The Defenders: A Marvel-ous Mistake?
I just finished watching The Defenders, and, while I have enjoyed my time binge watching Marvel/Netflix’s latest, I haven’t loved it. But we’ll get to that.
I loved Daredevil. That first season, to me, was an achievement. It was something that the Marvel Cinematic Universe was lacking. Something it was missing, in the grand scheme of Tony Stark’s worldwide Avengers tour, it showed us the grit and grime of the streets of New York, far away from Avengers Tower, where heroes don’t wield magic hammers and villains don’t have an army of invading aliens.
The first season of Daredevil really felt like it was an important story. It was visceral, it was blood and bones and sweat and people died and the good people lost. It was desperate hope against power and money. It was good. It was so good.
It was what the MCU was missing.
The Defenders, by comparison, is what the MCU didn’t need.
I’ll preface this review with a solemn fact: I’ve not yet watched Luke Cage or Iron Fist. Not for lack of wanting to, I just couldn’t get into either show. That said, starting up The Defenders yesterday, I didn’t feel like I was completely lost with these characters, and enough was explained that I could follow it easily enough. But for my money, I was there to watch Matthew Murdock and Jessica Jones.
Jessica Jones was another breakthrough, but not as powerful as Daredevil had been. Not even season 2 of Daredevil could completely recapture the power of that first season. And I think both of these seasons lacked where the original thrived; Daredevil season one felt like one story told in thirteen parts. By comparison, season 2 and Jessica Jones didn’t feel as cohesively designed. Sure, the Punisher was bloody brilliant (pun intended), but both endeavors in the Marvel/Netflix sophomore run just didn’t feel as vital as the first one.
Daredevil season one, to me, was Marvel’s Dark Knight. It was everything the MCU couldn’t be.
But as the MCU thrives and expands, and even their television endeavors get better and better (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is, by far, one of the best shows on television right now, and did for Ghost Rider what Daredevil did for Punisher), the Netflix dramas just get…dull.
Again, I haven’t watched Luke Cage or Iron Fist yet, but I’ve heard the latter is not worth the effort. And, if Defenders is any judge, I’d agree.
If I had to relate this season to anything else I’ve watched recently, I’d have to relate it to Arrow. Similarly, Arrow is a show that started out dark and brooding (insofar as network television will allow). And as the seasons progress, it just becomes more and more a shadow (or Shado) of what it once was. I still watch it, it still entertains me, but it is nothing like the groundbreaking seasons that came first.
Defenders is definitely a fun show to watch, but that’s just it. It is fun. It isn’t a character study of morally fractured people trying to be better than they are, which is what Daredevil was. Watching Foggy and Matthew and Karen, they just feel like caricatures of the wonderful, three dimensional characters we were introduced to a couple of years ago.
This show takes itself way too seriously, too. I mean, serious is good. Daredevil, to which Defenders will, unfortunately, forever be compared to, took seriousness to a whole new level. But this show doesn’t have the story to capture that seriousness. And for a show taking place in the gutters of the MCU, the Avengers are never referenced. And I feel that is a horrible misstep, considering this is a superhero team-up show. When four super powered heroes team up in a post-Avengers world, I feel like someone would make some sort of reference. It doesn’t need to be knee deep, like Spider-Man: Homecoming was, but then again, why not? They can, cause they have the rights to. Hell, we could have even had a cameo from Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, swinging by on the news, given his movie just came out last month.
The villains, too, are too over the top to be taken this seriously. They are basically a low level Hydra (Complete with the paraphrasing catchphrase, “cut off a finger and you can still use your hand”), and have even copied the Winter Soldier plotline with Electra (she was saved and had her memory erased and turned into a weapon for the villains who is questioning her past and her relation to the main hero as she slowly realizes… Bucky?). Gone are the days of Wilson Fisk, brilliantly portrayed by Vincent D’Onofrio as a brutal, yet relatable, villain who shared the same ideals as Daredevil, but when about reaching them in a different way. Sigourney Weaver is perfectly fine in the role of the villain, but there’s no real depth to her.
What really worked with Wilson Fisk was how fleshed out he was. Of course, he was brutal and quick to anger, and the way D’Onofrio played him, you could always tell he was controlling some inner rage. But the show gave him enough screen-time that you understood him. He was the other major player in a two-lead show, with only Daredevil getting more story than him. With Weaver, it seems like they tried to do the same thing, but she just wasn’t given enough backstory to work with. Top that with, SPOILERS, her abrupt murder in episode 6, and her villain felt wasted. And with Electra stepping up as the villain in the final two episodes, it felt like the show was off its track. We knew why Alexandra was working towards her goals, but it never felt clear why Electra killed her only to continue working towards the same goals, goals that were not her own.
With Daredevil, even the lower level characters felt fully realized. Here, there are just too many faces to keep track of, and even characters like Karen who were brilliant in the stand-alone shows are given nothing to do here. Literally, nothing. I would have preferred them not to be in it at all, so that they could be appropriately explored in the next stand-alone seasons.
You know what, though, I take it back about wishing the Avengers got a name drop somewhere. Because, thankfully, we can pretend that the Defenders don’t exist in the same world as Doctor Strange and Spider-Man. I know that sounds harsh, and, again, this show isn’t unwatchable- it is actually a good show to watch and I enjoyed it enough that I don’t feel like I wasted eight hours- but compared to what came before it, it has no soul to it, it simply exists because these characters happen to coexist, and therefore they needed to cross paths eventually.
At least it isn’t as bad as the travesty of writing that was the four episode (three episode) Arrowverse crossover event.
I feel like I was way too harsh on The Defenders. I mean, it wasn’t a bad show. And some of my criticisms may not be fair, since I haven’t watched Luke Cage or Iron Fist. There may be pieces to the story that I’m simply missing, things that would further develop the plotline for me.
Maybe there’s something explaining Madame Gao having powers, which didn’t even show up until the penultimate episode, in the same way Yoda suddenly could fight like a badass.
Or maybe not. I don’t know. I’ll have to go back and watch those shows.
I don’t mean to be harsh to a show that I binged in under 48 hours. I mean, if something is crap, I stop watching (see Transformers: Age of Extinction…). I won’t watch something out of duty to the story. It might have helped that The Defenders was told in a more concise eight episodes, where the other seasons are stretched thin over thirteen.
But I can’t help but to be critical, when the seasons that came before this one were on another level of quality. I wouldn’t have any problem with The Defenders if Daredevil hadn’t been so freaking brilliant, in the same way that I wouldn’t hate the Star Wars prequels if the originals hadn’t existed. But they do exist, as does Daredevil, and The Defenders, unfortunately, is lesser for it, only because the quality of the latest offering pales in comparison.
Should you watch The Defenders? Yes. It is good television, just not great television. And you should judge it for yourself. Maybe you’ll see something I didn’t. Maybe you’ve seen the seasons previous that I haven’t. There are definitely some great moments to this show. But I’ll remember Daredevil for years to come, and I personally cannot say the same for The Defenders.
(At least it is better than Ben Affleck’s Daredevil.)