As with any show that has built up a fanbase and a reasonable amount of hype and expectation, there’s always a chance that it will be a disappointment.
Netflix and Marvel’s The Defenders definitely has some good scenes, some hilarious lines, and some tight action sequences, but overall, the series is just alright. The plot drags and the villains never honestly feel that threatening, which means that for quite a bit of the show, the heroes feel like they’re sort of overreacting.
Now, that is a big part of the reason why the various heroes of New York don’t just immediately team up and jump into action against the Hand; two out of the four have never even heard of this organization before, let alone crossed paths with them, so it’s up to the others to convince them–something they initially do a very poor job of. And that makes sense. Nobody is going to run out to fight an enemy they don’t believe in.
The real problem is that every time they do end up fighting the Hand, it feels like the exact same fight over and over again, with no one winning. In past seasons of Iron Fist and Daredevil the Hand has seemed like a larger than life threat, while Defenders really pushes to make the leader of the organization relatable. This has worked for antagonists like Fisk and Frank Castle in the past, but in this case, really just ends up undermining the nature of the threat.
If there’s one thing that’s impossible to complain about with the NMCU shows, it’s their intro sequences, and Defenders is no different. If you somehow haven’t seen it and are still reading this article, go watch it right now.
Right away, it’s clear that these are the real heroes of New York. By imposing their silhouettes and faces in their own signature color over footage of the city, even if we’d never met these characters before, we would know that they are their city. They’re willing to do what they have to do to watch over–one might even say, defend–it and the people that they love, which is the only reason this premise works at all.
Now, if you genuinely haven’t watched any of the other shows, I’m not sure what would make you start with The Defenders, but hey, Netflix has got you covered. Most of the first two episodes take the time to set up each individual character, where they ended their individual series emotionally and situationally, as well as reminding everyone who certain relevant side characters are. Colleen is working with Danny to do something about the Hand, Foggy, now representing Hogarth’s law firm, shows up when Luke is released from prison, Trish and Karen are both journalists who are each respectively trying to take care of a troubled friend–Trish wants Jessica to get back to work as a P.I but Karen is trying to make sure Matt doesn’t relapse and take up the cowl again–and Claire and Misty both want Luke to keep working to help his community.
At first, the show feels more than a little disjointed when you realize that instead of using one new, unique style for the series, each character’s scenes are characterized by the same cinematic traits as their individual series; Luke’s scenes are yellow, Jessica’s are blue, and Matt’s typically got red lights or objects somewhere in the scene. Only Danny is the odd man out in this, and I’m pretty sure it’s because too much green would just make him look seasick. Additionally, the music and transitions from Luke Cage and the dark, voyeuristic camera angles from Jessica Jones seem jarring at first when first compared to the comparatively ordinary tone set by the rest of the show, but as the characters learn to work together, these differences do become better integrated and actually help to make the story feel more cohesive, eventually creating the sense that they have come together as a team.
Almost like they were trying to get it out of the way, the show starts with Danny and Colleen fighting the Hand in a sewer in Cambodia where they are immediately told that their fight is in back in New York. You know, that city they had just left. Luckily, Danny’s failure to save K’un Lun in Iron Fist seems to have given him some perspective on responsibility and he does seem somewhat more prepared to embrace the destiny that he keeps reminding us that he “earned.”
Next up is Jessica, still drunk, still nursing the wounds she got while taking down Kilgrave, still abusing her powers for (generally) the right reasons.
Luke is out of prison and unsure about what his next move should be, despite the women in his life telling him that he could do a lot of good for a lot of people as the next Pop.
Then there’s Matt, who is back to fighting criminals as a lawyer, having set aside his Daredevil persona to focus on helping people in a way that is both legal and less hazardous to his own health. But like we saw before, the suit is practically an addiction for Matt, and his friends are worried that he’s going to relapse.
The last two scenes of episode 2 are where the pieces really start to come together; Luke and Danny meet for the first time and immediately get into a knockdown-dragout while Matt shows up to represent an incredibly hostile Jessica as her attorney.
The forces that bring these characters together in episodes 2 and 3 are more than a little weak, but they’re absolutely forgivable because of how wonderful and compelling it is to see these characters finally interacting on screen together, with episode 4 being one of the absolute best out of any show in the NMCU.
Matt and Danny understanding how dangerous their enemy but have very different ideas about confronting the Hand, while Luke and Jessica try to ask questions but are in no way prepared for the answers they get.
Interestingly enough, it’s Danny who first suggests that they need to become a team. He’s also the one who accepts Matt’s superpowers with absolutely no questions asked, while Jessica puts those detective skills to use and susses out Matt’s secret–admittedly, not hard to do once Matt covered his face with her scarf and started beating the crap out of ninjas. Meanwhile, Luke is forced to play mediator and keep the peace, and Matt isn’t sure he wants any part of this. He’s already fought the Hand and knows the price of opposing them.
This is also the episode with some of the funniest exchanges of dialogue, with Luke as the only adult in a room full of bickering children. Jessica gets some great digs in, Matt pouts because he doesn’t want to share his secret identity, and Danny gets defensive because nobody cares about his sacred mission to defeat the Hand and save K’un Lun.
They even fight well together, with Matt and Danny both busting out their sweet kung fu moves and Luke and Jessica doing a super good job of punching things.
But as delightful as it is to watch these characters who have learned that they can only rely on themselves come together as a team, the shows greatest achievement is also its greatest flaw: these characters have changed a lot over the course of this series.
Typically with a spin-off or crossover, the stakes are relatively low because it’s expected that nothing much will have changed for the real show. In this instance, the characters all end up in vastly different places, both emotionally and physically, than they were in at the beginning.
By the end of the show, Jessica is willing to let people help her and to help them in return, reopening her P.I agency. Danny may or may not have matured, but he’s at least ready to call New York home. Luke is still with Claire and they’re going to try to figure out how to have a normal life. And last but not least, Matt is presumed dead after having had a building dropped on him–but surprise, surprise, he managed to survive and end up once again in a hospital bed, being looked after by nuns, one “Maggie” in particular, who is almost certainly going to turn out to be Matt’s estranged mother.
And all of that isn’t even considering everything that their friends and loved ones just went through, particularly Misty Knight who lost the arm after all. After incurring a pretty serious injury to that same arm in Iron Fist but having her recover from it just fine, I guess the producers changed their minds and have decided to give her a mecha-arm like her character has in the comics after all. But still, that’s going to have to be explained for anyone who possibly didn’t watch this miniseries.
Because now, regardless of where Daredevil season 2, and Iron Fist, Luke Cage, and Jessica Jones seasons 1 ended, any future seasons of these shows have to treat this mini-series as part of each of those shows, instead of as additional bonus content, which is what crossovers tend to be.
In Hollywood, there’s a sort of unspoken agreement that the status quo of a series will never change during a crossover special with another show. Producers understand that many people who like one show might not follow the other, and therefore, may not watch the event. Obviously, the show runners hope they will, after all, the point of a crossover is to try to attract a bigger audience base, but if it doesn’t, no big deal, your regularly scheduled entertainment will be back to normal next week, plot waiting for you right where you left off.
In general, Marvel does have a tendency to buck that tradition with their utterly intertwined MCU, and for the most part, it works for them, so maybe it will work here too. The next series on the NMCU docket is Punisher, which is scheduled to be released sometime later this year and signals a return to the typical solo series format. After that, we’ll just have to see how these Defenders of New York go back to protecting their own little corners of the world.