srfIn the era of superheroes on the silver screen, the superhero team is a destination that no fan can resist the prospect of visiting. The movement of hero teams has come a long way since the X Men franchise, spawning the Avengers universe, Guardians of the Galaxy, Suicide Squad and the soon-to-be-released production of the first ever Justice League film. The Defenders may come up as small fish in a big pond in this world, but with a showrunner as massive and well respected as Netflix at the helm and a moderately strong foundation of solo origin stories, expectations were fairly high in my world.
Unfortunately, after Daredevil set a gold standard for what a graphic, no holds barred Marvel entity could look like, things began to take a downturn thereafter. Jessica Jones was a formidable achievement in assembling a mostly female cast in an incredibly dark story, but it suffered with characters getting screen time that I cared little for. Daredevils second season was given a mixed response from the general public, but I still felt the magic with both its exceptional heroes and villains, as well as its action. What followed was, needless to say, a downward spiral. Luke Cage was simply lacking- and Iron Fist proved to be so utterly mediocre that I barely got past the first episode.
Defenders succeeds in a few things, but unfortunately it only succeeds in those few things. The pacing is incredibly slow-taking at least three episodes (out of only 8) before the team “assembles” as it were. That coming together lasts a very short time when Iron Fist is separated both physically and emotionally from the group. The basis for their collaboration is to bring down the mystical, menacing ninja organization called ‘The Hand’. The danger is apparent only because we have seen their influence in past shows, but at no point is it clear exactly what the hell the danger is. They speak in nothing but cryptic and generic villainous phrases about “the plan” for the majority of the story, and there seems to be little urgency in executing said plan. Any life threatening situation involving a member of ‘The Hand’ comes down to them being somehow more stealthy, agile and impenetrable than the superheroes themselves. Again, there is little tension or danger to be felt in any real way on either side. The Hand doesn’t seem to feel much threat from the Defenders (they barely know anything about them) and they rely on their fearless leader- Sigourney Weaver-to decide their actions.
As strong as Weaver is, her role in this show suffers from the same bland, cryptic, generic, threatening quips which result in her saying or doing very little aside from talking to Elektra, asserting her dominance and saying “the black sky” “the black sky” and “the black sky”. Oh, and “the plan”. Are they ever going to tell us exactly why the Black Sky is this once in a lifetime savior of all that is bad and evil, aside from the fact that she can kill loads of ninjas? The way that Alexandra talks about the Black Sky to the other members of the hand feels an awful lot like Luke and Obi Wan trying to convince Han Solo that the force is real. She seems to be this aspect of their spiritual or religious beliefs that only Alexandra believes in-and she took very little effort to elaborate on what exactly her place in this grand scheme was meant to be. This was a very vague and non-specific brand of evil-unlike someone such as Kilgrave-who could create absolute devastation in a single thought and whos evil was enough to make your skin crawl. I felt myself longing for the complexity, depth and strength in the character development and stories of Wilson Fisk and Frank Castle- dangerous men who took real action, held real relationships and felt real pain in defeat.
This lackluster dialogue issue doesn’t just apply to these boring villains, either. There was so very little substance in the conversations and back-and-forth between most every relationship in this show. I felt little connection to the shallow and simplistic script shoved onto a group of decent actors. I felt bored by it. This was most evident in every scene involving Iron Fist and company, where I saw a noticeable drop in the quality of both the acting and the writing-like they were still separate people writing for each hero.
The action on the show certainly stood up in terms of choreography and epic moments for each character to showcase their powers- but something was seriously up with the editing here. In the first couple episodes especially, the cuts felt so choppy and there was little flow to speak of. It was the most rushed, yet slow moving show that I’ve seen in awhile. Its like this show ran on an Agents of Shield production budget with Netflix level censorship.
Not only are The Defenders up against this mysterious and widespread virus of an organization that has engulfed their own cities seedy underbelly as well as others around the world, but they have to contend with working around the law and remaining somewhat discrete to the general public. The element of the law-for most of this series- seems meant to be incredibly annoying and constantly getting in their way. Yes, it does make sense that the Defenders all have mainstream connections that assist them in their vigilantism, but often they served as a device to stall the real action from happening. There is also this pesky problem with Iron Fist, going around with the same dumb face all the time, being a pawn on both sides of the fight. This element of the story made sense, but with little personal connection to the rest of the Defenders, their worry for his well being never felt truly passionate.
As far as supporting characters go, there really was nobody worth noting aside from Rosario Dawson. She exuded more passion and delivered in a more believable way than most of her costars throughout. She served as a strong buoy with which to connect the islands of each series together-but I wish that they had taken the time to build their relationships through their connections to Claire, perhaps through Daredevils wanting to bring down both Fisk and the Hand. Perhaps I just wanted Fisk to be the villain. I miss Fisk, guys.
Now, for some good points.
One thing that I really and truly loved in the Defenders was their use of color. In nearly every single scene you will notice that the color palette of the environment has shifted completely either as a whole or around each individual character. Jessica Jones is always in front of-or engulfed in-purple. Luke Cage lives in a yellow tinge. Iron Fist-especially towards the end- basks in dark green. Daredevil of course, is surrounded with red. In the fight scene between Jessica and Daredevil, the room is a mixture of red and purple- almost giving away that Daredevil was about to pop up before the audience even saw him. That element was very clever and I felt really amused by it, almost distracted by it.
In the vein of visuals, I was happy with many of the costume choices for the characters- half of which don’t really wear “costumes”. Luke Cage was almost always rocking either a bright yellow shirt or a hoodie with a yellow lining, so that it was always visible around his neck. Jessica basically just ran, fought and slept in the same infinity scarf, leather jacket and combat boots the entire time, while Danny adopted a dark green ensemble towards the end-exposed chest on display. Daredevil and Elektra were the only superheroes dressed like traditional superheroes at all-and I really and truly loved both takes on their classic attire. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense why Elektra was given such a strange outfit with which to serve as a living weapon, but I was happy with the look. I hope to see Daredevils suit connection branch out with his new colleagues!
Needless to say, in a world where the action scene is becoming more and more high quality ( a la John Wick) and writing for superhero properties can be as fantastic as we have seen in things like Daredevil, Logan, Deadpool, etc- it is truly unfortunate that Defenders came out to feel so very uncared for. Perhaps it was rushed. Perhaps there was never a great handle on the story. Maybe the collaboration between shows wasn’t there-because I didn’t feel a whole lot of it. Aside from some badass moments from characters like Stick and Daredevil, a couple of “hell yeah” fight sequences and a few treats for the fans, I felt very little love in this project.
What was meant to serve as the “climax” of this tale was an empty threat- because Daredevil already has a third season. Of course, I’m entirely curious as to how exactly those events played out- but I didn’t for a single second believe that Matt Murdock was actually gone for good. Thats how this whole “show renewal” thing works.