The first full trailer for “The Defenders” has arrived – and, surprise surprise, it climaxes with the series’ superhero stars (Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones and Iron Fist) duking it out with the a number of villainous minions where else but in a corridor. After four shows and five seasons, fight scenes that take place in a hallway have become a tradition of the Marvel Netflix shows.
When you start to think about it, it’s a weirdly specific tradition. To try and figure out how these hallway fight scenes have become such a solid part of Netflix’s Marvel output, let’s take a look at the four we’ve seen so far. What makes each one different, what do they add, and what might it bring to “The Defenders?”
Daredevil (Season 1, Episode 2, “Cut Man”)
The scene that started it all. Coming at the end of the second episode, this was the moment “Daredevil” really came into its own, erasing all memory of the slightly wonky first episode and presenting something that felt genuinely new in a superhero show.
The five-minute scene is presented as a single take, featuring some truly remarkable camerawork and choreography. It’s not just that these fight scenes are flashy – though they are, jaw-droppingly so – but that they work to tell a story.
When you really dive into it, this scene silently tells you everything you need to know about Daredevil’s relationship with his father. This is no surprise – it directly follows a flashback of Battlin’ Jack Murdock left for dead in an alleyway, the composition of the scene of his demise roughly matching up with the walls of this corridor. And then we see how Daredevil fights like a boxer, like his dad, always getting up from a punch. “Knocked down, but never knocked out,” as Jack once told him.
More importantly, it tells the story of what Daredevil is trying to achieve. The full version of the scene takes its time, the camera moving around to establishing the space where this fight is going to take place. We see clearly our hero’s goal — to reach the kidnapped boy at the end of the hallway — and what stands between him and that goal: about a dozen armed mobsters.
This one of the things that makes the hallway such a handy setting for these fights and their stories. It provides a linear space that we can progress down together, hero and viewer, pushing towards a clear goal. It’s almost videogame-like in its simplicity: the territory, the obstacles, the objective.
Daredevil (Season 2, Episode 3, “New York’s Finest”)
Unsurprisingly, the hallway fight scene was one of the most acclaimed moments of “Daredevil”’s entire first season. “Jessica Jones” didn’t nod to it – the only “Defenders” show so far not to, quite possibly because it was already in production by the time “Daredevil” debuted – but by the time Season 2 rolled around, actor Charlie Cox was promising fans a follow-up.
Every part of the second scene outdoes the first. Daredevil is armed this time, with a chain he swings like a whip. The fight lasts longer and moves through a much more complicated space, spilling out of the corridor and down a stairwell. There are more baddies, and more impressive stunts.
All of which reflects the progression of Cox’s character. The first scene emphasized Daredevil’s humanity — yes, he pulls off some incredible feats of punch-kickery, but he has to rest and catch his breath between each of them. It’s a reminder that Matt Murdock is just a man with a bit of cloth wrapped around his head. By this point in Season 2, though, Daredevil is in the full superhero costume – and everything else scales up to match.
All of which adds up to one of the most ‘how did they do that?’ pieces of filmmaking you’re ever likely to see on television. Technically, it’s far superior to its predecessor.
Ultimately, however, it just doesn’t have the same impact. The scene does keep the first’s rule of a single objective: a passed-out Frank Castle. But that relationship to the space just isn’t as clear. The Punisher has been dumped in an elevator as it’s going down – hence the fighting on the stairs – but that makes it hard to track exactly where the fight is headed at any given point.
Maybe it’s just the law of diminishing returns, though. Season 2’s hallway fight builds on the first in every conceivable way, but what it adds to the formula somehow manages not to improve upon it.
Luke Cage (Season 1, Episode 3, “Who’s Gonna Take the Weight?”)
Something, for example, like the Wu Tang Clan.
Before storming the Crispus Attucks complex, Luke Cage slips in a pair of ear buds, pulls up his hood, and starts blasting the Wu’s “Bring Da Ruckus.” This simple decision gives the scene a completely different flavor than its “Daredevil” predecessors. John Paesano’s score provides Daredevil’s fights with brilliant atmosphere but, frankly, who wouldn’t prefer to watch a bulletproof man cracking skulls to the sounds of a Ghostface Killah verse?
The moment of quiet, before the music and fighting starts, also feels like a lesson learned from Daredevil’s original hallway scene. As well as introducing us to the space, the beginning of that scene built tension – and “Luke Cage” ratchets this up enormously.
At this point in the series, the tension has been building for two episodes and change. There had been a couple of shootouts, and one quick moment showing off his powers, but Cage has largely avoided the superhero life since his last girlfriend emptied a shotgun into him. This scene is the first time we get to see him cut loose, and it delivers. There’s no especially virtuosic camera work, no long takes, but seeing Cage methodically tear through this building is incredibly satisfying in its own way. There’s a real sense of the power that gives Luke Cage his superhero alias.
