The blockbuster episodic event of the summer is here and just in time to close out this lackluster movie season. Since Netflix’s line up of Marvel shows was announced, we have all waited for this team up to happen, watching every season of every show in anticipation for the release of The Defenders. The problem with anticipation is that it can reach heights where the product quality doesn’t live up to our expectations. It did for The Avengers, but it left us defenseless for the feelings of emptiness that come from watching The Defenders.
The pacing is what you would come to expect from a highly anticipated team up. It’s slow, but mainly because each character needs some exposition to tell us what they have been up to since we last saw them. That makes this show suffer from short season storytelling. With all the individual storylines and side stories, eight episodes, each less than an hour long, aren’t enough. I’m usually the first to complain about a season being too long, but in this very special case, there is too much necessary exposition being introduced. We haven’t seen Daredevil and Jessica Jones in over a year; Luke Cage has been in prison for who knows how long. The only person who doesn’t need any more screen time is the one who the plot revolves around: Iron Fist/Danny Rand/The Man-Child.
Most people had to force themselves through the lackluster season of Iron Fist in anticipation for The Defenders, only to realize that Iron Fist is at the epicenter of this event. The good news is that the action sequences are much better in this than they ever were in Iron Fist. The bad news is that they are too few and far between, opting to skip some altogether in favor of more exposition. This leaves the entire season unbalanced and on the verge of becoming boring.
“Boring” is a strong word, but an apt one, especially for a team-up that we have been waiting several years for. The show’s potential is there, offering strong performances and strong characters (minus Iron Fist) facing off with villains that manage to only tease at something epic. First off, I understand this is a comic book-based universe, so that means that there will be evil twins and not-so-dead villain reveals, but giving the evil organization the ability to resurrect the dead still feels cheap. They have done that in several of the series already, and their repetition of it in The Defenders makes it hard to believe in any death that is supposed to be an emotional climax because we’re all just wondering what season of what show the “dead” character will pop-up in.
The real wrongdoing in The Defenders is how criminally underused the female characters were. Technically, most of the characters suffered from this, but only the women were both misused and poorly developed. They were the only characters who, although having proven their importance to the team time and time again, constantly question their worth and need continuous affirmation of their value to the team. Yes, I’m talking about Colleen Wing and Claire Temple, who at this point have kicked enough ass (and are the only redeemable parts of the entire season of Iron Fist) that they deserve their own spin-off series with Misty Knight. Then we have core Defender member Jessica Jones who seems to really only be in this show to react incredulously to everything and to offer some one-liners.
At no point does this ever feel like she has an emotional or even physical connection to the events that would warrant her being there, but instead comes off as that one co-worker you invite out for drinks because you invited everyone else and didn’t want to make her feel excluded. Jessica Jones is such an emotionally complex character that she deserved much better than the role of comic relief. Then there is Alexandra, our main villain, who is built up to be a powerful force, and is completely wasted before the end of the season. There are several confrontations teased, but ultimately left us wanting, like the assumed fight between Luke Cage and Sowande.
At the end of the day, this series is based on comic books and you see flourishes of that shining through. Aside from all the Easter eggs, there is convenient color blocking which highlights every character’s signature color. Jessica Jones is surrounded by purple, Daredevil has red, Luke Cage is yellow and Iron Fist is green. This even extends to the transitions that lead us to their individual storylines early on and take us to their chosen neighborhood in New York. The worst comic book aspect that the film uses is the one where the dead don’t stay dead.
Despite all the problems, there are still many things to enjoy in The Defenders, like the humor and well-choreographed, team-up fight sequences. The pacing suffers from an incorrect ratio of exposition and action. Even though the focus is on storytelling, the conclusions each plot and subplot reach are minimally satisfying. This series joins the lackluster summer, but hey, at least it’s much better than Iron Fist.