Marvel and Netflix have now managed to do on the small screen what they did with their big screen counterparts. They’ve built their way to a team-up show that in my opinion, delivers on everything these series have been trying to do. The Defenders captures a lot of what was great about these characters to begin with, while managing to show growth (for the most part), and wrap up a lot of the story lines involving the super-crime syndicate of infinite ninjas, The Hand.
The Marvel shows that have been served up on Netflix so far have been a bit hit or miss. Daredevil’s first season blew the door open for superhero TV in a lot of ways. The follow up Jessica Jones season brought a lot of psychological thrills with a great villain, but lacked the sort of physicality that helped Daredevil so much. Luke Cage brought an even better villain in the form of Mahershala Ali’s Cottonmouth, and had a phenomenal soundtrack but went a little long and off the rails towards the end. Iron Fist was a bit of a mess although its’ heart was in the right place. The Defenders manages to bring these four characters together in a tightly managed series that is only 8 episodes long and is all the better for it.
I found The Defenders enjoyable the whole way through. Seeing articles that are spouting things about how these characters can’t function well on their own because we expected a team up? Ridiculous. I swear it’s like they’ve never read a comic book before honestly. You didn’t understand what The Hand actually does? Seriously, these are actual quotes from articles about this show that just baffled me. When Marvel announced that they were doing an Avengers movie, it felt like a pipe dream that couldn’t be done. An ensemble cast of conflicting personalities in the span of two hours? Nah. Marvel did it though. They made an awesome movie and they earned it with their individual movies that lead up to it. I feel they’ve done the same here with The Defenders to a great degree of success. Is it perfect? Of course not, but it’s a ton of fun and the characters are great.
The Defenders unites most characters from the previous Marvel shows in a familiar setting and premise. The Hand is continuing to be the worldwide crime organization that they are, but this time they have a more specific focus of opening a door sealed by a previous Iron Fist that leads to a substance that can help them continue to prolong the lives of the five fingers of The Hand. All five members consist of previous villains from other series, as well as some new faces like Sigourney Weaver as the leader of the rest. They have used this black substance to keep themselves alive for centuries after being exiled from K’un-Lun, the mystical city where Danny Rand was trained to be the Iron Fist. The Hand’s leader uses the last of this substance to resurrect Elektra, who had died at the end of Season 2 of Daredevil. She is brought back as the, “Black Sky” which is a living weapon to do their bidding essentially, and someone difficult to fight for our heroes.
The little bits and other story pieces are best left to see for yourself. The Defenders is short and sweet, but manages to pack in a fair bit of story progressions for these characters. Most notably, Daredevil and Iron Fist. Danny Rand is still very much figuring out what it means to be the Iron Fist. He’s also the most willing to ask these characters to team up with him. He remarks on other characters desire to remain singular and unknown. It’s refreshing to have one of the characters basically outright say, hey we’re all fighting crime within a couple miles of each other, why aren’t we a team? The dialogue and banter between the characters is one of the best parts of the show too. especially between Luke Cage and Iron Fist. Having starred alongside each other in their own comics for so long, I would have no problem with the next seasons of Luke Cage and Iron Fist being Heroes For Hire.
Daredevil practically has his own mini season within The Defenders. Attempting to abandon his life of fighting crime, while balancing what good his skills as a lawyer can do for his city. Amidst all of this is his confusion and grief as he deals with Elektra coming back from the dead. The finale of the show deals very heavily with this and manages to create a great emotional arc for both of these characters. At first, I found it a bit frustrating that they tried to pull the same old superhero trick that always happens where a hero/villain dies, but is brought back by some ancient magic or forbidden technique. The show uses this plot device to a great deal of effect however. They not only create a struggle for Daredevil, but create conflict among himself and the other Defenders because of it. It adds another layer that I personally found a lot of fun all the way up to the ending.
Also the supporting cast does a great job throughout the story, including Colleen Wings especially as she clashes with her former master from The Hand. Rosario Dawson also returns once again as the nurse who can’t stop helping the heroes of New York. Once again though, she does a great job throughout and adds good commentary to the events as they unfold. Foggy and Clair make short appearances as well, though they are mostly just plot devices for Daredevil to feel bad or good about being Daredevil depending on who he’s talking to, but both also do a good job in their roles.
The action in past Marvel shows has ranged from choreographed cinematic bliss, to wire-fight nonsense and punches that sounded like they were hitting pillows. The Defenders is more the former. Each fight scene throws in different blends and styles for each hero and villain alike, but also creates a flair and physicality that makes each fight fun to watch. Ultimately I think this is what you need. Is the action fun to watch? Do the characters feel powerful? Do their blows land with force and effect? The Defenders gets this right for every character in my opinion. There a few inconsistencies along the way, one scene Iron Fist can launch someone across a room, and the next barely land a punch at all. This is to be expected though, it’s not exactly fun to watch a hero win 100% of the time with no effort. It’s the Superman effect. Superman was made too powerful so they had to make him allergic to rocks from his home planet because it’s boring watching him put no effort into winning all the time.
For the most part, The Defenders makes every ability these characters has fun to witness. They found unique scenarios for them to each be useful which I can imagine could be frustrating when you have four heroes in a room fighting ninjas. One of the best elements of comic books involves watching heroes with a multitude of different abilities use them in tandem to defeat enemies. They do this very well in The Defenders lending a practical feeling to how these characters would actually use their powers in conjunction with each other.
When talking about Marvel shows, it’s hard not to rant. There are so many things that stick out even in an 8 hour span of time. The Defenders is almost everything I wanted it to be. It’s fun and the characters kept you entertained even in the smaller, slower moments. There are awesome scenes I didn’t even have the space to mention, like Stick decapitating a guy or Daredevil schooling Iron Fist on how to fight. At the end of the day being a comic book fan, this is what I want. I want a team of fighters to beat up ninjas and spout of wise cracks at each other. I want Matt Murdock to be a hardass while Jessica Jones steals beers off a homeless guy on the subway. I want Luke Cage to make fun of Danny Rand for saying he plunged his heart into a dragon to become the Iron Fist. This is how comic books work, the small memorable things that characters do that you remember them for. That moment where Daredevil pulled off some amazing sequence of moves. The Marvel shows on Netflix understand this for the most part, even if the average viewer is expecting The Wire with superheroes for whatever reason.
It’s amazing that we’re even living in an age where this kind of show can happen. If I could travel back in time and tell my ten year old self that there would be a team up show with Daredevil and Iron Fist kicking ninja ass, I would’ve laughed in disbelief. I think we need to remember what the purpose of these shows is. Look, these series aren’t meant to be the next Breaking Bad okay? They’re comic book adaptations and what you’re looking for are fun and memorable characters that can kick ass without being too cheesy overall. The Defenders is fun, flashy and manages to tie up story while setting up for even more. Give The Defenders a bit of your time, it deserves it.