At long last, Netflix assembles Marvel’s street-level heroes…
A note on spoilers : whilst this review doesn’t delve into major plot points there may be some light spoilers.
Starring: Charlie Cox, Krysten Ritter, Mike Colter, Finn Jones, Elodie Yung, Jessica Henwick, Rosario Dawson, Scott Glenn, Simone Missick, Sigourney Weaver
Series created by: Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez
What’s it about?
Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist unite to protect New York from the threat of the ancient order of The Hand…
Having established their core street-level heroes in their own individual series, Marvel and Netflix reach the culmination of their plans with the much anticipated team-up of Matt Murdock/Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Danny Rand/Iron Fist in The Defenders, a highly enjoyable – albeit not completely flawless – eight episode arc.
Like some of the other Marvel/Netflix shows, The Defenders gets off to a relatively slow start that’s somewhat burdened by its reintroduction of the principal characters in a manner that serves to both reacquaint established viewers with our heroes whilst striving to be accessible to those coming in fresh. In terms of the latter it’s not entirely successful given that so much has happened to the individual characters in their respective series (particularly in the case of Daredevil who has two whole seasons worth of story) which supplies The Defenders with a pretty solid foundation for viewers who have already followed Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist. It also presents a few initial narrative problems, the most cumbersome and disappointing being Luke Cage’s all-too quick and all-too convenient release from prison, which on the plus side does facilitate the introduction of Elden Henson’s Foggy Nelson into the story.
The series opener does most of the work of re-establishing the main players and their current status quo – Matt has locked away his billy club in favour of carrying out pro-bono legal work, Jessica is still hitting the bottle but has a weakness for those in need of help, Luke is dead-set on protecting the innocent and Danny, together with Colleen, continue to track and fight The Hand, the central threat of the Marvel/Netflix universe as seen in Daredevil and Iron Fist. We’re also introduced to the current leader of that organisation – the mysterious ‘Alexandra’, played by screen icon (and Academy Award Nominee) Sigourney Weaver. The artificially produced earthquake at the climax of “The H Word” provides suitably high stakes and a cause for our heroes to eventually unite against and Weaver is excellent in a role that’s atypical for an actor largely known for her more heroic turn as Lt. Ellen Ripley in the Alien films. The writers provide Alexandra with a good measure of complexity yet there are moments when the character feels a little weak and never seems to fully develop into as powerful and formidable a foe as initially promised.
Where The Defenders doesn’t disappoint is when it comes to gathering the team itself, which happens organically without being forced or rushed and the dynamics of the group are explored wonderfully in the confines of a Chinese restaurant in “Royal Dragon”. By having the main protagonists simply sit down at a table together we get to see some great chemistry on display, they’re a dysfunctional group for sure and there’s plenty of conflict in viewpoints but it all feels natural and there’s a sense that they all want to get on the same page and put aside any differences in order to battle against The Hand for the greater good. “Royal Dragon” really sets things in motion, with the team galvanising as the series progresses and there’s a good dose of wry humour (Krysten Ritter on top form as she delivers Jessica’s sarcastic jibes) and plenty of light hearted put-downs, affording Mike Colter and Finn Jones the opportunity to build the budding friendship between Luke and Danny.
Overall, the focus on each of the principal cast is well-balanced (although Charlie Cox is arguably the standout) and Finn Jones certainly gets a chance to expand his character and placate those critical of Danny Rand’s characterisation in his own series with a definite sense of growth and a stronger positioning of him as the ‘Immortal Iron Fist’ as he finds himself being targeted as part of the enemy’s unfolding plans.
Supporting characters are served fittingly in accordance with the story. Rosario Dawson’s role as Claire Temple is generally more prominent, which is understandable given here connective appearances in the other shows but there’s still a welcome presence (among some other familiar faces) from Simone Missick as Misty Knight and the superb Scott Glenn as Stick. Of course, with The Hand presenting the threat in The Defenders and given the events of Daredevil season two we get to see Elektra’s rebirth as ultimate ‘weapon’ the Black Sky and Elodie Yung tackles this rather well, offsetting the brutality of a lethal assassin with emotional nuance as she grapples with her true identity.
The series features, like previous efforts, some slick and decently choreographed martial arts action (including another corridor fight sequence that can’t match those seen in Daredevil but is still a highlight non-the-less). It does become a bit overly frantic at times and even difficult to follow in some of the darker scenes but for the most part, it delivers.
Structurally, there was always the fear that eight episodes would end up being too short a run. Despite some occasional pacing issues, it actually works out just about right – in fact it’s also evidence that Marvel’s other Netflix series could benefit from slightly shorter episode counts, which really would have benefitted Luke Cage and Iron Fist. Things slow down a little in the penultimate episode but The Defenders reaches an increasingly tense and satisfying climax in its finale (aptly titled “The Defenders”), with an epilogue that helps tie up loose ends whilst setting up the future course of Marvel’s Netflix universe.
The bottom line: The Defenders is a reasonably enjoyable team-up event that successfully unites the street-level heroes of Marvel’s Netflix shows.
All 8 episodes of The Defenders season 1 are available to stream now via Netflix.