The Marvel Netflix universe has had something of a rocky path to get to this point. Daredevil was an amazing show (season 1 was awesome and season 2 was even better), as was Jessica Jones, however, while Luke Cage was very strong in its first half, the last half let it down somewhat, and Iron Fist was one big misfire. However, it was clear that all those shows were building towards something big, and that was The Defenders, which sees the blind devil of Hell’s Kitchen, the alcoholic detective of Alias Investigations, the indestructible ex-con from Harlem, and the Immortal Iron Fist teaming up together to take on The Hand, including their supreme leader Alexandra Reid and her right-hand woman, the resurrected Elektra. This was built up to be the best and biggest of all those shows, so does it all come together well? Yes and no.
While The Defenders was an enjoyable show for the most part, it does have a lot stumbles along the way, especially considering that the first two episodes are pretty sluggish. They felt like an overextended prologue that takes its time to build up and expand on the characters following their own individual shows, but it felt like we were trudging at a snail’s pace, but by the time episode 3 rolls around and the four heroes start teaming up together, the show finds it feet and it becomes more exciting and entertaining as a result. One of the aspects this show nailed following episode 3 is the slow bonding formation of this team because we know how damaged these heroes are from their own shows, so here, they are reluctant to be heroes and become part of a team. There’s friction between them, but they learn to accept help, and when the show ends, the friendship that’s formed felt real.
The real reason for the friendship working is the chemistry between the four principal leads; once again, Charlie Cox nails Matt Murdock/Daredevil, and the story arc he’s given here is more personal and you do feel the stakes are high for him this time. Krysten Ritter completely steals the show as Jessica Jones, capturing the vulnerability and sardonic wit perfectly, while Mike Colter totally conveys the self-righteous, boy-scout attitude of Luke Cage, plus his and Jones’ relationship is explored further and it’s still as believable as before. As for Finn Jones as Iron Fist, while he initially started out as the mopey charisma vacuum that he was in his own show, by episode 3 onwards, Finn Jones is given meatier material to chew on, so his performance gets better and Iron Fist becomes a more interesting character as a result. The rest of the supporting cast are also terrific with Scott Glenn being totally badass as the untrustworthy Stick, Rosario Dawson still awesome as Claire Temple, and both Jessica Henwick and Simone Missick are excellent additions as Colleen Wing and Misty Knight.
As for the central villains of the series, Sigourney Weaver proves to be a formidable adversary as Alexandra Reid. Even though she may not be as memorable or as intimidating as Vincent D'Onofrio’s Kingpin or David Tennant’s Kilgrave, Weaver manages to show what a true powerful force Alexandra can be without getting physical, so you totally believe her as the central leader of The Hand. Plus, Wai Ching Ho is again just deliciously complex as Madame Gao. However, the true standout is Élodie Yung as Elektra Natchios, who blew audiences away in season 2 of Dardevil and she does the same here, maybe even more so. The story arc she goes through was actually more compelling and riveting than Alexandra’s, tying into Daredevil’s story on a personal level, and she certainly proves to be more than a match for the Defenders. Overall, the organisation of The Hand was felt throughout brilliantly, and the overarching story of them needing Iron Fist to unlock a special hidden power was a unique story device on its own.
The downside is that the direction that particular storyline goes by the end felt very anticlimactic and doesn’t make much sense in the grand scheme of things. To be honest, it felt like the show was reaching a crescendo in episode 6 before ending on a great cliff-hanger that sets the stage for the last two episodes, yet the last two just fell flat and unfortunately don’t deliver on the promise of this series, as they mainly consist of plot holes, tedious repetition, and disappointing action sequences. Plus, Rachael Taylor as Trish Walker was sadly wasted, and both Deborah Ann Woll and Elden Henson as Karen Page and Foggy Nelson have gone from likeable characters in Daredevil to being downright annoying here.
After three of build-up, The Defenders should’ve been something extraordinary, but as it is, it’s just an enjoyably solid show with some major missteps. The chemistry between the four principal leads is there, the villains are great and both the action and story are brilliant for the most part, yet its first two episodes are a slog and the last two are a genuine disappointment by completely forgetting the core thing that made these heroes so distinguishable in the first place. It’s much better than Iron Fist and slightly more enjoyable than Luke Cage, yet it fails to reach the staggering heights of both Daredevil and Jessica Jones.
THE DEFENDERS: SEASON ONE / DIRECTORS & SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: CHARLIE COX, KRYSTEN RITTER, MIKE COLTER, FINN JONES, EKA DARVILLE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (NETFLIX)
Expected rating: 9/10