Television Reviews

REVIEW: Marvel’s The Defenders

As the highly-publicized premier of The Defenders neared, fans began to feel uneasy at the prospect of a new Netflix Marvel release. This television universe has had a lot of highs and lows. Daredevil, in 2015, was a smash success. It was received well by both fans and critics, while also managing to deliver a source material-accurate depiction of the character. Jessica Jones and a second season of Daredevil both received their share of critical acclaim, but were not held in as high of a regard as Daredevil: Season One, despite introducing audiences to one of the MCU’s best villains and fan-favorite, The Punisher, respectively. The Hero For Hire, Luke Cage, was met with a positive reception in his debut season, but many thought the show lost steam in its second half. Following the Power Man was Iron Fist, which ended Marvel’s winning streak. Prior to its release, the show was met with critical panning across the board which left many fans in disbelief. This left most viewers uneasy moving forward, bringing us all to today as we all finish our tentative binge-watching of Marvel and Netflix’ latest collaboration: The Defenders.

A welcome change that is noticeable right away centers around the fact that Netflix and Marvel decided to make this series eight episodes long as opposed to every other seasons’ thirteen episodes. This resulted in a well-paced show that never dragged, but also never rushed. There was plenty of room left for each character and their individual identity to breathe. The show’s writers did a good job of not leaning too hard on any one character for too long at a time. Some have criticized The Defenders‘ first three episodes of being slow, which is a perceived flaw that I disagree with. The season starters were not full of action (until the end of Episode Three), but there was plenty of interesting and engaging character development. Any more time than the first three episodes spent in this mode would have been unbalanced. However, once the four heroes unite, the show never allows a dull moment.

The character of Danny Rand (and actor Finn Jones himself) was cause for concern, especially after his less than stellar first season. However, while still not up to the level of the other three main players, Jones has improved significantly since Iron Fist. His line delivery still does not hold as much weight as it should, but it is a lot easier to sit and watch. His interactions with the other three heroes are when he is at his best, especially when it comes to time spent with Mike Colter’s Luke Cage. Every scene with Cage and Rand was really enjoyable, which elicits a big sigh of relief considering that we could one day get a Heroes For Hire series, which would hinge on their chemistry. Colter is as good here as he was in his debut in Jessica Jones and in his solo series. He is a perfect fit for the role. It was also great to see him and Krysten Ritter share the screen again, as they worked so well together in her solo series. The call backs to their adventures together were welcome as they reminded me of how great that series was. Ritter herself is an absolute badass in the role of Jessica Jones. More often than not, Ritter acts circles around whoever it is she is sharing the screen with, more than holding her own as both a character and as an actor. My favorite character to see her pair up with in this series has to be The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen himself, Matt Murdock. Their chemistry was truly electric. Witty banter between the two of them brought a nice sense of levity to the series without infringing on the show’s overall tone. Charlie Cox, who portrays Matt Murdock, is my personal favorite actor and character across all of the shows. I find Murdock to have the most depth and I get the most out of his stories. All in all, the four Defenders manage to work well together, which cements the strengths of The Defenders as a whole.

Other characters in the series are mostly all familiar faces from other shows. Although most of the favorites do appear, some are certainly more prominent than others. Rosario Dawnson’s Claire Temple, the one consistent character across each series thus far (though that will reportedly end with this show as she won’t appear in The Punisher), is back. Unlike in Iron Fist, her inclusion feels natural and is a good fit for the show. She serves as a great anchor for a lot of the characters especially near the end of the season. Dawson has always been a bright spot in the shows and The Defenders would not have been the same without her. The other notable character was Colleen Wing played by Jessica Henwick from Iron Fist. Henwick was probably the best part of Danny Rand’s solo series. She had an interesting storyline which really made her stand out, which also carries over here. She did an excellent job of preventing the Iron Fist star from falling flat in the scenes they share.

As far as the villains go, Sigourney Weaver gave a pretty good performance, but her character was a weak point for the show. There were points where I felt that her character was going to be more than she seemed. Cinematographic choices and odd, obscured angles almost indicated that more dwelled underneath the surface, but all my theories as I watched ended up being completely wrong. Unfortunately, Weaver’s character really did feel wasted by the end of The Defenders, which is a shame. The other villain worth mentioning is Elodie Yung as Elektra/The Black Sky. Yung, like in the second season of Daredevil, was fierce and a force to be reckoned with. Her arc in this series is one that I did feel had a lot of earned emotional weight, which helped make up for the wasted potential with Weaver. Yung also does a fantastic job in all of her action sequences and never ceases to impress.

While Elodie Yung does impress in terms of how she does in her action, the action in the show in general is also a weak point. It isn’t horrible and unwatchable by any means, but it just feels stale compared to Daredevil. It might not be slow and clunky like in Iron Fist but it really does lack the punch I expected it to have, which is sad considering that all most of these characters do is punch. The “hallway” scene we get here is a disappointing end to the trilogy of hallway fights we’ve had in these Marvel/Netflix shows, the first two being in the two seasons of Daredevil. The big climax fight scene in Episode Eight was really disappointing on not only the action front but also given its choice of music. Instead of using a great score like in the rest of the series, the showrunners opted to go for a rap song at an oddly low volume that was distracting more than anything. It really took away all impact that the moment was meant to have.

All this being said, Marvel’s The Defenders has been a success in my books. The show does a great job of balancing the main players and telling a great story. The main actors do a fantastic job of working off of each other which led to some great and memorable pairings. The choice of eight episodes as opposed to thirteen paid off in spades as it is the best-paced series thus far. The show, of course, isn’t without it’s weaknesses which heavily fall on the wasted potential of Sigourney Weaver’s character and lackluster action that really didn’t meet up to the standards of the rest of the show. Thankfully, the strength of the characters and the story around them is more than enough to hold the series together.

Score: 9/10

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