A mean right hook!
Note: there will be spoilers for other Netflix Marvel series in this article. If you haven’t seen any or all of the Marvel Netflix series that make up The Defenders, you have been forewarned.
At the beginning of the year, I wrote about the superhero premieres of 2017. In it, I talked about The Defenders, mentioning my misgivings about the series. Here is an excerpt from the write-up (I added italics for parts that were not in the original article:
All of the members – Daredevil (Charlie Cox), Jessica Jones (Kristen Ritter), Luke Cage (Mike Coulter), and Iron Fist (Finn Jones) – prefer to work alone. How will they do in a team-up, especially considering that the only thing the foursome has shown a propensity for is in punching things until they are puddles?
In my mid-year follow-up, with the disappointment that was Iron Fist behind me and two trailers for the team-up out, I continued the same logic:
After the disappointment I felt with Iron Fist, I worried about the team-up series. Two trailers helped assuage my worries. I still wonder how four people who punch real hard and work alone can be effective, but at least I’m less worried.
Now that I have watched all eight episodes numerous times, my worries have given way to answers. Watching four disparate people who can do nothing more than punch things really hard can be very entertaining. But it can also be very dreary. In The Defenders, all of the weaknesses from the characters’ individual series shine through. Especially Iron Fist.
First, I’ll get this out of the way: The Defenders Season 1 is a lot of fun. Reducing the episode count to eight while fleshing out the four main characters, their ancillary characters, and the ultimate enemy was well executed. Doing so with five fewer episodes than usual is pretty amazing. But the end product is still somewhat hollow.
The Defenders brings together the four main protagonists from their separate Marvel Netflix series together to fight a common evil. Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Iron Fist are off doing separate things but forced together when they realize their separate plot threads converge on a single point. Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver), the “leader” of the Hand, makes a power play that threatens New York City. Our four heroes must find a way to stop her and the scheme.
The first episodes are a bit slow as they give newcomers to the Marvel Netflix universe some backstory while veterans get reacquainted. Once episode 3 starts, the real action gets underway, but soon dips again. It’s necessary for the story to develop, but after seeing them in action, it’s normal to want more.
When together, the foursome are fun. They play off each other well and the fight scenes are entertaining. Daredevil’s fight scenes are the most exciting because he’s an absolute badass, but seeing Luke and Jessica pound people into walls never gets old. Iron Fist himself is still dull but plays especially well off of Luke Cage. The four also have different motivations for fighting together. Iron Fist is the self-anointed hero. Luke Cage just wants to do right by his neighborhood and its residents. Matt, who was done as Daredevil at the end of Season 2, just can’t help getting back into the action. And Jessica just wants to crack her case and be done with it. They team up only to resolve their ends.
It’s unfortunate that Iron Fist is the one that brings the series down, mainly because he’s supposed to be the focus. The Hand wants to capture him in order to fulfill their ultimate goal. That means he gets a large amount of screen time. And he’s still pretty insufferable.
Whenever he’s not fighting, he’s proclaiming to everyone within earshot that he’s the Immortal Iron Fist, protector of K’un-Lun. He won’t shut up about it, either. He sounds like the annoying guy who once scored four touchdowns in a high school football game and won’t let you forget it.
Speaking of characters that I hated from the original series, Elektra (Elodie Yung) is back. Alexandra resurrected her and uses her as a personal assassin. She’s actually more interesting in this series, as her arc goes in pretty dark directions. She’s still a bit of a wet towel, but she has more purpose here. At the very least, she distracts Daredevil long enough to make the fights between the Defenders and the Hand more interesting.
There are other things that grate at me. The Hand, once again, is ineffective as a band of evil ninjas. Alexandra is interesting as the most influential of the Five Fingers of the Hand. Her character has some depth and refinement, and Sigourney Weaver mixes both her cunning and her fragility deftly. The other members are not as good. Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho) and Bakuto (Ramon Rodriguez) return, joined by newcomers Murakami (Yutaka Takeuchi) and Sowande (Babs Olusanmokun) to round out the Five Fingers. Even at their most intimidating, they’re rather weak sauce. Can someone please break the Kingpin out of jail so we can have an effective villain, please?
Assisting the Defenders is old ninja fuddy-duddy Stick (Scott Glenn). He’s still a badass, and it’s great to see him mix it up with the Hand. But his character is also ineffectual. Most of the time, he just stands around saying, “you have to save New York” like some gravel-voiced cheerleader.
The rest of the supporting cast was spotty. Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) and Misty Knight (Simone Missick) are as badass as before. Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) is helpful, while Foggy Nelson (Elden Hanson) and Karen Page (Deborah All Wohl) just add to the story. As for characters like Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Ann Moss) and Malcolm (Eka Darville), they’re essentially furniture.
Despite all the problems I find with The Defenders, every time I see the four heroes at the Chinese restaurant, trading quips and bouncing off each other, it just works. Luke and Danny look like budding Heroes for Hire. Luke and Jessica have the same chemistry they had during Jessica Jones. Jessica and Matt pair off for a while and work great as well. And Elektra’s subplot gets MUCH more interesting as the show goes on. Yes, there are quite a few negatives. But the positives, when on display and clicking, outweigh them by a fair margin.
Colleen and Misty have good chemistry, too. Daughters of the Dragon?
At least I finally know what The Defenders is when all the heroes know how to do is punch things into apple sauce. It’s fun. Flawed, but fun.