and the subsequent announcement of Jessica Jones (JJ), The Defenders was a forgone conclusion. But did it live up to the hype? Eh, kind of I guess.
The Defenders wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. At the end of the day, I’d put it right in the middle of the pack of Marvel shows. No where near as good as Daredevil S1 or Jessica Jones, but definitely better than Luke Cage or Iron Fist.
The best thing The Defenders has going for it is the chemistry between the main characters. When they are all together, their different personalities play off each other excellently. In fact, Luke Cage and Danny Rand both work best when they are teamed up, which makes me hope Netflix will forgo any further solo shows for the two and just give us Heroes for Hire. Daredevil is the only costumed superhero of the bunch, which provides a nice contrast to the everyday persona of the rest of the group. And finally Jessica Jones is probably the most grounded of the heroes, as she’s not afraid to take verbal jabs at the other characters. In all, the show is at its best when they are together.
In fact, my favorite part of the series (other than a few early team up fights) has to be when they are alone in the Chinese restaurant. The banter and conversations there really go a long way to show the characters and their motivations. Almost an entire episode was dedicated to their time in that restaurant and it was easily one of the best episodes of the show.
Where the series falters is with the villains. The Defenders, either as a group or solo, has always been about street level heroes. We have the Avengers to take care of massive, mystical threats that can destroy the world. The Defenders are about keeping the streets of hells kitchen safe. Muggers, thieves, rapists, and their ilk are what this groups should be focused on. The problem is that The Hand is just too large and too vague of a villain.
This is further exasperated by the main villain Alexandira (Sigourney Weaver). While Weaver is a capable actress, her portrayal of Alexandria is wooden and lacks anything that’s going to keep the viewer on the edge of their seats. Her motivations are not always clear (except that she’s dying and needs to move faster) and I never really felt like she was very intimidating. Not to sound like a broken record, but DD and JJ did it best. DD had the rage filled Kingpin and JJ had to tangle with Killgrave, who exhumed a horror movie vibe and was as calm and scary as they come. Every hero needs a villain and the ones in The Defenders just don’t hold up.
And that’s the problem with having The Hand as your villain. They are mystical, their goals are secretive, and their people are largely faceless. When The Defenders fight off one group of generic ninjas after another, it’s hard for the audience to keep caring. That’s also why DD and JJ were so successful, they had small, relatable villains whose scope felt on par with the hero. Luke Cage had that a bit with Cottonmouth, but that went away with his death. And Iron Fist was all about the hand which suffered from the same problems as The Defenders.
Finally, I’d say the fight scenes fell in line with my thoughts on the overall show. Some were great, such as the early hallway battle. Yet many still had way too many jump cuts and it really made me miss the smoothness of the first season of Daredevil. And don’t even get me started on that weird hip-hop battle at the end. That song came out of nowhere and really made no sense.
Overall, The Defenders was a decent start for the team up. Hopefully they can work out some of these kinks for the next season. The action sequences were definitely improved over Iron Fist, but still has some way to go to live up to DD Season 1. But a big take away is that some of these characters definitely need to be on a team to stay interesting. Here’s hoping they can clean some of this up for Season 2.