Two of the most powerful forces in pop culture have teamed up in a union that some are calling unholy. Netflix and Marvel are inescapable on their own, and they’ve combined to dominate the pop culture conversation each time one of the Marvel shows appears on the streaming platform. Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist have all been leading to this latest team-up – The Defenders. Now these four characters will all intersect much in the same way Marvel did it on the movie side with The Avengers. However, the corner of the MCU that the Netflix shows have occupied have been darker and full of angst that’s not really present in the more colorful, fun movies. It led to a simple question: Can the team up model that worked so well in the movies be viable with these heroes, especially considering that The Defenders comes immediately after the notable misfire of Iron Fist? Judging by the first four episodes of The Defenders, I’d say the team up model is working just fine this time around.
Each of the Marvel Netflix series have had their share of issues, but the biggest problem facing each of these shows has been pacing. All of the series, with the exception of Iron Fist, seem to get out of the gate running, establishing heroes and villains, with story threads and tension mounting. Then, likely because of their 13-episode structure, they sputter for lengthy stretches in the middle before ramping up again towards the conclusion. Since The Defenders is an eight-episode season, none of the pacing issues that have plagued these shows appear. Going forward, I’d be quite happy if all these Marvel series on Netflix were to adopt an eight-episode season.
The series opens with a rather surprising decision, focusing its initial action of Danny Rand (Finn Jones) and Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) battling the forces of The Hand beneath the streets of an Asian city. On the other side of the world in New York City, Luke Cage (Michael Colter) is just getting out of jail following the events of his own series, and he’s greeted by his legal counsel Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson). Private investigator Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) is still struggling with the events from her own series, drinking excessively and not taking on any cases after her battle with Kilgrave. Down in Hell’s Kitchen, Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) has put away his Daredevil costume and has focused on the law, working pro bono in civil cases.
The paths of these four heroes are bound to intersect as The Hand has strengthened their grip on the underworld of New York City. The unholy alliance of Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho), whom we’ve seen in other series, and Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver), a wealthy member of The Hand facing a terminal illness, have begun plans to unleash a wave of crime and death upon New York City. The only way to stop these dastardly plans is for the disparate personalities of these superheroes to mesh together and become The Defenders.
Showrunners Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez do an excellent job in bringing these distinct personalities together without it ever being forced, and the limited number of episodes don’t give them any time to waste. There’s an efficiency to establishing these characters and where their mindsets are as well as the introduction of the villains and there emerging scheme. By the conclusion of the fourth episode, I was a little upset that I wasn’t presented with access to more episodes because I was ready to see where this ends up, something I couldn’t always say about some of the other Netflix shows. There’s a level of confidence on display in the writing and directing style to show that isn’t always present in the other shows featuring these same characters.
Because this is a Marvel show on Netflix, there are plenty of fights that take place within hallways and corridors, and the action itself is sometimes a bit choppy. However, by the time The Defenders reaches episodes three and four, the action ramps up a level and the direction of the action becomes much more assured compared to the initial fight that launches the series. Even though the action of the first episode is sometimes a bit wobbly, the direction by S.J. Clarkson presents some of the most unique visuals I’ve ever seen in a superhero television show. The Defenders has a look that closely resembles comic book panels. That’s simply because Clarkson uses the sets and locations to create boxes with the frame of the shot, creating a look that brings about the paneled look but mainly subconsciously.
The real joy of The Defenders is watching the quartet of heroes interact for the first time. Finn Jones hasn’t gotten any better as Iron Fist since the debut of the character earlier this year. But Jones is given a lifeline when Danny Rand finally comes face to face with Luke Cage. The two characters have a lengthy history in the comic books and it’s neat to see the Heroes for Hire standing beside one another. Making it more interesting, there’s a certain element of fun to watching a charismatic Mike Colter talking down to Jones’ Danny Rand, calling out the character on his privilege. Matt Murdock still is battling his inner-rage and trying to cope with how his efforts as a vigilante have wreaked havoc on his personal life. Those demons that plague Murdock leads to an interesting dynamic between him and Jessica Jones. The Netflix shows that Marvel has produced have often felt like they’re slight variations on the same set of characteristics, and putting these four together makes the writers of the show bring their differences to the forefront, making for a show that’s engaging with its action and web of conspiracy as well as on a character level.
Once these characters are working together, it’s a lot of fun to watch them use their talents in unison to unleash a frenzy of violent action against whoever may be standing in their way. And considering critics have only been allowed to view the first four episodes, it’s safe to assume that the show will further ramp up its collaborative action in the subsequent four episodes.
Given the issues that have repeatedly occurred in the Netflix Marvel series, and especially following the woeful Iron Fist, it’s not unthinkable that The Defenders could’ve been an overambitious misstep. But thanks to its limited number of episodes, the creative team behind the show don’t have much room for error and over the course of its first four episodes never stray far from what viewers would want out of The Defenders. There’s no opportunity for the show to become bogged down in subplots involving side characters. The Defenders focuses on its heroes and villains, building piece by piece in a way that is consistently captivating. Now if only the future of the Marvel and Netflix union will understand that sometimes less is more, especially in the episode count.
- Overall Score