It was only two years ago that Daredevil’s first season landed online and impressed many with its hard-hitting action sequences and memorable performances. Since then, Marvel’s Netflix division has churned out the good (Jessica Jones, Daredevil’s second season), the middling (Luke Cage, which started strong, before significantly dipping in quality) and, most recently, the awful (Iron Fist, which… the less said about, the better). Thankfully, The Defenders – which unites all the aforementioned characters against a common foe in an Avengers-like team-up – is by and large an entertaining assembly of the various shows’ best aspects that puts this corner of the MCU back on track.
Our quartet of heroes don’t share the screen until the end of Episode 3, and, while it surely would have been tempting to assemble the titular team immediately, credit should be given to showrunners Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez for their patient storytelling. Within the first hour, we learn that Danny Rand/Iron Fist (Finn Jones) has been tracking The Hand with Coleen Wing (Jessica Henwick), Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) has all but retired his Daredevil identity and is instead working as a pro bono lawyer, Luke Cage (Mike Colter) is freshly out of prison and eager to make a difference in Harlem, and the world’s best-functioning alcoholic Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) is still reluctantly sticking up for the little guy as a PI.
All four leads are given their own individual paths that ultimately converge as the series progresses, and it’s a smart way of establishing the stakes for each character. It also gives us a chance to check in with each show’s supporting casts, and devoted MCU fans will doubtless get a kick out of Ritter’s Jones verbally jousting with Carrie Anne-Moss’ Hogarth and Cage reconnecting with Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) and Misty Knight (Simone Missick). Indeed, the mini-refresher will be especially beneficial to those not as familiar with Marvel’s Netflix shows, given that it’s likely these characters will show up again before the series concludes.
When our core foursome do start to interact with each other, the ensuing sparks are supremely satisfying. From the inevitable hero vs. hero showdown to the less conventional sit-down over Chinese food, watching these characters meet for the first time is a thrill. The interplay between Cox’s Murdock and Ritter’s Jones – the latter of whom gets (and nails) almost all the best lines – is particularly strong, each giving as good as they get, whether they’re trading barbs or tailing one another. They’re effectively contrasted with the more self-assured Cage, and Colter brings the newfound purposefulness of Harlem’s bulletproof hero to the fore in winning fashion.
As for Jones’ Rand, there are still shades of the “thundering dumbass” we endured earlier this year, but he, too, benefits from the group setting. That’s partially because it’s never not funny to see others throw copious amounts of shade his way (one proclamation of “I am the Immortal Iron Fist” is met with an especially hilarious one-liner from Ritter’s Jones), but it’s also because it’s evident Danny and/or the showrunners are listening to the criticism and learning the right lessons. Danny’s epiphany comes courtesy of Colter’s Cage, and as the series progresses the dynamic between the two characters – who form the well-known tandem known as the ‘Heroes for Hire’ in the comics – becomes more endearing.
Warning: The following paragraph contains a spoiler for those who haven’t seen Daredevil Season 2 or any of The Defenders’ trailers.
When we’re not spending time with our titular group we’re learning more about what they’re up against. With Sigourney Weaver’s Alexandra, Marvel’s Netflix-verse adds yet another compelling villain to its ranks. Almost always clad in white, the actress projects an air of quiet authority as the mysterious leader of The Hand and she owns the screen whenever she’s on it. Furthermore, her relationship with Elodie Yung’s newly resurrected Elektra is arguably the most intriguing and unpredictable narrative thread unveiled thus far.
However, The Hand itself is a different story. We’re 60+ hours into this corner of the MCU now, and, although we finally get some more information on the villainous organisation and who leads them, we’re still in the dark on what they ultimately want, with characters using vague platitudes such as “world domination”. At this point, there’s a real danger that the pay-off – no matter how big – won’t satisfy.
The other aspect that’s missing from the show thus far is a core theme. Jessica Jones was a meditation on trauma and recovery, and Luke Cage made no bones about the fact that it was a show about a bulletproof black superhero. At present, there’s nothing on a cerebral or emotional level that suggests any series-elevating nuances are on the horizon in The Defenders.
But even if that remains the case, there’s still a lot of fun to be had with Marvel & Netflix’s latest team-up. There’s a likeable chemistry between the four leads, the action – which is admittedly sporadic in the first four episodes – is energetic and, in peak Netflix fashion, each episode leaves you eager to start the next. With the series only running eight episodes, here’s hoping that together The Defenders can accomplish what most of them haven’t managed to do on their own: finish strong.
The Defenders is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.49 monthly subscription.