The Defenders packs a mean punch.
It also packs super senses, a drinking problem and bulletproof skin in its bag of tricks.
The culmination of years of television, Netflix and Marvel’s The Defenders brings together Matt Murdock/Daredevil (Charlie Cox), Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Luke Cage (Mike Colter), and Danny Rand/Iron Fist (Finn Jones).
Each of these characters have appeared in their own series – to varying degrees of critical and Twitter acclaim – and the Netflix/Marvel shows have set the standard for superhero storytelling on the small screen.
Matt, Jessica, Luke and Danny have each been operating in their own hood in New York, and – aside from the supporting characters that have appeared in each show – they have improbably managed to avoid crossing paths with their similarly superpowered pals.
But that changes when they each begin investigating a different thread of the same mystery. As their stories are slowly intertwined, they realise they have to work together to defeat the same villain: The Hand, an order of evil mystical ninjas who are big on organised crime and assassination plots.
The best scenes in The Defenders are whenever the central characters clash, which is frequently. From their ‘meet cute,' to the conflicts that arise when four very different personalities are trying to work together, to the fight sequences that combine each of their unique combat styles. As Jessica snarls, “Am I the only one left who doesn't know karate?"
It takes three episodes for our heroes to come together, but when they do it’s worth it. The first combined fight sequence inside the corporate headquarters of the Hand sees a suited Danny taking on a ninja army of Wall Street lookalikes, before Luke Cage, Matt Murdock (he’s put away his Daredevil identity – and suit), and Jessica Jones barrel in.
In between breaking bones, the characters banter. It’s the first time that The Defenders feels like it’s really going to work as a show.
The script also pairs the characters off to good effect. The devout, tortured Daredevil and the “hard-drinking, short-fused, mess of a woman” Jessica Jones play nicely together; while the show uses Luke Cage to literally and metaphorically smack down the often whiny, perpetually adolescent, billionaire white boy Danny Rand.
Somehow the Iron Fist is much more palatable when positioned as a kid who needs guidance, and Luke Cage makes a good mentor (it’s Pop’s influence). They’re actually pretty cute.
The leader of the Hand is the regal and ageless Alexandra Reid, played by Sigourney Weaver. I hate to criticise any character of Weaver’s, but she doesn’t have a lot to work with here. The result is a supposedly ageless and all-powerful villain who doesn’t feel like a real threat.
Alexandra is not genuinely menacing in the way Wilson Fisk (Vincent D'Onofrio) was in Daredevil, or as unsettling and thought provoking as Kilgrave (David Tennant) in Jessica Jones, or as charismatic as Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali) in Luke Cage. However, full credit must go to the lead costumer Stephanie Maslansky for the sumptuous, character-defining outfits she has created for Weaver.
The fact that Weaver – and indeed, the rest of the Hand – doesn’t feel like a real threat is the biggest flaw in The Defenders.
The Netflix and Marvel standalone shows have been accused of being overlong and ponderous, stretching plots to fit into 12 or so episodes. The Defenders has the opposite problem. This season is only eight episodes long, but it comes at the expense of character development. This time we have not one, but four characters we are trying to understand, and less time to understand them.
The bulk of the character building has already been done in the standalone series for each of these characters, but it’s been a long time between drinks for audiences when it comes to Jessica Jones.
These criticisms aside, The Defenders is worth watching for the real heroes: the supporting female characters.
Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) probably has more right to call herself a hero than anyone with superpowers. Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) plays a significant role in the battle against the Hand. Detective Misty Knight (Simone Missick) from Luke Cage is back in the ‘obstructionist police trope’, but we can’t hold that against her, particularly when she sacrifices so much in the line of duty.
Basically, we can’t wait until Netflix decide to give the people what they want and create a Daughters of the Dragon spin-off with Colleen and Misty.
And while they’re at it, they might as well also create a newsroom-based investigative drama with Jessica’s BFF and radio host Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor) and reporter Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) from Daredevil. Call me, Netflix.
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