TV Review - The Defenders

This is a first for a TV series, at least here in the United States. It's a series about four characters. Each of whom had their own individual series leading up to this. It's the ultimate spin-off, but one that was reversed engineered or was always in mind when it all started two years ago. It's basically doing on television what Marvel Studios did with the films leading up to The Avengers (2012), which is about four major super-heroes who team up to save the world. This TV series is lower stakes. It's about four super-heroes who team up to save New York City, although arguably The Avengers ended with a battle in New York City. This series is limited to a battle inside one building. Everything here is more grounded than in the films, despite all of it taking place in the same Marvel Cinematic Universe, all with knowledge of each other to allow for crossover in theory but lacking in practice.

Charlie Cox stars as Matt Murdock aka Daredevil, a blind lawyer whose other senses are super heightened allowing him to be a highly-skilled, martial artist and have hyper-advanced agility.

Krysten Ritter stars as Jessica Jones, a private investigator who has super strength. She's a great detective and she's also great at lifting heavy objects.

Mike Colter stars as Luke Cage, the former owner of a bar and an ex-convict who has invincible skin and super strength as well. He's basically bulletproof and he can punch through walls.

Finn Jones stars as Danny Rand aka Iron Fist, an heir to a wealthy company who was trained by mystical monks to be a skilled, martial artist with the ability to channel powerful energy through his right hand.

All four of these super-heroes rose up in the wake of the Avengers battling in New York City. All four of these super-heroes live in New York City. That battle with the Avengers is called "the incident," and during that incident, aliens started to invade Manhattan and super-heroes like Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor and Captain America were fighting all over the place. Iron Man and Thor were flying. The Hulk was this huge, green monster jumping from building to building, and everyone witnessed this and these god-like figures.

Yet, the problem is the incredulous nature with which everyone treats things that are arguably way less incredible than the incident involving the Avengers, and this incredulity began in the series introducing Jessica Jones. There was this implication that nobody would believe that Kilgrave had the super powers he did, and the incredulity only continues into this series, especially in the fourth episode when the four gather at a Chinese restaurant and the war over K'un-Lun is explained and a couple of characters dismiss it as crazy.

It might just be a joke or levity on the part of head writers Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez, but that incredulity affects the storytelling. Later, in the seventh episode, Jessica is questioned by police and Jessica says the detective wouldn't believe her. Again, why? Given that detective like everyone in New York witnessed the Avengers fighting aliens from space, why wouldn't the detective believe the story of K'un-Lun? It's indicative of how disconnected the show is or its refusal to engage with the reality that the Marvel Cinematic Universe promises.

In this so-called MCU, everyone is aware that Iron Man exists and that he's Tony Stark, the billionaire based in New York. In this MCU, people are aware of S.H.I.E.L.D., the organization that recruited Iron Man and the rest of the Avengers. Yet, the series never wants to engage with those things. It's one thing when Daredevil or Luke Cage are fighting street-level criminals, but when they start fighting people with super powers, then it becomes something else. The inciting incident in this series is a 4.6 magnitude earthquake, which presumably was caused by the villains here, villains with super powers.

That kind of earthquake would alert the attention of Tony Stark or even Dr. Strange who is also based in New York. It might get the attention of S.H.I.E.L.D. It's obvious for budgetary reasons, those characters can't appear in this series, but not to mention them is frustrating because it creates a cognitive dissonance that derails the whole enterprise here. Danny even talks about teaming up with others and using his wealthy business connections to get help, but when someone like Tony Stark isn't even acknowledged, then it's all disingenuous.

Unlike the other series prior to this, which each had 13 episodes, this one only had 8 episodes. Yet, it still feels like it drags. There's a lot of unnecessary material. Side characters for Daredevil and for Jessica Jones felt completely extraneous. There's also a lot of plot dedicated to a character who was brought back from the dead that also felt like a waste of time.

It's a shame because it takes away from the villains in this series. Ironically, the villains in this series are more diverse than the heroes. The Defenders have only one person of color, Luke Cage, a tall black man. The villains here are called the Five Fingers of the Hand and they include a black man, a Hispanic man, a Japanese man and a Chinese woman. The other character is a white woman named Alexandra, played by Sigourney Weaver. Instead of delving more into these villains, the show spins its wheels with the resurrected dead character.

The real problem is that of the Defenders, half of the characters are either non-engaging or boring. This is particular of Matt and Danny. Matt is not engaging. His plot, which centers around the resurrected character, was pointless. His conflict was lame and Danny is just boring. Danny is just a glorified MacGuffin in this narrative. He's so bland and uninteresting in that regard.

It's funny because Petrie was also a writer on Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. In the fifth season of that series, there was a character named Dawn who was the key to open a door to a supernatural place. Here, Danny is also the key to open a door to a supernatural place. It's a copied story line, which would be fine, if it were done better. There was wit, charm and an emotional connection when Buffy, the Vampire Slayer did Dawn as a key. This series doesn't have that same wit, charm or emotional connection with Danny as the key. It tries but fails. A better show about super-heroes teaming up is Legends of Tomorrow on the CW. This one is not that much exciting.

Rated TV-MA.
Running Time: 1 hr. / 8 eps.

Available on Netflix.


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