Marvel’s Defenders: Worth the Wait?
After 5 stand-alone seasons, The Defenders is finally here! Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist are together at last! Was it everything I hoped it would be? Was it worth the wait? Was it spectacular or spectacularly bad?
A bit of both, to be honest.
While watching the series, it’s immediately clear that the strength of the show is in the character dynamics of the four heroes and how they interact with one another. Each one brings something to the team: Matt Murdock (Daredevil) is the leader, Luke Cage is the determination, Danny Rand (Iron Fist) is the youthful drive, and Jessica Jones is the snarky attitude.
This is why it’s such a shame the show takes so long to get the four of them together. There is interaction between some individuals early on, but as a group they don’t come together until the very end of episode three. Once they do team up, it’s awesome to see. Whether it’s the group fight scenes of episodes 3 and 5, or the quiet ‘talking heads’ moments of episode 4, the show is firing on all cylinders when the heroes are united. The Defenders does a great job of setting up the ‘Heroes for Hire’ team-up of Luke Cage and Iron Fist, something I was afraid wouldn’t be possible after the Iron Fist solo series. I was pleasantly surprised that Daredevil and Jessica had such fun interactions with each other. Even the side characters were given some good moments to shine, though some (looking at you Colleen Wing!) were given too much emphasis.
Plot-wise, The Defenders is a huge improvement over Iron Fist, the most recent Marvel Netflix series. Where Iron Fist meandered, trying to find its purpose as the series progressed, The Defenders knew where it wanted to go and how to get there. The tone of the series is consistent with the previous Marvel Netflix series. All the heroes feel like they fit in each other’s worlds; their team-up feels natural. The Hand is a good villain to use to connect each of the Defenders to one another. Their end goal was understandable, and their threat level felt comparable to the more street level power-set of the Defenders. Even though Jessica and Luke had no direct interaction with them prior to the start of the series, they are drawn into the greater conflict very naturally. It doesn’t feel forced at all.
Until the last couple of episodes, the fight choreography was excellent, a return to the quality displayed in the two seasons of Daredevil. Finn Jones especially improved his stunt work compared to the first season of Iron Fist. Each member of the Defenders had their own style and the show does a good job of incorporating each of those styles into action scenes.
Now it’s time for the negative.
If you have not watched all of the previous Marvel Netflix series, you will be lost. In and of itself, this is not a negative. This show should be a reward to the fans that have put in the time to watch and learn about this grittier Marvel universe; however, the show still takes a little too long trying to bring everyone up to speed with where the individual storylines previously ended. The entire first episode is like this. In a series that ran a little longer this approach could have worked, but as it stands it shortens the actual story down to seven episodes instead of eight. The first episode may have worked better as smaller ‘webisodes’ or vignettes released prior the full series.
For a show where the character interaction is the main draw, its takes too long for the four heroes to get together. Even after they all meet, the show loves to split them back up again. The Defenders are apart far more often than they are together. When the plot cuts away from the full team, a lot of momentum is lost. Instead of enjoying what was on the screen, I was more concerned about when the team would re-unite.
When I learned that the episode count was cut down to just eight episodes, I was very happy. One of the more common complaints about the previous Netflix series was that they were too long. Unfortunately, it feels like Marvel and Netflix took the wrong lesson. Instead of cutting out filler that bogged down the plot, they decided to cut out action instead. I lost count of the many times a cliff hanger was resolved too quickly or a fight was brought to a halt before it even began.
Character-wise, Iron Fist is still a disappointment. It’s not that Finn Jones is bad in the role, it’s the way the writers decide the character should be. Basically, he’s stupid. It’s annoying to see any character always make the wrong decision the way Danny Rand does. I can’t reconcile the character on the screen with someone that had the ability and composure to acquire the title and power of the Immortal Iron Fist. You know it’s bad when literally every other character in the show continuously calls out how dumb Danny is.
While The Hand makes a formidable villain, Sigourney Weaver’s Alexandra is too much of a cypher. Her character is not drawn from the comics so I don’t have years of Marvel continuity to fill in the gaps as to who she is, and she’s not given enough to do in the show to make her stand out. There is also a twist near the end regarding the villains that doesn’t completely feel earned or understandable using the logic of the show or knowledge of the characters involved.
In the end, The Defenders is not the grand culmination of the Marvel Netflix universe I hoped it would be. The chemistry between the heroes is fun to watch, the action is exciting when it is on screen, and the set-up of future plots and team-ups is good. I’m looking forward to where it goes from here, I just expected more from the series. If you have watched all the Marvel Netflix shows leading up to this one its worth your while to watch The Defenders too, but it’s not a good jumping on point.