With the superhero team-up of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, Marvel’s Netflix universe has come full circle with The Defenders, a lean but occasionally bombastic eight episodes.
The Defenders brings together the characters and storylines of the four series to fight The Hand, a 100 percent evil ninja organization, led by Alexandra, played by the iconic Sigourney Weaver.
While none of the previous series are required viewing, lingering threads from Iron Fist and the second season of Daredevil come to fruition here.
The first two episodes establish the characters in their own distinct worlds, and how they’ve changed and remained the same since the end of their respective shows. We see Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) in the court room, winning a multi-million-dollar case but still struggling with giving up the vigilante life. Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) is still her typical self, putting whiskey in her morning coffee and leaving her apartment/office door unfixed. Luke Cage (Mike Colter) is out of prison, immediately having table sex with Claire (Rosario Dawson) and trying to save the people of Harlem. As for Danny Rand (Finn Jones), well… he’s off chasing The Hand, only to come back to New York and find that they’ve come to him.
One of the thematic characteristics of the Marvel/Netflix universe is the ambiguity of good and evil, the shades of gray of morality and heroism. In The Defenders, the line is clearly drawn between black and white. The Hand is merciless, deadly, and powerful. Their motto, “We serve life itself” is eerie, but it is also accurate. They choose the lives to preserve and the lives to end.
One of the reasons The Avengers was such a massive hit was the interesting dynamics of the very different characters. The Defenders uses the chemistry between the heroes to the show’s advantage. From Jessica’s sarcastic wit bringing out the lighter side of Matt to the pairing of Luke and Danny that seems so wrong that it’s right, everyone gets a moment to shine. Iron Fist is considered the first (and only) Marvel/Netflix misfire, but each episode of this series brings out the best side of Danny — the kid at heart who doesn’t have any social skills, the man-child who balances out Jessica’s cynicism and Matt’s reluctance to work together in the first place.
There are times during the eight episodes when I wished that the series was even shorter, because of slow pace and the inevitability of what happens next. We know that Matt, Jessica, Luke, and Danny will eventually team up. We know that they will fight The Hand for the future of New York. But perhaps that was the fault of binging all eight episodes in one sitting. When I went back to watch the individual episodes, I found myself appreciating the smaller moments, particularly the ones with the supporting characters like Claire, Colleen (Jessica Henwick), Karen (Deborah Ann Woll), Foggy (Elden Henson), Trish (Rachael Taylor), Misty (Simone Missick), and Stick (Scott Glenn). Some of these scenes may not have driven the plot forward, but they grounded a story that tackles a diabolical, mystical, ninja organization.
The action lives up to expectations. The sequence in the trailers — the company boardroom brawl — is everything audiences could’ve hoped for. We get to see Luke take ten rounds of gunfire, Danny obliterate a sword with his fist, Jessica’s blunt but effective fighting style, and the others’ confusion with Matt’s abilities. In later episodes, the fight choreography is sprinkled with some truly organic moments, but it soon became muddled with uninspired and repetitive martial arts moves. I found Iron Fist’s fight scenes to be messy and unoriginal, even though he is supposed to be the best fighter. His style wasn’t uniquely characterized like Daredevil’s, Jessica’s, or even Luke’s.
In the end, The Defenders is exactly what it’s supposed to be, nothing more, nothing less. There isn’t the deep exploration of abuse and PTSD like in Jessica Jones. There isn’t a multi-layered, nuanced portrayal of a villain like Daredevil’s Wilson Fisk or Luke Cage’s Cottonmouth. We get a great popcorn show, a well-acted, action-packed, funny, and above all, entertaining story of good versus evil. The Defenders won’t be winning any awards, but like the team, it gets the job done.