If you’re expecting Marvel and Netflix‘s first team-up series to begin with the street level heroes teaming up right off the bat, don’t. The Defenders takes its time re-introducing us to Daredevil (Charlie Cox), Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Luke Cage (Mike Colter), and Iron Fist (Finn Jones) as it establishes them within their own storylines that will no doubt converge at a place we’re already familiar with later on.
S.J. Clarkson does a fantastic job blending all four of the individual shows into one in the first episode. Each character is perfectly re-introduced into the Netflix corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe along with the introduction of the Defenders‘ big bad, Alexandra, played by Sigourney Weaver. Weaver’s Alexandra makes her debut in a way that humanizes her and makes you instantly care about her. But make no mistake, she’s definitely bad. The problem with Alexandra is that The Defenders relies on Weaver’s presence more than it does give you a reason to be interested in her character and that only holds up for so long before it starts to become frustrating that we aren’t learning anything new about her. That, in and of itself, serves to highlight the biggest problem with the series, which is that for the majority of the first four episodes, we as an audience are left in the dark along with the heroes as to what exactly is happening in their city. The mystery of it all proves to be more and more frustrating as the series moves along.
As for the tone of The Defenders, it’s rather generic. Compared to the other four Marvel Netflix series, it’s closest to Iron Fist more than any of the others but that’s not a bad thing. The tone itself manages to create a balance that works in order to blend all four shows together but if there was anything I missed, it was the flavor of Luke Cage more than the moody, gritty or noir feel of Daredevil and Jessica Jones. It’s present throughout Luke’s scenes in the first episode, but beyond that, it vanishes almost entirely mainly due to the fact that Luke’s story takes him out of Harlem, so the absence of it itself does make sense.
So far, the plot of the first four episodes is solid but a bit uneven. While the first episode ends on an impressively strong and propulsive note that makes it seem as if the series has kicked into high gear, things slow back down to a rather sluggish pace with Danny, Jessica, and Luke each in their own individual storylines except for Matt who is left dealing with the fallout of the Daredevil Season 2 finale. While it’s necessary to see Matt struggling with the loss of Elektra and the space between him and his friends, it ultimately makes him feel more like he’s tagging along in the story than it does make him feel part of the plot once things start moving forward.
Fortunately, it isn’t too long until the heroes’ separate paths begin to intersect with each other. Luke and Danny’s first encounter makes for a quite hilarious and entertaining fight sequence. But once The Defenders gets Matt and Jessica in a room together, it’s clear the two could carry the series on their own. Together, Charlie Cox and Krysten Ritter shine on screen, but more on their dynamic later.
The real standout early on is Elodie Yung who delivers an almost child like performance as Elektra is reborn with no memory. She shares several scenes with Weaver in which she manages to steal all of them as Alexandra takes on a motherly role to her. But to Weaver’s credit, Yung’s performance works so well only because of how she is able to play off of her.
Once the individual plots finally all converge at Midland Circle, we’re treated to a thrilling fight sequence glimpsed in the trailer. While Danny’s, Jessica’s, and Luke’s storylines make sense for them to all conveniently arrive at the same time, Matt’s is a bit forced in. Luke’s entrance is also so jarring that it loses some of its affect. But seeing him fight together with Iron Fist on screen is something fans have been anticipating for a long time and it does not disappoint.
While most fans are eagerly anticipating the dynamic between Luke and Danny from the comics brought to life on the small screen, the dynamic in the group that proves to be the most entertaining is the one between Jessica and Matt. Jessica cuts down Matt with her dry and sarcastic wit every chance she can get. Jones’ reactions to Danny being a mythical warrior are quite entertaining as well. Ritter’s performance essentially helps to lighten up the mood and breathe some fresh air into the drama that may have felt a bit too heavy without her.
Once the group finally does come together, it’s clear that The Defenders themselves don’t exactly gel with each other and that’s a good thing. Each one of them can learn a lot from the other. Luke and Danny have a particularly smart scene where Luke helps Danny see the world from his perspective in order to help him understand that not every problem needs to be solved with his fist and not everyone working for The Hand deserves to die, even if he’s not ready to hear it.
Although it’s been a slow burn to get all four of the heroes together, the pay off is ultimately worth the wait as we’re finally given more exposition about The Hand than Daredevil or Iron Fist ever gave us. While not all of the heroes want to accept the reality of the situation they are in until they have some hard evidence, most of them are willing to see things through in order to get the answers they seek. But once they come to terms with what’s happening, the real war for New York begins.
Overall, the first four episodes of The Defenders are satisfying and entertaining but the slow pace and mysterious plot bog down Marvel’s first team-up series on Netflix. For what is the culmination of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron fist, I expected it to pack a much bigger punch than what these four episodes have offered so far. With only four episodes remaining, Marvel is going to need to kick the series into high gear and deliver on the potential it has with the action of these four heroes fighting together for the series not to end up a disappointment.