Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist at long last unite in Marvel’s The Defenders, arriving Friday on Netflix, bringing with them a delightful melee of action, personal drama and color. With the first four episodes, provided to journalists for review, the miniseries delivers a magnetic cast, intense fight choreography and a captivating villain, even as it suffers from some of the same problems that plagued Iron Fist.
The first episode does an impressive job of introducing the main characters, their supporting casts and respective corners of New York City, effortlessly bringing viewers up to date following, in the case of Jessica Jones, an absence of nearly two years. Each hero receives a solo scene before secondary players slide in to flesh out the individual worlds of the would-be Defenders.
The four central heroes don’t cross paths until the third episode, but when they do, the payoff is gratifying, and violent. The chemistry, especially between Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) and Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) is electric; barbs and banter fly almost as fast as their fists. These characters have big personalities, leading them to clash almost immediately, and utterly delightfully.
When it comes to action, The Defenders hits its mark. The fight sequences are comparable to Daredevil, but with the characters maintaining their own signature styles. The choreography is fast, natural and true, resulting in riveting action pieces. It’s also worth noting that Danny Rand (Finn Jones) has come a long way, with choreography that’s above and beyond what we saw in Iron Fist.
Sigourney Weaver is captivating as Alexandra, the enigmatic leader of the Hand. The Defenders draws out the mystery surrounding her character’s origins, but in an intriguing and evenly paced manner. She commands her every scene, and delivers each line with a deliberateness that speaks volumes about the character. She comes across as genuine while maintaining an air of mystery, especially in her enthralling scenes with Elodie Yung’s Elektra. Nevertheless, Alexandra’s interactions with Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho) prove troubling. Gao, who was an enigmatic force to be reckoned with on Daredevil and Iron Fist, is cast here in a subservient role. While Alexandra’s power over Gao is an efficient way to set up just how dangerous Alexandra is, that Marvel’s Netflix dramas don’t have a stellar track record when it comes to Asian representation leads to a resulting dynamic which is uncomfortable, to say the least.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Iron Fist is the weakest part of The Defenders, where Danny is singular in his mission: revenge. Whereas the other Defenders are driven to Midland Circle Financial (a corporate front for the Hand) in a quest to help others, Danny arrives to spew lines about how the Hand killed his parents. Aside from one brief dream sequence, he shows barely any remorse about the mysterious fate of K’un-Lun, choosing instead to bring up his parents’ death again and again. As in his own series, he whines and argues like a child. He punches first and asks questions later. He scoffs and rolls his eyes when people don’t immediately believe his stories about fighting dragons and channeling chi. The result is unpleasant. He shows little to no growth from his characterization on Iron Fist, and that’s a damn shame. With a full solo series and half a season of Defenders, it remains to be seen why Danny should be called a hero.
That isn’t to say Jones can’t be charming. When he isn’t throwing tantrums and storming boardrooms, glimpses of the character fans want him to be shine through. Danny’s smaller moments with Luke Cage (the always-charming Mike Colter) stand out, but they are few and far between — and they certainly aren’t enough to compensate for the character’s glaring shortcomings. At this point, it’s difficult to care about Iron Fist.
All the while, The Defenders is a study in color. Each character is represented by their signature hue: red for Daredevil, yellow for Luke Cage, green for Iron Fist and blue for Jessica Jones (that’s a slight change for Jessica, but makes sense thematically, as it distances her from her Season 1 antagonist the Purple Man). Their separate worlds are flooded with their individual color, making each section of the city feel distinct and personal. When the characters finally share the screen on their own terms, The Defenders bursts with a veritable smorgasbord of color that pops off the screen.
Meanwhile, Alexandra introduces a new color (or, perhaps, lack thereof): white. Her scenes are shot with a bright filter, thus her very presence makes The Defenders feel sterile and cold. This comes in stark contrast to the Defenders’ much brighter world, which usually invites a warmer — if moodier — tone. As such, each of Alexandra’s scenes feels removed from the Defenders, almost as if they take place in a different world, which sets her apart from the leads in a striking way.
Although the show leans a little too heavily in Iron Fist’s world, overall The Defenders packs a powerful punch. The chemistry between the four leads and Weaver’s Alexandra should bring viewers back for the final four episodes, even as the action will keep them on the edge of their seats. Fans should consider themselves lucky that the show will drop in one eight-episode block, because those dastardly cliffhangers will leave them clamoring for more at the end of every episode.
Arriving Aug. 18 on Netflix, the eight-episode Defenders stars Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock, Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones, Mike Colter as Luke Cage, Finn Jones as Danny Rand, Elodie Yung as Elektra Natchios, Sigourney Weaver as Alexandra, Eka Darville as Malcolm Ducasse, Simone Missick as Misty Knight, Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page, Elden Henson as Foggy Nelson, Carrie-Anne Moss as Jeri Hogarth, Scott Glenn as Stick, Rachael Taylor as Trish Walker, Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple and Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing.
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