Marvel’s The Defenders falls short of expectations


It took four separate shows and five seasons of television to make it happen, but on Aug. 18, Marvel’s The Defenders dropped on Netflix.

The Defenders brings together four street-level superheroes who have spent years rejecting their hero status so much so that most of them won’t even say the “H” word. This rejection isn’t the modest Luke Skywalker “I’m not strong enough to save the world by myself” type; it’s more of a communal “I drink whiskey for breakfast/I’m an ex-con/I retired after the woman I loved was murdered for what I do/ being white and knowing kung fu isn’t a superpower” type.

Nonetheless, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Matt Murdock (Daredevil), and Danny Rand
(Iron Fist) have spent years independently fighting rashes of crime waves in the wake of “the incident,” the in-universe way of referencing The Avengers. The premise of The Defenders asks them all to forgo their emotional baggage and deeply seeded reluctance to save New York City one more time.

If The Avengers had a difficult time seamlessly introducing its team of wholesome A-list superheroes, The Defenders assembles its D-list team with a drunken stupor. The first hour-long episode ends without any of its title characters in the same room—and considering how the series was cut from the 13 episodes its prequels enjoyed down to only eight, that lost time haunts the entire season.

The show runners also limped their way through integrating the drastically different styles of four separate television shows into one cohesive ensemble. Luke Cage’s scenes retain his respective series’ warm color palette and shaky camera work. Jessica Jones’ scenes, however, are steeped a cold film noir aesthetic that leans on stable wide shots and unconventional camera angles. The result reads as an oversight rather than an homage to the characters’ origins.

Despite the sluggish beginning, once the starring cast is allowed to share the same frame, their inherent chemistry ignites the story. Krysten Ritter’s Jessica Jones and Charlie Cox’s Matt Murdock are perfectly matched in the delivery of their caustic humor, and Mike Colter’s endearing Luke Cage almost elevates Finn Jones’ Danny Rand to being a tolerable character. When all four are on screen together, the magic is strong enough to redeem any of the show’s flaws.

The Defenders continues to successfully deliver Marvel’s signature humor, and though seeing the four heroes come together is done well enough to satisfy any fan, the show ultimately lacks what set Netflix’s contributions apart from the rest of the Marvel
Cinematic Universe.

“It falls just a little too short”

Daredevil started a new era of superhero storytelling with an unprecedentedly gritty narrative that complexly handled Murdoch’s many crises of faith and inability to reconcile the city he loves with its many—and gory—corruptions. Jessica Jones followed up with a powerful commentary on trauma and sexual abuse. Even Iron Fist tried to elevate its narrative above an entertainment-driven superhero romp—and this is The Defenders’ primary flaw. The show is too dependent on its inherent fan service and forgets to weave in a larger commentary on the human condition. It’s successful as an 8-part popcorn flick, but as a borderline R-rated Marvel installation? It falls just a little too short.

Taylor Kirby
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