I felt like there should have been a holiday surrounding the release of “Marvel’s the Defenders” —that was how much I hyped this new Netflix series up in my head.
There are eight, approximately 45-minute long episodes in “Defenders,” so I assumed that meant that it would be like there were eight mini-Marvel type movies to binge watch.
What we got instead was a loosely-formed team of four rag-tag superheroes — a couple of whom suffering from some kind of clinical depression — trying to fend off seemingly endless ninjas for what is basically the coolest archaeological find in the middle of New York City.
While it still made for an intriguing and decently exciting show, it still didn’t hold my attention all the way through and it made me yearn for at least one of the superheroes to be more than a begrudging participant.
The failure in “Defenders” was surrounding the villain: a mysterious organization called the Hand that was way too mysterious in the sense that there was little information given about it. In the spaces where the show could have expanded upon this so-called ancient organization were a number of boring filler arguments between the heroes and the top players in the Hand.
The best villains are the relateable villains, the ones in which audiences can see themselves possibly becoming if they were pushed just a little too far — if they went through one too many dark periods — and had access to society-crushing weapons and evil plans. The villains in the Hand were a little too far removed from their humanity and little too bland and flat. They weren’t dynamic.
Sigourney Weaver’s character Alexandra Reid appeared to be the head of the Hand and mostly there to stand around looking sad and sullen in designer clothing. The show barely touched on how Alexandra Reid brought a young woman back to life under the guise of being a mysterious type of assassin/enforcer, when really the young woman was basically Alexandra’s surrogate daughter. There was so much to unpack there, but it was more of a passing whim of the show to me.
“Defenders” also lacked the fast-paced action and plot of many of the superheroes’ individual shows, like “Jessica Jones,” “Luke Cage,” and the first season of “Daredevil.” “Defenders” was a massive step up from “Iron Fist,” though, and the poor writing on that show. Danny Rand, the Iron Fist (Finn Jones), was still annoying in “Defenders,” although luckily there were three actual heroes to take him down a notch when needed.
“Defenders” began with placing the main characters — Luke Cage (Mike Colter) being released from prison and finally getting that cup of coffee with nurse Claire (Rosario Dawson), Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) in alcoholism, Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) using his lawyer power rather than his Daredevil powers, and Danny Rand investigating the Hand in between meditating and nightmares — and slowly building upon their shared interests.
The slow pace did work toward weaving the characters’ paths together in a way that did not seemed forced, but it did leave me with a sense that some the episodes felt wasted. Minor plot points were also quickly abandoned at times, although that could have been due to the show trying to cram in too many storylines for the abundance of characters.
The pros of this show, though, is when they do decide to have action, they find a way to create one of the coolest hallway fight scenes, challenging the likes of when the Black Widow fought a bunch of nameless bad guys in a hallway in “Iron Man 2.” The fight scenes where the heroes are able to team up and use their collective beat-down skills are one aspect I wished “Defenders” featured more of.
I also wished that instead of the number of space-filling arguments, there were more scenes between the heroes getting to know each other, such as more of the scenes between Danny Rand and Luke Cage, or when Jessica Jones and Matt Murdock teamed up briefly to investigate something. Those scenes were much more telling and interesting than when the main characters got mad at, or skeptical of, each other because they didn’t know what to do.
While they were not a sentimental crew, they were still some of our favorite characters joining together in one place. Jessica Jones’ eye rolls and cynicism, Luke Cage schooling Danny Rand on privilege, Danny Rand facing the guilt of his inability to save people from his terrible show, and Matt Murdock’s tireless mission to save his ex-girlfriend made up for their lack of bonding as friends. You don’t get an interesting villain and the main heroes don’t know if they like each other yet, but you still get all of characters you love from Netflix’s other Marvel shows.
If you haven’t seen the other Marvel shows or “Defenders,” I would suggest starting with the characters’ standalone shows that I mentioned above to get a better sense of who everyone is and why there is a giant hole in a wall at Jessica Jones’ apartment.
“Defenders” is worth a go, but keep your phone nearby for the dull bits. I give this show a B.
Sam Wildow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org while she waits anxiously for the release of “The Punisher”