The Defenders Season 1 Review: Marvel’s Street-Level Avengers
The Defenders unites New York's street-level heroes for a more intimate and small-scale battle. But does it work at the ground level?
This review has been kept as spoiler-free as possible. If you want to catch the individual episode-by-episode reviews, scroll down below for the complete list:
The Defenders is the small-screen crossover event we’ve been waiting for ever since the first intriguing teaser was released showing the logos of the individual heroes unveiled over the palm of a hand. In retrospect, it was a rather covert but important revelation of what the four would be up against. A year and a couple of months later, the show’s finally out on Netflix and as is the case with a lot of comic-book stuff, has been getting some great reviews from fans and some not-so-great and mixed reception from some critics although on the whole it’s doing rather well.
Like all the Marvel-Netflix shows save for maybe Daredevil, The Defenders starts out slow as we catch up with each of the heroes resuming their journeys from where we last left them. Matt Murdock is going through an internal struggle over who he really is and who he really wants to be – the crime-fighting lawyer or the crime-fighting superhero. Jessica Jones is running her PI firm Alias Investigations and has a newfound fame after tracking down the serial killer and rapist Killgrave. Luke Cage, after having served a few months in prison where he was sent to at the conclusion of his series is released courtesy the services of Jeri Hogarth’s law firm who dispatches Foggy Nelson to handle the task. He returns to Harlem to resume his role as his neighborhood’s hero. And Danny Rand is busy hunting down members of The Hand together with Colleen Wing and is definitely the only one directly after the real threat.
All four start off separately and are ticked off by situations and cases that eventually lead them to each other although that convergence happens in pairs. Matt Murdock is sent to be Jessica Jones’ lawyer after she lands herself into trouble in one of her ongoing investigations. And Luke Cage and Danny Rand get off to a not so great start as the former tries to defend an innocent young kid from Harlem who the latter believes is doing The Hand’s dirty work, although this is quickly remedied with a phone call from Claire (who in case you don’t recall, is directly connected to all four of our heroes). The pairs close in on The Hand’s operations further to realize that it has been operating as a shadowy organization comprising of multiple fake shell companies all this while leading everyone to coalesce at the top floor of the Midland Circle building.
And this is where the show truly gains its stride for we’re witness to one of the greater hallway fights the show’s seen. It’s certainly one of the moments I can’t stop gushing about personally in how organically and seamlessly it all comes together, forcing the street-level vigilantes to fight The Hand’s unnamed assassins as the main antagonist Alexandra watches in contempt. In all the years of her existence, she hasn’t encountered a threat like this comprising of multiple super-powered individuals who’ve now unexpectedly teamed up after they realize that together is the only way they can take on this. She’s definitely somewhat rattled.
One of the high-points of crossovers is the benefit of diverse character interactions. It’s always intriguing to see that sidekick from Show 1 interact with this other lead guy from Show 3 while staying true to their respective characters. The Defenders gives us these interactions in spades and the one who benefits the most from these is Colleen Wing, who’s thrown to the mix so often she feels like a fifth Defender. The leads themselves share some great moments among each other. Two of the particularly memorable ones occur between Luke and Danny Rand who almost seem to have a brotherly camaraderie between the two, giving us plenty of reason to hope that one of their future seasons will be subtitled Heroes for Hire. Another especially touching moment comes when Jessica, unbeknownst to Matt, reveals his history indirectly to their client in order to gain the client’s sympathy. She definitely respects Matt’s choices and his past and it’s one of the few times when Jessica plays nice.
Despite the presence of too many characters and too little episodes, the show does suffer from pacing issues although definitely not as much as its 13-episode prequels. While I was initially skeptical of the mini-series format, I now realize it makes a lot more sense and Netflix ought to switch to an 8-episode run with its entire Marvel line-up. The pacing can also be a bit awkward at times with some episodes having too much fighting with the others devoid of a single punch. To make up for it though, the overall arc of the show undergoes plenty of twists and turns resulting in compelling developments for The Hand, Alexandra and Elektra.
Sigourney Weaver plays Alexandra just the way you’d expect – mysterious, grand, enigmatic with a shrewd of secrecy and a confident poise that comes with leading the ancient organization. She asserts herself nicely over other members including Madame Gao who’s been at the heart of The Hand’s operations for long now. Elodie Yung chimes in with a largely silent portrayal of a reborn Elektra that undergoes some interesting developments as the show progresses. Each of the team members Charlie Cox, Krysten Ritter, Mike Colter and Finn Jones is right at home with their individual portrayals of their heroes and rarely do we sense a disconnect in any of their performances. The supporting cast too is well up to speed although some characters like Foggy and Trish get understandably sidelined in favor of the bigger plot of the show.
Showrunners Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez coming from Daredevil try nicely to balance all the characters and ensuring at least none of the heroes are overlooked in favor of the other. All are given their own meaty arcs that set them up nicely for their upcoming seasons and while Luke and Jessica don’t go through any earth-shattering changes, Iron Fist goes through a much more significant journey that completes his arc that began with his own show while Daredevil is certainly the one that will carry the most baggage from this season into his own show.
I was hard-pressed to find comic-book story-arcs that this show would’ve borrowed from or leaned on. While there were initial rumors that the show may be inspired by the Shadowland story-arc, there’s none of that material to be found here except of course for the resurrection angle which seems more like the legacy of The Hand as against that particular comic series. It also stays clear of any Marvel Cinematic Universe references so fans looking for the four comparing themselves to The Avengers are going to be disappointed.
While most of the decisions at the technical level should resonate with viewers, some seem a little out of place and at times, way too forced. Chief among these is the staging of some of the fight sequences with plenty of inter-cutting; it almost seems as if Netflix exhausted most of their budget on getting Sigourney Weaver and the rest of the cast and shooting in the expensive New York and didn’t have much to spare on hiring professionals. Not all the fights are like this though (the hallway one for instance) but the ones that are stand out like a sore thumb. The only solace is that they’re largely better than those in Iron Fist. Another weird choice is the odd use of rap-music that bursts out at some rather odd scenes making it more an in-your-face inclusion. The episodes also start off with different color palettes for each of the character’s stories only to unify into a mostly single scheme as the four unite.
On the whole, The Defenders, while not the finest of Marvel-Netflix shows, is a great watch for fans looking to keep up with the MCU and with even the faintest of excitement for comic-book crossovers. With just 8 episodes, each with relatively shorter lengths, it certainly makes for a great weekend binge watch. And stay right until the end of the last episode for a big tease of one of Netflix’s upcoming shows set in the same universe.
Overall Score: 8.0 out of 10.0
Check out the below links to read the individual episode reviews: