Marvel's 'The Defenders'-Earth's Whiniest Heroes
The Defenders is the Marvel and Netflix television show that is an attempt to do what the Avengers did, but on the small screen. The show had several things in its favor right out of the gate. It had all of the goodwill of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It had the familiarity of the formula, having been done once before with the Avengers, and being in the process of being done by the Justice League. It has four heroes that have each had their own show so that we are familiar with them and presumably are invested in them. It has eight episodes with a runtime of an hour each to tell its story, rather than the measly two and a half hours that the Avengers had.
Somehow it seems that the Defenders managed to misuse most of these advantages. They failed to capitalize on the good will fans have with the MCU by making this the least connected of the Netflix series so far to the larger universe. They tried to subvert the familiar formula by having the heroes come together by chance in a way that seemed forced. The story seemed a bit stretched, a problem all the series have had but one I was hoping this one would avoid by being only 8 episodes. The only advantage they capitalized on was having the four heroes that we are now familiar with.
That is not to say that the Defenders is not enjoyable. It is despite its flaws. And most of the flaws it has it shares with the four Netflix shows that birthed it. It has the fights in the half dark where you can't quite make out what is happening. It has the lead characters who seem bent on being angst ridden and tortured beyond all reason, to the point that it starts to get irritating and one is almost tempted to start rooting for the Hand. One more scene of one of the heroes questioning of they could be part of the team and I was ready to throw up my hands and walk away. It spends far too much time showing the point of view of the villains, trying to make you understand their motivations. This is not all bad, but it is overdone to the point that it feels like the heroes get short changed in their own show. Then there is my main beef with the Netflix Marvel shows. They try to be the most grounded, the most down to earth version of the Marvel universe. They do this mostly by being dark and gritty, having lots of sex and curse words, and not putting their heroes in a costume. Daredevil is the only one who wears a suit, and he gets a little teasing over it in the show. None of this is a problem though. The problem is that this attempt at realism forgets to extend to the characters' motivations and actions. People make baffling choices that make no sense based on what we know about them. They do things that defy all reason, other than the writers need them to do it because of the scene they have mapped out around them doing it.
Luckily for Marvel and for Netflix, the show is saved by its wonderful cast and by the pull of the characters that Marvel has been telling stories about for decades. The dullness of the master plan by the Hand was made up for by the excitement of seeing Luke Cage and Iron Fist becoming friends. One began to hold out hope that a Heroes For Hire show might be forthcoming. Seeing Luke and Jessica interact was nice, and Jessica's scenes with Daredevil were pretty great. Matt and Foggy are always good together. Defenders also had the best villain of the Netflix shows so far. I'm not talking about Sigourney Weaver, but I will leave the name unsaid so I don't spoil the show. Why the villain is a villain is one of those things that works great at the beginning of the show, but by the end it makes no sense at all. In spite of this, I am glad they used this character as the main foil, because it has been the most exciting final confrontation the Netflix shows have had. Marvel seems to have a hard time bringing their villains to the screen. They are probably afraid they will seem silly. I would like to point out to them that I was very happy that Daredevil was in costume, because without him this wouldn't have felt much like a superhero show. The costumes and the good versus evil stories are part of what has made comics popular for about 8 decades now. Marvel's movies have done a good job of embracing that to a certain extent in the movies, and the biggest complaint I have heard is they don't embrace it enough. Maybe it's time for Marvel television to stop acting like it is ashamed to be based on a comic book. Defenders does in the end overcome its problems to be an enjoyable show. It doesn't live up to the Avengers, or even to its own potential, but its a decent way for superhero fans to spend 8 hours.