FIND YOUR OWN SU­PER POWER

Why even non-marvel fans will like The De­fend­ers.

Esquire (Malaysia) - - CULTURE - WORDS BY JANIE CAI

The Malaysian fes­ti­val scene con­tin­ues to heat up, but if you pre­fer be­ing en­ter­tained at your leisure, then hit the pop­corn, like, now! The De­fend­ers hit your screens on Au­gust 18. Judg­ing from what we’ve caught, it’ll be worth trad­ing some shut-eye for. The eight-episode se­ries sees Marvel/net­flix ti­tle se­ries alumni Jes­sica Jones (Krys­ten Rit­ter), Luke Cage (Mike Colter), Iron Fist (Finn Jones) and Dare­devil (Char­lie Cox) buddy up for the first time, Avengers-style.

The nar­ra­tive weaves to­gether the lives of the four vig­i­lantes as they team up to save New York City from an in­sid­i­ous evil, known sim­ply as The Hand. The plot might come off as hack­neyed but isn’t, thanks to skil­ful han­dling of the nar­ra­tive by showrun­ners Marco Ramirez (Dare­devil) and Dou­glas Petrie (Buffy the Vam­pire Slayer). (Ramirez took over as sole showrun­ner last Oc­to­ber.) Match­ing the deft scriptwrit­ing are skil­ful di­rec­tion by SJ Clark­son and en­gag­ing per­for­mances by a tal­ented cast: there’s a per­fectly coiffed fe­male vil­lain played to thin-lipped per­fec­tion by the in­domitable Sigour­ney Weaver.

Ramirez’s story arc is be­liev­able

without tip­ping over into trite—no mean feat con­sid­er­ing how loaded the group dy­nam­ics can be, be­cause the Marvel char­ac­ters al­ready all have their own fan bases. More back­story might be help­ful, but non-comic fans can fol­low the sto­ry­line and en­joy the show right off the bat. The De­fend­ers suc­ceeds as en­ter­tain­ment, and the first four episodes leave us want­ing more. Of course, Net­flix is bank­ing on the se­ries to pique new fans into binge-watch­ing the in­di­vid­ual ti­tle shows.

Danny Rand aka Iron Fist dives right into The De­fend­ers from the fi­nal episode of Iron Fist’s first sea­son. He hauls his emo­tional bag­gage from that cliffhanger in search of both re­venge and re­demp­tion, but only if his guilt-fu­elled evan­gel­i­cal zeal doesn’t get him and the rest killed first. Like Rand, Matt Mur­dock is heav­ily in­vested in de­feat­ing The Hand. It’s been six months since he lost Elek­tra to the mur­der­ous bad guys in Dare­devil. The De­fend­ers delves no fur­ther into Mur­dock’s re­la­tion­ship with her, but we do meet a Mur­dock who has seem­ingly aban­doned his crime-fight­ing vo­ca­tion for be­ing a pro bono de­fence lawyer, though not without fac­ing up to some tan­gi­ble in­ner con­flict along the way.

If The De­fend­ers has an over-arch­ing theme, re­demp­tion, in all its forms, might be it. It’s the cat­a­lyst for the four he­roes meet­ing and, even­tu­ally, form­ing a bond. The in­ter­pre­ta­tion of re­demp­tion dif­fers sub­stan­tially for each char­ac­ter, and the friend­ships that de­velop as a re­sult of what they do to achieve this are re­al­is­ti­cally com­plex, never mind the bul­let­proof skin and the su­per­hu­man strength. It’s this ten­u­ous be­gin­ning of com­rade­ship that gives the ac­tion-packed se­ries depth.

At the same time, the script doesn’t pan­der to any one char­ac­ter. As Cox men­tioned dur­ing our in­ter­view in NYC, “I think that’s one of the things I thought they (the scriptwrit­ers) han­dled re­ally well... it doesn’t feel like

there’s any Tony Stark. That, for me, made sense, and the fact that we don’t know each other at the be­gin­ning, and we kind of have to form some sort of a bond. There needed to be an equal foot­ing to it, and they achieved that re­ally well.”

And film­ing on lo­ca­tion in NYC? Here’s Rit­ter’s take on it: “The city is an­other char­ac­ter in the show. It is a beau- ti­ful back­drop. You can’t fake it. You, like, just put up a cam­era, and any­thing you’re go­ing to cap­ture, it just feels real, and gritty. And we also shoot in neigh­bour­hoods that aren’t quite to­tally gen­tri­fied yet, and so we’re ex­plor­ing the side of New York that isn’t al­ways seen.”

The De­fend­ers paints from the same dark cin­e­mato­graphic pal­ette that in­fuses Jes­sica Jones and Dare­devil, while the mu­sic—a huge part of what gives

Luke Cage its vibe—un­der­pins the viewer ex­pe­ri­ence. The over­all ef­fect makes

The De­fend­ers dis­tinc­tive, even as fans of the in­di­vid­ual se­ries will still be able to recog­nise a sub­tle nar­ra­tive con­ti­nu­ity. As for that in­fa­mous first en­counter and fis­ticuffs be­tween the un­break­able, bul­let­proof Luke Cage and the Chi-in­fused Iron Fist? Well, you’re just go­ing to have to watch it to see how it pans out.

Don’t ex­pect much psy­cho­anal­y­sis to go down in eight episodes; there sim­ply isn’t time. That’s a good thing. What we do see is each char­ac­ter on the path to em­brac­ing and ac­cept­ing his or her un­usual, in­di­vid­ual selves. And a lot of ac­tion. But will their new­found ca­ma­raderie be suf­fi­cient to de­feat an en­emy as du­plic­i­tous as The Hand? One thing’s for sure though, they might be sullen, stub­born, re­luc­tant he­roes (ex­cept for Iron Fist, who’s like a rub­ber ball that just keeps bounc­ing back) but even when you see them to­gether for the first time, squab­bling over a shared meal of luke­warm dim sum, you can’t help but root for them.

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