Last week, The Defenders landed on Netflix. After a few years of build-up, the Marvel Netflix Universe delivered the team of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist. Expectations had been tempered by the lacklustre Iron Fist, but I was still excited by seeing our superheroes unite against a common enemy. That’s the whole point of the individual series: to create anticipation for the superheroes uniting. After binge-watching it over the weekend, I was left disappointed. Apart from seeing our superheroes interact and a few noteworthy fight sequences, there isn’t much to recommend about The Defenders at all.
Maybe I shouldn’t have expected much after the second half of Luke Cage and the entirety of Iron Fist. It was clear from both that the writers had little idea how to create compelling characters and storylines. But the signs that something was wrong with the Marvel Netflix Universe (MNU) were seeded with the first series of Daredevil. For me, that’s the peak of the MNU, barring The Punisher’s appearance in the second series of Daredevil. It was clear that the thirteen episode story arc was stretched to breaking point. There was plenty of filler. That same criticism can be levelled at all of the MNU series. I thought the eight episode arc of The Defenders would at least solve this niggling issue with the MNU.
I was wrong. The pacing of The Defenders is appalling. It’s plodding and slow for the first couple of episodes, until our heroes finally get together. From that point on, it’s still plodding and slow, with a lot of nonsense and fighting causing an illusion that a lot is happening. But trust me, there isn’t much happening at all. Plots arise and fall into darkness, characters act uncharacteristically, and there’s even more rubbish about The Hand and Kun-Lun than there is in Iron Fist. It’s merely an excuse for our superheroes to team up, but it’s not even a convincing excuse.
It’s almost as if the writers are writing the script as they go along. They’ve had five series to sow the seed for the team up, and yes, there are elements apparent in The Defenders that were set up previously. But the pay-off is pathetic. The Hand has become less of a threat since we first met them in Daredevil. Back then, they were dangerous, savage and anonymous. However, since that time they’ve become diluted by over-saturation. The underlings of The Hand have become little more than punching bags. As for the leaders of The Hand…we know Madame Gao, but she’s become diluted by her many appearances. Not to spoil anything, but Sigourney Weaver is full of wasted potential.
Here was a turn from Weaver that we haven’t really seen: Ripley as a villain? But, like most elements of The Defenders, she’s let down by the writing. She’s often a vehicle for exposition, spouting silliness about The Hand, Kun-Lun, and the Black Sky. She seems as bored as we are listening to her drone on and on. In retrospect, we were spoiled by the Kingpin in the first series of Daredevil. No MNU villain has come close to him. But they haven’t even tried with Weaver. What a waste of a great actress.
I can be positive about a few aspects of The Defenders. There’s plenty of fun to be had seeing our superheroes interact and poke fun at each other. Danny Rand is a target for much of the derision of the other Defenders, almost as if the writers are trying to apologise for Iron Fist. Yes, it’s funny to hear our heroes trade zingers with each other. But don’t we get enough of that in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? The MNU is supposed to be dark and gritty. A little bit of lightness aids the darkness, but I felt like our superheroes were criticising each other merely for laughs than to dissect one another. However, I couldn’t help but smile during many of the interactions.
The same can’t be said about the fight scenes. Whenever I think about the MNU, I think about the fight scenes in the Daredevil series, in particular the one-take fight scenes. Now, The Defenders tries to do some one-take fight scenes of its own. The first one-take fight scene of our superheroes fighting together for the first time is glorious. However, that’s it for memorable action sequences. Later fight scenes are filmed in the dark and it’s difficult to observe what’s happening. Fight scenes blend into one another and never seem to end.
What, exactly, is The Defenders about? Each series of the MNU has been about something, whether it’s exploring a theme or different moralities. Even if I can’t remember the specifics of Jessica Jones, I remember that it’s a tale about rape and exploitation. Luke Cage is about race and racism. But The Defenders is a poorly told conspiracy tale about…well, nothing.
Perhaps that’s the most disappointing aspect about The Defenders. There’s promise early on, when Matt Murdock is cross-examining a defendant who prized money over the safety of human beings (and it’s quite topical, considering what happened at Grenfell Tower). But that falls by the wayside in favour of ninjas, gigantic holes, and Kun-Lun. Even the worst tales can be lifted by good storytelling, but that’s not the case here. Great potential is wasted, and that’s apparent in the first few episodes. I continued watching, in the hope that the slow-build would reap rewards. It didn’t. There are a few decent aspects, but nothing can redeem The Defenders.
VERDICT: 3/10. The Defenders is the worst series of the MNU so far, even trumping Iron Fist in awfulness. Team work doesn’t make the dream work in the case of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist.
Click here for my review of Daredevil Season 1