This past weekend, fans of the Marvel Netflix Universe feasted on a healthy binge of the eight episode series that is The Defenders. Uniting the four stars of the previous Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist, the series promised a team up for the ages. The villainous Hand ninja clan has unleashed an evil upon the city of New York and it takes this quartet of heroes to go up against it. While there has a been a crossover of characters previously on the Netflix series, this is the first time that entire casts from each show have all been in one series. You’d think it would get crowded, but showrunners Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez manage to keep a nice balance. The result is a program that delivers a fan’s dream event.
As the series begins, we catch up with all our protagonists from the previous series. Matt Murdock is working as a pro-bono lawyer and struggles with his decision to give up being the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen. Luke is fresh out of prison and is quickly sucked back into being a protector of Harlem’s streets. Danny Rand and Colleen Wing are on a globe trotting mission to track down the Hand which leads them back to New York. And Jessica is still Jessica, dealing with her personal demons and contemplating a return to the detective profession. Their stories are separate for the first couple of episodes and are presented in their respective styles. But the actions of Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver), one of the leaders of The Hand, brings this foursome together to stop her. Cue the fights with ninjas and stuff blowing up!
It’s an interesting choice to have the beginning of this series feel like a sampler of the previous shows. As the scene cuts from one hero’s journey to the other, there is a distinct shift in storytelling and visual style. The Daredevil scenes are very aggressive and tense. The scenes with Jessica are dark and cynical with a lot more time spent on establishing the mood and environment. The Iron Fist moments are full of fast cuts and a bit of desperation. The Luke Cage scenes feel almost homey, with a warmth of character that Mike Colter has gotten very good at playing. The sudden shifts in storytelling feel a bit jarring at first but are necessary for the eventual team up. Each hero feels authentic in their story (although Finn Jones still feels a bit out of place) and are properly re-established by the time they all cross paths.
For fans of the comics, there is a number of things to get excited about. The first meeting between Cage and Iron Fist is a highlight with some great reactions from each man when dealing with the other’s abilities. Matt Murdock’s introduction to Jessica Jones pays proper tribute to their first meeting in the pages of Alias and Krysten Ritter’s delivery of equal parts confusion and apathy is executed perfectly. Also, the return of a particular Daredevil supporting character is exciting as it lets the Hand succeed where they failed in the comics.
What’s most surprising about the series is the further development of the supporting cast. You’d think with four main characters and only eight episodes to tell your story, the secondary characters would end up being nothing more than set dressing. That is not the case here as Stick, Karen Page, Foggy Nelson, Colleen Wing, Claire Temple and Trish Walker all get moments to shine. Probably the most developed of the group would be Detective Misty Knight. Her arc is an interesting one as she goes from being skeptic to true believer on what this team can accomplish. Simone Missick gets some meaty material here and takes full advantage with a stand out performance that even outshines most of the main actors. (Not a hard feat when dealing with Finn Jones but is impressive with the others).
The only real problem with the series is the use of antagonists. Sigourney Weaver’ gives a strong performance as Alexandra. But that’s about it. When it comes to her motivations and actions, the storytelling rings a bit hollow. The Hand as a whole are pretty much just going through the motions for most of the story. The excitement is all with the hero scenes in the first half with the villain scenes greatly lacking. It isn’t until the later episodes that we get some interesting movement with the bad guys brought on by a interesting plot twist. This surprising turn of events breaths new life into the series and makes for an enticing third act.
In the end, the series accomplishes what it set out to do. It puts all of our heroes in interesting places for the start of their respective new seasons. It also establishes a distinct universe for each of them to play in the same way The Avengers did for the heroes of the Marvel movies. If you’re a fan of any of the previous Marvel Netflix shows, you will find something to enjoy here. Check it out and have fun.
Marvel’s The Defenders is now streaming on Netflix.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!