I hate to say this, guys — I really do. But aside from some admittedly standout action sequences, Netflix’ “The Defenders” (2017) was generally mediocre stuff. I’d rate it a 5 out of 10 for mostly being a clunky, messily written, rare misfire for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
What we’ve got here is an eight-episode story arc depicting nothing less than a cabal of mystical ninjas endeavoring to destroy New York City — and four superheros racing to stop them. And yet it still manages to feel slow. I’m surprised at how ploddingly so brief and urgent a story concept like that could be executed.
It’s confusing too. The cabal in question here is The Hand, and their nature, origins, history and modus operandi are all too muddled to follow — the result of sloppy screenwriting. Their goal within “The Defenders'” storyline is actually pretty narrow and specific by comic book standards — I’m not sure how razing New York is necessary at all. (Their actions cause … an earthquake? How, exactly? And wouldn’t that jeopardize their process if an earthquake occurs earlier than they expected? Do these mystical ninjas employ seismologists to forewarn them of that?)
Other questions abound as well. What is “Black Sky,” exactly? Does it matter much, considering it’s a story element that doesn’t much change things? Is the resurrected uber-Elektra really that much different from the regular, mortal Elektra we saw in “Daredevil” (2015)?
To make matters worse, the character elements here are frequently off key. Elektra herself feels like a mostly flat protagonist, the leads sometimes lack chemistry with one another, and the script pays far too much attention to supporting characters that viewers did not tune in to watch. (If I hear one more saccharine pep talk between Claire Temple and Colleen Wing, I’m going to scream.)
Look, I’m not saying the show was all bad. Like “Iron Fist” (2017) before it, “The Defenders” partially redeems a bad script with absolutely excellent fight choreography; Hell’s Kitchen is the corner of the MCU with the best martial arts action. I cheered a couple of times.
I also think that the cast is roundly excellent. I’ll always love Charlie Cox in the role of Daredevil and Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones. Mike Colter is perfectly cast as Luke Cage, and we even have none other than Sigourney Weaver classing up the MCU (even if she occasionally seemed to phone it in a little).
And I’m including Finn Jones as Iron Fist here — I don’t think he’s the show’s “weak link,” as other viewers do. The actor is actually quite good; it isn’t his fault that his titular series and this follow-up were poorly written. In fact, I really like the character concept of Iron Fist as it’s presented here. It’s mired in a lot of weird and dated kung-fu-type cliches, but this is a comic book property, after all. The character’s shtick might be the closest the MCU comes to having a “Jedi”-type figure, and that’s fun. (A good friend of mine who is a lifelong Star Wars fanatic really loves “The Defenders,” as well as Iron Fist’s solo show — I don’t think that’s an accident.) Plus, Iron Fist is a great foil for the other characters on The Defenders team, who are each cynical and traumatized to some extent– he appears young and idealistic and with a sheltered upbringing, like a recent college graduate with superpowers.
I don’t know that I can actually recommend this, as you can tell from the above. But I will say that nearly everyone I’ve heard from about this show enjoyed it more than I did. Your mileage may vary.