I’m not gonna lie. Marvel’s The Defenders on Netflix was one of my most anticipated geek events of 2017, and while I don’t think it was a walk-off homer, I think it was a solid stand-up triple.
One of the things that Marvel does right is the build up. In the actual MCU (as opposed to the mini, not really connected to the actual MCU-MCU on Netflix) we got 2 Iron Mans, a Hulk, a Thor and a Cap movie before the team up Avengers film. Same held true for The Defenders on Netflix. Everyone had their solo moment, with the little crossover of Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. We knew who they were, and what made them tick before they got together. That allowed for the team-up to be done in just 8 episodes because we could forego the exposition.
There was some good and bad that snuck out of The Defenders writer’s room, and if I had to choose the weakest element of the mini-series, this would be it. The most egregious of errors was what they left out, as opposed to what they included. The premise of The Defenders is that the ancient organization, The Hand, is in New York City with some nefarious purpose that will cause the city to crumble into ruin. Heavy stuff, right? Except that nothing that plays out on the screen is heavy enough to cause the city to crumble. As a matter of fact, at the end of the 8 episodes, I had no idea what The Hand was actually doing. I knew what the 5 fingers (the leaders of the Hand) wanted, sort of, but I felt like they could have gotten in, gotten what they wanted, and gotten out with very little notice, much less portending the demise of the Big Apple. Of all, The Hand and their lackluster objective was the biggest disappointment of the show.
Another trouble spot for me was the story that Matt Murdock/Daredevil drove throughout the series. There was the surprise return of one of his old flames (although it wasn’t really a surprise, as they set it up pretty blatantly at the end of Daredevil Season 2) Throughout the rest of the series, Matt fell into the tired, old “I can save her” trope. I didn’t see any new take on it. Even the climax scene was fairly predictable.
Additionally, The Defenders suffered from some pacing issues. The build up to when they actually became a team was measured and fun, with these solo heroes resisting, oftentimes comically, any suggestion of a team-up. Once they did decide that they were stronger together, I had hoped for an increase in the action and the pacing, but the series didn’t just take off. This hasn’t been an uncommon problem for the entirety of the Netflix mini-MCU. Daredevil Season 2, Luke Cage and Iron Fist all suffered from a great build up in the later episodes. Daredevil 2 was at it’s best early in the series with the Punisher storyline, and lost its stride when Matt captured Frank and moved onto The Hand. Luke Cage also did a mid-season villain swap, which made for pacing problems. Adding to the pacing issues in The Defenders, there was a lot of introspection on the lead characters part, maybe too much. I might have preferred more punches and explosions.
On the good side of the writing, there were some good dynamics between the four characters, and one of the things Marvel does best is the banter between characters, which was enjoyable in this team-up. Krysten Ritter’s Jessica Jones was priceless as the chip on her shoulder, no filter, tell it like it is commentary made the show. There are some great funny lines and scenes throughout the series. I imagine that taking characters from a comic book medium and trying to make them believable in live-action is a real challenge, and I can forgive a lot, as there needs to be some things that are unbelievable, corny, and/or campy in order to remain true to the source material. The writing for The Defenders, and all of the Netflix Marvel series does a nice job of achieving this balance.
Strong Characters, but Maybe Too Many
We got in The Defenders exactly what we got in the original standalones. Charlie Cox and Krysten Ritter are the two best actors in the cast, and they carried it. Mike Colter is next, and was a solid contributor, and Finn Jones Danny Rand was as annoying as he was in his solo series. A poor casting decision, coupled with mediocre writing for the character. At one point, Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) and Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) are chatting and Claire says “He is the immortal Iron Fist” to which Colleen, Danny’s love interest, replies “Which he will tell anyone who will listen”. Certainly a funny quip that actually serves to point out a flaw in the writing of Danny’s character. Danny absolutely did say that too much, to the point of ridiculousness. That writing, in The Defenders and Iron Fist, did little to help Finn Jones deliver a likable character.
Overall, with the exception of Danny, the characters were strong, enjoyable, and badass. There was also a nice supporting cast of characters who delivered. The return of Detective Misty Knight (Simone Missick) was good, as she played a vital role in the story, same with Stick, Claire Temple, Colleen Wing, and Madame Gao. The writers, however, brought back almost every character that played a role in the previous series—Karen Page, Foggy Nelson, Trish Walker, Jeri Hogarth, and Malcolm. The problem with bringing them all back was that they had little part to play, so they were all jammed into a room at the police station, and returning to check on them from time to time really sucked at the momentum. Of the group, Foggy played the biggest role, and what he did was totally inconsistent with his character over the two previous series of Daredevil, so it rang untrue.
