Be warned: The Defenders being a sequel of sorts for all current Marvel Netflix series, possible spoilers for Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist may follow.
The Defenders has been in the works for a long time now. As a planned part of Marvel’s MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) there have been five whole seasons of buildup, each establishing a different Defender’s origin and backstory, whilst also hinting at a nasty plot of some kind bubbling in the background – most notably in Daredevil’s second season. Arriving on August 18th, it is finally just around the corner. Here is our review:
Due to a huge cast and the challenge of combining four preexisting shows, The Defenders begins slowly. The first episode is, necessarily, full of character exposition, giving the audience a quick reminder of where the characters were last time they were in the limelight.
So where are we at?
Everyone’s favourite blind ninja devil Matt Murdoch is proving himself in the pro-bono work that he turned to at the close of Daredevil’s second season. Meanwhile, Jessica Jones refuses to accept the minimal amount of recognition she got from dealing with Kilgrave – preferring as always to be left alone as much as possible. Picking up from his first season, Luke Cage is greeted by Foggy Nelson upon his release from incarceration. Elsewhere, Danny Rand, a.k.a. ‘Iron First’ is carrying out his own personal vendetta following an attack on his home, hunting out members of ‘The Hand’ wherever they may be… ‘The Hand’ casting a perennial shadow over MCU’s New York City.
a palatable addition to the growing number of superhero television shows of late
Given that our protagonists have already had a whole season dedicated to each character, there is no attempt to reintroduce their origin stories. That said, we are given a discrete reminder of the powers of each of the main characters. Reassuringly, the characters remain true to themselves. This is particularly true of Jessica Jones’ first scenes, which show that she still has the prickly wit that served her so well in her standalone series opposite David Tennant’s brilliant villain character, Kilgrave.
Soon enough though, our Defender’s worlds begin to intertwine. Jones and Cage’s investigations lead them down the same path and Rand is shown hunting down members of the hand, long time shady ninja bad guys from Daredevil’s neck of the comic book woods.
Though, this is not to say that the trajectories of the Defenders is a simple one. The relationships between the characters are complex to say the least: their experiences and motivations are vastly different, and the series plays on this to great effect. The heroes butt heads repeatedly as they discover and get to know each other. There is a brief and almost comic throw down between Iron Fist and Luke Cage, both juggernauts in their own way, whilst Murdock and Jones more or less play a game of cat and mouse, each attempting to tail the other with varying amounts of success. Once the group bands together, as it inevitably will, we can expect an entertainingly unstable group dynamic to establish itself.
The Defenders is not just about our protagonists, however. It is also about the antagonists. Both new and old villains turn up with new story arcs and backstories to discover. The very first scene pits the Iron Fist against a mysterious figure in a network of underground tunnels far outside the usual backdrop of New York City; proving that he has committed to hunting down members of the Hand and has been doing so across the world in the time that has elapsed between the end of his season.
The Defenders’ universe fits in seamlessly with the preexisting shows, rather than feeling clumsily tacked on as was the risk
The Hand, an omnipresent and surreal force of darkness (read: criminal organisation/immortal ninja cult) in Daredevil’s New York, is back with a vengeance. It is also the source of a high-profile casting in Sigourney Weaver, who plays the face that represents The Hand. Similar to the way in which the Kingpin was portrayed in the Daredevil Netflix series, Weaver’s enigmatic character Alexandra alternates between vulnerability and ruthlessness. Weaver’s motivations as an antagonist are hinted at fairly early on, which makes her more relatable than your standard comic book villain. Having an antagonist that the audience can connect with on some level makes Weaver’s scenes far more compelling: she is a villain that is more than just a placeholder obstacle for the heroes of the piece. Weaver has always had presence on screen (which is a big part of why Alien’s Ellen Ripley is at the top of the list in terms of sci-fi action bad-ass icons), and it serves her particularly well in her darker scenes here.
Aside from the new castings, effort has obviously been made to maintain the worlds that the Netflix Marvel series have created and to keep a balance between the characters. The casts of the individual series have been kept, so secondary characters like Daredevil’s mentor Stick, all-round heroine Claire Temple, and small time crook extraordinaire Turk remain on the roster. The end result is that The Defenders’ universe fits in seamlessly with the preexisting shows, rather than feeling clumsily tacked on as was the risk.
Overall, the impression given by our preview of The Defenders is that if the as of yet unseen portion of the mini-series holds to the same standards as those we have seen in the previous series and it will be a respectable addition to the growing number of superhero television shows of late.
The Panoptic was given access to the first four episodes of The Defenders to review. The series will be available to view on Netflix on the 18th August.