Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist come from different backgrounds, each burdened by their own baggage but determined to do good all the same. A character piece at heart, The Defenders throws their baggage on the same cart and watches them fight over who gets to push it. It’s fascinating, and we love it (for the most part). The Defenders represents both a beginning and an end for the titular team. As a unit, the Defenders breathe the same breath. They want the same things. The show shines when it lets its characters work through their own dysfunctions and suffers when it loses itself in its ambition.
The show is inherently ambitious, so any move to make that ambition known hinders rather than helps. Packed tight with emotion, action, and suspense, it delivers a satisfying, if flawed, story that will thrill and excite those hoping for a payoff worth the two years of setup. We don’t love everything about the show, but we do think it’s solid where it needs to be and exciting where it wants to be. It’s a marked improvement over Iron Fist and even most of Luke Cage, but there are still a number of issues we just can’t ignore.
WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE DEFENDERS FOLLOW
15. LOVED: THE DAREDEVIL/JESSICA JONES DYNAMIC
Palpable chemistry between Krysten Ritter and Charlie Cox, coupled with some of the show’s sharpest bits of dialogue, makes the Daredevil/Jessica Jones dynamic a highlight. The two exchange verbal blows with a friendliness that’s somehow both cautious and comfortable, immediately adding depth to a relationship that could’ve been overtly hostile or painfully dull.
There’s a scene toward the end of the series that illustrates this perfectly; there’s a sweetness, a sadness to the moment that strengthens its hold on our hearts and our sensibilities. Both Ritter and Cox bring their A games here, which is great because their B, C, and D games still impress. Each cast member delivers an incredible performance (especially Sigourney Weaver), but it’s Ritter and Cox who steal the show here.
14. HATED: ALEXANDRA’S DEATH
Alexandra may lead The Hand with a firm fist and a steely resolve, but she’s blind as a bat when it comes to her greatest weapon, Elektra. She can see the conflict raging within the Black Sky, but she doesn’t realize just how easily that conflict can turn her weapon against her. This results in her sudden and brutal demise; she takes a blade through the back before getting her head walloped off by the warrior she trusted. Tough luck, Alexandra.
We hated Alexandra’s death because it kept her from bigger, greater things. Sure, she needed to die for Elektra to rise, but the way the showrunners went about doing it frustrated us to no end. Why not have her go out in a blaze of glory like her fellow leaders? Out of them all, she deserved the most dramatic send-off.
13. LOVED: MADAM GAO
As a peripheral villain, Madame Gao has little to offer. As a primary villain, she absolutely kills it. Hidden in her hunched frame is a power that isn’t made known until she decides to throw down with the eponymous team. As one of The Hand’s five fingers, Gao comes with a clout that makes her formidable in a way we didn’t expect.
Gao offers more than just physical prowess. She exercises care where her fellow leaders don’t, making her the wisest of the bunch and cementing her as a sage worth following and fearing. Even Sigourney Weaver’s Alexandra, The Hand’s true leader, reveals herself to be reckless and irresponsible in her role, making mistakes that eventually cost her the eternal life she so desperately craves — we’ll get to that later. Madame Gao is the show’s most pleasant surprise, and we hope you enjoy her as much as we did.
12. HATED: STICK’S DEATH
Another underwhelming exit, Stick’s death at the hands of Elektra lacked the emotional depth we wanted from such an important moment. He went out trying to murder Rand, but he was still a marginally good guy. He turned Matt Murdock and Elektra into fighting machines, but he’s also the reason they were all pulled into the war between The Chaste and The Hand in the first place.
There’s no mention of Stick afterward other than Murdock mourning him briefly at the precinct shortly after the battle. This shocked and displeased us not because Murdock didn’t realize what his former master truly was, but because Stick’s death was almost an afterthought. Elektra stabs him and takes off with Rand’s unconscious body, leaving the other three wounded at the scene of the crime. It’s disappointing because he was such a big character, but what’s done is done.
