After five seasons, the Defenders is the Avenger’s-esque culmination of four characters’ solo journeys which kicked off back in 2015 with Daredevil.
You might expect then, that all stops would be pulled out, no holds would be barred but The Defenders fails to reach the heights of the solo seasons of Daredevil or Jessica Jones. This is due to a lack of tension, ambiguous and forgettable villains, and a lack of personal stakes, all of which were key factors in the success of Marvel’s most celebrated TV series’. Having said this, The Defenders is a hell of a lot of fun but this is mainly down to seeing these great characters together on screen rather than because of an engaging plot or interesting villains.
The series begins at a glacially slow pace, re-introducing us to characters that the majority of us have spent at least ten hours with already. It’s unnecessarily slow and what’s worse is that it feels totally directionless. There’s nothing going on in these opening episodes except clumsy exposition. The showrunners have to explain why Danny Rand is back in New York, how Luke Cage got out of prison, why Jessica Jones is an alcoholic and why Matt Murdock has stopped vigilante-ing. While it’s fun to see these characters again, we don’t need two episodes; get them together straight away. Again, pacing is a major problem in a Marvel/ Netflix series. You’d think they’d have learnt by now.
The situation isn’t helped by the lack of foresight shown by the Marvel-Netflix team by leaving Danny abroad and Luke in prison at the end of their solo series’ when they knew full well they’d need to be back in New York by the time The Defenders came around. It creates some awkward plot points when the team need to be in the same place at the same time and it also detracts from the impact those season finales had to wrap them up so quickly.
The series takes until episode three to finally kick into gear but when it does, The Defenders is an enjoyable mini-series. Seeing these great characters interact and bounce off each other is really good to watch. Daredevil and Jessica Jones are a great pairing and Danny Rand, rather than being irritating and naive, comes across more likeable as his team-mates berate him for being “The Immortal Iron-Fist”.
Over the series, Daredevil is the standout, with the most at stake and the greatest amount of character development. Charlie Cox is excellent in the role and to watch Daredevil struggle being a vigilante with a secret identity adds a nice dynamic to The Defenders’ early interactions. All the characters get their moment in the spotlight. Jessica is still putting Killgrave behind her and is played with a brilliantly sarcastic, no bullshit manner by Krysten Ritter for many of the best laughs of the series. Luke is still just trying to be the guy who does the right thing and Danny is still The Immortal Iron Fist, as he likes to tell everyone, all the time. Each character brings something new and interesting to the group which makes the scenes in which they are together the best in the series. The four play off each other really nicely and this is most evident in the forth instalment. The characters are given time to interact with each other and the team begins to take form. It’s an episode relatively low on action but it doesn’t need it because it puts these characters into positions where they can progress the story.
After some clunky exposition, their ‘team-up’ feels organic. Daredevil and Iron Fist have both previously fought The Hand, the ambiguously evil, multi-national organisation and Luke and Jessica are brought into the conflict tidily and in ways fitting with their characters. The series peaks around around episodes three to six; the series really begins feels like it’s building up to something really big, something game-changing and when it’s good, The Defenders is very good. There’s intrigue and tension but frustratingly it peters out in the final two episodes as we learn of The Hand’s absurd plan and The Defenders’ even more ridiculous plan to stop them.
Throughout the series, we learn more about The Hand, thanks to Stick (he could have mentioned this back in Daredevil season 1) and via Sigourney Weaver’s Alexandra, the leader of The Hand. Weaver’s character was a big disappointment. Generic and evil just for the sake of it, she didn’t even begin to pose the same threat we’ve seen previously in these series’. Daredevil season 1 had Wilson Fisk, Kingpin, with whom Matt Murdock had an incredibly personal conflict. The same with Jessica Jones and Killgrave. These adversaries offered real threats because we understood their motivations and we understood the stakes at play. The Hand’s plan is frustratingly ambiguous and borderline ridiculous when it’s eventually revealed in the final episode. There’s no nuance or subtly to it like the way that Wilson Fisk was manipulating the city to his will.
The Defenders has some great action set-prices with, yes, another corridor fight scene, but again fails to hit the dizzying heights of the dynamic and gritty corridor/ stairwell scenes in Daredevil and the climatic confrontation with The Hand is resolved disappointingly.
The series is too streamlined, a bit too straightforward. There’s a grand plan and The Defenders have to stop it; and they do; obviously. That’s about it. That would be all well and fine if we knew what the plan was or if the villains were interesting. But we don’t and they’re not. If ever a Marvel-Netflix show needed more episodes, it was this one. We needed more time for there to be some plot twists or developments; time for the team to try and fail; time for The Hand to strike back; it needed time to ebb and flow like Daredevil’s battle with Kingpin in Daredevil season 1.
Ultimately, The Defenders is a lot of fun but a missed opportunity to create something great. Slow and clunky in parts yet rushed in others, Netflix’s latest collaboration with Marvel feels uneven and underwhelming albeit with top performances and fun characters.
GOOD. An Improvement on Iron Fist but still not hitting the heights of the early Marvel-Netflix days due to familiar problems with pacing and forgettable villains.
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