Marvel is certainly prolific, I'll give them that. Between their multiple cinematic releases, video games, big budget television shows, and growing number of small budget Netflix offerings, this one shared universe has been almost unrivaled in its output for years now. The most recent shot in Marvel's never-ending barrage of entertainment is The Defenders, a low budget crossover series combining Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, or 'Marvel's current Netflixers.'
Despite a relatively poor last offering in the form of a terrible Iron Fist series, buzz for The Defenders was pretty high, with a lot of people genuinely excited to see Matt, Jessica, and Luke interacting, with Danny as an unfortunate extra who they could, at the very least, mock.
So, did it live up to the hype?
Set a while after its various constituent series, The Defenders sees its four unlikely heroes thrown together when New York comes under attack by the Hand, led by the mysterious and immortal Alexandra Reid. Needing to unlock a door deep beneath the city, the Hand sets out to kidnap or coerce Danny Rand into unlocking it for them, wielding their vast resources against the Defenders, along with Alexandra's secret weapon: A revived Elektra.
|Coffee, and other New York(tm) things.|
Okay, before I get into this show's many problems, I do want to say that I actually really enjoyed it. With basically all the Netflix series apart from Jessica Jones (and Iron Fist, which I did not watch at all), it took me a while to get into them, with large chunks of each feeling like slogs to get through. The Defenders managed to catch and keep my attention almost immediately, and maintain my interest over the span of its entire eight episodes. It's definitely one of the more enjoyable of Marvel's Netflix offerings, with a quicker pace than most of its predecessors.
Once they unite as a team, the interactions between the various team members are a lot of fun, and even occasionally manage to be quite touching, and the involvement of side characters like Misty, Colleen, and Claire, while being very far from done perfectly, are a nice touch. While her abrupt end rather disappointed me, I did like Alexandra as a villain, in no small part because of Sigourney Weaver's acting -- and, just in general, the acting is very strong throughout this show.
That having been said, this show is riddled with problems, with the main one being pacing. The series is only eight episodes long, and it feels like it was plotted out to be longer, with bits having been cut away to make it fit. By the time the Defenders have become a team proper, it's basically time for the final battle, and the rushed pacing means that none of the impressively large cast of villains ever really has time to develop themselves as threats or flesh themselves out.
|A wasted opportunity.|
Harking back to Alexandra again, her arc is the perfect example of this: At the end of episode six, she's killed off to make way for Elektra as the main bad guy, but prior to that point, we'd never really got a chance to see Alexandra in her element as a villain. She went from set-up to decline to death without any time to actually be an antagonist, and the other fingers of the Hand don't get off any better, often being introduced only to either fade into the background or be defeated in short order.
The pacing is horrendously rushed, and given how many balls this series is trying to juggle, that inevitably means that it doesn't do any of its plotlines justice, because it simply doesn't have time.
The result? I don't buy the Hand as a threat, I don't buy Matt's personal conflict, I barely buy the Defenders as a team, and I don't really ever buy that New York is in danger. The rushed pace lends an air of artificiality to the entire thing, because you're constantly being thrown out of the story as it speeds through the minimum necessary plot points.
|Danny doing something. I mean, I guess.|
This is also the series that makes it very clear that the Netflix shows are basically doing their plots in a madlibs train of thought style, and nowhere is this more apparent than in its treatment of plotlines started in Daredevil: The Black Sky, set up to be a godlike being who the Hand worships, is hurriedly boiled down to 'someone who's good at fighting,' with four out of five Hand factions apparently not caring about it; the Chaste, set up as potential future antagonists, are wiped out offscreen; Nobu, set up as an important and mysterious archnemesis to Matt, is boiled down to the henchman of a rather uninteresting Hand member.
There's a sense of writers conflicting on things, as if certain plot elements were worked in only begrudgingly -- if I didn't know better, I'd say that this series was created by Iron Fist's writers, given how preeminent story elements from Iron Fist are, and how hastily retconned story elements from Daredevil are. Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered the series was actually made by Daredevil's writers.
I did enjoy this series, but god knows it was a let down in a lot of ways. Still, with it having been a roaring success in terms of viewership, we can certainly expect to see a second series of The Defenders a few years from now. In the meantime, we can expect a third series of Daredevil, a second series of (at least) Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, and likely a Punisher series.