11. LOVED: IRON FIST VS. EVERYONE
As one might expect, Danny Rand’s importance to The Hand causes some problems among The Defenders. The anger, resentment, and desperation felt by the team’s members soon bubbles over and becomes a full-blown physical confrontation between the makeshift team. Rand, feeling betrayed and misunderstood, attacks his teammates and proves to be a hell of a match for them individually, and as a unit.
The episodes leading up to this moment hinted at some infighting, but few could have predicted that the inevitable smackdown would be infused with so much raw emotion and so much pent-up ferocity. The best part? All of this happens before the opening credits start playing. It’s a shocking way to kick off an episode, and we couldn’t be happier about it.
10. HATED: THE DIALOGUE
Okay, get ready for this one: The show is very well-done, but the dialogue isn’t good by any stretch. Watching Rand storm into Midland Circle and angrily announce himself as the Immortal Iron Fist made us cringe, and that’s not even the worst of it. There are dozens of scenes that are similarly cringe-worthy, making almost a quarter of the series unwatchable from a writing perspective. This disappointed us because we were hoping for a quality on par with that of Jessica Jones or either season of Daredevil.
Granted, the cast excels at making bad dialogue sound passable at the very least, but even scene-stealers Krysten Ritter and Charlie Cox can’t save every line from itself. It’s sad. This show could have been the best written of the bunch, but instead it’s one of the worst in that area.
9. LOVED: THE POLICE/DEFENDERS CONFLICT
One of the most believable aspects of The Defenders is its depiction of law enforcement. The NYPD would not be okay with vigilantes running around messing with crime scenes and blowing up buildings (with no ill intent, of course), so Misty Knight’s responses to their super-shenanigans are understandable and realistic.
The tension builds as the series progresses and eventually explodes into a conflict that threatens the lives of everyone involved. Many of the show’s most compelling scenes take place at the precinct, where the characters get to butt heads and figure each other out. It’s often difficult to take a side because each character has a compelling reason to do what he/she does, and that’s absolutely part of the appeal. Almost every main character won us over within the show’s opening minutes, which thrilled and surprised us.
8. HATED: BAKUTO’S RETURN
We get it. Members of The Hand can come back to life. Does that mean that EVERY prominent member has to return? No. No, it doesn’t. Bakuto’s unexpected return is a tad bit shocking, and not in a good way. He’s very important to Colleen Wing’s character arc, but this show didn’t need to focus on her. She’s there to support, not carry a subplot that’s almost as important as the primary one.
Bakuto was never a particularly compelling villain, and The Defenders does little to change that. He shows up, cuts up Colleen, and then loses his head after lopping off Misty Knight’s arm. He doesn’t add anything to the story. He doesn’t need to be there. Alexandra and Madame Gao can resume villain duties without him showing up.
7. LOVED: DAREDEVIL VS. ELEKTRA
The final battle between Matt Murdock and Elektra Natchios blew us away. We could see it coming, but we couldn’t see or feel the rawness, the realness until it hit us with the force of a speeding train. The entire sequence had us wringing our clothes into buckets of tears, and as they fought to the point of exhaustion we completely lost it. Honestly, we had no idea that Marvel and Netflix were capable of putting together such a beautiful scene.
At first, Murdock’s words appear to have little effect on Elektra. However, as they stagger and stumble over each other after minutes of emotionally charged combat, it’s clear that the Black Sky still cares deeply for her former lover. As Midland Circle crumbles on top of them, she whispers, “This is what living feels like.” She might as well have stabbed us with her twin sais.
6. HATED: THE SETS
Sets are important to…ahem, setting the scene and creating an atmosphere. The sets featured in The Defenders do little to accomplish this and often take us out of the moment. It could be that the sets are actually shoddy, but part of the blame needs to be placed on the camera work. The editing is strange and choppy, making many scenes difficult to enjoy.
