So it has been just under a week since Marvel and Netflix dropped Season 1 of The Defenders which brought together the four street level heroes which previously appeared in their own series namely Daredevil/Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Luke Cage (Mike Coulter) and Iron Fist/Danny Rand (Finn Jones). Think of the limited series as the TV equivalent of the first Avengers.
The show was highly anticipated and much hyped especially after the stellar seasons of Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. Iron Fist, not so much. But enough jibber jabbering. With a SPOILER ALERT here’s my review in four slices:
#1 Daredevil and his Super Friends
It was great seeing all these characters together sharing the same screen. We have haunted Matt who has abandoned his Daredevil persona following Elektra’s death (more on her later), Jessica a hot mess and not taking any cases after Kilgrave, Luke imprisoned and out in a hot minute, and Danny and Colleen Wing running around the world searching for the Hand. Other than Danny none of them are really looking to be heroes and that is a running theme in the series.
Cox is a standout and Daredevil has the strongest arc of any of the characters. Ritter and Coulter are both cool as reluctant heroes getting caught up in a mystical battle and you also see embers of passion from their tornado of a relationship. The Luke Cage/Iron Fist bromance, one of the most legendary in comics, is only hinted at but you do get some sweet moments. Jones is thankfully less annoying and whiny and much more tolerable than he was in his own series. The show even seems to wink at that with a villain calling him “the dumbest Iron Fist yet” and Colleen Wing telling Claire Temple that he tells everybody who will listen that he is the Iron Fist.
The supporting characters are all solid with Scott Glenn stealing the show as sensei Stick; nobody does grizzled mentor like Scott Glenn. Jessica Henwick again outshines Jones as sword lady Colleen and Rosario Dawson’s Claire is always a breath of fresh air. Lady cop Misty Knight is back and she is much more fun supporting the heroes than harassing them. It was also pleasant seeing characters like Foggy, Karen, Trish and Malcolm again.
#2 Villian Vogue
One of the strong points of the Netflix MCU is their villains, even more so than the MCU films. We have had the terrifying Kingpin, manipulative Kilgrave and suave Cottonmouth. For Defenders we have Sigourney Weaver’s Alexandra, leader of The Hand as fans had suspected. And they did go in an interesting direction with her character. Instead of a scenery chewing megalomaniac we had a sophisticated, soft spoken master strategist who was afraid of her impending death and whose sole goal was to extend her own life. Weaver’s measured performance is wonderful and you can empathise with the character, even when she is going after our heroes.
It was also intriguing watching her mother/daughter relationship with Elektra played by Élodie Yung. It was interesting seeing the resurrected Elektra go from brainwashed amnesiac to main villain and her killing Alexandra was a welcome twist. Conflicted Elektra, however, was more entertaining than big bad Elektra though. Just saying. On the other fingers of the Hand Gao was fun as usual, Sowande had a cool look and some chilling lines, Bakuto had some fantastic scenes with Colleen (should have ducked dude) and the mysterious Murakami had some cool tension with Alexandra but as a fighter he failed to live up to the hype.
#3 Cage Fighting
The first couple of episodes were action-lite, a bit too action-lite if you ask me, but that Iron Fist punch to Luke’s face was 12 flavours of awesome sauce. Things really pick up in episode three and we have the obligatory hallway battle. And it was pretty cool. Scarf masked not Daredevil kicks butt, Cage busts down doors and heads, Danny looks more believable beating folks and Jessica punches some fools. And while the Iron Fist stunt work is improved the Jessica stunt double was ridiculously obvious. 1990 called. They want their editing back. But Double J is not an action oriented character and she is at times incongruous in the more action focused show. Her sassy one liners were funny though. But back to the action!
Danny versus his allies was decent though the motivation painted the Iron Fist as a petulant brat. Not fun. Elektra got some sweet moves though they never explain why she can disappear at one point and then moves at regular speed the next. And it seems Gao has been really holding back on her abilities. She’s old but not cold. Colleen versus Bakuto had some stakes and a bloody conclusion, and the final Defenders versus Hand battle was well done if not mind blowing. What was that hip hop music at the end though? It came out of nowhere and, like a seeing eye cat, it just did not work.
#4 Almost Iron Script
The plot was clever though not as brilliant as a Daredevil Season 1 or Jessica Jones Season 1. There is much development of Daredevil’s story as we see him having put down the mask, pick it back up and wrestle physically and emotionally with Elektra. Iron Fist learns more of his destiny and goes from being self-centered to a protector of the streets by the end. But Cage and Jessica’s stories are not so tidy. The show rushes through Cage getting out of prison for expediency purposes, despite that being a major plot point in his series. And other than a couple of passing mentions of Kilgrave we do not see much impact from Jessica’s story and her arc is a tad flat. The series felt like the Daredevil and Iron Fist Show with Cage and Jessica just along for the ride. Daredevil did say he is not looking for Super Friends. I saw what you did there Marvel, and I liked it!
The series shone best in its quieter, more thoughtful scenes. I thoroughly enjoyed episode four “Royal Dragon” where the heroes just sat and talked. Danny gorging himself on Chinese food to restore his chi was worth a good laugh. Their scenes with Stick were also some fascinating stuff. The writing must be praised for giving both main characters and side character something worthwhile to do. But they did leave out some things as well. What happened to Jessica’s jumping ability? Did Danny forget that his Iron Fist could heal people so he let that guy from the Chaste die? And they could have had Elektra use some potion to trick Danny into punching the wall rather than him punching him like an idiot as we all foresaw him doing. The use of dragon bones to keep The Hand alive was intriguing but they never did tell us how the heck it ended up there. And did anyone believe that Matt Murdock was really dead? He’s signed on for Daredevil Season 3 people. And the police just ignoring the vigilantes following a deus ex Foggy? The only thing missing was a pretty red bow.
In the end The Defenders is a solid outing with some standout performances, pretty good action and gives progress to future Netflix MCU series. But it does have its hiccups and falls short of being the epic series fans hoped for.
Rating: The Defenders Season 1 gets 4.25/5 pork wantons
For my review of Iron Fist Season 1 you can click here.