I don’t want to sound too harsh here but in my opinion Marvel’s The Defenders really should have been called “The Reluctants” as this eight episode season spent way too much time with our heroes bitching and moaning about fighting the bad guys. I know the “reluctant hero” is a standard trope of comic book stories but The Defenders took it too far here as it seemed that everyone, with the possible exception of Iron Fist who had other personal issues of his own, really didn’t want to be heroes. This would be a tough starting point for any superhero show but in this case it’s not just where the show starts but where it goes on for several episodes, and on and on. I’m not saying every superhero team has to be as fun as The Avengers, that could become just as boring, but goddamn does this show need to dial back on the angst a tad.
The series opens with Danny Rand aka Iron Fist (Finn Jones) and his partner Collen Wing (Jessica Henwick) battling a powerful member of the evil organization known as The Hand, this member is later revealed to be the resurrected Elektra (Elodie Yung) but we will get into that later. While spectacularly failing to save one of the order of The Chaste (Note: Danny is really bad at his job) he also lets the villain escape, but at least he does learn from the dying dude that the war will be fought in New York City. So that’s something I guess. I will go on record as not being much of a fan of this interpretation of Iron Fist as I find actor Finn Jones to be fairly terrible in the part and his characterization of Danny Rand seems to consist solely of him whining and feeling guilty about failing “his” people. (Note: I so disliked him that I only managed about three episodes of the Iron Fist series.) The shows depiction of the Iron Fist power is also beyond the pale lame; whenever we see him go into combat he only tries for that awesome power after getting his ass kicked for a while (Note: It’s never made clear how long he can use the Iron Fist power or long it takes to recharge it) and no spoilers here but the one time he does engage the power early on in a fight he was a complete moron for doing so. I must say that if your show already has badass martial artist Daredevil on the roster you got to bring more to the game then, “I’m billionaire whose parents were murdered.”
Next we have Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) who is still reeling from her encounter with Kilgrave aka The Purple Man and has fallen even deeper into the bottle. She refuses to take on cases until after turning down one particular case involving a missing architect she gets a mysterious phone call warning her to stay away from the case. This of course has the opposite desired effect and soon she is tracking down the missing architect which eventually leads to her crossing paths with Elektra and The Hand. Then we have Luke Cage aka Power Man (Mike Colter) who has just been released from jail after the law firm that Foggy Nelson (Elden Hensen) now works for got him cleared of all charges. Luke’s love interest Claire Temple aka The Night Nurse (Rosario Dawson) would like nothing more than for her man to stay out of trouble but the two barely have time for some nice “I just got out of jail sex” when Detective Misty Night (Simone Missick) shows up to ask Cage to look into the deaths of a bunch of Harlem youths. Finally we have Matt Murdock aka Daredevil (Charlie Cox) who since his break-up with both Foggy and Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) has given up his identity as the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen to instead focus on doing pro bono cases.
As this season is about the formation of The Defenders these four individuals will cross paths and eventually team-up, which will lead to some damn fine action set-pieces as these guys do know how to kick ass…with the possible exception of Iron Fist who is really a tool that should best be left in the box. We will learn that the architect Jessica was looking for got mixed up with The Hand, the kids in Harlem are dying because The Hand has terrible work ethics when it comes to outsourcing, Danny and Luke Cage will have the standard “Two heroes fight because of a misunderstanding ” cliche and Matt will end up getting involved because he had become Jessica’s lawyer after Foggy is told by his boss (Cary-Anne Moss returns briefly as Hogarth) to keep an eye on her. (I’m guessing Foggy passed the case on to his buddy Matt so that he could maybe pay this month’s rent.) We also get painful scenes of both Foggy and Karen treating Matt’s past vigilante activity as if it were a drug habit and that they are terrified he will have a relapse.
Now let us talk about this show’s villains. This is the fifth Marvel series from Netflix and we’ve had some pretty amazing villains so far; in the first season of Daredevil we had the amazing Vincent D’Onofrio as Kingpin and then in season two John Bernthal was fantastic as The Punisher, Jessica Jones gave us the chilling performance by David Tenant as Kilgrave and in Luke Cage we got Mahershala Ali’s riveting portrayal as the gangster Cottonmouth (the less said about Diamondback the better), but then we get to Iron Fist and though I’m sure it had a villain I’ve pretty much forgotten what little I saw of that show. Now with The Defenders we finally meet the supreme leader of The Hand who turns out to be an immortal woman by the name of Alexandra.
Don’t get me wrong I love Ms. Weaver but to finally meet the head of the all powerful mysterious organization The Hand, who have been popping in out of the Marvel TV universe since the beginning, but then to immediately learn that she is dying from multiple organ failure and only has weeks to live is a tad distressing. She never pulls off being a viable threat, listening to classical music and casually referencing that you are hundreds of years old does not make you threatening or even barely interesting, even the show itself seems to have disdain for her as is illustrated by the writers having Elektra step up to be the main big bad.
Next to our heroes arguing about fighting evil the use of Elektra as the key villain was the shows biggest mistake, she wasn’t interesting in season two of Daredevil and now that she is “The Black Sky” she has somehow become even less interesting. And what about the Black Sky? Wasn’t that supposed to the big thing that Stick (Scott Glenn) and his group where trying to prevent The Hand from getting a hold of way back in the first season of Daredevil? Yet this show almost immediately jettison its importance with The Hand now really needing the “Iron Fist” power to open up the latest McGuffin.
I was really looking forward to The Defenders having quite enjoyed Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, and so maybe my expectations were a tad high, but I found the characters I loved in those shows were being totally wasted in this one, and the characters I didn’t like were given too much screen time. They key moment that illustrates how poorly the writers of this show understand the superhero genre is when after our heroes had their first encounter with The Hand, barely escaping with their lives, they seek sanctuary in a Chinese restaurant to figure out what to do next, it’s here that we get a moment where Matt Murdock tries to convince the group to not get involved by positing the question, “Imagine if doing something made things worse?” What the fuck kind of question is that? The Hand is going to destroy the city what exactly could they do that would make things worse? I know having conflict among your characters makes for a more interesting story but when we look at say The Avengers we had Captain America not trusting Tony Stark, which made sense for his character and in that situation, while here it’s just lazy and then forgotten almost as fast it was brought up. The Defenders had so much potential but instead it’s a cluttered mess of bickering idiots.
• Matt Murdock forgets he has super senses and lets Jessica Jones follow him and take pictures of him doing Daredevil ninja moves.
• Jessica Jones is a fantastic character but is given very little to do here and her motivation for not wanting to get involved in a fight with The Hand was lame, “I just want to find my client’s husband.”
• Misty Knight should have been given something to do or else she should have been completely written out. It seemed like every two minutes she was being told, “We can’t tell you anything for your own good.”
• The police as a whole were depicted as vastly incompetent in this show.
• In the fights between Elektra and Daredevil they seem pretty evenly matched but then we get scenes where she takes on the whole bloody team. A little consistency with everyone’s powers would have been nice.
• Colleen Wing’s story arc of facing off against her former master was a complete waste of screen time. I just didn’t care.
• The threat of The Hand destroying the city never felt credible, this was most likely due to the shows budgetary constraints.
The Defenders: Season One Review
My criticisms may seem rather harsh, and I will admit the fight scenes were well choreographed and fun, but this show had so much potential and then so blissfully wasted it makes me sad. Maybe in season two with the team actually wanting to work together things will get better, but they really need to get some writers on board who understand the genre better.