The Defenders Season 1 available August 18 on Netflix.
This review of The Defenders contains several spoilers, the first of which you might not want to hear: The long-awaited teaming of Marvel’s four Netflix antiheroes—Daredevil/Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Luke Cage (Mike Colter) and Iron Fist/Danny Rand (Finn Jones)—is a plodding, clumsy and unlikable dud. It takes too much time ramping up, wastes its resources on unnecessary characters and subplots and lacks the visual appeal of Marvel’s previous Netflix outings. Watching the four episodes provided for review (there are eight in total) was an unexpected chore.
Set several weeks after the events of Luke Cage—the first half of which remains the best series work Marvel’s television division has ever done—The Defenders pits its namesake warriors against an ancient criminal organization led by the mysterious Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver). Weaver, who usually raises the temperature of any waters simply by dipping a toe in them, struggles mightily here; the show puts her in a series of terrible costumes and saddles her with uninspiring dialogue, which she delivers with the perfunctory air it deserves. It takes her several scenes to gain traction, while Marvel’s other Netflix villains—Mahershala Ali’s Cottonmouth, David Tennant’s Kilgrave and Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin, for example—were allowed to begin chewing the scenery from the get-go.
The heroes fare even worse, because they’ve got to go around resolving the plot issues left over from their own shows. Cage has to get out of prison and reconnect with his new love interest Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson); Jones has to balance her careers as a private detective and a fall-down drunk; Daredevil has to repair his legal career and sulk in confessional; and Iron Fist has to continue his war against the mysterious Hand, the aforementioned crime syndicate. What this means to the viewer is that these characters won’t all be in the same room until an admittedly exciting fight at the end of Episode 4. And that fight doesn’t even come close to the artfully shot and edited brawls of Daredevil’s first two seasons.
It might be tempting to blame the show’s problems on Finn Jones, whose casting as Iron Fist remains controversial. But while he’s the most naïve and least formed of the four Defenders, he’s kinda supposed to be; he’s a kid raised by monks. The show actually does him a favor by pairing him with Cage, who gives the poor little rich kid a speech about privilege that the screenwriters probably cribbed from a criticism of Iron Fist on Reddit. Maybe they should go back there to look for ideas to improve The Defenders’ inevitable Season 2.