TL;DR – a concise story, with strong action, and continues builds upon the world that has been created across the different boroughs of New York.
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
After five seasons we have got there, the big team up in New York, as Daredevil (Charlie Cox), Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Luke Cage (Mike Colter), and the Iron Fist (Finn Jones) come together to battle The Hand. Now The Defenders was always planned out to happen, so in one respect it has had a smoother road to creation, but it has also been a rocky one at times.
So before we begin to sum up how we got here, now you can read my more in-depth reviews here for Daredevil Season Two (review), Luke Cage (review), and Iron Fist (review). However, to give a broad-brush overview, Daredevil’s Season One and Two, and Jessica Jones all had strong starts and finishes, even though they muddled around a bit in the middle. Luke Cage started strong, but could not stick the landing, and Iron Fist had an abysmal start, and while it got better, it was the weakest part of this setup. However, we are here and it is time for our Avengers moment, if Avengers was contained to just New York, which kind of describes the first film actually now that I think about it. What is interesting is that we have actually spent a lot longer with these characters than we have with the movie cast, indeed, for those playing at home it is a difference of sixty-five hours to thirty-one. So will The Defenders have the same impact? Let’s dive in and find out. Now just a warning while we will be avoiding the big spoilers at the end of the season, we will be talking in general terms about the season as a whole, so there will be [SPOILERS] incoming, so if you have not yet seen it keep that in mind if you proceed.
To set the scene, all our characters are in different places at the start of the season, Luke Cage is still in jail, Matt is working by himself giving pro bono legal services to those who can’t afford it after hanging up the Daredevil cape, Jessica is spending her time shunning the world trying to avoid the celebrity she created for herself. Finally, Danny and Colleen (Jessica Henwick) have been hunting the globe for members of The Hand to stamp out, indeed it is their story where we start this particular narrative, with as tradition demands a fight in a corridor, or in this case a sewer.
One of the things I liked about The Defenders is they didn’t dump everyone together right from the start, indeed it is not until the end of episode three where we see them all in the same room together. This is highlighted in the first episode where each of the characters had a different colour palate when they were on screen, Jessica had blue, Luke had yellow, Danny had green, and Matt had red. This was a subtle, or once you notice it not at all subtle, way of showing that they are all different characters with different lives. As they come together, the colours merge to show the start of a team, and when we finally get that moment, well it was more than worth the wait.
It is also here at the start where we are introduced to Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver), who is our big bad for this mini-series. Alexandra is a fascinating character as we learn more and more about her past, present and drive for the future. We soon learn that she is one of the five fingers of The Hand, including Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho) and Bakuto (Ramón Rodríguez) whom we have already met in the past, as well as, Sowande (Babs Olusanmokun) and Murakami (Yutaka Takeuchi) whom we are meeting for the first time here. When it comes to the bad guys, sure there are a lot of foot soldiers, or maybe hand soldiers in this case, but what I liked is that everyone has at least one stand out scene. Like Sowande speaking from a place of pure authority when he tells the room what he has done in the past, or Murakami who is introduced disembowelling an endangered bear. However, for me, the standouts are Alexander and Gao. Sigourney brings her A-game no matter what she is in, but here she is given such an interesting role of someone who is as old as time but is also driven with a single focus in mind, but who is someone that is barely holding it together. Gao is a character I have found fascinating ever since she was introduced all the way back in Daredevil Season One, and it is here where for the first time we see that might not be in that position of power that we thought she was in. Now, of course, the one thing the bad guys have that everyone else doesn’t and that is the Black Sky which is the reanimated Elektra (Élodie Yung), who has an arc of her own, but there is an interesting bond here between her and Alexander.
Overall one of the big strengths of The Defenders is the characters, and getting all of these very different characters to work together tonally was a real challenge. Each of them has a history, relationships with The Hand, with each other, and with the supporting cast, and this creates a type of tapestry that you have to bring together. Throughout the season there was this theme of finding what drives you, what defines you, and how it is only you who gets to decide that. For Matt, this meant becoming the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen again because he needed to make the city a better place, even if this means disappointing Foggy (Elden Henson) and Karen (Deborah Ann Woll). For Jessica, it meant finding that eternal strength again, and after years of having her shields up realising that she needs to let people in. For Luke, it is finding his purpose now that the spectre of jail has been removed from his life, how he can best serve the people of Harlem. This also extends to the supporting cast, who have some great moments, even though they do kind of get stuck in the police precinct for much of the end of the series. Misty (Simone Missick) has to learn to trust her gut, Claire (Rosario Dawson) is shown that she is a hero too, and Elektra has to discover who she is if she can.
