From the moment Defenders was announced, fans were hyped. Especially since it would bring together four very popular Marvel characters together for the first time under this team name. Daredevil got the party started, Jessica Jones kept it rolling, Luke Cage get the momentum going…but…then Iron Fist kind of stumbled. Leaving many to wonder if Defenders would be more like the first three, or the last one. The answer? It’s good, really good. Not perfect, but still good.
WARNING!!!! FULL SPOILERS AHEAD!!! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!
I’ve heard some early complaints that Defenders starts off “too slow” that it “takes its time” to set everything up…well duh!!! This is a series comprised of characters from four different shows. And unlike say, Avengers, we are allowed to take the time to figure out what’s going on, and how it’ll all lead to Defenders. And as we all remember in Avengers, some characters got the shaft because of time constraints, that doesn’t necessarily happen here.
In fact, I loved the first episode, because it showed how these four characters, in four different parts of New York (and beyond), are slowing coming together. Which is good! Because if it was rushed, it would mean nothing! What’s more, all four shows ended their various seasons on cliffhangers that NEEDED to be addressed long before they could come together. And the result is cool. We see how Matt Murdock, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Danny Rand are all doing at the time everything starts going down, and it’s really compelling.
In fact, one thing I’m really going to applaud Defenders for is the focus on the characters. And not just the main ones, but all the side characters we’ve seen via these four series that make appearances here. This is a big world that Marvel/Netflix created, and it would’ve been wrong to hide it for this crossover event.
My personal favorite character story isn’t really a surprise, it’s the plight of Matt Murdock, aka Daredevil. At the end of Season 02 he lost Elektra, lost Foggy, lost the lawfirm, and he confessed to Karen who he is. After that, he hung up his mantle and decided to focus on being a (epic) lawyer. But we all know he’s going to come back to the fold, but the struggle he goes through to not only accept that, but embrace it in a way, is compelling.
Then there’s Jessica, who’s still reeling from the events of Kilgrave. She’s withdrawing more than ever, but a case brings her into the fold, and she soon realizes she can’t stay withdrawn forever.
Luke Cage (via Foggy Nelson) is freed from prison, and now he’s trying to re-embrace his life of being “Harlem’s Hero”, but, he’s not sure how to do that…yet.
And of course, Danny Rand, he “failed” K’unlun, and now he’s desperate to fulfill his destiny of taking out The Hand once and for all.
Seeing these four slowly come together is really cool, and is totally worth the wait. And it yields some pretty fun interactions. Anyone who’s a fan of the Power Man/Iron Fist comics will love Defenders, as it slowly builds up the “Heroes For Hire” moniker that’s been teased since Luke Cage Season 01. And then there’s the unexpectedly epic dynamic of Daredevil and Jessica Jones. These two have a chemistry that is hilarious from start to finish, and you won’t stop smiling when they’re together.
And yeah, they sell the whole “I work alone” thing. This is NOT the Avengers where they’re “assembled” they almost literally run into each other, and naturally have some trust issues…save for Luke and Jessica of course.
That’s not to say that the side characters get left out. Claire Temple is of course there, and she helps bring them together. Coleen Wing and Misty Knight alos get a lot of spotlight, but in more-or-less a natural way. Stick is also there, and he’s still glorious.
And then…there’s The Hand. Since Season 01 of Daredevil we knew they were coming, but then they kept showing up, especially in Daredevil and Iron Fist, and then they were revealed as the main enemies here. For the most part? They are intimidating. We get some new players in Alexandra and the apparent mentor to fan-favorite villain Nobu, and returning favorite Madame Gao. Signorey Weaver does a great job as Alexandra, portraying a woman who both fears death, but will also do whatever is necessary to conquer it. Which leads her to resurrect Elektra.
What I also appreciate though was that we FINALLY got to know what the real point of The Hand was. Apparently, the five fingers of the Hand just want to return to K’unlun. They were kicked out, and now they want desperately to go back. While this doesn’t condone anything they’ve done by any means, it does provide them with some sympathy. Especially when things don’t go their way.
I’ve always been a fan of the little details, the little moments that make stories thrive, and Defenders has that. From a shot of Elektra curling up in a bed as she tries to remember who she is, to a scene of Danny and Luke teaming up in a fight, all the allies of the heroes being in the same room, etc, it’s good stuff. And for fans of Misty Knight. Yeah, it happens. You know what I’m talking about.
The fight scenes are a little mixed. Sometimes they totally rock, and other times they suffer the Iron Fist treatment of cutting away too much instead of focusing on the action. But, they hitt more than they miss. Especially Iron Fist, who I will admit is a bit better this go around, but still far from where he needs to be. He at times still comes off as whiny, and yet, he at times is the most logical of the group, even willing to change tactics to get stuff done.
And I’m happy to say that Defenders does a great job of making certain surprises work, including two key character deaths that may just shock you in ways you didn’t expect. And one you will truly miss.
Now of course, the show isn’t perfect, in some ways it’s far from it. But ironically, the episode count isn’t the issue, eight episodes really filled out the story well in my opinion. The problem comes with certain focuses and followthroughs.
For example, though I like Coleen Wing, and I dig the rise of the “Daughters of the Dragon”, how many times do I have to hear her and Claire talk about how “important they are”? You said once…we get it! Also, Coleen going from “we need help” to “this isn’t what I meant!” doesn’t ring true. And it didn’t feel like she got closure by the end of it.
The other major problem is with the ending, on multiple levels. First off, how was the (ARE YOU STILL HERE??!?!? SPOILERS COMING!!!!) dragon bones supposed to help The Hand get back into K’unlun? They were so sure this would be their time of ascension…but how? I do get the whole “dragon bones give us immortality” thing, that actually made sense given who Iron Fist is. But…how does that help them get back? That was very unclear.
Two, how did Matt survive? We KNEW he was going to live, and yet they show him and Elektra getting buried…and yet…we see him alive at the end with barely a scratch. I get that Daredevil Season 03 would answer that…but…I hate these kinds of endings.
Three, the final episode is called “The Defenders’…but…it honestly didn’t feel like they earned that title. Yes, they defended the city from The Hand, but unlike the Avengers, it wasn’t in a way that felt…noticeable. And somehow…no one got charged? Like…no one really noticed? Yeah, not buying it. And for the record, no one even said the word “defend” in the whole series to my knowledge. Just saying.
Finally…and this is the big one…WHAT THE HECK IS THE BLACK SKY!?!?!?!?!?! Seriously, WHAT IS IT!?!?? We see the kid in Season 01, Stick says it’s a monster, so he kills it. Ok, sure. Then, suddenly, Elektra is the Black Sky….ok…sure… And then through the miniseries we hear Alexandra praise the Black Sky…but without telling us what it is! What was it supposed to be? The ultimate warrior? It clearly wasn’t! A gateway to something? To what? What made the Black Sky so special that The Hand risked so much to get it? I truly don’t understand.
All that being said, I do appreciate how the series ended. As it gave all the main characters a new path for their series. Luke is going back to Harlem, but has patched things up with Jessica (who offered him coffee sometime…and he didn’t say “no”…). Jessica has come out of her shell, and has reopened Alias Investigations. And Danny is presumably taking over where Daredevil “left off”. A very mature thing to do.
Oh and Matt? He’s about to meet his mother.
Defenders had a LOT of buildup, and for the most part, yeah, it was really worth it. There were some great character stories, character moments, action scenes, surprises, and buildup for “Phase 2” of the Netflix series. Was it perfect? Gosh no. But if we were to rank al the Marvel/Netflix shows by quality, I would say this ranks pretty high. In my opinion of course. I look forward to seeing these four together again.