FROM DAY ONE, when Netflix and Marvel first heralded a set of series based on some of the comic-book company’s fringe superheroes, we knew this was coming. And just as the early MCU movies teased the Avengers over four years, so its smaller-scale small-screen cousin has been gradually, inexorably building up to a crossover that sees Daredevil (Cox), Jessica Jones (Ritter), Luke Cage (Colter) and Iron Fist (Jones) sharing the frame as the Avengers’ scrappier, grittier, street-level equivalent.
But while Daredevil first streamed only two years ago, it feels as if it’s been a much longer journey to get here than it was for the Avengers. Much of that is down to the format —it’s taken 65 episodes, via four shows and five seasons, whose moments of genius (those long-take
Daredevil fight scenes; Luke Cage’s musical numbers and slap-fu; all of Jessica Jones) have been tempered by chunks of frustration (Daredevil’s irritatingly perky sidekicks Foggy & Karen; the non-event that was the apperance of Luke Cage’s nemesis Diamondback; much of Iron Fist). We could but hope that, lessons learned, The Defenders would put right all the solo-shows did wrong — not least the stretching of thin plots over 13-episode structures — while playing to each hero’s super-strengths.
The good news is The Defenders comes in at a leaner, punchier eight episodes. And showrunners Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez (fresh from Daredevil’s second season) do have some crowd-pleasing fun with the lead characters’ interactions. When Luke and Iron Fist (who are actually partners and best buds in the comics) first meet, they have a full-on punch-up — and we get to see exactly what happens when chi-infused knuckles hit a bulletproof jaw. There’s a savvy sense of self-awareness, too — borderline meta, arguably. At one point Iron Fist admits, “I tried being a one-man army and I failed”; many critics of his solo show would readily agree with him. Meanwhile, the team’s somewhat uneven skill balance is swiftly skewered by Jessica: “Am I the only person around here who doesn’t know karate?” she snarks.
However, even with fewer episodes, you can still feel that Marvel/netflix narrative drag. It’s not until the end of episode three that the crime-fighting quartet is finally formed (with predictable reluctance) and we start to feel we’re finally watching a show with its own style and identity rather than intercut clips from their solo outings.
And, we’re sorry to report, the big threat that unites the group proves a mild disappointment, even if she is played by Sigourney Weaver. Alexandra feels like yet another businessperson baddie whose dirty deeds are hidden by sharp suits, while the ongoing, vague chicanery of The Hand (like HYDRA, but ninjas) fails to ignite much excitement. Indeed, the peerless Weaver herself seems desperately bored by it all.
Even so, there is enough joy to be found, especially in watching the sparks fly as these four alpha characters finally collide. It may have been a long time coming, but as the season finally kicks in, it feels as though
The Defenders might just have been worth the wait. DAN JOLIN