Let’s be real, two years ago we were graced with the arrival of Daredevil and became engrossed in the possibilities of what the Netflix Marvel Universe could possibly become. We have grown to love Jessica Jones, mostly like Luke Cage, and question what the hell went on with Iron Fist. So, here we are The Defenders have united for eight solid hours of programming and you know what, meh. I know in my heart of hearts The Defenders in a good show and by no means is it as confusing as Iron Fist, but for all it’s great moments it never quite manages to pull it all together in a satisfying way. Certain characters have definitely evolved over the course of the series and phase two looks like it will certainly start off interestingly enough, but at the end of the day I don’t know if I feel the compulsory need to binge it again any time soon.
So lets start with the good elements of the show, The Defenders themselves. Yes, even Finn Jones Danny Rand manages to elevate himself from entitled asshole to a seemingly understandable hero. When everyone is together and bantering or fighting the show works at nearly Avengers levels of competence. “Royal Dragon” and “Ashes to Ashes” are definitely standouts as the characters are paired up in fun and familiar ways that never put you at a disadvantage for not watching every series. Seeing Jess bond with Matt over their troubled pasts and Luke realize Danny is just a kid who wants a friend to see him for what he is worth are beautiful moments. Even more so the get together in “Royal Dragon” is everything you want to see from the characters: Matt’s leadership, Luke silliness to save the city, Danny not being an utter cock while eating chinese food, and Jess being afraid to let anyone into her life.
Certain characters could have been easily shafted or under developed, but for the most part everyone gets their moment in the sun. It is clear from a narrative standpoint that Luke and Jess are filler for the character growth of both Matt and Danny, but even then over the course of the eight episodes they still have their plot driving moments. Jess gets to be the sensible problem solver for once since everyone besides Luke apparently goes murder crazy and that helps to build up her trust in the team. For a lot of it’s run time Jess is the one who says let’s take a step back and not challenge the evil ninja death cult head on. Luke despite losing his Harlem focus manages to be the moral compass and open ear the team needs. Whether it be Stick talking about his time in prison, Jess and him working out their issues, or Danny becoming closer friends each conversation Luke is involved in manages to add a layer of depth to the characters.
Weirdly, despite all of this character growth it does feel like a more insular story about Danny becoming an adult and Matt becoming a leader. You see it all of the fight scenes and most of the more story based scenes. Having Matt and Danny drive the action is nice but it often shows off the best and worst of The Defenders as we either have Daredevil style acting or Iron Fist style acting. The balance can be wonky especially when we are dealing with one of the show’s greatest weakness, its use of the side characters. A couple of side characters from each show manage to show up and while it is a fun nod to how big this universe has gotten they really don’t add anything to the overall plot. Even Misty and Coleen, who are given the most screen time of all the side characters mange to rarely add any depth to their scenes.
The worst offenders of this however are Foggy and Karen who show up every so often to remind Matt how dangerous it is to be Daredevil only to enable him. There is a scene in “Fish in the Jailhouse” where Foggy has a heart to heart with Matt and he gives Matt his Daredevil costume thinking it will break his need to be a hero. Not ten minutes later Karen tells him this was a stupid idea and Foggy sees the error of his ways. It would have been fine if Foggy had just given Matt his suit and said be safe, but to have him say he was trying to stop Matt by giving the suit is so backwards I can’t even comprehend it. At least when Trish and Malcolm force Jess to take the case they don’t say it is to make her stop being self destructive.
Unfortunately the side characters are not the biggest weakness of the show as our villains are just as inconsequential to the plot as they were in Iron Fist. Make no mistake, The Hand have never been good villains and the idea of making them the big bad of the series is poorly conceived. Even Sigourney Weaver’s Alexandra is so underdeveloped I was left wondering what her purpose was at all. I mean Weaver does fine as a threatening badass but her character rarely adds anything to a scene beyond just being Sigourney Weaver. Even then the other hand members and Elektra rarely offer any actual creativity or threat. They are simply supposed to e scary and intimidating because we are told they are. They also manage to falter because half of our cast has no real connection to them. Jess and Luke are simply told The Hand are dangerous and all of a sudden side with Matt, Danny, and Stick.There is simply no weight to their confrontations with members of The Hand and as fearsome as they are supposed to be all of them are easily dispatched. At no point during any of their confrontations was I afraid that The Hand was going to get an advantage and even when they succeed they manage to do it through sheer dumb luck.
Despite all of these faults, The Defenders still manages to be enjoyable with all of it’s big fight scenes and just the sheer joy of getting to see these four characters interact and grow together. I can only hope when the inevitable season two arrives we manage to have all of these kinks worked out.
Final Grade B
+The Defenders getting together
+Stand out work from Mike Colter and Krysten Ritter
+Strong fight scenes and fun feeling
-Side characters didn’t really add much
-Heroes not making heroic choices
-At this point it is getting weird that neither SHIELD or The Avengers have mentioned all of the attacks that have gone on in New York. You would think there would be a passing mention or something.
-Also weird was the team’s plan to blow up the building. That is not exactly very heroic.
-First thoughts on Danny’s costume is it looks good, I just hope in season two of Iron Fist he gets to fight as well as he did here.