Everybody loves a good team up. It can be a ton of fun to watch different sets of characters crossover and butt heads over their differences whilst fighting a common enemy. We’ve seen Marvel do this to great success twice now with The Avengers and now their TV arm is getting in on the action with The Defenders. So was the team up of these street-level heroes worth the wait or were they better off on their own?
Way back in 2013 Marvel and Netflix announced they were partnering to produce a combined 60 episodes of TV to be spread across 5 seasons of TV. First, we would get at least one 13-episode season featuring Daredevil (Charlie Cox), Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Luke Cage (Mike Coulter) and Iron Fist (Finn Jones). Then, all four characters would join forces for The Defenders.
For these two entertainment giants to commit to this many episodes sight-unseen was rather unprecedented. The ink was dry before any showrunners or casting announcements had been made and not a single script had been written. No one had any idea if this was going to work but for the most part, it did.
Daredevil kicked off the franchise with its expertly choreographed fight scenes, Jessica Jones (the best of the lot) brought a moving story of one woman’s struggle to overcome her abuser, Luke Cage was packed to the brim with style and Iron Fist…well…it existed. Even though one out of the four shows was a total dud, the prospect of all the central heroes and their allies team up was an exciting one.
Yet for all the hype and anticipation behind it, The Defenders ended up being a rather underwhelming affair. One with the same plotting issues of its predecessors and that failed to capitalize on its strengths. So let’s take a closer look at what did and didn’t work in The Defenders.
What worked: Jessica. Freaking. Jones…and Luke Cage
Easily the strongest part of The Defenders was having Krysten Ritter back on-screen as Jessica Jones. Never did she fail to make me chuckle when delivering a one-liner or reacting to the many insane things happening around her. Ritter has always excelled at showing the warmth that’s hiding behind Jessica’s tough veneer and it was cool to watch Jessica gradually open up to the idea of being on a team.
Mike Coulter’s natural screen presence as Luke Cage was another huge win for the show. His charisma and the warmth and determination he brings to Luke were a big reason I watch Luke Cage for as long as I did. In the few moments where Jessica and Luke were able to touch on their past relationship, it truly felt like The Defenders was building off of what the previous shows established but these moments were few and far between.
Sadly, Jessica and Luke felt rather inconsequential to over overarching story of the show. Their individual shows had really no connection to the story being told here and thus their reasons for being involved were largely contrived. The show was definitely better for having them around, I just wish they’d had a better reason for them to be.
What didn’t: The Pacing
For a show with only eight episodes, you’d imagine that our heroes would meet much earlier than they do. The show takes its time reintroducing each character and making sure viewers are up to speed with where they’re at and why they end up running into each other. For much of the first two episodes, it felt like I was watching four different shows right down to the way the shadings matched each character’s signature color.
All four heroes don’t show up together until the end of episode three and don’t really have a chance to speak to one another until episode four. I’m fine with a measured pace but don’t spend half your season bringing getting your heroes to the team up when the team up is the purpose of the show. Even after they all meet, the show plods along slowly rehashing story beats while characters wait for things to happen. It makes for an uneven experience when the show hits the brakes as often as it does.
What worked: The Hallway Fight (and a few other others)
If you’re going to take three episodes to get your heroes in the same space as one another you’d better make it worth it. Thankfully, The Defenders first fight as a group did not disappoint. Even Iron Fist (who had some spotty stunt work in his own series) got some cool moves in as our heroes fought to make it out of The Hand’s headquarters alive. It’s an exciting scene that ends the episode on a high note, I just wish it had come sooner.
There are a few other good fight scenes on the show like when Daredevil and Iron Fist clash in episode six but as a whole, there wasn’t much in the way of standout action. Even the finale, which you would expect to have a big climactic fight just ends with our heroes beating up a bunch of faceless henchmen. Not exactly a memorable way to go.
What didn’t: The Hand
As far as evil shadow organizations go, The Hand was pretty lame. Across all of their appearances, they’ve never really made much of an impression. The amount of time spent with these villains didn’t do anything to make them or their goals any more compelling. It doesn’t help that exactly what they wanted was never really defined and seemed to change every few episodes.
Even adding Sigourney Weaver as their leader Alexandra did little to spice things up. Her character was only interesting because she was played by Weaver. Beyond that, there was little about her to latch onto beyond some vague mumblings about her desire to live forever. If you get a star this big, you use her. Instead, The Defenders kills her off with two episode left and replaces her with Elektra. It was a letdown, to say the least.
Speaking of letdowns, Elektra (Elodie Yung) who was previously so charismatic in season two of Daredevil was relegated to blank stares and grunts for most of the season. Even when her personality shows up late in the season it does little to improve things.
At least The Hand is done and we can see some (hopefully) more compelling and grounded villains.
What didn’t: The Ending
When all is said and done, little of consequence happened as a result of The Defenders. Yes, The Hand is stopped but most of our heroes go back to their lives as if nothing happened. Jessica’s story ends in pretty much the same place season one of her show did and Luke just goes back to Harlem.
You could argue that Danny learns that his place is in New York defending it evil and I might buy that.
I’m not a fan of heroes “dying” only to magically resurface so for Matt (Daredevil) to “die” felt unnecessary to me. Especially since season three of Daredevil is on the way. To end the whole event on him waking up in some sort of monastery wasn’t exactly the most riveting image to leave your audience with either.
Each of them should have left this crossover radically changed from before but the ending didn’t quite make it seem that way. Perhaps it opened the door for future mini-crossovers? Who knows.
What didn’t: “This is insane!”
For a series set in a universe where aliens attacked New York, people sure do remark at how “insane” things are a lot. I get it, resurrection and an evil army of ninjas can be hard to wrap your head around but at a certain point, these characters to just go along with what’s happening. The number of times characters said “do you know how insane you sound?” or something to that effect bordered on ridiculous. At a certain point, it just became lazy writing.
After Luke Cage fizzled out in its second half and Iron Fist flat-out flopped, my expectations were tempered for The Defenders. For the most part, I was right to lower my expectations as I did. Even with a shorter episode count, the show did little to fix the pacing problems that have plagued every one of the Marvel Netflix shows. The villains were boring, the action rarely lived up to what came before it, and the writing faltered for most of the run.
But despite my complaints, I still had an enjoyable time watching these four heroes team up (yes…even Danny at some points). If anything, the messiness of this crossover revealed that Marvel probably should have plotted this out before ordered all five shows at once.
There were far more lows than highs but I liked enough about The Defenders to remain interested in where these heroes go from here (probably still won’t watch anymore Iron Fist though).
What did everyone else think?