Netflix And Marvel have been leading a powerhouse performance with their Marvel Knights adaptations. Some more impactful than others, sure. But undeniable in their overall scope and ambition. Now Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist amass their collective brains, brawn and bravado in the newest series – The Defenders.
So without further adieu, let’s get into the good, the bad and the hideous of Netflix’s latest offering of the superhero quartet.
The exact center of Marvel / comic book / Hollywood cinematic universe. We open on the Iron Fist battling the hand in his silent, clandestine war under the streets of Cambodia, tracking down and trying to eliminate the organisation. But it all seems like a futile cause until a lead which he failed to save (like his city K’un Lun [boom! savage!]), gets put on the right direction in the hunt for the invisible but ever present Hand. So now Danny with his trust ex-Hand girlfriend and warrior chick Colleen Wing pack up and take a first class private jet back to NYC. So much for roughing it out, homies.
Meanwhile in NYC, Luke Cage returns to Harlem after being released from prison, and of course, the first thing he had touching down was some home brewed latina-infused coffee with Claire Temple. Quick fact, Temple will only give it up to you if you have an ability and she had to medically nurse you back to health.
Whatever happened to normal fetishes like smelling feet?
Jessica Jones is still her borderline-dipsomaniac charming self, and we later do get a hint her Kilgrave debacle is not as distant a memory as one who suffered the ordeal would like.
And the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen is battling the urge of returning to his street version of law and order, retiring the Daredevil suit.
We get a sense all four are searching for purpose in their lives again. Iron Fist torments himself with the fact that his abandoning the city he was meant to protect led to the Hand destroying and murdering the inhabitants of K’un Lun. The Devil is cuckolded by his retirement from being a vigilante and still torn over Elektra dying in his arms. Jessica Jones still have Kilgrave on the brain and Luke Cage wanting to do right by Pops and make things right in Harlem.
But as soon as Danny touches down in New York, seismic activities intensify and a series of specially-tailored events drive the four heroes to converge. Jessica’s nutball of a case involving a man she dismissed as a cheating husband who gets killed by Elektra (yeah she’s alive). The man turns out to be the architect of the front company for the Hand – Midland Circle. And their HQ building stands directly in the epicenter of the NYC man-made earthquakes episodes. Luke Cage investigating a string of deaths of young kids from the inner-city who recently got employed and paid a lot of money by Midland Circle. Bring in Murdock to legally represent Jessica Jones and you get a band of unwilling heroes with a grave responsibility of safeguarding the lives of New York and taking on the Hand.
And the infamous Hand – Five fingers of Death as I call them – are all in NYC, and their excavation, the destiny of the ‘Black Sky’ and what lies at the bottom of their stories-deep excavation will be a narrative filled with whimsy and go some way to proving Danny Rand chasing the dragon went beyond uncovering the Hand’s drug operation being done under his companies roof. Yeah, real life dragons. Whose remains contain the ‘substance’ – the cure for man’s greatest ailment – mortality.
Will these fractured friends stop the inward team bickering long enough to save us the trouble of having to write a bad review? Well, that’s still anyone’s guess.
To be fair, whatever you feel of prior Netflix + Marvel series, the title sequences have had great impact. Well, Jessica Jones was more aesthetic than atmospheric, but it suited her story. Seeing the amalgamation of The Defenders as their visage was juxtaposed with their respective colours and cityscape was well executed. The root like capillary roads of Daredevil. The purple distorted colour map forming Jessica’s face. The city blocks, angular and towering forming the frame of Cage. And the misty (pun intended) green of Iron Fist with the added subway line that meanders down the arm to the glowing last stop of his fist. Why he got the most creative concept and design layout? We honestly don’t know.
The style started quite melancholic and it fit well with frankly the two ‘deeper’ characters of Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Then things got real brassy and defiant with the introduction of Cage and Iron Fist. Then the music went a bit superhero-y near to the end. It was a solid intro, all-in-all. I may have chosen to pose the characters a bit different, particularly Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, but that’s just me being extra finicky.
