What happens when a blind vigilante, an invincible ex-con, a moody super detective, and a mystical city’s legendary guardian team up to save New York City? You have Marvel Studios’ latest Netflix offering: The Defenders. The Defenders picks up where the other four series (Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Iron Fist) valiantly attempt to weave their hero’s narratives into a larger tapestry. While the Avengers deal with rogue AIs and interstellar menaces, The Defenders is nothing more than a titanic street brawl against the machinations of an army of Ninjas and their nefarious plot to live forever.
Stars Charlie Cox (Matt Murdock / Daredevil), Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones), Mike Colter (Luke Cage), and Finn Jones (Danny Rand / Iron Fist), all reprise their roles from their series with varying degrees of success. Cox still shines as the conflicted Devil of Hell’s Kitchen while Ritter brings her trade mark attitude and snark. Colter has a few missteps. (Is it really logical that he would be skeptical of a secret world considering the worldwide knowledge that super beings exist?) Jones (Finn, not the character Jessica) is also a bit flat with anger as his signature emotion.
Elodie Yung, however, shines as Elektra but the real mystery in casting is the remarkably flat performance by Sigourney Weaver (Alexandra) who is by all accounts supposed to be a kung fu warrior of some note. Weaver seems like she was cast to give the Ninja clan the “The Hand” some extra gravitas because when it all boils down ninjas aren’t really as interesting as Wilson Fisk, The Purple Man, or even Cottonmouth. Perhaps they may have done better with just Wai Ching’s Madame Gao teaming up with Elektra. Also, they should have just bit the bullet and made Rosario Dawson’s Night Nurse a full fledged member of the team. (Isn’t it time already?)
The Defenders takes liberties with Marvel Comics continuity in order to streamline the larger narrative and it mostly works. The real issue is that the series, not unlike Smallville, is a superhero series targeting an audience who normally would not watch a superhero series. The costumes are replaced by a heavy cloak of existential angst and a surplus of bickering. The idea of making a series where an audience didn’t have to be familiar with the other shows also seems like a cop out, and a slight to viewers who enjoyed the other series.
But the main offense is that some of the fighting is a bit uneven, and even boring in some places. How many fights need to occur in a single hallway? Daredevil seems to have done that to death. Plus Jones just doesn’t seem up to par as the one of the world’s greatest martial artists and comes off as substandard to Daredevil. In a show where the mystery is eventually solved by a big boffo punch out, one would think that the choreography would be 100% on point.
Marvel has stated that it wants the Netflix shows, the ABC shows (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D) and its cinematic universe to all co-exist in one big universe. The Defenders shines a very bright light into the lives of Marvel’s rough and tumble street fighters, which may not be epic enough for some viewers.