The culmination of every previous Netflix Marvel series has finally arrived, with Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist coming together to fight the Hand, who were a present villain in Daredevil‘s first and second season, as well as the first season of Iron Fist. It’s a moment reminiscent of The Avengers, but this time in television form. Sadly, in this case, I don’t think The Defenders sticks the landing as well as its theatrical counterpart did in its first iteration.
The Defenders spends the first three episodes of its 8-episode run showing where our heroes currently reside in their lives since the conclusion of their previous seasons and then drives them together after they all happen upon Midland Circle through their investigations; Midland Circle being the proxy corporation for the Hand. For the next three episodes, the series hits a stride due to finally giving up what everyone wants: showing the interactions between the four heroes we’ve been excited to see come together. Despite this, the momentum isn’t kept throughout the final two episodes of the series and the season ends on somewhat of a thud. It wasn’t a case in that I thought there should’ve been more episodes (A standard Marvel Netflix show has had 13 episodes until The Defenders), I believe the episodes given should’ve been better utilized. The Defenders in a nutshell is a show of missed potential.
It’s a show that attempts to be a jack of all trades, but ends up rather being a master of none. This trick works in the first episode as it’s basically 15 minute episodes of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist combined into a single hour, but it doesn’t keep up for the remainder of the season. More than even Iron Fist, the fight scenes consist of quick, excessive cuts bogged down by a lot of shaky cam, making them rather hard to watch at times. The writing also takes a hit compared to previous entries in the Marvel Netflix universe, with rather bland dialogue and repetitive mentions of the same things. Did you know the Hand REALLY wants to live forever and go back to K’un-Lun? Well, you will when they say it almost five times an episode!
And speaking of the villains, the Hand has always been the least interesting part of the Marvel Netflix universe to me, so having them become the focal point didn’t sell much. Daredevil Season 2’s back-half that focused less on Punisher and more on the Hand suffered, though at least Nobu was an interesting villain, unlike Alexandra. Sigourney Weaver is wasted here as Alexandra, who is shown to be the ringleader of the Hand and even puts previous villains like Madame Gao and Bokuto in their place, but she never shows exactly WHY she is so feared. Her only action scene is when the secondary villain of the season, Elektra, is resurrected and Alexandra quickly subdues her. Previous attempts at coups are mentioned by the other four fingers of the Hand, which seemingly went south seeing as Alexandra is still the leader, but that’s about all we get.
Rather, Alexandra places all her bets into Elektra as she’s Black Sky, the ultimate weapon of the Hand in succeeding in their war against the Chaste and Defenders. Elektra starts the season as a blank slate, simply a killing machine that remembers nothing of her previous life after her resurrection. After a few bouts with Matt, however, elements of the old Elektra start to bleed through and make her question whether she’s good or bad. Sadly, this character arc fails when she seemingly doubles down on being bad, but also doesn’t? Her final scene with Matt is terribly done and squashes the potential she has after becoming the lead villain for the back-half of the season. So, it’s safe to say the villains are the worst part of The Defenders, despite most of the other Marvel Netflix series having pretty damn good ones (Kingpin, The Purple Man, Cottonmouth).
So what exactly does The Defenders do right? Well, the part you actually want to see. The end of Episode 3 where the four heroes first come together is very well done and the following episode basically becoming a bottle episode allows the heroes to bounce off each other in an interesting way. They share ideologies, quip at each other, and are all lectured by Stick, the last surviving member of the Chaste. Stick’s return from Daredevil was welcome as he works well as the guiding force for the Defenders to stick together and actually get the job done, though I’m not entirely a fan of how his arc ends. When the show divides up the Defenders, it smartly pairs Matt with Jessica and Luke with Danny as the chemistry between those pairs actually works (Here’s hoping for a Heroes For Hire spin-off).
Another positive is the character arcs of Matt and Danny. I’d say The Defenders focuses more on these characters than Jessica and Luke, which is easy to understand when the Hand is the main villain. After Season 2 of Daredevil, Matt has tried to give up the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen side of him, but it’s hard to let go. Seeing him grapple with who he really is intriguing and I think the season leaves him in an interesting spot for Season 3 of Daredevil, which seems like it’ll take elements from the Born Again storyline of the comics. On Danny’s side, he still isn’t as experienced as Iron Fist and still is a dunce, but after working with the others, he starts to come into his own. It helps that basically everyone scolds and berates him for his childish views on things, which justifies his changed behavior by the end. While Iron Fist Season 1 definitely wasn’t at the top of my list for the Marvel Netflix shows, I have hopes for Season 2 after this.
Several members of the supporting cast in the various shows also get screen-time in The Defenders, with Claire, Coleen, and Misty being the most focused upon. We’d already seen elements of this, such as Hogarth showing up in Iron Fist and Claire being in basically everything, but it was nice to also have supporting characters team up alongside the main cast. Foggy and Karen mostly tie into Matt’s arc, but I think they’re the best utilized outside of the previous three mentioned. Hogarth, Malcolm, and Trish don’t really do much and are mostly tied down to Jessica anyway. There’s also a nice Daughters of the Dragon tease in the final episode, so I look forward as to what comes of that.
I don’t necessarily think The Defenders is a bad show, but it could’ve been a lot more. The actual interactions between the Defenders are the shining spot of the series, along with much of the supporting cast on the good guy side. The series falters when it focuses on the Hand, their motives, and Alexandra’s long boring monologues. It also takes a bit to start up, but once it gets going, it’s good…until the final episode. I’ve tried to remain spoiler free, but let me just say, having everyone get off scot-free at the end is just bullshit. An entire building is destroyed, the police KNOW who were responsible for it, but they decide to not file any charges, apparently thanks to Foggy’s magic lawyer skills. But regardless, I was interested enough in The Defenders to stick with it and be engaged, which is something that I can’t say for all of Luke Cage or Iron Fist. Here’s hoping that if the end of Phase 2 of the Marvel Netflix universe contains The Defenders Season 2, they iron it out a bit this time.
The Defenders Season 1 – 3.5 out of 5
- The Defenders once they’re all together
- Matt and Danny’s character arcs
- The supporting cast getting their shine
- The slow start
- Much of the final episode
- The Hand
- Not so stellar fight scenes