The Watchers Issue #11: The Defenders Review
Hey there, True Believers!
So Marvel's The Defenders has been out for about a week, and I am dying to talk about it. This has been the big team-up show that everything else has been building up to. It is the "Avengers" of the Netflix Marvel Universe, and sees Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist coming together to tie up the threads that have been woven since the very beginning of Daredevil Season 1. With the show being hyped up since the very beginning, and coming off the lack-lustre performance of Iron Fist, the miniseries had a lot riding on it. Did it deliver? Well... kinda.
First, we will focus on the shining parts of the show. First, the pacing was great. With there only being 8 episodes, I was worried that the show would feel rushed or all over the place, but this was not the case. Screen-time was well divided between character development, action, twists, and lower-stakes plot to keep the audience invested and pushing through to the next episode. Members of the cast really shined as well. Luke Cage (Mike Colter) continues to shine as one of the most interesting Marvel characters to hit the screen, Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) never ceases to challenge ideas of what a superhero is, Daredevil (Charlie Cox) displays internal conflict and stands out as a fully fleshed out character, and Alexandra (Signory Weaver) gives us compelling villain that debuts by making you uncomfortable and ends with you hating her. The fight choreography is well done (which is good because there is a lot of it), and effectively reflects each character, with Iron Fist (Finn Jones) and members of the Hand using more flashy techniques, Luke Cage showing boxing and short, efficient techniques, Jessica Jones being a simple brawler, and Daredevil crossing over multiple styles.
However, it was not all sunshine and praises for the show. I'll start with the little complaints, and get to my big issues. To start, the villainous members of The Hand, the ninjas that have caused issues for each member of the team since the beginning in some form or another, were not overly threatening. Several of the crime syndicate were never even shown fighting until the last two episodes of the series, and one of them never at all. They seemed more like those pulling the strings, but the show portrayed them as a major threat in their own rights.
The plot gives me some issues as well. I have made it no secret in other reviews (particularly Daredevil Season 2) that I felt a Hand-based threat was the wrong way to go for this early in the Netflix-universe. The ninjas, mystical energy, and quest for immortality seem to be at odds with the ground-level street-based crime-fighting of the heroes. I think this is part of why Iron Fist flopped, and the feeling continued in this series. Luke Cage wants to protect Harlem and make a difference in the youth living there. Jessica Jones wants to move on from the trauma of dealing with the Purple Man. Why are they fighting ninjas then? It was just jarring. On more of a nit-picky note, the Hand repeatedly mentioned wanting to open the gate, get immortality, and go back to K'un L'un. Yet, that last goal is never really addressed, and seems to get dropped off halfway through the climax of the show. Weird...
The series also suffers from occasional campiness and corniness, that make even the most diehard fan groan. Elektra (Elodie Yung) returns from the dead (because of course she does), and is converted to the weapon "The Black Sky" which was teased in Daredevil Season 2. However, instead of being this incredible killing machine that the team has to fight, she essentially turns into a catalyst for one small twist, and a weird "love-conquers-all" subplot, that just stunk of cheese and forced drama. If you will recall, I also thought that Elektra was the weakest part of the debut series, so maybe I just have an issue with her, but I don't think so.
There was also a lot of beheadings. Like a lot. To the point where seeing someone's head come off was boring. It was strange.
Iron Fist attempts to make a triumphant return from the depths of his solo series, but falls flat. He has some cute "fish-out-of-water" comedic relief moments, and his bromance with Luke Cage is an enjoyable nod for fans of the source material, but most of the time he feels grossly underdeveloped. Danny Rand spends a lot of time talking seriously about ridiculous topics, staring deadly at people and things, and telling people that he is the immortal Iron Fist (a point that is even mocked in the show itself). Iron Fist feels like deadweight of a character, and doesn't mesh well with the rest of the team, including the aforementioned bromance. It feels like he was made a pivotal part of the story in an attempt to keep him relevant after his previous failure, but it was ineffective. Hell, his sidekick/girlfriend Coleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) gave a more fleshed out performance, and she had a quarter of the screen-time.
I think my biggest issue with the series is that it continuously breaks its own rules. It can't seem to decide how powerful everyone is, and flip flops. Often. When Luke Cage and Iron Fist first meet, they fight (because thats what superheroes do when they meet for the first time. Read a book.). They make a point to show that Danny cannot cause Luke any pain or move the man without using his iron fist. Then later in the series, ordinary grunt-members of the Hand can send Cage flying with punches, staggering with a hit from a chair, and knock him down with dropkicks. Then the next scene, he is standing against bullet fire without even flinching. Jessica Jones is sometimes as strong as Luke Cage, and sometimes just as strong as a regular person. Elektra is supposed to be stronger and more deadly than ever, but still fights Daredevil to a stalemate when Murdoch has taken months off from crimefighting. This lack of continuity is jarring, and takes the audience out of the world of the show, which is never good.
The series ends with a pretty big cliffhanger for the universe going forward, with Daredevil's apparent sacrifice not being as deadly as we thought, and a casual mention of "Sister Maggie" a prominent member of the Born Again storyline, arguably the most beloved and best Daredevil storyline ever penned. We also never actually see Madam Gao (Wai Ching Ho) or Elektra die in the climax's explosion, so if Daredevil could have survived, there is a good chance the two of them could have as well. The remaining members of the team go their separate ways, Iron Fist deciding to stay in New York to defend it, Luke Cage going back to Harlem with Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), and Jessica Jones reopening Alias Investigations. We also see Misty Knight (Simmone Missick) lose her arm, which I'm sure was shocking for anyone not familiar with the character.
Ultimately, I enjoyed the show. I did. However, all these issues are enough to make me wonder if Netflix and Marvel have lost sight of the magic they had with Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage. The studio has already announced The Punisher which looks amazing and brutal, as well as second seasons for all the established solo series. I have no doubts that Luke Cage and Jessica Jones have a lot more life in them. Daredevil has been consistently good, and can only go up if they are boring from Born Again. However Iron Fist is still on shaky ground, and if they can't fix him, I don't know if we will see the character in another team-up event. Its unfortunate to see such a great character unable to find their feet in the MCU, but it would be even more unfortunate to see the character bring those around them down with them.
All told, the series was enjoyable, but doesn't hold up to the original three releases. Still better than Iron Fist though. So that's saying something. I give it 7 beheadings out of 10.
What did you think? Let us know!
Until next time,