MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD Y’ALL
And so we come to the culmination of that original pact Marvel Television made with Netflix, the one that stated Marvel’s TV arm would provide the streaming service with 13-episode long seasons of four different superhero shows and then all of those individual superheroes would meet up in an 8-episode long miniseries The Defenders (the original plan has now expanded to accommodate additional seasons of each of the shows as well as a Punisher spin-off). That original plan got off to a great start with the first seasons of Daredevil and especially Jessica Jones, but since then the Marvel/Netflix stuff has been heavily flawed in quality (at best) and The Defenders continues the more middle-of-the-road artistic trajectory of the recent fare created by this collaboration.
The four superheroes teaming up for this miniseries event are Daredevil, who by day is lawyer Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), private investigator Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), recently released convict Luke Cage (Mike Colter) and Danny Rand (Finn Jones), whose been trained to be the mystical warrior known as The Immortal Iron Fist who possess the magical power of sucking all the fun out of any scene he’s in. Anywho, the evil organization The Hand that’s been popping up throughout past episodes of Daredevil and Iron Fist are back and their leader, Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver) has an evil plan that threatens to destroy New York City that also involves the resurrected Elektra (Elodie Yung).
The first two episodes of the season chronicle the team on their own individual missions that have them gradually realizing something truly evil is going and then, slowly but surely, reluctantly uniting once Stick (Scott Glenn) informs them that The Hand really do mean business and only The Defenders can stop them. It does take a while for these four to become a team though and even then the show still feels like it’s going round and round in circles in order to pad out an eight episode long season. This especially becomes apparent in oddball details like how both the third and fourth episode on a note meant to suggest that the Defenders have finally come together, which makes things (understandably) repetitive.
A similarly humdrum feeling is felt once it becomes clear that the fourth and fifth episode are around solely to serve as overlong and dull exposition dumps that not even a game Scott Glenn can make interesting. A lot of that exposition has to do with mythology centering around the Iron Fist TV show, which was a big mistake in terms of the shows general storytelling since that stuff just isn’t interesting at all. Since I’ve never been given a reason to care about Danny Rand or K’un-L’un, it’s difficult for me to get wrapped up in droning dialogue-heavy scenes all about how important both of these entities are. To be fair, The Hand were already overpowered and boring the second season of Daredevil, so the problems with these guys as villains go way deeper than that dreadful Iron Fist show (which I couldn’t even finish, for the record).
But there are bright spots in the various plotlines The Defenders deals with, namely anything that has to do with Jessica Jones. Her no-BS attitude and more down-to-Earth world are so much fun to watch, especially since Krysten Ritter is still oh so excellent in the role. Really, the only fun that comes out of the tedious Iron Fist mythology being such a crucial element of the show is to see Jessica Jones belligerent reactions to stuff like dragons and ancient cities actually existing. Luke Cage also gets some interesting moments in his own storyline that starts out with him trying to help Harlem kids being hired by a sinister crime lord. On the other hand, Matt Murdock’s struggle with trying to hang up the Daredevil costume being framed like a drug addiction gets oh so old oh so fast, it’s a routine that gets repetitive extremely quickly. Course, Matt’s personal struggles are far from the only element of The Defenders that gets dragged on for far too long, a large share of this show feels like it’s needlessly stretching conversations and character-related struggles in terms of how long they go on for in a manner that heavily hinders the shows overall pacing.
And then there’s Iron Fist. Finn Jones performance as this character hasn’t improved much at all from his solo TV show and while he and Luke Cage have some fun moments in their interaction (best moment of the whole show comes from Luke chewing Danny Rand out, which is incredibly cathartic), his whole individual storyline in the first two episodes is a total slog to get through and the character still remains more grating than interesting in the rest of the season. Alas, our villains for this miniseries are also poorly conceived as characters. Poor Sigourney Weaver gets wasted as Alexandra, a baddie whose incredibly ill-defined for the vast majority of her appearances and the brief revelations we get about who she is aren’t good enough to compensate for the viewer being left in the dark for so much of the season. An abrupt death scene for the character only reinforces how much of a missed opportunity this antagonist was.
As these elongated ramblings would suggest, the writing is all around pretty poor for this season, particularly in the frequently grating dialogue. However, the smartest decision made in terms of executing this season can be found in how the various scripts for this season were very much written with a lighter, more “comic book”-y tone in mind. Some hardcore violence (most notably a bunch of bloody beheadings) is kept over from past Marvel/Netflix shows but the program mostly eschews the darker nature of programs like Daredevil or Jessica Jones in favor of a broader and lighter atmosphere that’s actually pretty agreeable to experience since it keeps many of the episodes lighter on their feet.
If only the lighter tone had meant some advances could be made in the fight scenes of The Defenders, none of which leave all that much of an impression. Since there’s very little in the way of character grounding for the assortment of brawls that transpire between the four superheroes and The Hand, much of it is just choppily edited scuffles lacking both characterization and fun. I really must emphasize that “choppily edited” part of these fight scenes as too many of these sequences are rendered visually incoherent by way of the abysmal editing. Even worse in regards to the fight scenes, there’s a serious lack of imagination in the locations chosen for these fights, with the final episodes big “Defenders vs. Ninjas” showdown taking place in a dimly lit cave and an episode prior to that has three of the Defenders facing off against three leaders of The Hand in a dimly lit loading dock. Surprising no one, the best character of the show, Jessica Jones, gets the two best action moments, one of which is her managing to grab a falling elevator that contains Danny and Luke and the other one (which is handily the best action moment of the whole season) being when Jessica just runs a cars through a Chinese eatery in order to run over Elektra.
Those little fun moments, as well as certain other good elements (S.J. Clarkson does the only really standout directing in the first two episodes while Daredevil’s costume in the finale two episodes of the season actually looks much better than it previously has) keep The Defenders from sinking to the lows of that Iron Fist TV show, but once it was all over, I couldn’t help but wish this whole miniseries was more interesting or memorable. It ends up being a heavily flawed but usually watchable endeavor but those flaws that stick around in my mind just highlight how many wasted opportunities there are in The Defenders in regards to the characters and action set pieces. I didn’t find The Defenders to be a bad experience, but really, a TV show about four superheroes teaming up to fight evil ninjas led by Sigourney Weaver shouldn’t be so boring so often.