The Defenders Review: Huge Payoff Potential
Disclaimer: This is only a review of The Defenders episodes 1-4. No spoilers.
The first episode of The Defenders gets off to a slow start, but it isn’t a bad one. We last saw Jessica Jones in November 2015… It’s been awhile. The final minutes of DaredevilSeason 2 left Matt Murdock’s life in shambles. Luke Cage is behind bars. And the most recent of Marvel’s Netflix shows, Iron Fist, wasn’t exactly a joy to watch for most fans. Needless to say, The Defenders has a lot of setting up to do for New York’s four heroes to meet. Marvel has always put character development first for its Netflix run, and that strategy is hard to maintain in a show featuring four superheroes fans have spent 60-plus hours watching. So while the pacing of the first two episodes is unexpected, it’s necessary, especially for fans who may have given up watching Iron Fist or not seen every series.
We’ve never seen Daredevil or Jessica Jones lack intensity in their missions. The wayThe Defenders begins with JJ and DD in particular is certainly a change of pace, but the absence of urgency within their arc in the first two episodes feels well-deserved. Trauma, loss and hopelessness are ever-present in their lives. On the other hand, Luke Cage and Iron Fist are both ready for action. Danny is ready to face The Hand at any cost after they slayed everyone on Kun-Lun, and Luke Cage, fresh out of jail, feels the fate of Harlem is his personal responsibility.
The way The Defenders reintroduces these characters makes sense. The interactions between Daredevil and Jessica Jones, and elsewhere with Iron Fist and Luke Cage, are undoubtedly the highlights of the second and third episodes. While you will never catch us saying Luke Cage’s first interaction with Iron Fist solves all of Danny Rand’s problems, it rectifies the character’s ignorance to a degree. It makes me wonder whether this dynamic was Marvel’s plan all along: showing how a black man and privileged white man can interact and become allies. The responsibility in that discussion rightfully lays on Danny Rand’s shoulders, and he takes Luke’s words to heart in episode 4. Without saying too much, this interaction completely changes the trajectory of Danny Rand’s character, which in turn plays a large part in how The Defenders approach the villain.
Learning Alexandra’s intentions and the true reach of her influence makes for some truly thrilling moments of the top half of The Defenders. The mystery is still there, but small tidbits that weave in and out of each Defenders’ storyline explain why she’s so threatening, even though the prospect of facing New York’s four heroes doesn’t seem to excite her much. But that’s because she’s not your average villain. There are still many questions to be answered, but the mere prospect of her unknown origins and power makes her intimidating enough.
It’s not only new relationships that make the first four episodes of The Defendersintriguing, it’s the old ones that really start to shine as the series progresses. Luke Cage and Jessica Jones’ chemistry is unexpected, partly because of their past, and more so considering Luke’s recent fling with Misty Knight and romantic relationship with Claire Temple. Daredevil is forced to come to terms with the ending of Season 2 and make a choice about how he’s going to move forward with Stick and Karen Page. By the end of the first four episodes, the stakes are incredibly high. New York is on the verge of destruction and we’re left wondering not only how The Defenders will save the city, but what’s next for these heroes and villains afterword.
The mere thought of Heroes for Hire and Daughters of the Dragon is exciting. The Defenders should also provide some much-needed clarification about the direction of both Jessica Jones and Daredevil, who were lost and had all but given up as heroes. To those who will say Sigourney Weaver’s villain doesn’t pack a punch, thinking about The Hand in the grand scheme of Netflix-Marvel’s plan since Daredevil Season 1 will remind you of how ambitious this series actually is. If The Defenders succeeds in the end, it’s due to the intricacy in the way the writers have tied together each show and the commitment to character development above all else. These heroes are not the Avengers and this is not a movie. Each episode is increasingly better than the one before it, and at this pace, the last four will will hit the ground running with huge payoff potential.