Hello, and welcome back to my look at Netflix's latest Marvel adaptation, The Defenders, which is meant to pay off several seasons of television by bringing together the protagonists, supporting cast, and plot lines from the streaming service’s other Marvel shows—Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist—for one epic eight-episode miniseries. Last time, we kicked things off with a look at Episodes 1-3. Today, we'll cruise through the back half of the series and rocket towards the conclusion as we examine Episode 4: “Royal Dragon”; Episode 5: “Take Shelter”; and Episode 6: “Ashes, Ashes.” From my perspective as a comic journalist and longtime Marvel fan, we'll chat about what worked, what didn't, and some of the differences between the comic and screen incarnations of the characters.
So let's get going! New York won't save itself!
There were certain things I liked and disliked about the first three episodes of The Defenders, and while watching these next three, those strengths and problems became larger and clearer. Let's get the bad stuff out of the way first. If you've read my other reviews for this site, I think you can guess what I'm going to start with.
I really want to like Iron Fist. I do. I enjoy his comic adventures, and the dynamic between him and Luke Cage is one of my favorite friendships in comics. In his Netflix series, however, and now in The Defenders, he's become a thoroughly unpleasant character. In Episodes 4-6, he sinks to new depths. I can now say I actively hate his character.
In these episodes, he's stubborn, argumentative, and turns to violence when he doesn't get his own way. In Episode 4, he's such a hot head that he's ready to fight Matt Murdock because he called him a kid. Then, in Episode 6, instead of listening to his allies when they tell him he needs to lay low, he decides to fight them. It is such a frustrating battle to watch. It did, however, end in a satisfying way when Jessica Jones knocks Danny out.
In future seasons, the writers need to make a hard pivot away from the stuff that makes Danny Rand act like a spoiled asshole. As a fan of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer spinoff, Angel, Danny reminds me of a certain character on that show: Angel's jerk-ass son, Connor. Like Connor, though, I think Danny can be redeemed.
I’m not so sure about the Hand though. At the end of Episode 3, I felt positive yet skeptical about where the show was going with these characters. Now, after two exposition-heavy episodes (4 and 6), I can say the Hand is a convoluted mess. The problem is the writers want to make them human-seeming villains that you love to hate. That's a difficult thing to do. Most of the time, you're best aiming for one or the other, and I would be happy if the Hand were an outfit that was evil for evil's sake.
After all, that’s what they are in the comics. While they have a tragic past—they started out as a ninja clan that was fighting back against a corrupt feudal Japanese government—they were later corrupted by a group of demon worshipping sorcerers known as the Snakeroot Cult. Over the centuries, they've spread across the globe as a conspiracy of undead, murderous ninjas who worship the demonic entity known as the Beast.
In Episodes 4-6 of The Defenders, though, they're first portrayed as a global, power-hungry crime cult. Then, they're revealed to be exiles from Danny Rand's home city of K'un-Lun, who “serve life itself.” They want nothing more than to get home to K'un-Lun and find more of the “substance” that gives them immortality. What a bunch of wishy-washy nonsense!
The Hand didn't need to be humanized, especially when it's composed of a bunch of characters who are more interesting when they're being utterly ruthless and sinister. Characters like Sigourney Weaver's Alexandra and Wai Ching Ho's Madame Gao are great as snarky badasses but not when they're babbling about “serving life itself.” And Hand leaders Murakami (played by Yutaka Takeuchi) and Sowande (played by Babs Olusanmokun) are deliciously evil and chilling villains.
The one villain who may end up working is Elodie Young's Elektra. It's interesting watching her recover her past in these episodes. When she strikes down Alexandra in Episode 6, it is a shocking but completely organic twist.
The one thing they have to do, though, is stop telling us why the Black Sky (the being that Elektra has become) is such a dangerous and apocalyptic weapon and actually show us. We're told she's important to Alexandra's overall scheme, but we're never shown why.
That's another glaring problem with these middle episodes. There's a lot of telling rather than showing going on. The biggest example is Luke showing up having already captured Sowande. I'm sorry, but I had to sit through exposition about the Hand and Danny Rand being a jerk when I could have been watching a kickass fight between Luke and Sowande? NO! That's just wrong.
Plus, it's been six episodes, and while we've been given hints about what the villains hope to accomplish, we're still not exactly sure how they'll do it and how that will impact New York. It really detracts from the stakes of the story they're trying to tell.
So that's the problematic elements. Now, let's talk about the good stuff. I'm talking, of course, about The Defenders' three solid lead characters and the interactions they're having. To me, that ultimately trumps a lackluster plot and one unlikeable protagonist. Three out of four definitely is not bad.
In Episodes 4-6, Jessica Jones continues to be the MVP of The Defenders. We get to see her heroism, flaws, and growth as a character. Plus, her snark and eye rolls make everything better. She has some really big, fun moments in the show, especially her heroic return to the Chinese restaurant in Episode 4 where she throws a car through the front window.
I also really liked watching her dynamics with Luke and Matt. Krysten Ritter has chemistry with both Mike Colter and Charlie Cox, so the scenes where it was just her and Luke or her and Matt were especially fun. I saw some people online even shipping Jessica Jones and Matt Murdock. I could see it, but I still want Luke and Jessica together.
I thought they were great as a couple in the first season of Jessica Jones, and I'm definitely a fan of their relationship in the comics where they are married and have a kid. So it was especially good to see Luke and Jessica talk after so much time. It gave me a feeling that even though they're not together right now, they still care for each other.
With Matt, there is a real payoff to keeping him out of the Daredevil costume for so many episodes. When he shows up in his costume for the first time in Episode 5, it's a pretty iconic moment. Trish Walker's reaction of “Wow!” was my reaction as well. Then, with Luke, his compassion and heroic concern continues to shine through, especially in his moments with Jess and Danny. Stick calls Matt a natural leader, but if the Defenders have to pick a leader, I vote for Luke. In the comics, he leads his own team of Avengers for several years.
When talking about the romantic entanglement of the Netflix version of Luke, you have to mention Rosario Dawson's Claire Temple, who he is currently involved with and who we saw again in Episode 5. Seeing Claire is always great, but the best supporting character interaction for me in that episode was seeing Simone Missick's Misty Knight and Jessica Henwick's Colleen Wing meet and interact. I hope it's the beginning of a beautiful friendship because, in the comics, Misty and Colleen are known as the Daughters of the Dragon. They run their own detective agency. That's a Netflix spinoff I'd love to see.
So the middle portion of The Defenders have some very good parts as well as some very bad parts. There is a potential to put some of those bad elements to rest and redeem others depending on how the final two episodes of the series play out. I'm heading off to watch those episodes right now.
Please join me back here next Wednesday where I'll share my thoughts on the concluding chapters of The Defenders and what they possibly mean for the other Marvel Netflix shows moving forward.
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