Netflix released its latest series set in its street level Marvel Shared Universe, The Defenders, on August 18th. Its first ensemble cast show, it combined the main characters and supporting casts of the four previous series. Highly anticipated, does it live up to the hype? I just watched the whole bloody thing, so let’s talk about The Defenders.
What went well in the series?
To be frank, not a lot.
Standout points here would be the return of the three first series actors. Charlie Cox is back as Daredevil, a man worn down by the pressures of heroics, and nearly broken by the loss of Elektra while fighting The Hand. His performance was excellent overall. Mike Colter’s Luke Cage was equally excellent, picking up seamlessly from where his 2016 series ended, coffee and all. Finally there was Krystin Ritter’s jittery, angry, slightly drunk, and hating that she cares about people Jessica Jones. She was arguably the hardest character to mix into this team, and the writing, and her acting, brought her in well.
Past that, the only other thing that was good in the show was its use of flashbacks and scene changes to keep track of events leading to the series, and to flick from character to character. The Way they were brought together was fairly smooth, with apparently unrelated events in each of their lives drawing them towards a common enemy and the goal of saving the city. Also worth mentioning is the pacing. It was good, avoiding the doldrums of previous series by keeping it to a tight eight episodes.
What was problematic with the show?
Lacklustre fight scenes come to mind immediately. No one was really allowed to cut loose except for Daredevil and Iron Fist, and the show suffered accordingly. There was the odd glimmer of hope here and there that the two powerhouses, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, might get to show off their powers, but it was not to be. Watching Danny Rand fight Luke Cage was fun, but the show continuously altered the power dynamics of combatants, so Luke Cage went from effortlessly taking every hit (except the proverbial iron first) without care to him being tossed around easily. Likewise, Jessica Jones didn’t get to flex much either, or fly. It was disappointing.
Use of secondary characters was hit and miss as well. The secondary characters in play were dominated by Simone Missick’s Misty Knight, Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple, Jessica Henwick’s Colleen Wing, and Elden Henson’s “Foggy” Nelson. All of whom were not used to their full extent. A lot of this was writing, but there were a lot of missed opportunities to make things smoother and more even flowing with them that were missed. In particular was the use of Misty Knight, who for some reason, had remained with the NYPD and been promoted after the events of Luke Cage. Better use of her character could have added a more depth and dimension to the series, and better grounded it.
What went wrong?
Where to even start? How about music? Music in The Defenders was junk. After the high bar set by Luke Cage, this show could not match up. It was a disjointed mess of generic “Marvel” music that was utterly forgettable, with the occasional flash of remembrance of what made Luke Cage such a stand out for its soundtrack. This went wrong fast, and stayed wrong the whole series.
Everything about Danny Rand and Colleen Wing. Full disclosure, I skipped “Iron Fist”, and now I’m glad I did, because I would have been shouting at the TV constantly. These characters were detrimental to almost everything in the series. They were ignorant, and wanted to stay ignorant, about everything. Make a smart decision? Not these two. Try to come up with a plan? No dice. Run in and go full retard, hoping that everything would work out? Yep. Not only that, but they constantly refused to see anything they were doing was a bad idea, and they self reinforced each other constantly. By the time the series was done, I actively wanted them to die so the smarter heroes could not be pulled down by them.
The villains were no great shakes either. Initially, I was very pleased with Sigourney Weaver as the main badguy. Then it all started to come apart. The Five Fingers of the Hand were pretty laughable in the end, and barely constituted a real threat to the heroes. They went from shadowy danger to barely competent in a heartbeat. Their goons were likewise unimpressive. Élodie Yung’s Elektra was missed beat as well; initially being terrifying, then… not so much. It was nice that they followed the comics and had her resurrected, but like the rest of the villains in this show, she ceased to be a threat very rapidly. I’ve always found that having a consistent, dangerous villain is key to maintaining tension and perceived risk, and this batch just could not do it.
I’m going to take five here to rant on Finn Jones’ terrible, doughy, useless Iron Fist. In addition to being a throwback to the “white millionaires can do anything and be anything better than anyone else, and millionaire children grow up to Americans no matter what they’re raised in/by” idea around superheroes, he’s just overall a broken caricature. Despite 15 odd years of intensive cultural indoctrination and training with the monks of K’un-Lun, he somehow grows into a petulant, entitled, whinging, self centred, doughy bodied American 20-something. He spouts nonsense about K’un-Lun constantly, as though he watched it all on TV or had classes on it, not as though it was a lived experience; and he goes on about how he “lost everything”. He lost fuck nothing. He lost his parents. Luke Cage lost everything (his parents, innocence, name, career, wife, and has had to start over from scratch multiple times). Jessica Jones lost everything, and took some serious PTSD and rape survivor hits to her mental wellbeing as well. Daredevil put everything on the line, and almost lost everything, only being saved by the people in his life and by throwing himself at his work. Danny Rand lost his parents, was adopted by kindly monks who trained him and gave him superpowers, and then came home to own 51% of a multimillion dollar company that he’s literally too stupid to realize how to leverage to his advantage past “I have private aircraft to use to travel”. Finn Jones also carried on with his poor showing in fight scenes, with only one of note, the one where he got his ass handed to him by Daredevil.
This show was passably good, but barely. It depended a lot on positive impressions made by the first three named series to carry it through. Without that initial goodwill, and a willingness to overlook the well lambasted and panned Iron Fist series, this series would not be well received. As far as ensemble cast series go, they did a decent job making sure that undue time wasn’t expended on any one character or another. On the other hand, the artificial constraints that they placed on characters and shifting fight power dynamics (Luke Cage should be a much better combatant, as a former police officer and Force Recon Marine) made scenes less than what they could have been.
For a first run out, The Defenders set a relatively low bar to exceed if they choose to do a second series of it. It works, it’s fairly fun to watch if you tune out Danny Rand and Colleen Wing, and will give you that temp fix of Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Jessica Jones you’ve been needing to tide you over until their next series’ are available.