Now, particularly in the first episode, the series begins by, as one would expect, introducing the parts of the whole. Where the separate heroes are in their personal fights and issues as they are soon set to converge in the Big Apple. Now whilst this would obviously feel slightly jarring, as the tone of each character is wholly different, it was particularly more jarring than it needed to be. Scenes with Luke Cage were graded differently than Iron Fist that was done differently than Jessica Jones. The result felt like granny was trying to put a puzzle piece together from four different puzzle boxes. We get it, they are all different, but the idea of amassing these heroes in one film means finding common ground and sticking to the aesthetic of the whole, not the individual forerunning parts.
And this is a problem we saw coming. Ever since Daredevil Season 2. Worse in Iron Fist. Life, and preserving it, is a huge drive for anyone. So when people can get reincarnated all willy-nilly, the stakes and the gravity of death loses a bit of impetus. I know it’s the story and all, but seeing Elektra just brought memories of those daytime soap operas in which people treat life and death like a revolving door. I guess this truly is more personal than anything, but dead is dead. And by having the Hand members, and Elektra’s resurrection and Matt Murdock scantily-bandaged after presumedly an entire skyscraper fell on top of him, can we really take anything onscreen like the death of a character seriously?
Each characters’ series had a great nuance about them. Daredevil – the self-loathing, brooding dark melancholic devil of Hell’s Kitchen. Jessica Jones, the amalgamation of complex, dry-wit interlaced with deep emotive drives. Luke Cage, the once reluctant power man who through circumstance and decision made it his fight to protect the innocent. And then there is Danny Rand. Iron Fist. For a guy who talks about Qi and meditation, he is one quick-tempered, easily coercible kung-fu master.
It is different in The Defenders. Iron Fist no longer sucks as much. But he is a tool. And this works on many a meta level.
On the narrative level, Iron Fist and his unique power is what the evil organization – the Hand – need to access the ‘solution’ the source of Madame Gao and the key figures of the Hand’s immortality. Remember that deep excavation in Daredevil Season 2. Well, at the bottom of that is the source of immortality – amongst the remains of a dragon. Bones and everything. Now the made sure this treasure was secured via an ancient barrier so no ordinary person could get to it save an Iron Fist. And dude was so easily goaded by Elektra to do just the one thing he could have had control over. Not turning on his glowing fist.
Danny Rand also works as a tool on a structural level. Netflix possibly wanted to save face and add some much-needed faith to the Iron Fist brand before season 2 and any following connected series? Well, inserting the Iron Fist
as the prize pig in the epicenter of character motivations to drive the series along goes some ways to repairing that, right?
But this is what gets me, for selfish reason Rand abandons K’un-Lun – the mystical place he was meant to protect – has pretty much just returned to his first home of NYC to his billions and the blind Devil of Hell’s Kitchen stays and fights to protect his city and a building falls on his head leaving him
dead MIA. Privilege is a motherfucker.
The team had responsibility thrust upon them. Survival being that unique an instinct that washes away all preoccupation. And taking shelter in an Asian restaurant gave the individuals to find out who each other were, their skill sets and just what they were up against. Daredevil’s reaction, the voice of a realist and pessimist made it known the idea of a team would bring dire consequences to loved ones of any who dare go up against the Hand.
Out of all the characters who didn’t get their deserved shine, it has to be Jessica. The complex, sarcastic, wry investigator we fell in love with in season 1 was whittled down to a snarky remark or three. They hit their mark, sure. but still. It felt like she was turned into the comedic relief, and that hurt me a bit. Because as far as Netflix + Marvel’s current slew of series goes, she is at the very least the second best character we have seen.
I feel as a team, Jessica and Luke bonded the most, given the history. And out of the new meetings Luke Cage and Iron Fist. I expected the Daredevil to be a bit more defiant in having anyone join in on his fight to take on the Hand but that’s just the Batman / lone wolf fan in me. And I know what you’re saying – conflict isn’t everything. But I am like that ex of yours that’s so much fun but has so much drama. How else do you leave a lasting impression?