Almost all of the show’s sets (with the notable exception of Midland Circle) were almost certainly made of cardboard, and it’s easy to tell that not a ton of care was taken when building the pieces. Many likely won’t notice, but we did and it bothered the hell out of us. It didn’t quite break our immersion, but damn did it come close.
5. LOVED: THE STAKES
Going into The Defenders, we hoped that the stakes would be high and that the consequences would be real and lasting. Only a few of Marvel’s many movies and television shows take risks and make bold choices. Luckily, The Defenders does both with no reservations. There are character deaths aplenty, which don’t need to happen for a show to have stakes but still make for good drama.
The show pulls no punches and takes no breaths, slamming viewers with reveal after reveal, death after death, gut punch after gut punch. The Defenders may not be the best of the Marvel/Netflix shows, but it sure as hell is the most exciting. It’s clear from the get-go that big things are happening, but even the subtle hints and bits of foreshadowing don’t come close to preparing viewers for what’s to come.
4. HATED: THE LIGHTING
This complaint runs in the same vein as our set piece quibble. It was often so difficult to tell what’s happening in so many of the scenes that we grew tired of the action pretty quickly. Many of the show’s potentially impactful scenes are ruined by the bad camera work and the poor lighting, both of which are recurring problems in the later Marvel/Netflix efforts.
Both Iron Fist and Luke Cage suffered from both of these same problems, but it didn’t seem to bother Marvel enough for them to make the necessary changes. It was so distracting that we had to take frequent breaks, especially during the episodes where all that’s really happening is set-up. Poorly-lit set-up, if you ask us. We hate to gripe about this, but it honestly bugged us and we hope the next show fixes what went wrong here.
3. LOVED: THE EMOTION
By no fault of its own, The Defenders suffers from the same banality that imbues itself in everything Marvel does. This is to be expected; after nine years’ worth of universe building, Marvel is beginning to fall into a rhythm that works but doesn’t quite excite the way it used to do. However, The Defenders keeps itself fresh and intriguing by forcing its four heroes to carry the crushing weight of their own problems and peculiarities.
The focus remains on the emotions and convictions of the characters, and that’s what sets this show apart. Luke Cage and Iron Fist had similar ideas, but neither of them executed those ideas with the same depth and deftness that now characterizes The Defenders. The series marks a turning point for Marvel and Netflix; the two companies have finally hit their stride and they’re not showing any signs of stopping or slowing.
2. HATED: MATT MURDOCK’S IMMEDIATE RETURN
When Midland Circle crumbles on top of a lip-locked Elektra and Murdock, it’s assumed they were both flattened by stones and killed instantly. We knew deep down that neither of them is truly gone, but we think it would’ve been more powerful and more impactful for viewers to sit with his “death” rather than get an immediate answer to our big question.
That final scene between the two lovers packed such a punch, and we needed to feel that punch. When they “died,” it was like the air was knocked out of us. When it was revealed that Murdock survived, it put the air right back into us and felt like a cop-out of sorts. A third season of Daredevil was confirmed months ago, but we wanted to believe that maybe Netflix actually killed him off. It definitely would have changed everything, and that would have been a great thing.
1. LOVED: THAT FINAL EPISODE
The show’s second half is far better than the first, but the final episode takes the series to lofty new heights. Aptly titled, “The Defenders,” the season capper ends the series on an absurdly high note and single-handedly restores our faith in the franchise after the shocking failure of Iron Fist. This is the kind of superheroic goodness we’ve been waiting and wishing for, and we hope that the inevitable second season delivers the goods like this one so clearly did.
Everything from the climactic battle underneath Midland Circle to the aftermath of The Hand’s defeat turned out to be just as thrilling and exciting as anything we could have hoped for. Almost half the episode focuses on the remaining heroes picking up the pieces of their shattered lives and attempting to fit those pieces together to make something that resembles stability.
What did you love and hate about The Defenders? Let us know in the comments!
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