Now as I mentioned earlier, Iron Fist was the weaker of the series leading up to this crossover event, and a lot of that came down to the character of Danny Rand just not working all that well. Now a lot of that can be chalked up to them not setting aside enough time in pre-production before they started filming. However, while for me Danny is still the weakest of the four leading characters, I’m glad to see that they have put a lot of work into character. Yes at the start he is still that brooding brat that does not know that shirts are a thing, but everyone calls him on his rubbish, so it is not just me calling him a thundering dumbass anymore. But more than that, this season they actually gave him a good arc that made sense to his character, and it is clear that Finn Jones is much more comfortable with the character.
The action sequences all throughout The Defenders were really strong. Throughout the series, you had multiple different types of fights, full on brawls, one-on-one duels, character showdowns, and blades of glory. It is a testament to the skill of the directors, the actors, and the stunt people that they were able to make it all blend together really well. Part of that is that they have a better understanding as to how to film the sequences so you can have your stunt performer in there, but not needing to cut every half a second because the actors face is in the shot. This also means in the bigger brawls that each of the main leads is using a different fighting style, which adds to the battles, I mean even Gao gets in there for a bit. Just in general technical side of things was really quite strong, with some good use of light and dark, some single shot takes which give you these moments of wow, and some great locations that ground the show into the heart of New York. There were a couple of odd things, like some framing that put people on the extreme left of the screen, creating a lot of dead space, also some explosion visual effects didn’t quite look as good as they could have been, but these are just small issues.
Now because they have already laid the groundwork as to who these characters are, it means we can jump in without wasting a lot of time on set up. Indeed by the end of the first episode, we have the earthquake and everything steams on from there. Overall I would say that the story was stronger than we have seen so far, and I think that the shorter episode run helps with that. Every season so far has dipped in the middle when the pacing drags to a halt, and it felt like things were being stretched a bit. Now while there is still a bit of a lull here in parts of episode six and seven, it is only for a moment and you don’t feel like the story has stopped. That being said they do fall for a couple of the more common tropes you see in this kind of film/TV Shows, so yes at some point they will turn on each other, but that is not really a big issue because things keep moving forward.
Now, of course, the story is all focused on the final episode, the titular ‘The Defenders’ so let’s look at how well they pulled it off, now just a final reminder that there will be [SPOILERS] here. Now there is one thing that was always going to hold back the emotional impact of the season finale, and that was the knowledge that none of the main characters were in any peril because they are all in the process of filming their next seasons, or they are at least in some form of pre-production. However, the show knows that, so a lot of the minor characters are peppered across the battlefield. Overall I did think they had a strong ending, we got a fascinating 360-degree fight sequence, some more heads rolled, we have a ticking clock to provide tension, and an explosion to wipe the slate clean. The season finale of a show like this has to three do very important things, it has to conclude everyone’s story, bring to an end the central narrative, but it also has to propel the characters forward into what is coming in the future. This is a tough balance to get right, and it can get a bit awkward if you get the balance wrong, see Age of Ultron (review), but I think here they got that balance right, even if it meant glossing over things like, that is not how those types of explosives work, or that resolution of sorts between Matt and Elektra.
In the end, do we recommend The Defenders, yes, it is a strong conclusion to a series that they have been building upon now for three years. They showed a good understanding of the characters, and there are more than a few nods here to their comic past and indeed maybe even their future. Now it really does feel like they are starting to really move towards that Heroes for Hire storyline, and I would really like to see that happen, they have been putting in the groundwork for seasons, now it is time to make it work.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of The Defenders
Directed by – SJ Clarkson, Peter Hoar, Phil Abraham, Uta Briesewitz, Stephen Surjik, Félix Enríquez Alcalá & Farren Blackburn
Written by – Douglas Petrie, Marco Ramirez, Lauren Schmidt Hissrich, Marco Ramirez, Douglas Petrie & Drew Goddard
Based on – The Defenders by Roy Thomas & Ross Andru & Marvel Comics by Stan Lee, Bill Everett, Brian Michael Bendis, Michael Gaydos, Archie Goodwin, George Tuska, John Romita & Gil Kane
Created by – Douglas Petrie & Marco Ramirez
Starring – Charlie Cox, Krysten Ritter, Mike Colter, Finn Jones, Élodie Yung, Sigourney Weaver, Rosario Dawson, Simone Missick, Deborah Ann Woll, Jessica Henwick, Rachael Taylor, Eka Darville, Elden Henson, Wai Ching Ho, Peter McRobbie, Carrie-Anne Moss, Scott Glenn, Marko Zaror, Babs Olusanmokun, Yutaka Takeuchi & Ramón Rodríguez