“The Defenders” is a series that has been years in the making. Marvel’s initiative to create a connecting series of television shows within the continuity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) began with season one of “Daredevil” back in April 2015. “Daredevil” experienced earth-shattering success, taking advantage of Netflix’s penchant for producing more mature content for viewers to travel down a darker path for the hero. “Jessica Jones” soon followed, along with “Luke Cage.” It seemed as if the Netflix universe was on an unstoppable high—until “Iron Fist” crushed it.
Now, all four heroes have teamed up to combat the ultimate enemy: the Hand. The shadowy organization appears to have claws in operations around the world. For reasons initially unknown, the Hand has converged upon New York City. The future of the city is at risk of collapse—just like every high rise and tower—should the Defenders fail.
The premise of “The Defenders” is interesting and engaging, especially for fans who have been following the individual shows of each character for a couple years now. Unfortunately, the eight-episode series misses the mark, relying far too much on weak storytelling and character development from previous shows to bolster it.
Who Is the Hand?
The primary issue with the second season finale of “Daredevil” consisted of the shoddy integration of the Hand, Elektra and the Black Sky. The Black Sky is purported to be a weapon the Hand has been seeking for decades. Elektra is revealed to be the Black Sky in the same moment the assassin is killed by the Hand. The blow is devastating for Matt Murdock, Daredevil’s real-life alter ego, who is in love with Elektra but cannot come to terms with her very murderous lifestyle to be with her. A final scene reveals Elektra’s corpse dug up and entombed, encased in a murky mixture that appears to be blood in a reanimation ritual.
These events are sudden and not properly explained. There is little reason for Elektra to be the Black Sky, and even less reason for why the Hand wants her as much as they do. This problem is not cleared up in “The Defenders.”
As expected, Elektra is brought back to life by Alexandra, played by Sigourney Weaver, with little memory of her previous incarnation. As the nearly immortal leader of the Hand, Alexandra spearheaded the hunt for the Black Sky. However, the role of the Black Sky doesn’t make much sense. Alexandra trains Elektra as a weapon, claiming she is necessary in the Hand’s quest.
Despite classic super-villain desires to take over the world, this is apparently not what the Hand wants. Alexandra and the four remaining fingers of the Hand have been alive for such a long time thanks to a substance they literally call “the substance.” They have run out of it, and the last of it rests in a mystical creature’s skeleton beneath Manhattan. The excavation of the skeleton would collapse the city. For an organization whose dastardly designs have been hinted at for two years, the ultimate reveal was just confusing and underwhelming.
The Problem of Iron Fist
Without a doubt, the weakest parts of “The Defenders” lie in the character Danny Rand, also known as the Immortal Iron Fist. Unfortunately, he says this about twenty times per episode, and the plot hinges on the abilities his chi-laden fist grants him. (Bonus: Take a shot every time someone says K’un-Lun.)
Danny Rand and warrior girlfriend Colleen Wing open up the series, trying to find a man who knows some information about the Hand members they’re currently hunting. The search leads them to return to New York City with the knowledge that something shady is underfoot. In a moment where Iron Fist, remembering that he is downgraded Batman, barges into the suspected headquarters of the Hand and tactlessly reveals his identity and plans, Alexandra in turn tells him that he is a key to a door the Hand can’t open.
If the remaining three Defenders had a child together, that child would be Iron Fist.
The best moments of the show come when Iron Fist plays off the other characters. For example, the conversations between Iron Fist and Luke Cage do a great job of deflating the uncomfortably serious gravity Iron Fist maintains. Alone, Danny Rand stews in his chemistry-less relationship with a woman who should quite honestly take up the Iron Fist mantle herself.
Strengths, Weaknesses and Pacing
“The Defenders” begins a little slowly, taking the time to weave together the different plot threads allowing these characters to interact in the first place. The refresher of each character is nice, allowing fans who haven’t seen all the prerequisite viewing material a chance to familiarize themselves with the eponymous heroes. The culmination of this drawn-out beginning results in a truly fabulous and satisfying hallway fight scene included in every single trailer created by Marvel.
The best episodes of the series take place in the middle, where the story languishes in a closed restaurant before switching to an abandoned warehouse. None of the heroes have a reason to trust each other, especially as they rack up offenses with punishable-by-law consequences. In addition to this, the story takes place over the course of a single week. It feels like ages to us and to the characters. However, the series would have benefitted from a longer season, as the story disappointingly cuts itself off in a haze of confusion in Episode 7 dragged out into Episode 8.
A great aspect of the Marvel Netflix series, up to this point, has been their commitment to consequences. Heroes can’t go around breaking things and beating people up because vigilantism is illegal, and for Jessica Jones and Luke Cage who don’t have alter egos, a lawsuit and prison sentence are just waiting in the sidelines. The show gets away from this a little when the Defenders commit several crimes and domestic terrorism and walk off scot-free. Hogarth and Foggy are lawyers, not miracle workers.
The conclusion of “The Defenders” was a somber one. Though the team appears doubtful that they will come together again, possibility shines in the form of a new solo season renewal for each respective hero. Who knows what kind of trouble they’ll get into? Maybe another organization like the Hand will emerge, but I really hope not.
In the meantime, get excited for the premiere of “The Punisher!”