It was easy to get excited for The Defenders back in 2013, when Netflix and Marvel first announced it. After the success Marvel Studios had in creating its shared cinematic universe, TV and comic book fans alike were finally going to see their beloved street-level superheroes get the Avengers treatment—with Daredevil being the initial hero/show, followed by Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, all culminating in the superhero team-up, The Defenders.
But it’s been years since that grand announcement, and the excitement eventually died down and in some ways turned into caution. The plan hasn’t gone as well as hoped, with only one show being a true home run (Jessica Jones). The two seasons of Daredevil were good, but just barely survived its flaws. Though Luke Cage wasn’t awful (Mahershala Ali being a true standout as Cottonmouth), the critical beat down that Iron Fist took (and rightfully so) gave fans a lot more to be concerned about with the upcoming The Defenders series. So just a few days before its global premiere on August 18, we got to see the first four episodes of The Defenders. And while far from perfect, it still shows that the Marvel magic is alive and well.
Admittedly, the first episode is a bit of a slow burn and quite frankly all over the place. The premiere takes its time to recap where the four characters have been and sets up where they are now. It feels like four different shows crammed into one. The aesthetic changes from one character to the next, which gets jarring and kitschy at times. There are moments in that initial offering that don’t do much to generate any kind of excitement. It seems most are just going through the motions, trying to fill as much time as possible. That doesn’t read like a huge endorsement, but patience will be rewarded in the second episode as it barrels towards the four main characters finally meeting. And when they do, the chemistry hits instantly and you see just what this show is all about.
There’s a lot going for the show once the title characters team up. The cast and writers do well to highlight each one and develop distinct personalities for them. The scenes between Luke Cage and Iron Fist are a very welcome buddy-cop pairing. Matt Murdock (Daredevil) asserts himself as the veteran of the team and Krysten Ritter’s portrayal of Jessica Jones is, to no one’s surprise, delightful and compelling. But it’s not just the dialogue where the chemistry is at a high; the action scenes are also well crafted, the fights also letting these unique personalities shine. While we don’t really need yet another hallway fight scene, the Defenders are quick to say that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. From graceful kung-fu to bare fisted brawling, action fans will get a kick out of The Defenders’ initial big fight scenes.
The biggest thing going for The Defenders is Sigourney Weaver, who plays the main villain of the series. Marvel has been setting up The Hand as the main foil of The Defenders, the primary reason why the four characters needed to get together. But the lead up to that has been a mixed bag, especially with Iron Fist not really doing much to help build them as worthy villains. Thankfully, Weaver brings some much needed dread and mystery as the face of The Hand. The veteran actress often steals the spotlight and establishes her presence to be more daunting than the show’s superhero team-up.
After seeing the first half of the season, Marvel and Netflix are able to justify this long-term plan with a terrific ensemble and a plot that doesn’t drag its feet. While it still carries some of the same flaws the past shows had, The Defenders and its street-level heroes aren’t crushed by the the weight of those flaws. And if nothing else, this new show helps make Iron Fist (almost) cool.