The Defenders was a comic created by Roy Thomas where Marvel’s heroes who didn’t quite fit into a team setting, or who could barely hold an ongoing series before cancellation for a year, were thrown together to see what happens. Thomas’s idea that The Defenders were a ‘non-team’ who’d unite to fight a menace none of them could individually tackle was the premise to make them stand out from the other superhero teams that were around. It worked but the titles struggled to sell any great numbers. But it is notable now for the flexible roster (heroes came and went depending on how poorly/cancelled their sole title was doing) and a quite spectacular run from writer Steve Gerber in the 1970s which was ahead of its time.
Fast forward to 2017 and The Defenders is Marvel’s new series from Netflix and a culmination of the main storyline that’s ran from the first season of Daredevil, to Jessica Jones, to Luke Cage and Iron Fist as all four of these characters unite to fight the menace of Sigourney Weaver and the seemingly endless ninja warriors of The Hand. Here the idea of a ‘non-team’ consisting of four heroes uniting to fight a menace none of them can fight individually is present from the off as all of our characters realise whatever they’re fighting can’t be defeated by themselves as they all slowly piece together separate pieces of the puzzle that eventually unites them.
What could have been a horrible mismatch somehow, eventually, works. The slow introduction of the main characters is well handled and I especially liked how Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage are all introduced using the same distinctive directorial styles established in their respective series’. But the problem lies in the early episodes with Iron Fist. There isn’t anything to make him stand out and he acts simply as a plot device, and indeed, later in the series he actually becomes the Macguffin himself while the other heroes get on with it. Iron Fist is a character though that works when he’s got someone else to help support what has always been a pretty weak knock-off character. It is nice to see that around episode three when Iron Fist and Luke Cage meet there’s some actual sign that the character can work, not on his own, but as a part of something else.
The problem with the series lies in the script. When it works, it really is a glorious bit of schlock entertainment. But when it struggles with trying to do something more than a superhero team-up, it flounders and flops around trying to find a direction. Part of the problem is the series takes too long in bringing all four together and when they do get together they spend much of their time spouting long scenes of exposition at each other which is fine when it serves the plot. However, by the fifth and sixth episode it becomes tedious to watch. Charlie Cox, Krysten Ritter and especially Sigourney Weaver batter some of the dialogue into submission but at times it really does feel like the script could have been better had someone done another draft of it. When the series does shine is when all four Defenders are together, or interacting with each other so we get the budding friendship between Cage and Danny Rand’s rich-kid. Or the way Jessica Jones doesn’t trust anyone else apart from Luke, but does what she does because she has to. Or Daredevil being the only character in a superhero costume contrasting with the other three.
Of course there’s big fight scenes. Ir at least, as big as the budget can push it so don’t expect any Avengers type fight scenes with thousands of mindless baddies being beaten up by superheroes. However, when the action does come (and yes, there’s yet another fight in a corridor) it is well done. The Defenders shines when it embraces how schlocky it actually is. So we get BIG FIGHT SCENES WITH NINJAS and even the wonderful sight of Sigourney Weaver throwing some moves down herself. It should also be pointed out Weaver helps the show work as she’s a fantastic baddie full of contempt and power who can more than hold her own and her casting was an inspired move as frankly, all the other villains here are just a little bit too hammy.
Overall The Defenders is good fun if you’re willing to look the other way at its sometimes large inconsistencies or the fact it doesn’t really end things. Of course, The Defenders will return but this is not the big climax we were expecting. It is, however, just a good comic book yarn that manages to work despite all the faults which still makes it better than Iron Fist...