Review: The Defenders (Netflix) – minimal spoilers

inside-out-emotions-groupImagine Pixar’s Inside Out but for grown-ups – each character represents one of the four key emotions: Guilt, Petulance, Sarcasm and Luke Cage. Luke Cage is an emotion now or at least he should be – some sort of combination of every positive association with masculinity you might want, with a deeply smooth voice and an excellent soundtrack. In the early episodes at least, the soundtrack shifts whenever the focus is on Luke Cage – perhaps it does that for the other Defenders as well and we just don’t notice.

The colour scheme between Inside Out and The Defenders doesn’t quite match (there’s no blue defender) but they each have their own, which play out in the titles but also cleverly on screen. Daredevil red, Cage yellow, Iron Fist green and Jones purples – which is a bit unfair to Jessica Jones in that she gets her colour defined by her archenemy. Hiding out in a Chinese Restaurant, the four Marvel superheroes of Netflix’s gritty MCU-connected shows, initially have the neon lights of each of their colours casting shadows in the background.

But red is the main colour of the show because really this is a sequel to Daredevil season 2 and to a lesser extent Iron Fist season 1. If you liked either of those two or found them at least watchable then you’ll enjoy The Defenders. If you’ve only enjoyed Jessica Jones, then you may find the show less rewarding. I’m avoiding spoilers but I think it is no surprise to say that the immortal Ninja clan The Hand are the main villains – so the story connects most tightly with Daredevil and The Iron Fist. That isn’t to say Luke Cage and Jessica Jones don’t get plenty of screen time, just that the story isn’t particularly their territory.

Less brutal than Daredevil and less silly than Iron Fist, the show does strike a decent balance. However, where Daredevil 1, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage all dealt with threats that operated on a personal and social level, The Defenders is more conventional fare: evil people are up to no good and need to be stopped. Mind you, when the chief baddy is Sigourney Weaver that’s not such a bad thing.

Fight scenes are impressive and the pacing is good. The story is sort of silly but in a good way. But the main event is comic-book tradition: superheroes team up! The comic-canon combination of Luke Cage and Iron Fist works quite nicely – Danny Rand is still the same shallow character from the previous series but Cage makes him look more like an over-eager sidekick who is capable of personal growth.

Unfortunately, the strong supporting cast from the related shows get less chance to shine in what is already a crowded cast. I’d hoped that Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) would get a stronger role, given her appearance in each of the other Marvel Netflix shows but inevitably she has to take a backseat to the main superheroes.

Worth my Netflix subscription for this month? Yup.

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10 comments

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  2. Matt Y

    Maybe the contrast on my TV is off, but I thought JJ was blue? During the intro there’s a moment when her color is pierced by bright purple and goes away. I really love how they used color for the Defenders in the show, one of the things I thought was impressively done during JJ Season 1. You could tell when a character switch was coming or if another avenger was about to enter the scene because of some color changes, like a red splotch on a sidewalk or a yellow poster on the wall. Feels like something comic artists might do with different panels.

    I kind of felt like the main bad guys were sort of generic because they were essentially window dressing, to me the bad guy they were trying to overcome was self doubt. JJ doesn’t know what direction to go in after Kilgrave messes up her life again, Daredevil is still struggling to figure out who he is, Luke just got out of prison and wants to help people but isn’t sure how best to or where to begin, Iron Fist was suffering identity issues before Kun Lun was lost. Contrast that to the Avengers and they don’t ever really question who they are or their purpose. Not to mention the supporting cast are constantly telling them who they think each character should be. I went in expecting sort of a group team up to take out ninjas but mostly what I saw was group therapy with some action sequences. I kind of feel like a more nuanced or colorful bad guy would’ve distracted from that.

    That’s not a criticism, I liked it a lot. It just wasn’t what I was expecting at all.

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  3. Mark

    I think it was about as good as it could have been. Teamups traditionally work by dialing the bad guys and FX up to eleventy, but given the budget they had to use the Hand…again…and the actual plot they came up with pulled the team into it quite competently.
    The weak link was always going to be the petulant ass that is Iron Fist, but they seem to have smoothed that problem out a bit. When he’s not the spotlight character his assholery doesn’t seem to be tolerated by the show as much, and there are points where he gets the eye rolling he deserves. So, still a weak link but not a deal breaker.

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    • camestrosfelapton

      His annoyingness almost worked well as part of an overall team but he is going to need some other notes if he is going to work as a character.

      [spoilery bit] there is an implication in the final episode that he will take on the role of a Daredevil(ish) crime fighter and Luke Cage’s mentoring gives the story a reason for him to grow up. Failing that I suggest Colleen accidentally kills him in a katana accident while slicing vegetables for dinner and she becomes the new Iron First.

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      • Lurkertype

        Oh don’t put the guilt on her — have him hit by a bus or someone who he whines at just wrong. Doubt Iron Fist beats lead bullets or getting shoved in front of a train.

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      • peer sylvester

        I think the defenders as a show managed very well to tione down all the problems on the individual shows (none of which was nearly as severe as in Iron Fist) and they made it almost look like the spoiledbrattishness of IF was intentional, so it could grow later.
        I liked it a lot.

        What would be nice is to have shows teaming up, after their respective conclusion. DD Season 3 is announced, and that might be the conclusion of his story arc – so hopefully they team him up with someone else, instead of killing him or something. Would be nice.

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