The Defenders - Season 1 - Review
The Defenders is Netflix's crowning achievement of their Marvel properties. They made their own mini-shared universe with each of the main characters having their own show before meeting up here. There were some highs and lows on the journey to get here, but it has finally arrived. Continue reading to see my thoughts on the first season of The Defenders but beware of spoilers!
There have been 5 seasons of television leading up to this show. Two seasons of Daredevil, and 1 each of Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist. 4 out 5 of those seasons were stellar television. Iron Fist was the weak link. So it was baffling to me that The Defenders decided to use much of the mythology from Iron Fist to anchor this show. Of course, the mythology was not what was wrong with Iron Fist but I would have still rather it been Kingpin returning to power or something that brought them together. Plus, any chance to see Vincent D'onofrio play Kingpin is a bonus in my book.
It was nice that the series was only 8 episodes. I felt some of the series before it suffered with 13, they always had a few episodes of filler. So I would rather have 4 less episodes and a tighter story, than more episodes with filler. Even at 8 episodes, there were still some slow moving parts. That is not a bad thing, Better Call Saul is one of the slowest shows on TV but also one of the best. I felt like the characters came together organically. Sure, Rosario Dawson's Claire helped with that as she has met all four of them, but the work they did made the payoff much better when they did get together.
Sigourney Weaver as the big bad is a great idea. The Defenders didn't take advantage of that though. It was just a means to get Elektra set up as the real villain. That was a disappointing. Sigourney Weaver could have been used so much better. They never showed why Alexandra was the leader of the Hand. To me, Madame Gao was more qualified, and having seen several seasons of her, we know how resourceful she is. We were told why Alexandra was important, but the impact wasn't there.
For all of the problems the story had, the character's journeys and interactions were the heart of the series, and makes the whole thing worth watching. They really played up the Luke Cage/Danny Rand bromance, perhaps setting up a Heroes for Hire television series. Danny Rand worked a little bit better here as an ensemble than he did by himself. Jessica and Matt worked together well too, and I would like to see them keep that relationship going in their own standalone series.
The fight choreography was great. They gave everyone their own moment to shine, akin to the final fight in The Avengers. It really drove home the point that all four of them were needed to be successful, and if one of those elements went missing, they probably would have failed.
While everyone got their own personal story arcs that evolved their characters, Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) probably had the biggest transformation. Jessica (Krysten Ritter), Luke (Mike Colter), and Danny (Finn Jones) all took the next step in their evolution. I had assumed going in that since Matt had two seasons worth of development already they would focus on the others more. That is not what happened.
When Matt wanted to save Elektra and basically sacrificed himself to do so, they shouldn't have played up his death to the audience. We all knew he wasn't dead. Daredevil Season 3 has already been confirmed. If they wanted to perceive the character as dead for impact on the other characters that is understandable. But don't lump the audience in with them, because it is somewhat insulting.
The Defenders did a good job setting up individual storylines to go back into the standalone seasons for each character. Daredevil's fate might be to tease a Born Again storyline but there was still no reason to let the audience think he was dead for so long, when of course we knew he wasn't. Jessica learned to let people in a little more, and is dealing with PTSD. Luke found purpose in his post-prison life and Danny learned he didn't have to do everything by himself. Those themes will certainly play into later seasons and that was the most exciting part of The Defenders.
The Netflix corner of Marvel has been around for a few years now, and they know what works and what doesn't. Everything was always leading to this, and they don't seem to be stopping any time soon. But I am hoping that they can take a step back and retool their plans for "Phase 2" based off of what people liked and didn't in Phase 1. The problems that they have are very fixable.
Overall, The Defenders was more of a success than a failure, but they can definitely learn from some things to make their future stronger. We are getting many more of these shows in the next year and a half, and hopefully they can all be as strong or stronger than their predecessors.
Marvel's The Defenders is now streaming exclusively on Netflix.