What did happen that was nice, and could have still played without the parade of past characters, was that several team-ups were subtly hinted at. Misty Knight and Colleen Wing spent some time together, an homage to Daughters of the Dragon, or a hint at things to come. Danny and Luke Cage spent time together, a hint to the inevitable pair up from the comics. Interestingly, the best pair up in The Defenders was Matt and Jessica, who had some great chemistry together. When they were together onscreen, they owned it, but there is little source material from the comics that eludes to an eventual team-up. There was one point where Jessica Jones was Matt’s bodyguard for a few issues, but no real team-ups so to speak.
I would be remiss if I did to mention the characters that made up the leadership of The Hand. I will watch Sigourney Weaver over and over again any day of the week. Her role as Alexandria in The Defenders was no exception to that. She was so much fun to watch. Wai Ching Ho’s Madame Gao has been one of my favorite characters of the mini-MCU, right up there with D’Nofrio’s Kingpin, and she was definitely part of the joy of The Defenders. The other three guys…. meh. Elodie Yung’s Elektra was just as exotic and mysterious as her first appearance in Daredevil Season 2. She delivered expertly on the one big unexpected twist in the whole of the series, which elicited in me an audible response to the TV. It was a bad word.
Finally, Scott Glen’s return as Stick was just as enjoyable as his earlier appearance in Daredevil Season 2.
One of the things that I REALLY REALLY loved about the Luke Cage series is the visual decisions. In that series, you could have paused at any spot and the frozen image on the screen would have looked just like a pane pulled from a well illustrated comic book. They were conscious of it when filming, using camera angles that mimicked that great illustrators that draw comics. I did not notice it as much in the other series. That visual element returned in The Defenders and again, it really made the series for me. Additionally, the lighting elements and color choices really bumped the visual effect of the series.
One of the [many] things that ruined Iron Fist for me was the sloppy, poorly choreographed and executed fight sequences, in a series about, you know, a fighter. The Defenders corrected that problem, as well. One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about the Daredevil fight sequences is that you can watch Matt grow more and more tired as the fights progress, and the creative team made that an element of the fights in The Defenders, as well.
The Defenders was a rock solid outing. I’ll admit this for your laughs—I thought, going in, that it was a 13 episode series (and it should have been, because, well, more Defenders is better) so, as I watched the climax in the final episode, I said to myself, “Well, what they hell are they going to do for the next 5 episodes?” This team-up flick made me look forward to what’s next in the mini-MCU. I am confident for the future of these characters, and I think this is a GREAT medium for comic characters, because, like comic books, it can play out over a season, instead of having to wrap in 2-3 hours. My only concern for the future of the mini-MCU is Netflix financial exposure (which is LARGE) and Disney starting to talk about creating their own streaming service. Will that include their Marvel and Lucasfilm properties as well, or is it only princess TV? Here’s hoping Netflix and Marvel can partner for years to come.
If you are a fan of the Daredevil in the comics, there is a nice clue as to where Matt will go in the next season of Daredevil.
In the end, The Defenders had its problems, but the final product was an enjoyable team up that made me look forward to the next installment(s). The lead characters are well developed and are all enjoyable, save one (I’m looking at you, Danny). As usual, the action was good, and the villains, while not as focused this time, were played by great actors and were enjoyable to watch.
+ Strong, likable lead characters, played by mostly outstanding actors
+ Good team-up of reluctant participants
+ Visually incredible
+ Good action
+ Good team-ups teased for the future maybe
– What the heck was The Hand’s big play? I have no idea
– Oh, Danny Rand, you probably should have stayed in K’un-Lun
– Too many characters from past series
– C’mon, gang, pick up the pace
Did you see The Defenders? What did you think? What did I miss? Leave me a comment below.
Like this? have a look at other articles by The Grumpy Geek
Book Review: Group Written “Indigo” a Shadowy Thriller
Books: 9 New Sci-fi or Fantasy Releases For July That Sound Awesome
The Grumpy Geek, Pete Herr is the author of “10 Things We Should Teach You In High School and Usually Don’t”. He is the oldest geek in the Geekiverse by a factor of two. Follow Pete Herr on Facebook, Twitter,and Instagram . If you don’t he gets Grumpy. You don’t want to see him Grumpy.
Be sure to keep up with The Geekiverse across social media platforms on Facebook, Twitter, & Instagram. Watch The Geekiverse on YouTube and listen to The Geekiverse podcasts on Soundcloud or iTunes today!