Marvel’s The Defenders Review: Better Together
Disclaimer: This review is for episodes 1-4 of The Defenders.
After five series of 13 episodes spanning four heroes, the world of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist unite in what’s hoped will be the TV-equivalent of Marvel’s triumphant Avengers. Unlike that blockbuster culmination however, The Defenders smartly approaches the superhero mash-up with reluctant side-eyes over bumping fists.
Taking place a month after the first season of Iron Fist, the show continues to follow villainous network The Hand which is slowly permeating through New York. This time around, the beast’s head is Sigourney Weaver’s Alexandra, who takes dramatic steps into hatching their biggest plan yet which pulls together the four heroes largely against their will. Jessica Jones is tracking a case, Matt Murdock is brought in as her lawyer, and Luke Cage is trying to help a local kid who’s gotten mixed up with the wrong crowd. Their individual pursuits eventually lead them all to the same place at the same time, and chaos ensues. The group grudgingly has to unite to take down the Hand.
Sigourney Weaver is one of the standouts in The Defenders. Despite the shorter eight episode run indicating Netflix have been listening to complaints of series being drawn out, The Defenders still suffers from being frustratingly slow at the beginning. We’re forced to wait until the third episode for the heroes to properly collide, making the previous episodes feel very uneven due to the overwhelming number of characters (we still have Foggy) and the heroes themselves varying wildly in quality (Iron Fist is still… ugh).
There is, however, a genuine joy in the moments when the gang is together. Fight scenes unfold as beautifully choreographed free-for-alls, where a re-watch is encouraged to visually scoop up every last bit of action. The show understands physical camaraderie. Everyone feels like they’re pulling their weight, whether their power is bulletproof skin or a glowing fist. And the comedy between them is real, whether it’s Jessica dressing down Daredevil with a sharp observation, or Danny Rand finally playing the comedic role his character seems best suited for. Compared with the more ludicrous ideas of these series — Daredevil and especially Iron Fist’s obsession with ninjas and the mystic — The Defenders shifts in ways that demand constant adjustment.
Rather than creating a single, new vibe for the show, The Defenders gives each character their own mini-stories. It’s like a summarized version of each series, boiled down to the base-level ideas to familiarize viewers with each hero’s agenda. And in case you’ve forgotten who’s who, the show is shot in a way to visually remind you every time. Heroes are often lit with their theme color: red for Daredevil, yellow for Luke Cage, and so on. This is a choice initially liked, a sort of color theory experiment. But I think they push this a little too far, because when they’re all together, the show not-so-subtly has all colors present. It’s a bizarre, often distracting choice, and it adds a layer of camp to the show that its heroes never quite match.
From the first four episodes, it also feels like we haven’t seen a moment which capitalizes on the heroes combined abilities. There’s collaborative glowing fists and bullet blockades between Luke Cage and Iron Fist which tease a Heroes For Hire spin-off may be on the horizon, but there’s yet to be an action set-piece which smartly unites beyond simple fist flailing.
The fourth episode cliffhanger may signpost better things to come, but there’s a nagging stale familiarity hanging over The Defenders. We’ve seen the impressively choreographed fight sequences from Daredevil, we’ve seen everyone garble about the The Hand, and we’ve definitely seen Danny Rand meditating against a wooden beam – let’s just hope there’s a secret ace coming which will inject much-needed life into Marvel’s TV team.