Since Marvel's Daredevil debuted in 2015, Marvel Television has been expanding the grittier side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a run of Netflix streaming television series, each one introducing a new character, with the goal of eventually culminating in a miniseries event that brings those heroes together in the style of Marvel's The Avengers. It's been a long road, but if the first four episodes are anything to go by, then Marvel's The Defenders was well worth the wait.
The Defenders unites the eponymous heroes of Marvel's four Netflix shows to date - Daredevil (Charlie Cox), Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Luke Cage (Michael Colter), and Iron Fist (Finn Jones) - and picks up where each hero's individual story where it left off. Matt Murdock is trying to leave his life as Daredevil behind, after having a falling out with best friend Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) and revealing himself to romantic interest Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll). Jessica still hasn't taken on a new case and is trying to come to terms with her new reputation as a hero. Luke returns to Harlem following a second trip to prison. Danny Rand also returns home after The Hand's trail leads him back to New York City.
The first episode and the majority of the second play out like the new episodes of four different television series edited together, with each hero pursuing their own individual narrative. The pacing is deliberately methodical, as the heroes frequently interact with members of each other's supporting cast. These frequent mini-crossovers can feel overly convenient in some instances, but help to build excitement and tension to create a larger narrative web, so that when The Defenders do finally meet it feels like they've been drawn together by a greater destiny, rather than stumbling upon each other by narrative contrivance.
Once the heroes do begin to cross paths (first pairing up and then quickly coming together as a whole), the series reaches a new level of excitement, as the heroes immediately have great chemistry, with their personalities complementing each other well. Jessica Jones's acerbic wit plays perfect against Matt Murdock's stoicism, while Luke Cage's calm wisdom helps ground Danny's flighty and over-dramatic personality.
These compliments spill over into the action as well. While they don't start off on the best terms, the most anticipated first team up between the Power Man and Iron Fist puts the fight scenes of Marvel's Iron Fist to shame, and the character finally has a shining moment to put his actual Iron Fist to good use, for something other than knocking down a door. The "major fight scene in a hallway" trope that has appeared in most of the Marvel Netflix series so far also has its moment, but hardly feels like a retread when the entire Defenders group is working together in concert.
The feeling of four distinct narratives coming together is cemented by the show's cinematography and lighting. As each character progresses through their individual narratives through the first two episodes, their lives are lit up in the signature shade of their own series – a vibrant red for Daredevil, deep purple for Jessica Jones, bright yellow for Luke Cage, and emerald green for Iron Fist – and when the first tremors of the threat that will bring the team together are felt, the colors come crashing together to visually punctuate the moment.
As the heroes begin to cross paths, these colors begin to appear side by side until the all four are used in the design of the Golden Dragon, the Chinese restaurant where the Defenders share their first meal. When viewed at a wide angle, the set perfectly displays each heroes color - but it also provides more monochromatic areas for the actors to perform their personal dramatic asides.prevnext
The Best Yet to Come
At four episodes in, The Defenders has only just scratched the surface of The Hand's plans for New York City. The series makes use of Elektra (Elodie Yung), now the Black Sky, as a physical enforcer and threat, but has so far only hinted at origins and capabilities of the mysterious antagonist Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver). If there's a weak spot in The Defenders narrative so far, it's the reliance on Iron Fist's backstory, which is rooted in K'un Lun. Danny's talk of mystical cities and dragons feels out of place in the street-level drama of The Defenders - especially since his own series never realized the promise of Danny's origin. But even the pressure on this point gets relieved a bit, with new revelations about the history of The Hand, and some levity from the other heroes listening to Danny's fantastical story.0comments
In the end, Marvel's The Defenders does an admirable of giving fans what they want by drawing its heroes together, without treating the alliance like fan service. The Defenders team has a distinct purpose, and each character's narrative is given the time, space, and respect it deserves. That modicum of restraint makes the heroes' time together feel that much more exciting, and even with the methodical pacing, there's no shortage of humor and action to be had.
Assuming the series can maintain that balance throughout its back half, The Defenders is easily the most entertaining superhero team up since The Avengers.prev