Sigourney Weaver’s entrance into the Marvel TV was a big nexus for The Defenders. The presented it with the grandeur of any classic reveal… at a public event. SDCC I believe. And it was a grand moment. This is the woman who taught us how to equally kick and live in peace with aliens.
Her character Alexandra Reid – one of the infamous five top members of the Hand – has a ruthlessness and grace about her. The power to leave a lasting impression on you with a simple statement. “It’s just a city. You will get used to watching them fall”. Clap. Clap.
But now behold a character we are getting used, deciphering her true intention for ‘Black Sky’ and motivations when in a mid bad-guy speech, she gets shunted by a sword in the back. Dead. This I found, absolutely irksome.
It was the same treatment Cottonmouth got in Luke Cage. A calculative (seemingly, as when we see his character things seemed to start spiraling into hot-headedness and brash actions) boss with violent streak gets cut down in his prime. Quickly, brutally. Something one would expect more in a Season 2 at least. It just feels a little rushed and slightly contrived, but I guess when you only have a contract for one season you best make due, which is what we’re guessing is the situation.
This is a tough one for us to describe. As far as fight choreography goes, things were pretty flat throughout the series apart from the office building where our heroes first converged. That was decent. Seeing the Luke and Danny tandem / tag-team moment also made us smile. But when things reached to the final fight down in the cavern below NYC, you could see there was an effort for dramatic moving shots from one member to another as they fought Hand assassins. But we’re not sure if it was the openness and mundanity of the environment (rocks and shit), this felt uneventful. And moments of the side by side by side by side of the heroes also felt staged. The beauty of Daredevil’s staging and using the environment for ambitious shots, or the conveying of onslaught in Luke Cage was wholly absent here. And while we are a fan of the Wu Tang, the effect it had in the perfect-timed sequence of Luke Cage storming “Fort Knox”, it doesn’t quite work here.
Or take for instance the scene from “Royal Dragon” in Episode 4 where Jessica Jones drives a vehicle into the restaurant front display, stepping out, stepping over a baddy, walks across room to then file in side-by-side with the Defenders opposite bad guy to start fighting again. A very awkward sequence in terms of environment and movement of characters in it.
And to be honest I imagined Jessica Jones to have better fightin’ moxy than what we saw. And another big issue, which is what happens with superhuman characters, is gauging how strong a character is in comparison to others, like the Hand foot soldiers. Should Luke Cage feel pain from Elektra or should we have seen something more creative on the fighting side which would have her putting the Cage out of commission long enough for her to handle the other three? Daredevil is presented as a very skilled fighter but is definitely not as strong as Jones. Shouldn’t that superhuman strength then count for something? Her and Luke Cage seemed out of their depth, but Iron Fist struggled with Luke in the alleyway but was okay with fighting foot soldiers in the excavation under the Hand’s HQ. See what I mean? And you defeated a dragon, Danny. Should you not be evenly-matched somewhat with Elektra at least? With your one glowing fist. There is a masturbation joke in there somewhere. Just give us time.
Season 1 Episode 3 – “Worst Behaviour”: Jessica Jones’ greatest performance and shine throughout the series. The team assembled. Tensions and expectations were still high and the choreography was good stuff.
Season 1 Episode 8 – “The Defenders”: The final fight with the Hand felt like a mid-narrative scrimmage. Not to mention a ‘cliff-hanger’ that felt like rolling down a 30º steep hill.
The Defenders. It is the Infinity War of the Marvel TV verse. It is what most comic fans have been waiting for. But let’s be Frank. I got more chills and thrills waiting on Daredevil Season 2. I got a more satisfying ending with Jessica Jones. And I got a better soundtrack and narrative in Luke Cage (for as long as it lasted). Defenders did not satisfy much in these departments, sadly. Because I was looking forward to it. God honest. But as far as a series whether you think of it as an individual piece of part of the whole Marvel + Netflix films, it doesn’t feel like The Defenders are burning on all cylinders. Our greatest hope is this doesn’t constitute a gradual decline in the brand of the Marvel / Netflix series.