Welcome back. So here it is, The Defenders – the big team up miniseries the first few Marvel Netflix shows had been leading up to. All the main heroes had their own debuts and it was time for them to have a big `ol crossover event. Unlike the Avengers, this show was more street level and was R-rated, allowing a grittier feel. It also benefitted from being an 8-episode miniseries instead of a single movie, allowing for more character interaction. With the individual shows being mostly big hits and the announcement that Sigourney Weaver was playing the villain, it had almost as much hype as the then-upcoming Avengers: Infinity War. So, did it deliver? For the most part, it did. Well, at least in my opinion but for others, it was a huge let down. Anyway, let’s get into it (and as usual, there will be spoilers).
The main cast worked
It did a lot of things perfectly. Not only did it feature the main heroes from the previous shows, but it went the extra mile to include most of its supporting cast. Now, one would expect Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple to show up as she was basically the Phil Coulson of the early seasons and managed to meet (and save) each member of the team at some point. I didn’t expect to see Foggy, Karen, Misty, Colleen, Stick, Hogarth, Malcolm, Trish, etc. It included just about every supporting character from the previous shows just for that added world-building experience. Hell, they even managed to sneak in Foggy Nelson’s girlfriend for like half a second. I also liked that Stick, Colleen, and Misty were sort of reserve members (or Defenders for a Day if you like) who came and went throughout the story to help fight ninjas. It’s also nice that they included Trish Walker in the cast since, while she wasn’t yet a superhero in this version, she was a member of the team in the comics.
Speaking of the comics, while some OG fans didn’t like that the team didn’t include more familiar faces such as Dr. Strange or Hulk, some of the guys in this show were still members in the comics. Luke Cage was a part of the team for a long time and Iron Fist had a few short stints here and there (I know Marvel had a roster that was identical to this one after the show came out but you know what I mean). That said, the team probably had more in common with Marvel Knights or even Heroes For Hire since many of the same characters were involved in both teams but The Defenders is more iconic and just sounds better so I get what they were going for. That said, we got the classic comic book duos of Luke Cage and Iron Fist as well as Colleen Wing and Misty Knight. That was worth the price of admission (or a Netflix subscription).
Anyway, the team worked great together in that they didn’t work well together; that was a staple of the classic Defenders lineups in the comics. They weren’t team players and would otherwise prefer to do things on their own. For instance, Daredevil was still grieving over Elektra’s death and trying to give up being a vigilante. I loved his early discussions with Foggy and Karen as it came off like someone turning to his friends to help him through a drug addiction, which included Foggy noticing telltale signs that Matt had had a “relapse”. Meanwhile, Luke had just gotten out of prison (that cliffhanger from season 1 didn’t really amount to much, but oh well) and was trying to get back to protecting Harlem. As for Jessica, she was still Jessica and generally hates most people anyway, so a team was never gonna be her thing. Danny was the only one interested in a big team up, but the man was, in the words of Stick, “a thundering dumbass”. So there it was: a lawyer with a vigilante addiction, an alcoholic PI dealing with trauma, an ex-con, and a rich kid with no social skills. The character dynamic pretty much wrote itself. There was an early episode where the characters spent almost the entire runtime talking in a Chinese restaurant and what could otherwise be seen as a Seinfeld episode without the jokes, made the perfect setting to compare and contrast the heroes.
Of course I’m gonna talk about the fights
One thing that I alluded to in the Iron Fist season 1 entry was that Finn Jones redeemed himself a bit here. While his show was plagued with a number of issues that made most of the fight scenes lackluster, this series showed that, with a little bit of training, some fight choreography, and better directing/editing/sound, Finn Jones could be believable as a martial artist. The fight in the boardroom was pretty badass in my opinion (and of course that battle led to a big hallway fight).
Other great fight scenes included the restaurant fight, Luke Cage vs Iron Fist, and the final battle with Elektra. With all the main heroes being either martial artists or people with super strength, it’d be easy for the fights to get dull and repetitive but each hero got to show off their individual strengths. Luke was a guy who could rip people in half but didn’t want to hurt anyone so he often ran defense, Jessica was usually the one to be at the front line since she had no qualms about throwing someone through a wall, Danny was reckless but it worked since he was the one with the surprise weapon that could clear a room, and Daredevil was the most experienced so he was pretty much the leader of the group as he often came up with the battle plans whether he liked to or not. Of course, another good reason why Daredevil had to be the leader was because his ex-girlfriend was the main villain. This leads me to the next part, which isn’t really a criticism or anything, it’s just something I noticed.
Daredevil Season 2.5
If a person wanted to only watch the Daredevil series and wasn’t interested in the rest of the Marvel franchise on Netflix, they would still need to watch this show. As I mentioned in the Daredevil season 2 entry, the showrunners for Daredevil set up a lot of subplots that were eventually resolved in Defenders. It explained why the Hand were digging that giant hole, why they were harvesting blood, and what they eventually did with Elektra. On top of that, this miniseries killed off two important members of the Daredevil cast. That’s before we get into the fact that this miniseries ended with a cliffhanger to set up Daredevil season 3. You would have to watch this miniseries to make sense of the last two seasons of Daredevil. Granted, it did tie into some of the other shows a bit.
