The Defenders came out on Friday at midnight with me watching around 5am since I was simply too tired to stay up a few extra hours. I managed to finish the series this morning after catching a few more episodes last night and have been mulling over the show for a good day now. I’m not going to do an episode-by-episode review but tackle the series as a whole, especially in the realm these four characters.
The series has a very slow burn to it, focusing on the converging story of the four characters of Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones and Iron Fist and how they come to deal with the imminent threat of the Hand. The first episode is very slow without the four actually meeting up but picks up where their individual stories have left off from their respective series. Along with these four characters, we are introduced to who appears to be the primary antagonist in the series: Alexandra Reid, played by Sigourney Weaver.
The thing with a hero troop type of series is always in the way people end up converging together. Daredevil (Matt Murdock) ends up representing Jessica Jones after she is taken to the police precinct while Luke Cage and Danny Rand meet up during their own investigation where bodies are being destroyed. Eventually, the four meet when Danny goes to confront Alexandra about her corporation’s underhanded dealings with his family’s company whereupon simultaneously Jessica Jones and Daredevil (who was trailing her) arrive. Luke Cage too manages to make an appearance and there’s an all out brawl between Alexandra’s people and the four heroes.
Of course, the cool trope in this genre is to create conflict so that the team doesn’t wish to work together initially until someone gives them a summary of why. That person is none other than Stick.
Now, I’m going to fast forward a bit since I need to get this out of my system. Once Elektra comes in and kills him off, I become the happiest person on Earth. I’ve generally hated the Stick character from the beginning and found him to be a horrible impediment. In The Defenders, Stick functions as an exposition tool but he’s so horrible as a character that it’s insulting. Essentially, the character is all tell but little show, which is easily the worst type of story telling around.
His character is just too over-the-top for me. There were the scenes in Daredevil Season 2 where he’s horribly tortured and in this season, he ends up cutting off his own hand to escape Alexandra. Despite the fact that these scenes exist to make us believe he’s a badass, his character just sucks. It’s not the actor’s fault neither; he plays the character well. But the dialog and his behavior are practically useless from almost all facets and he’s just frustrating to watch.
And since we’re on character development ranting, let me say that Danny Rand has been nearly as frustrating as Stick. I can’t tell if the fault lies with Finn Jones or just the writing, but there is utterly little depth for him and even less pathos where I can identify with the character. The analogy I have for Danny Rand in the series is that he reminds me of this old Bruce Lee Bruceploitation movie where an imitator from Thailand spent half the movie tied up. Most likely, the wannabe Bruce was tied up because he sucked at actually being like Bruce. Even if you look like someone, it doesn’t mean you have the skills.
Now, the martial scenes were A LOT better with Danny, but that’s because most of the shots were hidden in darkness or interspersed with his companions. So at least that weakness was hidden a far better. Nonetheless, it’s the character that I ultimately had massive issues with still. Danny Rand has moments of being utterly naive such as during the Chinese restaurant scene, which actually makes him seem like a somewhat interesting person within the group dynamic. However, he quickly goes from this free flowing character to the impulsive, hot headed, angst filled, rich brat where you cannot feel any sort of empathy towards.
This issue has been plaguing the character since the start of the Iron Fist series. It’s almost as bad as Anakin Skywalker inexplicably being turned within seconds to the Dark Side after the Emperor killed Mace Windu. For me Danny just feels too one dimensional with two thoughts in his head: defeat the Hand and dealing with his family’s demise. The few nice moments of character growth occur between Luke Cage and him. Unfortunately, there’s just not enough of that and Danny spends too much time being tied up in one spot or another.
Before diving into the main characters, let me talk about the real star of the show: Sigourney Weaver. I’m extraordinarily biased when it comes to Sigourney Weaver as she, to me, is one of the best actresses of our time. No matter the role, she always adds a certain aura to the character, similar to how Kevin Spacey just dominates scenes no matter what.
Unfortunately, because of absolutely shitty writing, the show does what these Defender heroes series has been fucking up on: killing off the best villains. When Black Sky stabs Alexandra, I practically wanted to blow up my system. This was just like Cottonmouth’s doom or changing Ward Meachum into a lesser antagonist. We don’t even get to see what Alexandra’s true history nor powers were and her death made so little sense in the scheme of things. At the end, I wondered what was the purpose of even bringing in a first class actress when the motive was just a setup to end her.
