Good news, superhero TV fans! If you’ve enjoyed Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist up to this point, then you are definitely going to love The Defenders when it punches its way to Netflix on August 18. Sure, it might not feel as groundbreaking or revelatory as some of those shows were when they first debuted, but that’s a small price to pay for getting to play around in this street-level sandbox once again. And boy oh boy, do they play.
For this review, Netflix was generous enough to provide screeners of the first four episodes, which makes up half of the eight-hour season. That’s already a refreshing change from previous Marvel/Netflix series, which often felt much longer than they needed to be at the expense of narrative pacing. Even still, the team-up we’ve all been dying to see between Matt Murdock, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Danny Rand doesn’t happen immediately; it takes a few episodes for all four of the show’s protagonists to get settled back in their own status quo first, with each separate world delineated from one another via color grading so dramatic that it's occasionally almost distracting. (Honestly, you’d think Hell’s Kitchen and Harlem are just constantly bathed in red and yellow light.)
Not that this is necessarily a bad thing; it mostly just adds to the comic book feel of the show, which also manages to nail the tone of each previous installment in the Marvel TV world. All the characters feel just as real and compelling out as they do in their own series, and their disparate personalities bounce off one another exactly the way you’d want... with maybe one exception, depending on how much you enjoyed Iron Fist. Those who skipped it will be glad to know that you don’t need to have watched his show in its entirety to follow along, so long as you saw both seasons of Daredevil and know the basics about Danny Rand as a character.
Unfortunately Danny's still the weakest, poutiest link in the beginning, but once our heroes all get in a room together, his demeanor becomes completely different (you can feel how thankful poor Finn Jones is to finally be enjoying himself), and he fits right in as the privileged, over-eager upstart in a team full of world weary desperados. Until then, you’ll probably have fun watching Luke Cage call him out. A lot of fun, in fact. He’s very good at it.
Of course, the titles of each of these shows might bear the names of their heroes, but they still tend to live or die by their central antagonist. Luckily The Defenders has Alexandra, a wealthy and mysterious philanthropist who works closely with the Hand and who might be older than she appears. I assumed she'd be incredible based solely on the fact that she’s played by Sigourney Weaver, but actually watching her is really something else; everything she wears, every calm word and slight tilt of the head, is perfectly riveting.
So too is her relationship with the Elektra, who, predictably, has been retrieved and revived by the Hand after her death in Daredevil season two. You mark my words--there are some fans who are gonna ship their ominously tender mentor/mentee relationship like it’s the second coming of The Devil Wears Prada, but with even more erotic subtext this time.
If there’s one drawback to the series, is that so far it’s been such a long time coming and is so hotly anticipated that sometimes the way it plays out feels a little bit hollow. When Matt Murdock walks into an interrogation room where Jessica Jones is being held, I’m obviously excited, but I’ve also been thinking about how this situation might play out for the past two years since both their shows premiered, so I’m already expecting the payoff before Matt’s even opened his mouth. Thankfully The Defenders lives up to those expectations, but so far it hasn’t yet exceeded them — yet being the operative word, of course, because odds are that the second half of the series will probably pack some more surprises. At the very least, it will have more fights, more snarky quips, and even more Sigourney Weaver. In the end, that’s what we’re all here to see, isn’t it?
Rating: 4 out of 5 burritos