Obviously, the first season of Iron Fist, like Daredevil, featured the Hand and implied they needed Danny as a MacGuffin, which was resolved in Defenders. Also, Colleen Wing finally got her revenge against Bakuto in the climax. As for Luke Cage, it showed how Misty Knight lost her arm. Otherwise, that’s about it. You probably should watch Defenders while watching those shows, but it’s not required to follow the plot. Oddly enough, a person could watch all three seasons of Jessica Jones without watching Defenders and not miss a beat. It really had no tie-ins to her show despite Jess being quite popular.
At any rate, the show did a good job resolving subplots from Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist. Due to the fast-paced Netflix schedule, they had to scramble to work with the other showrunners to make a mostly coherent plot. In fact, they were planning this show at a time when Luke Cage and Iron Fist had not been released yet. It was a lot to juggle and they managed to pull it off but there were some hiccups.
What the hell was the Black Sky anyway? (and other issues)
While the show did a good job addressing multiple storylines at once, there were some that didn’t quite land, namely, the Black Sky subplot. The Black Sky was first mentioned waaaaay back in the first season of Daredevil, which had a different showrunner that left the franchise shortly after. In that first episode, the Black Sky was believed to be a world-ending threat and Stick was so terrified that he killed the kid who was believed to harness its power. The kid didn’t do much and Daredevil mentioned he seemed inhuman and that’s pretty much all there was to it. The showrunners for season 2/Defenders had to make their own sense of things. As I mentioned in the entry for Daredevil season 2, it was revealed that Elektra was the Black Sky (or at least a Black Sky I guess). That season didn’t really explain what that meant. Defenders… didn’t either. Now, when Elektra was resurrected, it did activate her Black Sky abilities and persona: she went crazy, had amnesia, and became strong enough to beat up all four Defenders at once. That’s all well and good but it doesn’t exactly paint the picture of something that can end the world. Shortly after coming back from the dead, Elektra and Sigourney Weaver’s character discussed some demonic entity that the Hand worshipped, implying it was linked to the Black Sky somehow, but it didn’t go much farther than that. What’s even stranger was that Elektra claimed to have been the one that destroyed K’un L’un (as seen at the end of Iron Fist season 1) but Weaver’s character said that K’un L’un wasn’t destroyed at all, implying some sort of illusion was at play. In both cases, they were talking to Danny Rand and were manipulating him for their own purposes but the show was never clear about that. If K’un L’un was destroyed, does that mean Elektra had the ability to blow up entire cities or did she just set off some explosives and somehow ninja-sneak her way through a town of mystic kung-fu people? It’s anyone’s guess.
Now, while Elektra was great as the big bad and Sigourney Weaver is awesome in just about every role she’s been in, the villains weren’t quite as compelling as they should have been. While Madame Gao and Bakuto returned from their respective shows, the other three leaders were introduced in this series so there was less time to develop them. One member was operating out of Harlem, which caught Luke Cage’s attention, but it would have been more interesting if the guy had some sort of appearance on that show beforehand. Sigourney Weaver’s character was the one bringing all the warring clans together but little else is revealed about her before getting killed off by Elektra. The final villain is the mentor of Nobu, the villain from the Daredevil series. It would have been nice if they didn’t kill Nobu off before this show as he was more interesting than his boss and could’ve taken his place. While the miniseries was 8 episodes long and avoided the Netflix Problem, it honestly could have benefitted from being a full 13 episodes to flesh these characters out more. Even Madame Gao seemed under utilized before being killed off-screen. It didn’t help that all five of these characters were never in the comics besides Bakuto and he wasn’t exactly an A-list Marvel villain.
Another minor complaint is that the heroes were kinda dumb sometimes. This show did the weird thing where people are in a fantastic setting but somehow don’t believe in the fantastic. For instance, the Netflix shows make a big deal about the alien invasion seen at the end of The Avengers so the characters already knew about Asgardian gods, aliens, super soldiers, gamma monsters, and giant flying serpents with armor. Additionally, each and every one of the Defenders had super powers and fought multiple people with superpowers up and including the Hand. Despite this, Jessica, Luke, and Matt don’t believe Danny has powers. I mean, they even watch him make his fist glow and punch through walls and stuff but for some reason, when talking about his powers, they scoff and ask if he’s crazy. It was kind of a running gag but it wasn’t very funny and it just bugs me when shows do that.
Aside from that, there was an episode where one of the members of the Hand openly told them his specialty was manipulating people into fighting just before getting decapitated by Stick. What happened next? Of course, they started fighting amongst themselves. You’d think they would have stopped and gone “Wait, that’s exactly what that dead guy wanted us to do”, but they never did. The weird part was that they were fighting because they felt Danny should stay behind in the abandoned building they were hiding out in because they knew the Hand was after him. That almost sounds like a good plan but the bad guys showed they were capable of tracking them down no matter where they hid. Sure enough, Elektra kidnapped Danny while he was helpless and alone. It would have obviously been better if they took Danny with them.
It didn’t stop at the heroes, though. The leaders of the Hand figured out fairly quickly that Elektra still had feelings for Matt after she punched one of them when they tried to kill him. That did not stop Sigourney Weaver from loudly declaring she wanted Daredevil dead while her back was turned to Elektra. Yeah, that scene ended with her getting impaled.
It was good. I really loved it and despite a few minor qualms, I thought it was one of the better shows of this franchise. Other people really hated it, though. It definitely seems like a love it or hate it situation. With Iron Fist souring a lot of people already, they weren’t so keen watching a show in which he was a major character. Still, there was a lot of faith left over in the Netflix shows after this, particularly for the show that came after. Lock and load! The Punisher is coming up next!