Now, the good thing is that the other three heroes really have their characters down pat and the writing for them make them individually interesting as well as having a better group dynamic. Obviously, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones have a history together so seeing them working together is great. And Daredevil adds a moral center to the group since Danny is just all over the map. Luke Cage offers the street level wisdom while Jessica Jones is the ultra cynic. It’s just Iron Fist being the odd man out.
Now, I still want to fault the writing more than anything. The plot of making Danny Rand/Iron Fist invaluable accidentally turns on itself in the end. Rather than making him a critical plot point, they end up nullifying him by knocking him unconscious or keeping him tied up for a good portion. He only has one job, which is to botch things up even worse, thus making him look like a complete idiot. But in the end, it’s Daredevil (I suppose this series’ version of Wolverine) who ends up making the most impact through his self-sacrifice.
As for the supporting cast, all the non-villains were decent. Claire Temple and Colleen Wing play important aspects, especially in blowing up the building. However, I felt some characters acted more like a 5th wheel. For instance, Karen Page seemed incidental as well as Trish Walker; their only purpose for the most part seemed like eye candy (if you can even call them that). Misty Knight again was decent but a somewhat in between type where she either had a strong purpose or ended up being utterly useless.
For the villains, I’m super happy they got rid of Bakuto. I’m sorry but he sucked. His lines were utterly contrived and he was already terrible in Iron Fist. And what was the deal of everyone understanding Murakami’s Japanese? I don’t even get his purpose. He was just there with no depth outside of an extra. Lastly, I hope to god Gao is gone. She’s just the worst character. Annoying all around. Yes, they had her show off her powers a lot more here but her time is over. Bring back Kingpin!
Lastly, let’s talk about Elektra. She’s just the most nonsensical character around. I suppose when Daredevil and her are fighting in the end, her character arc comes full circle. Still, it made almost no sense why she decided on her own to kill off Alexandra. Just whim? Did she hate Alexandra? Why? Is it just for power and eternal life? Maybe Alexandra wanted to use Elektra as a weapon/tool for the Hand, but she didn’t exactly abuse her.
The thing is that her personality died when she died originally, making her a flavorless villain. Yes, she’s dangerous but I never felt that the heroes were in any form of peril, despite her so-called powers. When Alexandra was around though by comparison, I did not know to what extend her powers were, making me more fearful of Alexandra’s capabilities. But Elektra by herself wasn’t enough because she does not have enough of a presence to warrant fear.
For the most part, the series starts off decently but it collapses on itself as the writers seem to want to put to bed all these loose ends from each series. The climax felt anti-climatic to be honest with the whole building falling down on itself while Daredevil/Elektra supposedly were trapped underneath and the three other Defenders dumbly gawking on at a skywalker just virtually shitting itself straight down. A huge problem was re-introducing these terrible villains like Gao and Bakuto for no good reason while killing off Alexandra before the finale. A personality-less Elektra is just too weak of an ending to really capture how this trope unorthodox team end up becoming a unit. All we really got was a masturbatory typical clusterfuck fight scene where four people fight off a mob. But it should’ve had more team work to demonstrate why they make a good team if at all possible.
Now, something different I would’ve done which could’ve worked well is showing the four heroes actually defending citizens using their super powers while that building collapsed. Luke Cage talked about saving lives, but the only thing they saved in the process was themselves. Someone else made that phone call to inform everyone to get out of the vicinity. With a good 10-15 minutes remaining from the end fight scene, a better climax could’ve had these people speeding around really earning the name The Defenders.
What I’ve come to realize about many of these series is that most start off reasonably strong. There’s generally very good ideas with decent starts. The middle portions pick up well but it’s the ending to most of these series that have suffered the most. A huge element that goes wrong is that the best villain that holds the story up ends up biting it for a dumb reason to introduce a farcical element to make the show seem more comic book-like. In turn, my emotional investment into what could be realistic is tossed straight out the window as the writers favor whimsical surprise rather than allowing the villains to use all that development about themselves to end the story.
I mean, I still enjoyed The Defenders but I’m burnt out on the standard tropes being used in these super hero shows. Outside of the individual character nuances, all these shows are beginning to blend together in terms of the standard formula. There really was nothing defining about this series as I had hoped outside of 4 people whose series I’ve been following doing an all star spot.
It really feels as though if this meet up ever happens again, there needs to be more chemistry, bonding and interaction. Like take the hopeful Karen Page and pit her against the cynical Jessica Jones. Or force Danny Rand to hang about the streets of Harlem with Luke Cage in becoming less naive of what the ghetto is. The series really needs to take advantage of these things and play with them together in a far riskier manner to take it to the next level.