I have seen almost every Marvel Cinematic Universe TV show. I loved Daredevil, thoroughly enjoyed Jessica Jones, and found much to like about the flawed Iron Fist. I haven’t had the chance to get to Luke Cage, but plan to. As a huge comic book nerd, I have vastly enjoyed how these superheroes have transitioned to the TV world. Daredevil especially so impressed me that I have to confess I’ve seen both seasons twice and recommended it to many of my friends. The shows have been a guilty pleasure for me for years.
So I was pretty excited when The Defenders came out last weekend. The idea of all these heroes I’d spent so much time with, coming together as a team and kicking ass? It felt like a guaranteed classic going in. And yet… I just finished it and am left feeling disappointed. Needing to vent about what I just saw. So buckle your seat-belts and get ready for some rare Inquisitive Loon nitpicking.
The way I see it, The Defenders had three crucial problems:
- Ineffectual villain
- Too much filler
- Glacial pacing
I have to begin by saying that, in the other singular character-focused shows, I loved “The Hand” as the villain. They reminded me of Spectre in the recent Daniel Craig James Bond movies, a shadowy global organization with seemingly limitless reach and power. Individually, the superheroes have felt close to insignificant when confronted by the Hand. Daredevil’s entire life and training is predicated on destroying it and, more often than not, failing. The duty of the Iron Fist is to do the same, yet he was nearly beaten to a pulp by a drunken master moonlighting as a doorman for a Hand warehouse (one of the funniest moments in his story that also speaks to how surprising The Hand can be). Killing a member of The Hand has seemed both impossible, given how they can be reincarnated, and worthless, given how massive and worldwide the organization appears to be. Each one of them has seemed like a drop in the bucket, just a flicker of relevance to the unknowable iceberg lurking beneath the surface.
Unfortunately, The Defenders ruined this on so many levels. Their leader, Alexandra, never demonstrates any of her power onscreen. Her master plan never shows any hint of working. Her death is one the viewer is able to foresee, but not her, oblivious to all the warnings given to her from every quarter. The other “Five Fingers” of The Hand had great introductions, but then (except for Madame Gao) ended up almost indistinguishable in combat from a regular Hand ninja. The Defenders end up trivializing all of them in combat except for Elektra, the Black Sky, who represents her own bundle of inconsistencies.
As for the filler and slow pacing, these twin sins go hand in hand. This show had way too many scenes with the police that never amounted to anything besides delaying the heroes from doing something – anything – more important. The writers obviously wanted to set up Misty Knight as her own distinct character, but failed to give her anything significant to do outside of harassing the main characters and killing the pacing up until the climax.
The many scenes of The Defenders planning and arguing with each other also contributed to these twin issues. At least half of their discussions ended up being about trivial things, padding out the runtime and creating artificial drama. This became especially egregious near the end of the show, when they discuss whether to go to the tower where the Iron Fist is being held in order to rescue him. As the viewer, we already know what the answer will be and are wondering what is taking them so long to come to the same conclusion. This is followed by a discussion in the tower as to whether to blow it up, despite only the Five Fingers being present within. Somehow, the conversation isn’t about whether they may have to kill their friend at the bottom, but instead is about the morality of taking the lives of The Hand, who can’t even be considered fully human at this point. That the heroes are even there in the first place comes from the even more bizarre decision of The Defenders to fight and imprison the Iron Fist. All of these scenes added up into such a mess that I actively began to dislike moments when the characters were all together. Given this show’s basic premise as a superhero team-up, that is a tragedy.
Nitpicks aside, I have to come to the conclusion that I did not like The Defenders. I walk away from this convinced that, while Marvel has me believing they can be magnificent at these shows when they involve single characters, their team-based pieces (at least, based on this first attempt) are too scattershot, discordant, and slow to be worth my time. Hopefully this will change once the second season comes out years from now. Until then, I’m sorry to say that I can’t recommend this show.