Back in July, The Defenders was the final Friday showing in Hall H at San Diego Comic-Con. The room was full of fans who were highly anticipating any news Marvel would give us & whole it was amazing to see the cast & watch them interact, the real treat was getting to see the first episode a little over a month before it was to his Netflix for streaming.
I didn’t review the first episode but I did write about my experience for the site & gave a few tidbits of what I thought of the pilot (in a nutshell I thought it was a solid start) but I did hear a few murmurs from people who thought it was a little too slow & they seemed annoyed that the team didn’t assemble by the end of the first episode.
After the panel, members of the press were sent the next three episodes, which I did watch. I found them to live up to the promise of the first episode but a lot of press outlets reviewed the first four & seemed to be largely impatient. Yeah, they enjoyed the show, but they were still agitated that it took “so long” to get the gang together. The gang gets together at the end of episode 3 (more on that epic moment later) but for this viewer, the wait was well worth it because that growing anticipation makes their union all the more triumphant. I appreciate a slow burn if the end result is worth the wait & The Defenders makes a case for itself before the end of episode 3 & as we get onto the final four of this Netflix miniseries, we realize that Marvel has not lost its touch when it comes to constructing a well-crafted universe.
The Defenders unites the previous four Marvel/Netflix series — Daredevil, Jessica Jones Luke Cage, and Iron Fist — for an adventure that spans not just New York, but mystical realms as well. All four of the heroes from these previously established shows find themselves facing a New York in chaos thanks to the actions of the evil, ninja-esque organization The Hand (led by the mysterious Alexandra, played by Sigourney Weaver in top form); after being drawn together by their individual investigations, they’re forced to acknowledge that the battle can only be won together.
The importance of the first 2 and a half episodes is to reintroduce us to the key players. It helps to watch the previous shows to stay on track but these introductions allow those who aren’t familiar to get involved. Matt Murdock a.k.a. Daredevil (Charlie Cox) is now a pro-bono lawyer who has left crime-fighting behind, although he misses it with every fiber of his being. The nonchalant Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) is trying to live up to her give zero fucks attitude but a new case gets her back onto the game & in deeper than she originally intended. Luke Cage (Mike Colter) is fresh out of prison but an issue in Harlem has him looking out for the people of his city. Finally Danny Rand a.k.a. Iron Fist is drawn to New York due to a situation with The Hand & he has Colleen (Jessica Henwick) in tow.
Of course, their individual cases converge to be related to the same larger evil & this is what eventually leads to them joining forces, albeit, rather reluctantly. The best part is that some of them are paired off before they come together as four. Luke Cage & Iron Fist encounter each other when Fist confronts a kid working for The Hand that Cage has sworn to lookout for. Their initial encounter begins with a brawl & ends with Luke Cage realizing his body can sustain a lot but not a mighty punch from Iron Fist. It takes Claire (Rosario Dawson, who appeared on Iron Fist & is a key player on many of the shows) to make them realize they’re on the same side & what begins as hostility turns into a brotherly bond that proves to be surprisingly effective. There is a moment where Luke Cage calls out Danny for all his talk of honor & duty yet points out his inherent white boy privilege that could’ve led to him making changes long before he harnessed his chi.
Matt Murdock and Jessica Jones connect when she needs a lawyer. She wants nothing to do with him but her connection to her current case makes him see how deep the issue is & that New York is in greater trouble than he thought. Their hostility also warns eventually and leads to a solid moment where Jones equates her current case to issues in Murdock’s past.
Eventually, these pairings come together & it’s all during an epic boardroom fight that takes place at Midland, the central hub of all the evil. Like a well-choreographed dance, the heroes are led there & thrust into the fight until we finally have all four of them on screen. The final 15 minutes of episode three is a real treat for fans & probably for those who are a bit more impatient. The fight was teased in the trailers but it’s a pure nerdgasm in its entirety.
The big elephant in the room for this series is Danny Rand. It’s no secret that critics & fans found Iron Fist to be lacking but the show is essential because of much of The Defenders main plot centers around Danny. Should this turn you off if you didn’t like Iron Fist? No! He’s far more effective here & thanks to the banter of his counterparts a lot of humor is garnered from them poking fun at his origins. Fans may think this is a direct reaction to how fans felt about his show but The Defenders was filming its finale when Iron Fist began streaming, so this humor is organic & not a wink and a nod to the fans. Finn Jones is much improved here & hopefully, he can carry on this improvement in season 2 of his own show.
The rest of the squad is top-notch as usual. Charlie Cox owns the Daredevil role & benefits from a lighter approach that seems to come out mostly due to his banter with Jessica Jones. The brooding is still there (especially in scenes involving the believed to be dead Elektra played by Elodie Yung) but there is more of more of a balance. Speaking of Elodie Yung she is solid in her role. She conveys a lot without saying much & she owns the screen. She gets a moment at the end of episode 6 that will make your heart skip a beat. Her fight scenes with Daredevil are also better than most because they aren’t simply played for violence. There is a passion & chemistry to their fights that allowed more to foreplay rather than I want to kill you.
For me, Krysten Ritter is the best of the bunch but I’m a fan of her sarcastic humor. She gets the best lines & some of the best moments (her reactions to Daredevil’s costume or Danny’s talk of fighting dragons seems to be the voice of the audience). Despite her dry delivery, the character has a ton of heart & her walls are gradually broken down as the show progresses. Some of this is due to Mike Colter, who she has interacted with before. Their relationship is wonderfully underplayed & that’s a testament to both performers. Colter is effective on the savior role because he’s imposing enough that we buy it.
And what of Sigourney Weaver? Well, let’s just say she brings elegance & extreme intimidation to her villainous turn. There is a lot of depth to Alexandra & it takes someone of her talents to convey that. She’s someone that doesn’t get her hands dirty but you also know not to mess with her.
While officially, there’s only one lead “hero” in the bunch who’s a woman, the side effect of drawing together all the supporting characters from all the other Marvel series is that they all get the opportunity to interact. And most of them are women — like Claire, Karen (Deborah Ann Woll), Misty (Simone Missick), Colleen and more — who are well-defined enough to offer interesting color to the plot and occasionally even drive it. On the side of good, Jessica isn’t the only woman who dives into action, and women take just as many lumps as the men. Some shows would neglect these supporting players but thankfully they are used to their utmost potential here.
I tried to leave out major spoilers in the review because a lot of the surprises need to be seen first-hand. I teased the ending of episode 6 & it is indeed a shocker (I went on Twitter after watching to find out wasn’t alone in my genuine shock). The main thing you need to know is that The Defenders was worth the wait & while I can’t wait to see their individual adventures again, I also really hope they get the band back together sooner rather than later.
Reel Talk gives The Defenders 3.5 Reels