Netflix’s The Defenders is a Mixed Bag Marvel Team-Up

After years of build up and anticipation, last Friday saw the batch drop of Netflix’s eight episode Defenders mega-series. Faced with a foe no one single series star could defeat (Sigourney Weaver and an army of immortal ninjas), Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist met up in an Avengers-style team up with bold ramifications for each series going forward (well, sort of). Deadshirters Kayleigh Hearn, Max Robinson and Chuck Winters stepped out of their respective Netflix original series to discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly of Netflix’s first ever superhero crossover (with spoilers) below.

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Max: It’s been two years since the first season of Daredevil dropped and, while it somehow feels like we’ve been talking about these Netflix Marvel shows for an actual eternity, that’s a fairly short timespan to establish a whole corner of the MCU over four shows. The Defenders is the culmination of this whole scheme and, by and large, I really enjoyed it. In particular, the eight episode season length really helped trim some of the fat and glacial plotting that plagues most of these shows.

Kayleigh: I was most excited to see the return of Jessica Jones in all her leather-jacket-and-whisky-breath glory, and Krysten Ritter’s performance grounded the show when it could have easily gone off the rails with a bunch of ninjas talking about “the substance” and Danny Rand’s flowery speeches about dragons. I was also surprised by how endeared I was to her friendship with Matt, and their scenes together—Jessica following Matt while he thinks he’s following her, Matt leapfrogging up staircases with a scarf wrapped around his face while Jessica just takes the elevator—were some of the best character moments in the show.

Max: Yeah it’s been awhile since Jessica Jones and I’d honestly forgotten how much charisma Ritter brings to the table, the extended gag about Matt stealing her scarf as an impromptu Daredevil mask was clever and the bit where she posed as a dumb startup CEO a la Fletch was probably the funniest part of the whole show. Everyone had good chemistry: the begrudging friendship between Luke and Danny, Luke and Jessica’s strained fondness for each other as exes.

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Chuck: Thirding the love for Krysten Ritter, she did really well. Honestly, all of the principal cast did great, it felt like a story worthy of this kind of team-up, Sigourney Weaver was just outstanding (also, water is wet), and yeah, at eight episodes it’s nice and lean.

Max: Dubious optics and overall character trajectory aside, I enjoyed Sigourney Weaver in this as some kind of immortal ninja monger who only eats at five star restaurants and listens to NPR but, to be fair, I’m a mark for Sig Weav in general. Netflix paid a couple million dollars so we could watch the lady from Aliens call someone “baka.”

This was also the best use of Scott Glenn’s Stick out of his three show appearances and having him be the amoral wildcard of the group added a crucial dynamic. The “reveal” that he’s 100% down to murder Iron Fist if it stops The Hand was killer. Kayleigh, you described him perfectly on Twitter as “a man made of gravel and cigarettes.”

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Kayleigh: The Netflix shows have surpassed the MCU with their complex, frequently terrifying villains, so it was disappointing to see The Defenders stumble with Alexandra Reid. Perhaps this is partly the fault of internet fanboy culture and all the “Who is she playing? Is it Morgan le Fay?” speculation. And unfortunately no one in the writer’s room really listened to all the criticism about the Hand or why people were upset about Finn Jones cast as Danny Rand, because “white woman from K’un Lun ordering around evil ninjas” was a misfire. It did give me immense pleasure to see Elektra ice Stick though—if he gave one more speech to Matt about how she wasn’t even really a person anymore and needed to be put down, I would have been cutting off hands too. #Justice4Elektra

Chuck: But that was kind of building to the point, I thought: that Stick is, ironically, just as much a villain in this as Alexandra, or Elektra. He’s a total flip on the idea of the cruel-but-fair master; here, it’s Stick’s cruelty, his narrow focus on the obliteration of The Hand, that alienates Elektra and leads her to murder him when the time comes. He’s not wrong when he says that Matt can’t save her, but he ignores his own complicity in it. Scott Glenn’s Stick is kind of a fascinating character in that way.

Having said that, yes, hammering these points home did get to be a bit much, but I felt it more with Foggy and Karen trying to pull Matt away from his self-destructive lifestyle as Daredevil. I think for that to not feel like two people being complete and utter nags, the previous shows needed to better establish the emotional and physical toll this was all taking on Matt. As it stands, it’s just a lot of “Do you not trust this guy when he says shit is way too real to turn his back on?” You’ve got Matt trying to get Karen to safety, looking utterly, existentially terrified in a way he never has before, and Karen just keeps whining about how he’s fallen back into his old ways.

