Review - The Defenders (Netflix), Season 1

The Defenders, TV-MA, 8 Episodes - About four years ago, Marvel announced their plans to produce four series based upon street level heroes that would culminate in a crossover mini-series teaming the four heroes.  All of this would take place in the greater MCU, and all five would be distributed by Netflix.  This past Friday gave us the completion of that first phase of what has become the highly successful Marvel/Netflix partnership with the release of The Defenders.

The Defenders begins with each of the solo heroes - Daredevil (Charlie Cox), Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Luke Cage (Mike Colter), and Iron Fist (Finn Jones) - dealing with issues in their own parts of New York City.  Little do they know, that they are poking their noses into different criminal activities of the same organization: The Hand (previously seen in Daredevil and Iron Fist).  Before they know it their investigations overlap and they unintentionally get in each other's way.  After some brief conflict, a little encouragement from Marvel/Netflix constant Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), and a little manipulation by Stick (Scott Glenn), the four realize that they are all on the same side and decide that the city is better off if they work together.  Sure, the basics elements of the story are old hat, but the way they are presented works really well, with the chemistry (or sometimes lack thereof) between the four heroes developing organically.

This mini-series doesn't just bring together the four street level heroes, but many of their supporting characters as well.  Some are featured more than others, but they all play important roles in the development of their main characters in the process: Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) and Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) from Daredevil, Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor) and Malcolm Ducasse (Eka Darville) from Jessica Jones, Misty Knight (Simone Missick) from Luke Cage, and Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) from Iron Fist.  There are also quick cameos from a handful of other characters who had previously appeared in the individual shows: Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss), Father Lantom (Peter McRobbie), and Turk Barrett (Rob Morgan).

Sigourney Weaver provides gravitas to the cast and plays the 'big bad' for the series in the form of Alexandra Reid, one of the 'Five Fingers of The Hand' and its acting leader in their quest for immortality and a way back to the mystical city of K'un Lun, from which they were exiled.  In a last ditch effort to secure the Iron Fist for The Hand's purposes, she resurrects Elektra (Elodie Yung) as the Black Sky (the prophesied weapon of The Hand), a move that becomes a source of inner conflict for The Defenders thanks to her prior history with Daredevil.

While The Defenders does a pretty good job of giving equal time to all four heroes, it could easily be considered Daredevil Season 2.5 or Iron Fist Season 1.5.  Key elements of this story carry over from plot points set up on those shows and those two characters experience the most development from beginning to end during this series.  That may be because the showrunners, Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez, were co-showrunners on Daredevil Season 2.  Or it could be because they are trying to course correct the direction of Iron Fist, which was the least successful of the solo series.  Whatever the reason, I'm ok with it as I enjoy how they have tied important aspects of both characters together in the MCU.  

Whereas the previous Marvel/Netflix solo series each ran for thirteen episodes, The Defenders tightens things up a bit, trimming down to just eight episodes.  Some have said that a couple of the earlier series suffered from trying to fill a full thirteen episodes.  That certainly isn't the case with The Defenders.  Even with the shorter series length, the story takes two or three episodes to really get going.  Personally, I feel that while the pacing is a bit slower at the outset, it works quite well as it allows the viewer to get caught up with each hero and what is going on in their small corners of the MCU.  Remember, it has been nearly two years (in real time) since we've seen Jessica Jones, a year and a half since Daredevil Season 2, and a year since Luke Cage Season 1.  The refresher is nice, especially for someone like myself who did not take the time to re-watch all five previous series leading into my viewing of The Defenders.

I absolutely loved this mini-series.  I have always preferred Marvel's street level characters, and while The Defenders still incorporates some off the wall mystical mumbo jumbo, it harkens back to some classic Marvel storytelling and stays true to the feel of the characters involved.  It provides good closure to the first phase of the Marvel/Netflix collaboration, and most excitingly (for me at least), sets up events for the already announced, long awaited Daredevil Season 3.  If you've followed these series previously, you'll more than likely enjoy The Defenders.  If you haven't, but you're curious, I would highly suggest watching Daredevil Seasons 1 and 2 and Iron Fist Season 1 in order to best understand what is going on here.  The Jessica Jones and Luke Cage series are well worth a watch as well, but are not nearly as essential to this story as Daredevil and Iron Fist are.  If you can't or don't want to invest that much time, you could begin cold with The Defenders, it just may take a while to get up to speed with what's going on.











*****SPOILERS*****

- You can find my reviews for the previous Marvel/Netflix series here:
- In the comics, the original Defenders lineup consisted of Doctor Strange, Hulk, and Namor, first appearing in Marvel Feature #1 in December 1971.  The current comic incarnation of the team is the same as the group in this series and is written by Brian Michael Bendis with art by David Marquez.

- When I got to the end of the last episode I was completely nerding out.  Could we be getting a loose adaptation of Frank Miller's 'Born Again' in Daredevil Season 3!?!?  It would have to be a loose adaptation as story elements are completely different, but the imagery and the mention of Sister Maggie at the end of The Defenders certainly suggests that could be a possibility.

- I was torn over the Alexandra's death.  On one hand, I felt that it hindered the focus of The Hand's machinations, but on the other it was Elektra's rise to taking over The Hand, a position she has held in the comics.  After Alexandra died, it seemed like returning to K'un Lun was dropped completely and the only focus was obtaining 'the substance' that would allow members of The Hand to remain immortal.

- Just what is 'the substance'.  Yes, it is what The Hand uses to resurrect themselves, but that was the only explanation given during the entire series.

- The other 'Five Fingers of The Hand' were: Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho), Bakuto (Ramon Rodriguez), Murakami (Yutaka Takeuchi), and Sowande (Babs Olusanmokun).  Madame Gao and Bakuto had both previously been seen in the Daredevil and Iron Fist series.

- We got to see Daredevil's retractable bill club get used in another fashion which was awesome.

-  After seeing them interact in this show, all I want is a Heroes for Hire series including Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Colleen, and Misty.

- Speaking of Misty, we're all set up to get Misty's bionic arm!  I thought that we were going to get it after the events of Luke Cage but that didn't happen.  This time around, her arm was cut clean off  (not just severely injured) and she has the resources of Danny's Rand-owned hospital behind her.  Surely this will happen in Luke Cage Season 2.

- The tune Matt begins to play on the piano when he and Jessica discover the building's blue prints is actually part of the theme from the Daredevil series.

- The first teaser for The Defenders that was shown at San Diego Comic Con 2016 was set to Nirvana's 'Come As You Are'.  While that song doesn't actually appear in the series, another Nirvana song does.  'Where Did You Sleep Last Night?' plays towards the beginning of episode seven when The Defenders are shown laying around unconscious after their confrontation with Elektra when she kidnaps Danny.

- Wu Tang Clan's 'Protect Ya Neck' is used as the score to the climactic battle after Luke tells Danny to 'light it up'.

- Stan Lee's obligatory Marvel cameo comes by way of a poster/sign on the street.  These cameo's in the Netflix series have been a bit more inconspicuous than in the theatrical MCU installments.  Watch the background closely during the scene where Matt is tailing Jessica and then she doubles back and tails him.  Lee's face can be seen on a poster in the background.  This is actually the first Stan Lee cameo that I didn't catch the first time around.

- Similarly to the release of a Luke Cage trailer at the end of Daredevil Season 2, after finishing The Defenders we get the first full trailer for the upcoming Punisher series starring John Bernthal:

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