The latest Marvel/Netflix concoction teams up four crime fighting badasses as Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Matt Murdock and (regrettably) Danny Rand take on franchise Big Bad The Hand in yet another battle for New York City.
The five founders of The Hand, led by Sigourney Weaver’s all-business Alexandra Reid, are trying to carry out their master plan of extracting The Substance, aka the gooey junk that gives them immortal life. Alexandra used the last of their stash resurrecting Elektra to weaponize her as the extremely-lethal Black Sky. While the other leaders of The Hand are miffed at this decision, luckily they have a nefarious plan in place to get more of the evil badstuff and destroy New York in the process (because yanno, super-villains and stuff). Weaver plays Alexandra with the icy aplomb that makes some of her best roles the classics they are. She’s a real casting feat here, and as always, a true veteran that dominates any scene she’s in.
Like all Buddy Cop and superhero team-ups before them (i.e., The Avengers), The Defenders goes out of its way to make sure we know how different these four heroes are. Krysten Ritter easily slips back into Jessica Jones with ease, with her DGAF attitude and incessant eye rolls. She remains the city’s most reluctant hero. Rand’s ridiculous Iron Fist remains the silliest, a cartoon character with a “punch now, think later” method, whose amateurism is noticed and accepted by the rest of the crew, especially Luke Cage, who tries to get Danny to acknowledge his white privilege in a prescient scene involving a young black kid caught between a rock and a hard place. As for Murdock’s Daredevil? His love for Elektra jacks his stubbornness way up. Toss all of this hot mess into a blender and you get a highly entertaining summer popcorn flick disguised as a bingeable TV series.
While deeper character arcs understandably take a backseat in this all-star spin-off, each series’ supporting characters get ample play as they’re once again put in danger for the heroes they love. Having these characters in the game raises the stakes for our heroes, and brings out the best and worst in them. Daredevil’s friends, Foggy and Karen, finally acquiesce to their friend’s dangerous side gig; Claire Temple, Luke Cage’s love interest and the connective tissue of the series, is there to lend a hand and convince them they’re all on the same side; and Rand’s ninja girlfriend, Colleen, adds more to the series than Danny does. (Can we just erase him next time?)
For those who haven’t seen all four shows, Defenders might seem like a hodgepodge of ideas sautéing and ultimately burning on too high of heat. Those familiar with the unique styles and tones of each will enjoy snacking on what showrunners Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez have served up: a fast-paced, action-packed blend of everything these Marvel shows excel at. While it may not be perfect (and its short 8-episode order may leave some wanting more), Netflix’s corner of the Marvel world still retains the darker, grittier distant cousins to the Iron Mans and Captain Americas found at the box office. And honestly, it’s just more interesting that way. Grade: B+