Max: The best element of the show for me was the fun, unusual dynamic between the four leads and the worst part was the actual dialogue between the leads. I liked the kind of deliberate throwback blaxploitation patter of Luke Cage and occasionally liked how straight up weird the exchanges in Iron Fist got but whoever made THREE TIME OSCAR NOMINEE Sigourney Weaver give a straightfaced “we’re not so different, you and I” speech should’ve been thrown into The Hand’s ninja hole.

Kayleigh: Matt telling Elektra, “There’s good in you, I’ve felt it!” was straight out of a Star Wars prequel, and considering that “hero tries to convince his brainwashed loved one to come back to the light” plots are like catnip to me—catnip, I say!—I really wish so much of this show didn’t feel like a first draft. (“This is what living feels like,” however, was *chef’s kiss*) I don’t think Defenders ever knew what to do with its supporting cast; Rosario Dawson is supposed to be the thread binding all five shows together, and while I’m glad they didn’t Coulson her for the sake of team angst, her small role felt like a waste. We don’t even see Jessica and Matt learn that their exes are dating each other!

Chuck: God, I didn’t even think of that until you brought it up. Still, though, you want to talk about dialogue out of a Star Wars prequel? Let’s talk about Finn Jones. I only saw two episodes of Iron Fist, but I defended him on the basis that nobody could have made Scott Buck’s scripts work; everyone was stranded by his ungrounded, happening-for-the-sake-of-happening writing. Here, though, where he has a little more grounding…whoof. Jones does “determined, innocent zen fighter” about as well as Connor4Real would have.

Max: I sorta liked how they leaned into Iron Fist as like the damsel in distress/walking plot device of the group? The Zoolanderisms got annoying but Netflix Iron Fist is best when they make him a kind of well-meaning dumb guy who buys everyone too much beef lo mein. It was a little weird how the show itself seemed to realize it didn’t have much for each show’s respective supporting character to do, so we got like that vaguely coherent conversation between Trish Walker and Karen Page or Misty Knight’s NYPD superhero babysitter schtick. Props to Carrie-Anne Moss for showing up for one hilariously scummy scene before peacing out of the show forever.

Chuck: I’ll give them this, though; if the side characters feel stranded, at least the way the leads come together is damn solid, I thought. Admittedly it takes a while to get to the fireworks factory, but I wasn’t bored, and the wait was mostly worth it.

Kayleigh: As Max mentioned at the beginning, The Defenders has been in development for years, but despite four shows and five seasons of buildup, the main event did not live up to the hype. Maybe the wet fart that was Iron Fist let too much air out of the balloon. Maybe it’s the Netflix MCU’s near-fatal problems with pacing, even with the shortened episode count. (An entire episode of the team just hanging out in a restaurant and talking? Really?) Overall, I felt the show lacked the urgency and stakes to make it as compelling as it could have been, or feel bigger than Daredevil Season 3 with very special guest stars.

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Chuck: I’ll say this: after Iron Fist burned a lot of my goodwill, I’m genuinely interested in what’s next. I don’t know how you can get The Defenders back together again without the kind of contrived bullshit that dragged down Daredevil S2, and I’m not sure I need them to try. But it did entertain me, and I think it ends in an interesting place for a lot of key characters, especially Misty Knight. (I wonder if Cheo Coker is thrilled that he doesn’t have to come up with a reason for her to lose a limb, and can jump right to her getting the bionic arm and kicking some ass alongside Luke with it.) So I’m gonna call it a modest success, even if it should’ve been a rip-roaring good time.

Max: I’m a simple man. I don’t need much. Despite uh…MANY… issues, this is still a show where a superhero fights his back-from-the-dead ex-girlfriend inside the skeleton of a dragon. The Netflix Marvel shows tend to veer wildly between “highbrow superhero affair” and “about as good as a CW DC show” and this was definitely the latter. It’s a fun way to spend a weekend but it’s definitely a cheaper thrill than the pretty engaging crime thriller that was the first season of Daredevil or Jessica Jones’ surprisingly powerful exploration of survivor trauma. I’m guessing The Punisher’s solo show will be a more grounded affair without any Ninja 9/11s but who even knows, it’s Netflix’s broad caricature of NYC and we’re all living in it, baby!

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