Unlike the others hallway battles, this fight breaks down into clear phases. Initially, Cage wields a car door as a shield, abandoning it as he moves upstairs. On the next floor, he uses the building itself – a pipe pulled from the wall, throwing men into the ceiling and through walls. Finally, we get to see the full scope of his superpowers, as he kicks down doors, picks up a sofa to use as a weapon, and walks straight into gunfire.
It’s an interesting use of the environment as part of the fight. We’ve seen Daredevil take out a guy with a flying microwave – which gets a callback here, with the couch smashing through the window and onto the street – but Luke Cage’s powers mean it can be pushed much further.
Iron Fist (Season 1, Episode 4, “Eight Diagram Dragon Palm”)
All of which set the bar pretty high for the “Iron Fist” incarnation of the hallway fight scene. Perhaps it was inevitable, then, that as with so much of the rest of the show, “Iron Fist” disappoints.
The scene is much shorter than all its predecessors, and the action itself feels like a step down. A far cry from “Daredevil”’s single take, the fight is broken up by a flurry of cuts. That’s not necessarily a problem, as shown by “Luke Cage,” but here they feel like they’re hiding weaker stuntwork, something that can’t be covered by dim lighting (the fight takes place in a brightly-lit hotel corridor) or a masked stunt double, as Danny Rand’s entire costume at this is a grey tweed suit.
It’s especially apparent, given that the scene almost immediately follows a crunchingly brutal cage fight with Colleen Wing, set – like “Luke Cage” – to an excellent slice of hip hop, in this case from Run the Jewels.
Not that Iron Fist’s scene is completely without flair. There’s a gorgeous overhead shot that leaves you wondering wishing the whole fight had been filmed that way. Mostly, though, “Iron Fist”’s contributions to the hallway tradition comes in the form of editing effects. There’s a wipe transition, a couple of moments of split screen, and some well-deployed slow motion.
The scene does also observe the rule of maintaining a clear objective at the end of the hallway — in this case, Joy Meachum. Unfortunately, has the effect of putting her in the damsel-in-distress role, especially in the more uncomfortable shots of Joy being hit in the face.
Nevertheless, we understand clearly what is pushing Danny forwards to the end of the hal, and what’s there might be the single most interesting thing about the scene. The final bit of the fight takes place in an elevator, which really highlights the claustrophobia of these fights by closing in the space even further.
Plus, it’s proof that moving between floors has now become a vital part of the hallway fight tradition, even if stairs aren’t available.
There’s not much of the “Defenders” scene to go on just yet, but it looks like it will be pulling from all of the above. With the movesets of four characters to showcase, it’s returning to the well-lit corridors of “Iron Fist.” There’s a clip of Luke Cage again breaking down the walls of this enclosed space, simply by running through them. And Danny even pulls off a flying wall-kick that’s reminiscent of that very first “Daredevil” fight.
Meanwhile, Elektra is hovering in the background. It’s unclear yet whether she’ll be friend or foe to this group, apart from the fact that we see her put Matt Murdock through plate glass, but if this scene stays true to its predecessors, there’s a clue simply in the way it’s framed.
Most of the hallway scenes have pushed forward with their hero. In this one, the camera moves backwards, pulling away from the Defenders, implying that they might be moving away from something, rather than towards. And framed in the background, at the end of the hallway, is Elektra Natchios.
We’ll have to wait until August to find out for sure, but in the meantime, there’s something else worth speculating on. With “The Defenders” marking the fifth outing of the trope – sixth, if you count the Punisher’s prison rampage in “Daredevil” Season 2 – why do the Marvel Netflix shows keep going back to the hall-and-stairwell battle?
The most obvious reason is a practical one. TV shows often don’t have the budget to shoot action scenes in big open spaces. Filming outdoors means dealing with weather and light levels, and shooting a scene over multiple days is a luxury many series are unable to afford. Plus, sets don’t get much simpler and cheaper than a single corridor.
But it also helps separate these shows from their cinematic counterparts stylistically. While an Avengers action scene can span an entire city, from road to rooftop, those aren’t the kind of battles that the Defenders are likely to fight. It’s in line with the age-old comics concept of ‘street level’ heroes. Characters with lower level superpowers, or none at all, who generally deal with more everyday crime. By setting these fights in the smallest possible spaces, it distances them from the cosmic adventures of something like “Thor: Ragnarok.”
These are heroes who face problems much more like our own, who are arguably more like us – but, whether it’s a jaw-dropping single take or just a great stunt set to the perfect song, that doesn’t mean they can’t dazzle us.
Executive produced by Douglas Petrie, Marco Ramirez, Drew Goddard and Jeph Loeb, “Marvel’s Defenders” arrives on Netflix August 18 2017 and stars Charlie Cox, Krysten Ritter, Mike Colter, Finn Jones, Simone Missick, Elodie Yung, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson, Carrie-Anne Moss, Eka Darville, Rosario Dawson, Rachael Taylor, Scott Glenn, Jessica Henwick and Sigourney Weaver.