“You look like an asshole.”
When Marvel brought their respective superheroes together for The Avengers, it sent a shockwave through multiplexes, elating fans and breaking box office records across the board. It was an exciting event — no one had done anything like this before. Now Marvel is attempting to do the same thing, on a smaller scale, with The Defenders. After setting up their world of Netflix superheroes, Marvel has finally had them team-up for an all new adventure. It likely won’t make as much of a cultural impact as The Avengers, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth watching.
Yet the same problem that plagues the other Marvel/Netflix shows (and Netflix shows in general, really) persists here: the story is just too damn drawn out. The mantra for Marvel’s Netflix shows seems to be “Why tell a concise story in 5 episodes when we can tell a somewhat tedious one in 8?” This is abundantly clear with The Defenders, which takes its sweet time getting to the good stuff, instead spending precious minutes (or hours) setting up stuff the audience is likely already aware of.
The gang is all here: Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) has hung up his Daredevil costume and is instead trying to devote his time to being the best damn lawyer he can be; super-strong private eye Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) is still drinking too much and reeling from her brutal previous encounter with Kilgrave; the bulletproof Luke Cage (Mike Colter) has recently been released from prison and is trying to become a positive force in his neighborhood; and Danny Rand (Finn Jones), aka the Iron Fist, is still annoying. As The Defenders starts, these down-and-out superheroes slowly become clued-in to a nefarious plot involving the evil ninja organization The Hand. Little by little, they’re drawn closer together, all while the audience keeps checking their watches and wishing the show would just get on with it already.
The Hand is being guided by the mysterious Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver), a character who suffers the most from the show’s over-meticulous plotting. The Defenders keeps Alexandra’s motives and true nature maddeningly vague, to the point that you’ll probably stop caring before the show decides to tell you more. It’s one thing to be mysterious for the sense of suspense; it’s another to just be spinning your wheels. Weaver does her best to make the character compelling, and she’s such a phenomenal actress that she brings a wonderful icy menace to the part, but there’s too little to focus on.
As for our plucky heroes, The Defenders truly comes to life when they finally team up and start kicking ass. Ritter’s Jessica Jones remains the best of the bunch — a weary, sharp-edged, emotionally fragile wrecking ball, getting the best material to work with in the process; watching The Defenders will just make you pine for Jessica Jones Season 2. Cox is quite good as Murdock/Daredevil as well, and seems the most comfortable of the bunch. Colter’s Luke Cage is charismatic and commanding. And Finn Jones is…Finn Jones. Look, Iron Fist was unquestionably the worst of the Marvel/Netflix shows, and Jones was woefully inept as the lead. He works much better here in a supporting roll, and an easy-going chemistry forms between him and Colter. The show also gets a lot of mileage from having the other characters continually roll their eyes at his bullshit.
For the most part, The Defenders works. It’s easy to digest entertainment, the quips are fast, the action is mostly competent. But one can’t help long for just a little more and a little less — a little more style, that is, and a little less exposition. The first three episodes alone waste precious time catching us up to where the characters are now since the end of their various seasons, but anyone deciding to watch The Defenders already knows this stuff — it’s frustrating. The show didn’t have to jump right into the action, but it probably could’ve knocked all that tedious explaining out in one episode.
Still, respective fans of these shows will likely get a kick out of The Defenders. In addition to the main cast, almost every other supporting character from the various shows The Defenders originated on make an appearance here, including the ever-dependable, sorely underused Rosario Dawson as Nurse of all trades Claire Temple, Jessica Henwick as Iron Fist’s right-hand Colleen Wing (note: I’d rather watch a Colleen Wing series instead of Iron Fist Season 2), and Scott Glenn as ultimate badass Stick. It’s fun to watch these established characters all bump into each other in one show, although after a while the narrative begins to feel just a little too crowded.
The Defenders will be another Netflix show audiences can binge through a weekend, and then it will likely fade from memory. Until the next Marvel/Netflix property arrives. And then the cycle will begin again. It’s inevitable; at this point, you can either go along for the ride or disembark entirely. It probably won’t make much difference either way.
The Defenders premiers on Netflix 8/18/17.