Starring Charlie Cox, Krysten Ritter, Mike Colter, Finn Jones, Eka Darville.
Netflix and Marvel’s collaboration literally exploded onto our screens with Daredevil, which deserved every bit of the critical acclaim that was laid upon it. It was brutal, complicated, brooding and superbly acted, a fantastic antithesis to the kid-friendly, light-hearted popcorn superhero movies we had seen on the big screen. Don’t get me wrong, Marvel’s films are incredibly entertaining, but the world of Hell’s Kitchen was a breath of fresh air.
From that point on we knew we were heading towards the building of a mini-universe. We knew we were getting Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Danny Rand in their own series and we knew it was all building towards an Avengers-style team-up, albeit on a smaller scale. However, whilst Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist all had their fantastic moments, all three series seemingly failed to reach the dizzying heights of hype and critical acclaim that that first season of Daredevil met.
Unfortunately for the street level team-up programme The Defenders, it also had to follow the objectively worse series in the franchise so far in Iron Fist. Whilst I certainly wasn’t one of the show’s detractors, even I could see that it certainly had more flaws than its predecessors, with Danny Rand’s characterisation by Finn Jones failing to appeal, suspension of disbelief for Iron Fist’s more magical elements proving difficult and inconsistent pacing all tying the series down.
Still, did The Defenders live up to the hype started by Daredevil several years ago, rebuild the slight harm caused by Iron Fist, and deliver an enjoyable ensemble superhero television programme whilst maintaining the dark, gritty, street level feel that has become synonymous with Netflix and Marvel’s partnership? In short, it absolutely did.
In fact the first four episodes of The Defenders might just be some of the best episodes of superhero television we’ve seen, let alone just from Netflix. It’s incredibly fast-paced, only running at eight episodes, but manages to juggle the individual characters, giving them enough development and screen time, all whilst not feeling rushed, or putting characters in situations that are necessary for plot, but not authenticity.
Our four heroes spend much of the first few episodes entirely separate from each other, pursuing their own seemingly disparate heroic interests in their own small areas of New York. The central theme of the opening half of the series is how these heroes end up crossing paths and forming a reluctant team. Some may be concerned about the series rushing this moment, or forcing it so it doesn’t feel organic, but the writing and the way they build up to getting all four characters in the same place truly is really well done.
The payoff is wonderful as well, as the office brawl is reminiscent of the famous corridor scene from the first Daredevil season, displaying incredible fight choreography with all four heroes fighting in tandem. It was the first truly epic feeling moment of the season, as well as the first time we saw the big-bad leader of The Hand, played by Sigourney Weaver.
Weaver brings an excellent calm coolness to her role, playing the leader of the immortal villainous ninja troupe with a superb air of superiority and being in control that we rarely see with a bad guy in superhero properties. She steals whichever scene she is in, but bizarrely a decision is made that side-lines her in favour of some lesser developed villains a little towards the end of the series which stands out as one of the few bad decisions that are made.
The four leads are also all superb with Charlie Cox, Krysten Ritter, Finn Jones and Mike Colter all putting in great work as their respective members of the Defenders. That being said, Jones is most improved here, moving slightly away from the impetuous naivety that populated his portrayal of the character in ‘Iron Fist’, grounding him a little bit more here and making him infinitely more relatable. In many ways the show feels like a sequel to Iron Fist and a continuation of Rand’s story as he matures into his role as a superhero.
So there you have it. The Defenders managed to pull everything together to bring us a wholly enjoyable superhero series in keeping with the high-quality production we’ve become accustomed to from Netflix and Marvel, and it makes Iron Fist likeable. That alone should make it worth checking out.