- Season 1
It seems any more these days Netflix is creating and showcasing more original programs than anyone can really keep up with. This is not a bad thing but rather encouraging as it has allowed some amazing shows to take viewers by surprise. Yet, the one genre that continues to rank higher than any in viewership and in replay value is the superhero category, and why not? Netflix acquiring the rights to Marvel’s lesser known characters and giving them their own shows is a brilliant move. Having Matt Murdock, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Danny Rand leap from the pages to the unfiltered small screen makes viewers rekindle their love for some of Marvel’s most unique and interesting characters. For the most part, having each character play out their problems in their own seasons has been fun, but once Iron Fist aired people were wondering, “When are they getting together?” Fortunately, Netflix knew what their fans would be thinking and on Friday, August 17th, season 1 of The Defenders went live. However, does the combination of these four individuals mean that this show is worth streaming? The answer is yes, if you are willing to get past a few issues.
Due to the fact that this review is going up while a majority of people may have not had an opportunity to watch the season yet, spoilers will be avoided; however, issues from each character’s show will be discussed which may include some spoilerish material. During season 2 of Daredevil and Iron Fist’s season 1, the main antagonistic group that is plaguing both characters is the shadow organization known as The Hand. Throughout their stories, The Hand reveals that they are closer to moving toward their ultimate goal and that, “the war is coming.” While Daredevil and Iron Fist resolve their personal stories with The Hand, in reality all they have done is won the battle but at a high cost.
The Defenders takes place months after each character’s personal story and bridges how the four become one team. In episode one, we see the characters keeping to the promises they made to the people they care about. Danny is still fulfilling his quest with defeating The Hand, Luke Cage has served his prison sentence and is returning to Harlem to help however he can, Matt is no longer “The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen” and instead dedicating himself to his profession as a lawyer 100%, and Jessica…well, Jessica is still being a moody drunk taking cases when she feels like it. However, it is a series of circumstances and coincidences that takes the four individuals to a central location and forces them to become one team and to address the power of The Hand and their infatuation with the Iron Fist.
While it would be easy to speak about the Iron Fist as a character and how his flaws have not fully been addressed since the stand-alone series, the good news is Danny is a better character once he starts working with the other heroes. What makes Danny a bit unbearable is the fact that he still remains the headstrong, whiny, and overly moody archetype that works well on other characters, but not him. He continues to beat himself up for failing in things he has no control over, such as the death of his parents. It almost feels a bit Bruce Wayne-ish as he remembers the death of his parents in every…single…movie. The viewers get it, Danny, you are upset but your hostility and shoot-first-ask-questions-later mentality does not make you a likeable person. However, upon working with the team, especially Luke Cage who is the perfect foil character to Danny, a ray of hope begins to shine through. Unfortunately, not everyone watching may have the patience to wait four episodes before the transition. If Danny angered viewers early on in Iron Fist they may pass this series up entirely, which is a shame.
Aside from Danny, another issue that may be of concern for viewers (yet, was not a problem for me) is the pacing of the story. Early reviews of the initial four episodes had critics crying out that it was taking too long story wise for the group to form and start dishing out justice. One can understand the issue there, as there are only eight episodes, and to spend two of them building up the event that everyone is waiting to see seems unfair. The reasoning is simply why spend two episodes essentially trying to recap the events of the individual characters when one can simply just re-watch those series? Sadly, it is not the first two episodes that are problematic with its pacing, the story itself is convoluted especially when it comes to what The Hand truly wants. Audiences who have followed along with The Hand plotline and have seen characters interact with the “incoming war” may not really understand what this “war” is once everything is laid out on the table. That is a problem for anyone, especially if one is a dedicated viewer. There were certain moments in which I needed to pause, rewind the last ten minutes, and actually take notes to make sure I understood the story correctly; regular viewers will not want to do that, nor will they.
What makes the series shine through though is the interaction between the characters, both good and bad. Dialogue between characters seems natural and moments of levity are not forced, they are natural. Jones is still her sarcastic and bitter self and is essentially the one who brings a lot of the humor to the table. In one instance, as she is fighting an assassin of The Hand she comments on whether or not she is the only character who does not know karate. It is a great moment as her delivery is angst-ridden and yet it settles the tension of the moment. Danny seems to really loosen up around Cage and because of that, he becomes a more interesting and sympathetic character. The one character that really delivers is Sigourney Weaver who plays Alexandria, leader of The Hand. As the no-nonsense general who takes delight in seeing the Defenders resist to The Hand’s plan when she knows ultimately what will happen, Weaver does it in a way that makes viewers both sympathetic to hear and intimidated by her. In an early scene, Weaver meets another member of the organization while feeding pigeons and she recollects on life and simple pleasures before insisting that their timetable is drastically pushed forward. As she stands and leaves, she hands the half-empty bag of seeds to her partner and insists on feeding them for her. It does not sound like a polite request, rather a command to showcase who ultimately remains in charge.
The other area that takes charge of the screen is the fight scenes and its choreography. It was really impressive watching the first full-blown fight with the Defenders taking on numerous members of The Hand in a tight and cramped space. Movement and timing obviously had to be spot on as the twisting, contorting, jumping, and slamming of characters looked extremely intricate. It was also really fun watching the heroes react to one another’s style and finish the bad guys off in team based ways. Daredevil once again stands out as the true fighter of the group with his kick-flips, baton tosses, and relentless ability to push himself throughout the battle.
I think The Defenders is a rocky but good start to small screen team-ups. I believe that if another season is going to come about, then all four of the characters need to be fully invested from the very beginning. Which means, for their upcoming individual seasons, the characters have to deal with an aspect of that threat but not fully defeat it. That being said, what is offered up for viewers in this first season is enough to give us all hope. Hopefully in the next few years, issues will be resolved and the writers will really analyze and focus on what matters most which is team interaction and less confusing plots. It is easy to fall for the Defenders of New York, but only if you are committed to giving in to a willing suspension of disbelief.