Marvel’s The Defenders

Like most Marvel nerds, I spent the previous weekend watching The Defenders, breaking the new Netflix series into two contained binge-fests. It’s probably not accurate to call the show a money-grab, but my intuition going into was knowing that it probably won’t have the same depth as each of the original series that it jumps from (that is, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, the last of which I did not watch). Anyway, overall feeling? It was a perfectly pleasant watch, albeit one with some noticeable flaws. Here are some of the ups and downs for me.

So in the series, our favorite superheroes team up when this organization of immortals called the Hand wreaks havoc on NYC. The leader of the Hand is Alexandra (who’s played by Sigourney Weaver), a dying finger of the Hand. All of the Defenders have different motivations for squashing the Hand—Luke wants to protect the young men of Harlem, Jessica wants to help a client, Iron Fist wants to save himself, and well, Daredevil wants to be the good guy, but let’s just say he has ulterior motives to save someone special to him.

Here are some of my favorite things about the show:

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Courtesy of Netflix.

+ Powerful Women of Color: Claire Temple deserves her own show for always getting the hard-headed, sometimes plain reckless, superheroes back on track with simply her quick instinct and solid nurse training. She has a strong moral compass, but she’s also smart when it comes to tricking the villains. My other favorite powerful women of color are Misty Knight and Colleen Wing. I think Misty exists at a very unique cusp between the law and vigilante superheroes. She’s tough, not afraid to ask questions that the Defenders themselves are afraid to ask. I didn’t know much about Colleen Wing since I didn’t watch Iron Fist, but her nuanced character arc pleasantly surprised me. She faces a lot in this series—coming to terms with her role in supporting Danny and facing her master, who turns out to be one of the leaders of the Hand. She’s a quiet and gentle character who exhibits a lot of emotional and physical strength, much more than most people would expect of her.

defenders 3
Courtesy of Netflix.

+ Mike Colter and Krysten Ritter: I think the two characters who really drive this show home are Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. They’re probably the two characters with the strongest clarity in their intentions to defeat the Hand. I’ve always loved Jessica, a snarky, whip-smart character who is not only strong but also a great PI. Her ability to become a chameleon also comes in handy for extracting evidence and information from third parties. On the other hand, I love Luke for his strong moral compass and forthrightness. He’s an honest, calm man who just wants to protect Harlem, his home. He’s really the moral glue that keeps everyone on the same page.

defenders 4
Courtesy of Netflix.

+ Philosophical intrigue: Borrowing from its parent shows, this series really explores a lot of morally interesting questions, such as what is the threshold for inflicting violence? Is it just death? Daredevil especially deals with this when he confronts nefarious villains. With the introduction of immortal beings and a revival of a dead character, the show also sketches out the fear of death and the uncertain. I think all of the superheroes and their allies also consider the limitations of the law and reason as they face an antagonistic force based on tradition and magic.

What Didn’t Work:

– Confusing plot: I think it’s pretty difficult to fit in all four characters and see how they relate to each other in the broader universe. This would have worked if there was a really cohesive plot and fewer subplots, like in Civil War. The show really tried to flesh out the subplots for each of The Defenders, so the exposition was slow and the story sometimes felt confusing.

– Jarring lighting: Jessica Jones is cool-toned, Daredevil has red undertones, Luke Cage is warm-toned, and Iron Fist has green undertones. In the first few episodes, the lighting transition between the different superhero worlds felt particularly jarring since each one was so starkly different.

– Unseized moments: There were odd moments when the Defenders were in direct contact with the Hand, but they didn’t do anything. Except for talk. This felt particularly weird.

– Hyperbolic characterization: The heroes were always righteous and the villains were always villain-y in The Defenders. Which is fine, but a missed opportunity, I think, in an age where we no longer see black and white heroes or villains. Everyone’s usually a bit of both. I love Charlie Cox, but I felt like Daredevil almost lacked depth in The Defenders. His character had a lot of moral conflict going on, but of course, Matt Murdock would always do the right thing. I saw him less as a nuanced character and more of a symbolic martyr. I felt the same about Iron Fist (or Danny Rand). His character, of course, would always end up doing the right thing. Both Danny and Matt have this weird air of seriousness that feels almost artificial to me. I wish there would’ve been more character development for them.

Same with the villains. I would’ve like Sigourney Weaver to have a more nuanced past explained. Her character simply felt evil. We do sympathize with her a little—she’s very desperate about living forever, even though she’s dying from cancer.

Anyway, as predictable as the ending was in The Defenders, I’m pretty excited about seeing how this plot ties in with the next seasons of each of the parent series, especially Daredevil and Luke Cage. The Defenders may have aimed for more than it could handle, but it’s a solid project that will leave Marvel fans satisfied.

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