Netflix’s Marvel Super-Series the Defenders brings together four people who should never be in the same room together. That’s the same strategy that worked for the MCU’s The Avengers, but set in smaller, more personal ways.
It takes until the last ten minutes of the third episode for Daredevil, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage to come together, but it’s a powerful meeting that is nicely set up by showing the individual paths that lead them into that situation.
Danny Rand (Finn Jones) and Colleen Wing (Jessica Henshaw) are Phnom Penh following a lead in their search for The Hand – a lead which sends them back to New York City.
Before we meet our four leads and their friends, we watch as Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver) visits her doctor – who gives her distressing news. She’s dying and has maybe months or likely weeks…
Meanwhile, Luke Cage (Mike Colter) is trying to keep a Harlem kid out of trouble when it’s discovered that a number of late teen/early twenties kids have recently taking high-paying jobs and then wound up dead.
Jessica Jones turns a case that she blows of as showing every sign of a good husband suddenly having an affair – until a voice-disguised caller warns her not to investigate.
Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), after one of his confessions/conversations with his parish priest, finds himself pulling Jones out of an interrogation room.
Rand, Cage and Jones all encounter a shadowy ninja and eventually link separately found clues to a new building in Harlem – the Midland Center. Murdock comes by the location by following Jones.
Rand has taken it upon himself to climb into the lion’s den and confront The Hand in their NYC headquarters and it isn’t going well when Cage breaks through what looks to be a marble door and he, Jones and Murdock (wearing Jones’ scarf over his face) come to the rescue.
With a small writers room (series creators Marco Ramirez and Doug Petrie, Lauren Schmidt and Drew Goddard), The Defenders is mostly a smartly written eight-episode small screen extravaganza.
Early episodes reacquaint us with each of the titular heroes (none of whom like the ‘H Word’ or believe it applies to them), while giving a close look at a powerful but flawed enemy in Alexandra – who, it turns out is the white woman at the head of the mostly Asian Hand.
Outside of a few clues planted in the preceding Netflix/Marvel shows (think: that huge hole that Daredevil discovered in season one of his series), Ramirez and Petrie had pretty free rein – while using a few of the tropes established in earlier Marvel shows – like the hall brawls that each one had had (taken here to an even higher, more extreme level the first time our heroes meet).
If The Defenders hadn’t been well into production, it would be easy to say that the writers responded to their criticisms about Iron Fist, what with Rand being the butt of most of the show’s humor (Cage rolling his eyes when Rand describes himself as ‘The Immortal Iron Fist’ – or Jones flat out calling bulls*t on the idea of K’un L’un, as two examples).
Jones and Murdock also have some solid running banter as she calls him on his abilities (blind men don’t move like that) and his costume (‘I liked the scarf better’), and develop an unexpected rapport.
Despite Cage’s disbelief in Rand’s story, the two do make a good team, too.
Of course, The Hand has a particular goal in mind; one that will destroy New York – and Scott Glenn’s Stick returns to goad our heroes into greater action – though Rand and Murdock are each unaware that Stick has interacted with the other, adding a bit of friction in a group that hardly needed more.
In terms of acting, Colter, Cox, Jones and Ritter up their game because of Weaver’s presence – though Jones stills comes off less well simply because he still lacks the experience of the others.
Roxanne Dawson’s Claire Temple and Jessica Henwick’s Colleen Wing continue to be bright spots every time they’re onscreen – and while Simone Missick’s Detective Misty Knight doesn’t quite have the same amount of screen time, she, too continues to impress.
Elodie Yung’s Elektra plays a key role, too – but she’s not given quite the same range to play with, though she shines as a presence throughout.
The action sequences are much more elaborate and chaotic – as you’d expect of such a big team-up – but they’re mostly very grounded and real.
Given only eight episodes to work with, The Defenders is leaner and meaner than its predecessors. There’s no chaff here and everyone is at the top of their game. Even Jones’ martial arts sequences are smoother – though he’s got a ways to go before he’s up to Charlie Cox’s level.
At this moment, The Defenders ranks only behind the first seasons of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones in terms of pure entertainment. Not bad for a series about four people who should never be in the same room together.
Final Grade: A-