Netflix Review: Marvel’s The Defenders starts off triumphant but fizzles by its end

Four years in the making and with a lot of anticipation riding on it, the next series in the juggernaut that is the Netflix/Marvel collaboration The Defenders has landed. After two seasons of Daredevil and one each for Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist we finally get the team up of the street level superheroes of New York. In our first impressions piece we outlined some of the things we picked up on based on the first four episodes that were available to review. In this article we’ll cover the entire series as a whole, specific moments and of course the fallout of the events that transpire – so obviously, spoilers ahead.

We begin with returning to each of our individual characters set some time after the events at the end of Daredevil Season 2 and Iron Fist Season 1. Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) has hung up his Daredevil costume and is trying to focus on working his pro-bono lawyer cases but sorely misses “the old life”. Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) is still boozing and working her P.I cases trying to find out about an architect who goes missing. Luke Cage (Mike Colter) has been released from Seagate Prison and returns to Harlem and Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson). Whilst Danny Rand (Finn Jones) and Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) are trying to track down members of The Hand. Coincidentally it’s The Hand who turns out to be the big baddie of this show, led by the mysterious and enigmatic Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver) along with “The Fingers of the Hand” – Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho), Murakami (Yutaka Takeuchi) Sowande (Babs Olusanmokun) and Bakuto (Ramon Rodriguez) who will battle against our Defenders. The other surprise is the return of Elektra Natchios (Elodie Yung), resurrected by Alexandra as a weapon for The Hand now called the Black Sky.

With only 8 episodes the show wastes no time in bringing out the big guns in Sigourney Weaver’s Alexandra, who shows up from Episode 1 “The H Word” however her purpose and masterplan takes a little while to be revealed. And frustratingly even that reveal itself feels convoluted mainly because of the mysticism surrounding The Hand and their motives – finding the elusive “substance” which is what enables them to have immortality and the power of resurrection. This turns out to be the main motivation for The Fingers Of The Hand, however Alexandra seems more bent on Elektra aka the Black Sky, which turns out to be her downfall. So even though the show seems to charge through delivering its narrative in 8 episodes, that story gets caught up in its own mysteriousness that it can be confusing to follow especially in the back half of the series which seems to trip over itself in an attempt to wrap everything up as quickly as possible.

On the flip side though where the muddled story falters, is where the characters are given an opportunity to shine. Our disparate heroes and their individual vignettes take a couple of episodes before they manage to come together, but when they do it’s with hilarious results. Each of them have their own unique personalities and own reasons as to why they are doing what they do. But what is most on show here is how each of them are so used to working alone that the concept of becoming a team seems ludicrous, especially a team of “super-friends”. Thankfully the show doesn’t just toss them all in together straight away but rather builds up to it by having them “coincidentally” meet – Luke gets into a literal fist fight with Danny while Matt comes to provide legal aid to Jessica. So when the four of them finally do all end up in the same room it feels strategically built rather than hastily generated.

Some of the best scenes are when Jessica gets mouthy and quippy and lets her cynical side shine or basically when any of them put Danny in his place and pay him out. Danny out of all them has evolved the most, he’s less twatish and petulant but he still has an annoying tendency to charge into situations punching with his glowing fist than thinking things through. So it comes as no surprise that he’s referred to as an idiot on a couple of occasions. And when it comes to the emotional heavy lifting, you can rest assured the guilt-riddled morally conflicted Matt Murdock will always wring your heartstrings. Most surprising of all is that the best scene we have of all of them together is where there isn’t any action at all, it’s just the four of them sitting around in a Chinese restaurant trying to come up with a plan (reminiscent of a certain Shwarma-eating scene no doubt). To add to the heroes team-up we also get the “sidekicks” teaming up too. We already have Henwick’s Colleen Wing and Dawson’s Claire Temple, but Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson), Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), Misty Knight (Simone Missick), Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor) and Malcolm Ducasse (Eka Darville) all joining in too. They don’t necessarily have huge parts to play, but it’s always nice to see these satellite characters coming on-screen to help move provide exposition or move the plot forward, it might be convenient but it’s still appreciated.

As with all the previous series the action sequences have been a highlight, and with all four of our heroes teaming up you can expect that kicking up a notch, particularly of their specialty “hallway” fight sequences. One of which you can see in the trailer (see below) that features in Episode 3 “Worst Behaviour”. Whilst a fight between Daredevil and Iron Fist in Episode 5 “Take Shelter” showcases just how skilled these two are in martial arts. But that’s not to say that Luke and Jessica are any less proficient, both of them seem more aware of how to exploit their super strength and bulletproof-ness, though at one point Jessica grumbles “Am I the only one left who doesn’t know karate?” and she’s kinda right. Maybe she can get Colleen to give her some lessons? The only fight scene that was disappointing was ironically the one in the final episode “The Defenders”, where against all odds our heroes take on a horde of members of the Hand and for no apparent reason they drop in a hip hop track that feels out of place in amongst all the fisticuffs. But one bad fight in 8 episodes worth is good odds and hardly detracts from all the other excellent sequences we see.

Marvel’s The Defenders starts out really promising with our scrappy street level heroes being strategically built to come together rather than carelessly thrown into the mix. It also introduces us to one of its best villains to date, the cool calculating Alexandra. However the series takes a hit by having a convoluted and messy back half that feels hastily wrapped up and mired by its own mystical storyline. On the upside though there is enough banter and wisecracks and character interactions to be a distractingly satisfying way of spending time with our Defenders. And Danny Rand gets called an idiot multiple times, which is what we are all thinking.

Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Marvel’s The Defenders Season One is available to stream all 8 episodes on Netflix Australia right now.