From the dawn of Marvel’s reign on the streaming service of Netflix back in 2015 with the critically-acclaimed ‘Daredevil’ series, the studio of super-powered heroes and lighthearted big-screen action has since crafting one of their darkest and most compelling corners in their collective television series following ‘Daredevil.’ Moving quickly from ninjas and blind lawyers to the likes of an unbreakable ex-con and an alcoholic P.I. (then eventually back to ninjas), the bold collaboration that has spawned from Netflix and Marvel Television has given some of the comics’ most human characters some dynamic life on the small screen. With the first four shows to come out of the collaboration, ‘Daredevil,’ ‘Jessica Jones,’ ‘Luke Cage’ and ‘Iron Fist’, all culminating in the highly-anticipated team-up series, ‘The Defenders,’ the stars seemed to have aligned to give us one of the most satisfying superhero team-ups since ‘The Avengers.’
The city of New York remains in tact under the watchful eyes of four unique individuals. While the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen’s alter ego Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) might have hung up his cowl, the city remains safe under the actions of others much like him — particularly an unhinged private investigator who’s just trying to stay afloat (Krysten Ritter), a mystical living weapon with a linear mindset (Finn Jones) and an unbreakable hero-for-hire on the streets of Harlem (Mike Colter). While Murdock might remain reluctant to become Daredevil again, the blind lawyer is soon called back into action as dark forces from his past threaten the city. Quickly pulled into the affairs of super-powered allies Jessica Jones, Danny Rand and Luke Cage, Murdock joins forces with the unlikely team to take on “The Hand,” an ancient and deadly organization that’s resurfaced once again. With a dastardly plot unfolding under the fierce leadership of the mysterious Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver), the streets of New York need more defending now than ever before.
With four distinct heroes now checked off their list, it’s seemed like a lifetime would pass before we finally reached this moment. After carefully constructing its more grounded and grown-up format across Netflix, beginning with ‘Daredevil,’ Marvel has been building up to their next highly-anticipated team-up since they first united the Avengers on the big screen. With their small screen heroes offering up a favorable reception so far in their individual series, albeit a few missteps along the way, Marvel aimed to finally unite its street-level characters in an ‘Avengers’–style team-up worthy of its name. With ‘The Defenders’ reeling together the likes of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist in a cleverly cobbled together plot of immortal foes and unlikely allies, the latest Marvel Netflix creation resulted in an enjoyable and mildly-compelling showcase of the some of Marvel’s most relatable characters.
Effectively pulling away the veils of society untouched by the Avengers and other Marvel heroes so far, the four Netflix series have given fans a peek at the other side of heroism. Exploring themes of morality, sacrifice, trauma and privilege with each new series, Marvel has crafted a unique set of characters that stand apart in both tone and storytelling than their big-screen counterparts. While Marvel Studios has successfully created a sixteen-film franchise of massive superhero proportion, it’s been the undeniably grounded heroes of the small screen that have delivered some of Marvel’s most compelling storytelling. With ‘The Defenders’ more-or-less cobbling together the best elements from the individual series, the show applied each character’s unique personality and outlook on the world to make it feel just as investing than the solo series.
While the plot of ‘The Defenders’ might become somewhat of a mouthful as the eight-episode season goes on, the primary objective of the team-up series was essentially to bring together the characters who have been independently protecting New York City using their unique abilities. With each character showcasing their own distinct outlook on the volatile reality they live in, ‘The Defenders’ did its best to toss each hero’s ideals at one another, effectively manufacturing enough tension to fuel eight episodes of bickering. While the show does eventually bring the characters to a mutual understanding, as they unite to take down a cryptic criminal organization, it was the often-childish bickering between the street-level heroes that offered one of the most enjoyable elements of the show. While I’ll touch on what each of the main actors brought to the show in a moment, I will say that the chemistry created between the four central characters was easily one of more notable aspects of the show.
Even when ‘The Defenders’ veered into familiar territory, exploring the subjects and plot points that helped fuel the second season of Daredevil to decent acclaim (mostly thanks to the introduction of Jon Bernthal’s Frank Castle/The Punisher), one thing that remained mostly fluent through the show was the cast. With the series uniting its four central characters into one story, the unique performances of Charlie Cox, Krysten Ritter, Mike Colter, and Finn Jones ultimately became one of the main reasons I kept watching. With Cox’s sly humor as the blind lawyer Matt Murdock mingling well with Ritter’s straight-forward vulgarity as the P.I. Jessica Jones, the show displayed a well-versed understanding of how these volatile and often-isolated people would actually work together in a group. While their combined super-powered might was easily a pleasure to watch, I found a lot more fascination in the dialogue between the characters, as each displayed their own concrete ideals on both heroism and the state of their city. Even while Finn Jones’ mystical warrior in Danny Rand might have been the weakest link out of the team, his stern coldness towards Mike Colter’s Luke Cage was hilarious to watch.
Aside from the main foursome that headlined the series, the show was also bold enough to delve into the exploits of the supporting characters from each individual series before it. Even as it spent a good many episodes convincing us Sigourney Weaver’s venomous antagonist was of any real substance (the verdict is still out on that, if you were wondering), the show managed to string together the supporting faces behind each titular hero. From Matt Murdock’s close-knit acquaintances in Deborah Ann Woll’s Karen Page and Elden Henson’s Foggy Nelson to the resourceful allies of Luke Cage and Danny Rand in Simone Missick’s Misty Knight and Jessica Henwick’s Colleen Wing, ‘The Defenders’ worked to establish an intriguing link between the previous shows, aside from just bringing together its central heroes for a communal brawl fest. To no surprise, Rosario Dawson’s nurse-turned-vigilante-enthusiast Claire Temple also returned as the glue to the foursome’s motivations.
While ‘The Defenders’ surely had its shortcomings as far as its central plot goes, excavating once more the least compelling set of antagonists to toss at its four heroes, the latest team-up effort from Marvel was an enticing-enough adventure worthy of a proper binge. While the earlier seasons of ‘Daredevil’ and ‘Jessica Jones’ might offer more lasting results when it comes to character development and delivering a properly impactful villain to its hero, ‘The Defenders’ ultimately became an action-packed showcase of the best elements of its leading four, which effectively masked the show’s obvious shortcomings.
‘Marvel’s The Defenders’ is now streaming on Netflix. Be sure to catch up on all four of the other Marvel Netflix collaborations, including ‘Daredevil,’ ‘Jessica Jones,’ ‘Luke Cage‘ and ‘Iron Fist,’ all available to stream.