“Marvel’s The Defenders” succeeds despite squandered potential

Colin Vanden Berg

Assoc. Arts & Culture Editor

Marvel’s Netflix Universe—distantly connected to its cinematic universe—began in 2013 with the excellent first season of Daredevil. From the start, Marvel’s plan was to combine Daredevil with characters from the other shows it would introduce (Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist) in a team-up series The Defenders. However, by the time of The Defenders’  release this fall, many fans had grown skeptical of Marvel’s ambitious TV project. While the first seasons of Jessica Jones and Luke Cage ranged from pretty good to great, neither quite matched the exceptional quality of Daredevil’s two seasons. The less said about the boring, confusing Iron Fist, the better. Still, the Defenders assembled, and although their first season was flawed, it was ultimately successful for fans of Marvel Entertainment and action series.

The Defenders season is an eight-episode season, which vastly improves the pacing compared to the previous 13-episode Marvel Netflix shows. Over the course of the show’s methodical first two episodes, defense attorney Matt Murdock/Daredevil (Charlie Cox), private investigator Jessica Jones (Kristen Ritter), hero-for-hire Luke Cage (Mike Coulter), and billionaire Danny Rand/The Immortal Iron Fist (Finn Jones), all converge on the same area of Hell’s Kitchen, New York. Both episodes adequately introduce all four characters and a few side characters for viewers unfamiliar with each character’s solo series. However, a number of details, such as motivations and backstories lack remain mysterious until episodes three, four, and in some cases five.

The show finds its footing at the end of episode three, when all four Defenders meet for the first time, during their first encounter with the villainous organization The Hand. That fight scene is well choreographed, exciting, and features great chemistry between all four actors sharing a scene for the first time. The fight scenes in all subsequent episodes are also great, but none quite match the pure energy of the hallway fight in episode three.

Unsurprisingly, the best thing about The Defenders is the Defenders themselves. The interactions between all four Defenders are so natural that it’s as if they’d been sharing the screen since their first on-screen appearances. The show typically pairs Matt Murdock with Jessica Jones due to shared legal experience, and Iron Fist and Luke Cage due to the stark contrast in backgrounds, personalities, and abilities.

Iron Fist, in particular, benefits from being teamed with street-level heroes unaware of his unending quest to defeat the spiritually-based assassin group The Hand. Due to Danny’s past experience and the others’ ignorance, The Defenders explains more about Danny’s backstory and The Hand in two episodes than Iron Fist season one explains in thirteen. Danny himself is a more interesting character in this show, partly because he has three other street-level heroes to call him out on his selfishness and lack of people skills.

The show’s main flaws come from its handling of the secondary characters. One or two supporting characters from all four solo series appear in the Defenders, but only Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) from Iron Fist and    Misty Knight (Simone Missick) offer anything of relevance to the story. Also, The Hand is not as menacing a force as they could be, because almost as much time is dedicating to developing and humanizing each member as is spent with the Defenders. The result is that they aren’t as menacing a force as they perhaps should have been, so the series’ main antagonistic force mostly just sits around plotting until the final confrontation in episode eight.

The Defenders offers great character work, exciting action, and a mostly intriguing story about a dangerous threat. Unfortunately, the lack of effort initiating Marvel Netflix newcomers, the missuse of secondary characters,, and the un-tapped potential of the villains keep a show which should have been great firmly in the “pretty good” category.

Grade 7.6/10