Hello, and welcome back to the Marvel Cinematic Universe! After four seasons of great and highly entertaining television (Daredevil Seasons 1-2, Jessica Jones Season 1, and Luke Cage Season 1) and one season that was a complete stinkfest (I'm looking at you Iron Fist. You know what you did), Netflix and Marvel television have finally delivered the ultimate payoff series that brings all the protagonists of their programs together to form an Avengers-style supergroup, The Defenders. The question is: did it live up to the hype?
My name is Dave Richards. I was your guide in Criminal Element's look at the second season of Daredevil and the debut seasons of Jessica Jones and Iron Fist. Now, I'm back to examine the action and prominent characters of The Defenders, see if the eight-episode series lives up to the hype and exceeds what has come before, and offer up my perspective as a longtime fan of and journalist covering Marvel Comics. We begin with a look at the first three episodes: “The H Word,” “Mean Right Hook,” and “Worst Behavior.”
Let's get started!
These first three episodes of The Defenders are essentially the story of how the band gets together, which is an approach that's equal measures good and bad. Good in that it allows viewers to catch up with some old friends they haven't seen in awhile, and bad in that we're forced to spend time with a character who's probably even more of a smug, uncharismatic, and nasty jerk than he was when we met him in March. Let's break down the individual arcs of these characters and where they are when we pick up with them in these first three episodes.
First of all, welcome back Jessica Jones! I have missed you! One of the best things about these first three episodes was the return of Krysten Ritter's snarky, tenacious, and superpowered P.I.
It was fun to see her back in action and also a little heartbreaking to see how her newfound popularity over the Kilgrave case in Jessica Jones Season 1 is colliding with her self-loathing. When we're following Jess, the lighting and color palette develops a blue tint, and I thought that really worked. It gave Jess's scenes an added sense of pathos and beauty.
I was also very happy to have Luke Cage back both because of the cliffhanger ending of his series' first season and because Mike Colter is so charismatic and awesome as Luke. He's both a larger-than-life hero and an everyman trying to do some good for his community. Plus, Colter's expressions in fight scenes make you believe that Luke is an invulnerable superhuman and is annoyed at your feeble attempts to hurt him.
It was also kind of nice to see him searching for a way to help his community and help himself. I'm hoping that will ultimately lead to him opening the Heroes for Hire business that the comic incarnation of Luke is so well known for. The color palette of Luke's adventures was the yellow of his signature shirt and hoody, and it felt like that gave his story an extra sense of warmth and decency.
The red-hued camera palette of Matt Murdock's exploits in Episodes 1-3 was perfect. Not just because it matched the color of his Daredevil costume but because it helped convey the sense of rage that Matt is feeling in these episodes over his inability to find balance in his life.
Charlie Cox really delivers that too. In the scenes where he's using his senses to listen to the cries and crimes of the city, he makes you feel Matt's pain and desire to go out and do something. That leads to his rage over his inability to have the normal life he thinks he wants. It's like the extraordinary senses of Daredevil are both a blessing and curse for Matt, whose ability to feel guilt is extraordinary, even for a Catholic.
Anger is also a huge part of Iron Fist's arc in these first three episodes, but what Finn Jones and the writers are doing with that is nowhere near as successful as what Cox and the writers are doing with Daredevil. In Iron Fist, Jones's Danny Rand devolved from a boring and naive kid to a self-righteous, nasty, brash, angry jerk. He's an even bigger jerk in The Defenders, which picks up a few months later. I really hope this series wraps up Iron Fist's arc with the Hand because all that currently defines him is his vendetta against the evil ninjas, which makes him pretty unpleasant. When your favorite scenes with a main character are when he's being physically or verbally slapped around, there's a problem, and sadly those were the only occasions where I really appreciated Iron Fist in these first three episodes.
Most of the physical and verbal smackdowns Iron Fist endures in Episodes 1-3 come via Luke Cage. In Episode 2, the characters come to blows because of a misunderstanding, and it feels like an homage to the classic Marvel Comics trope of two heroes fighting each other because of a misunderstanding and then teaming up.
It's also a nice tip of the hat to Cage and Iron Fist's first meeting back in 1977's Power Man #48, which kicked off a story that pitted them against each other and eventually led to their friendship and the two co-headlining a book together.
It was also fun to see some of the other characters interact as well, like Matt Murdock trying to represent Jessica, her investigating him, and Jessica giving Misty Knight a huge headache. Then, of course, in Episode 3, there's the huge Midland Circle hallway fight (hallways continue to be the most dangerous spaces in the Netflix corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe) involving all four of the series characters. The action was nicely staged and a lot of fun. It was especially cool to see the characters exhibit a little bit of team work in the fight, like Luke shielding Danny from machine gun fire and Danny saving Matt from Elektra's sword by shattering it with his Iron Fist.
Elektra plays an interesting and familiar role in this series that reminds me a lot of a character from the old Frank Miller comics where he introduced the Hand. That character is an unstoppable, undead, taciturn, almost Jason Voorhees-like ninja named Kirigi. In the comics, Daredevil and Elektra battle and seemingly kill Kirigi a number of times. Also, the resurrection ritual that brings him back to life in the comics looks a lot like the one we see bring Elektra back to life in the beginning flashback portions of Episode 3.
In Episode 3, we see that Elektra's resurrection and transformation into the living weapon known as the “Black Sky” come thanks to Sigourney Weaver's enigmatic leader of the Hand, Alexandra. We also see that Alexandra views Elektra as almost a surrogate daughter who has shared the same experience she has—the utter darkness and absence of everything on the other side of death. This, the other hints that suggest Alexandra is perhaps hundreds of years old, and her pending mortality have me very excited about the character and wondering a few things.
The fact that she has possibly lived so long, died so many times, and is currently dying again makes me think perhaps Alexandra is actually some sort of a spirit that has taken host in a number of different people over the years? Maybe she's even the demonic entity that the comic incarnation of the Hand worship known as the Beast? The supernatural horror fan in me and Weaver's bad-ass performance as Alexandra have me dying to know more about the character.
Speaking of horror, I was much happier with the way the Hand was portrayed in these first three episodes. There's a sense of mystery and dread to them. Right now, they're more like the all-seeing, all-powerful villains in a conspiracy thriller than a fiendish cult, but there are still more episodes to go, and that's a good start.
One thing I'm still not sure about, however, is the linking of the Hand to K'un-Lun. I didn't really enjoy it in Iron Fist, and those links are made even stronger here with Alexandra talking about K'un-Lun and the Iron Fists she's killed over the years. Plus, Daredevil's mentor Stick (played by Scott Glenn) and his order are revealed to have knowledge of the Iron Fist and K'un-Lun in these first three episodes. That's a huge deviation from the comics where Stick's order of ninjas, a white clad sect known as the Chaste, have only really appeared in Daredevil comics.
Overall, I have a few reservations but enjoyed the first three episodes of The Defenders, and I can't wait to see what happens next. So, I'm off to do that. Please join me here again next Wednesday where I'll take a look at the show's second half, episodes 4-6.
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