The Defenders Season 1
After three independent shows, with a total of four seasons in all, we finally see Netflix’s MCU heroes come together in the team-up series The Defenders. It’s an ambitious undertaking, even after the lackluster last series before the team-up, Iron Fist, and this show had to fire on all cylinders, and while it didn’t hit every mark, it gave you plenty to enjoy.
WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD
Characters / Performances
The stars from their respective series return in The Defenders. Charlie Cox (Daredevil) continues to impress as the “Devil of Hell’s Kitchen”. Matt Murdock is a character that we’ve seen the most of compared to the others, so it makes sense that he’s one of the more well-rounded people on screen. Season 2 of Daredevil brought out some of Matt’s worst fears and his inner turmoil between the two lives he lives. In The Defenders we see him making real strides to be an example good guy, without the red suit and horns. But of course, The Hand comes back around and throws him down the same hole he’s been trying to claw out of. Charlie Cox puts on an impeccable performance throughout this series. After not seeing her for a while, Krysten Ritter returns as Jessica Jones. The hard-headed PI with super strength and a drinking problem. Krysten puts on a good performance as Jessica, however, her persona feels a bit tried here. Much of her dialogue feels so cheesy, and like she says the same thing like twenty times throughout the show. I was also a bit sad for a time that her ability was never properly showcased. I felt as though she was just there to throw in some aggressive comic relief and be the one in disbelief through the entire series. She did have some shining moments throughout though, like her kicking that SUV into the Chinese restaurant, toppling Elektra. Mike Colter (Luke Cage) was a standout performance in this series, and he needed to be. Some of the criticisms of his series were the stoic acting from the cast and the cheesy “tough guy” dialogue throughout. Of course, there was more of the same here with Luke, however, Colter felt more comfortable in his role especially around the other main heroes. The last to join the Netflix crew, Finn Jones as Iron Fist redeems himself in this series. Iron Fist had its flaws but by the end, there was some content to be excited about and I think Finn rode those coattails into The Defenders rather well. He’s still somewhat stubborn, but his personality is fleshed out a bit more around these other characters, and he became much more likable, compared to his solo series’ first season.
The connector to every series, Claire Temple played by Rosario Dawson, makes her appearance, however, she never feels needed. For a good while, she’s treated as Luke Cage’s baggage, especially since the writers made the strides to rekindle Luke and Jessica’s relationship. Rosario just felt a bit lost to me, and I felt disappointed by her interactions with everyone. There wasn’t anything there between her and Matt Murdock. I was excited for her to play a bigger role in connecting everyone, but sadly she wasn’t as needed as I felt she was. Simone Missick returns as Detective Misty Knight from Luke Cage. Misty felt utterly behind and clueless throughout the show. She always has a strong presence on screen (props to Simone), however, she was portrayed as somewhat arrogant, even when she’s right. It wasn’t until the finale that she isn’t as glanced over. Jessica Henwick returns as Colleen Wing, one of the few saving graces from Iron Fist. In The Defenders, however, she is barely given anything to do. Until the finale, she’s on the sidelines, and I felt so bad for her, and not in a good way. She should’ve been given more to do, it felt way too inorganic for her to be as sidelined as she was. I’m glad to see her struggle with Bakuto finally resolved, but she wasn’t used properly as a whole. Then there’s Stick played by Scott Glenn. He’s as stoic as ever in this appearance, but leads our heroes down the right path, despite his controversial means. He’s not any more likable than his past appearances, but he stays true to what he’s always been. There are a bunch more familiar faces in this show, but that’s generally all that they are. The likes of Foggy, Karen Page, Jeri Hogarth, Malcolm, and Trish all take a back seat. They have small arcs, I guess, but none truly integral to the series. Just the familiar faces we know from separate series finally making it into the same room.
The Defenders did an admirable job bringing together all five fingers of The Hand. And it was interesting to watch their dynamic play out on screen with everyone there: Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver), Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho), Bakuto (Ramon Rodriguez), Murakami (Yutaka Takeuchi), and Sowande (Babs Olusanmokun). To see the infighting between them, their clash of personality, and their individual goals kept me interested in their side of the story very well. Weaver specifically puts on a great show. She approached the character with grounded-ness and with a realistic worldview. I enjoyed seeing her play out on screen. I was happy to see them all portrayed as formidable opponents as well, however, it was whenever necessary. Much of their arcs felt cut short or flat, plus some deaths felt inept for people of their stature, Sowande’s and Murakami’s for instance. Too quick, too easy. Elodie Young returns as Elektra Natchios, or the Black Sky as we’re lead to believe. She had an interesting role to play, however predictable it was (the whole getting memories back because of the love she has for Matt). I enjoyed her performance overall though. By the end, she turned villain again and I just couldn’t put my finger on why it all played out that way. It felt all too much for the sake of the plot.
Writing / Direction
Bringing these characters together is a tough game to play, but Marvel has made good on team-ups so far. Bringing these heroes together to fight The Hand, the enemies that only Daredevil and Iron Fist seemed to concern themselves with was the natural direction to go in and I was excited to see it all unfold. The series only being eight episodes felt a little disappointing upon hearing of it. However, the Daredevil series was the only one that could competently handle a thirteen episode arc. Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist all could have benefited greatly from shorter seasons, ten episodes maybe. Especially Iron Fist. The Defenders felt competent enough with the eight episode season. It allowed the show to endorse itself and not push too much. I hate a prolonged storyline, filler episodes and scenes, I think they’re garbage. I’m glad to see the series take off running as fast as they could, and bring these characters together in the simplest of ways, and have it be entertaining throughout.
There were a lot of great action pieces, plenty to catch your eye, but some felt all too cliché and disingenuous. Some characters were overpowering one minute, the next they could barely stand their ground. I understand that they were facing highly skilled and trained people, like Elektra, or The Hand leaders, but I don’t see how Luke Cage can be knocked out by a basic roundhouse. In Jessica Jones, we saw he couldn’t be stopped until Jessica shot him point blank in the temple with a shotgun. Some character capabilities were simply at the mercy of where the plot needed to go, and that’s a shame to misuse these characters like that. But even still, there was a lot of action to marvel at, it was badass much of the time. The dialogue was a hurdle yet again. I never felt like the dialogue in the Daredevil series was as close to as horrendous as Iron Fist was, and throughout Luke Cage. The Defenders isn’t the worst offenders, but there were cringe-worthy lines that felt all too “tough”, some too “comic-book”, and others were just annoying or irrelevant. These pieces just clash with the entire feel of the world we’re meant to be immersed in.
As a general note, the writing and direction did do a good job keeping the pace strong with the plot. The show didn’t feel like it dragged too long, not too much filler, or slower boring pieces. And that’s great. It was clearly the eight episode mark that benefitted the show. There were definitely parts that could’ve been delved into more, and with more episodes, I’m sure we would’ve seen those things, but it would’ve ultimately detracted from the main point of the series. I was happy to see the show take a definitive direction and stuck with it throughout.
FINAL RATING: 8/10 – Good Marvel Fun.
It’s not groundbreaking, as Daredevil was, but it does its job very competently. It gets you excited for the team up and I think it delivers on its promises. Would I have liked to see more? Definitely, but not if it would just convolute and detract from the story unfolding. There were some underwhelming bits like the dialogue and some overlooked characters, as well as non-character driven events and decisions that hurt the overall fluidity and enticing nature of the show. But The Defenders is a good show. We see our Netflix Marvel group come together, we watch them kick-ass and save the day. Sometimes it just needs to be as simple as that.