The Highs (and Lows) of The Defenders

by thethreepennyguignol

So, it’s been a while since I’ve done a good ol’ show review on this humble blog of mine, and, with The Defenders series (the Netflix Original that brings together Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, who starred in their own series in the lead-up to this) finally dropping yesterday, it seems like I’ve got the perfect bit of blog fodder to dissect. Without further ado let’s talk about the sporadic highs and numerous lows Marvel’s latest release has to offer.

Highs: The Hand

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After kicking around in the background of both Iron Fist and Daredevil being nebulous and vaguely uninteresting, The Hand finally steps to the forefront of this season as big bads and man, is it satisfying to see them in full force. Fully-formed and finally not holding anything back as both Daredevil and Iron Fist were forced to in order to keep some mystery for The Defenders, The Hand here are villains worthy of a tentpole season like this one. Led (for the most part) by a soaringly excellent Sigourney Weaver, the scenes between the upper echelons of the ancient and ruthless organisation are little gems to be savoured amidst the chaos of the rest of the show.

Lows: Danny Rand

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Aaaand on the other end of the scale, we’ve got Danny fucking Rand. Many of the problems (sketchy, cut-heavy fight-scenes, poor characterisation, wobbly acting) of Iron Fist’s first season were put down to a quick turnaround time, but most of them are still present here and represented by Finn Jones’ catastrophically awful Danny Rand: the show opens on a gloomy, rainy, wheezingly dull fight scene featuring Danny was a potent reminder that yes, Iron Fist really was as bad as that and they really haven’t addressed any of the issues that rendered his solo show so disappointing. And when one quarter of your main cast is represented by a mannequin with fairy lights in his knuckles who can’t speak above a hoarse croak, your show is starting on a major back foot, a stumble I’m not convinced The Defenders ever truly overcomes. I will say – and I mean this in the most sincere way possible – that I hate Finn Jones in his role so much that Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock, who I usually find crushingly irritating, is borderline likeable in comparison.

Highs: Jessica

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Jessica Jones standalone show is, without question or argument, the finest one of The Defenders canon to date – hell, maybe the best comic book show I’ve ever seen. And Krysten Ritter is completely at ease in the superb role; sharp, funny, and sour but not without charm, she elevates everyone around her (in fact, some of the best scenes of the team-up come when she and Matt Murdock share the screen). Nuff said; she’s fantastic.

Lows: Jessica

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I know, I know. But bear with me. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with Jessica as a character or a performance, but rather that the kind of show Jessica Jones is just doesn’t gel with the other three Defenders. Whereas Jessica Jones as a show is built around complex themes of revenge, guilt, catharthis, consent, control, etc, most of which are expressed through long scenes of conversation and character interaction, Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist feature fight scenes as part of their DNA and as a major part of their thematic and character development. Mashing the four together gives the boys plenty of time to fight but leaves Jessica pretty much sidelined when it comes to action. Jessica Jones is a very different show to the rest of The Defenders universe, to it’s credit, but here it leaves things feeling a little dissonant.

Highs: Elektra

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Alright, so Elodie Yung hasn’t suddenly pulled thespness out of the bag between seasons, but she’s substantially better here, as is Elektra in general. Not only do they mostly skip by the whole “but does Matt still want to bang her?!” plot that drove me so up the wall in Daredevil series two, but she’s a legitimately formidable villain and the scenes she shares with Sigourney Weaver’s Alexandra are one of The Defender’s high points.

Lows: The Direction

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Look, maybe this is just me as I’ve seen so many people who seem to love this aspect of The Defenders, but man, I found the direction fucking aggressive. The colour schemes – blue for Jessica, yellow for Luke, green for Danny, and red for Matt – are on-the-nose to the point of being almost comical, with Luke at one point only sitting in yellow fucking chairs over the course of one episode. The fight scenes are a cluttered mess of styles with no cohesive mini-story being told shot-by-shot with the scene, and there are lots of odd stylistic choices (like placing characters in the edge of frames) that just don’t seem to add much and become grating in their repetitiveness and how film-school-101 they seem. Your mileage may vary, but it’s rare for a show’s direction to actively irritate me and it seriously got under my skin here.

Miscellaneous Observations

  • The fact that Daredevil has had an extra season versus the rest of the characters really shows here, as he’s a step ahead in the plot development department and at a different place as a character than the rest of the team at the start of the show, with all of them coming off victories and him fresh from a quasi-defeat. It feels dissonant, despite how much better I like Matt here than in his own show.
  • Boy, does this show take a while to get going – the first two episodes inch along with all four members pursuing their own little side-plots that aren’t interesting enough to keep your attention individually but aren’t woven together thematically to create some fusion between characters or story arcs.
  • Yeah, that ending was annoying. I don’t want to give too much away, but ugh.
  • The Defenders, considering that it was always going to end with this team-up, doesn’t seem to be able to marry the characters and shows together too well and it often feels like they’re just sort of mashing four broken jigsaw pieces at each other before announcing “fuck it, that’ll do” and walking off.

So, overall: is The Defenders worth it? It’s a solid hell, no from me, and that’s as someone who actually quite enjoyed three of the four shows that led up to it. The Defenders is plodding, confused, and cluttered, despite some solid performances and engaging bad guys – it feels more like Iron Fist’s second season, featuring Luke, Jessica, and Matt as a side note. It’s proof that good characters who stand alone in their own shows don’t automatically make for an interesting team-up, and I can’t help but wonder what The Defenders would have looked like if the team-up had come first and then been followed by standalone series exploring the characters by themselves. What do you think? Did you enjoy The Defenders? If not, what would you have changed? Let me know in the comments below or hit me up on Twitter!

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