The Defenders: Season 1 Review
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When you have a stable of individually successful superheroes, throwing them all together into a big team-up is a no-brainer. Long a staple of the comics, Marvel Studios proved it could also be done in movies bringing their separate characters together in The Avengers. A deal with Netflix let them try a similar move with series television. After two seasons of Daredevil, and a season each of Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, could they meld these very different, street-smart heroes into The Defenders?

The first couple of entries in the series did quite well, especially Jessica Jones, but recurring pacing problems and the critically-reviled Iron Fist threatened to knock it all of course. Luckily, The Defenders addresses both of those issues head-on, first by reducing the season run down to eight episodes and second by having everyone in the show join the audience in pointing out how insufferably annoying Danny Rand/Iron Fist is. To be fair, Finn Jones’s performance as the supposed master of the martial arts has stepped up the fight game, but his smug rich kid persona still grates.

That makes for some tough going early on, as the plot immediately picks up with Danny’s battle against a clan of ninjas called the Hand. Meanwhile, the other soon-to-be Defenders are off in their own stories, but eventually everyone is drawn together into a war with the Hand’s leader, Alexandra, played by a wonderfully menacing Sigourney Weaver. It takes a few episodes too long, but once the group gets together, the show picks up considerably.

Almost immediately, the very disparate personalities among the show’s heroes pays off. Matt Murdock/Daredevil (Charlie Cox) and Jessica (Krysten Ritter) clash over their respective idealism and cynicism in a flurry of snark, while Luke (Mike Colter) and Danny show the first signs of the partnership that carried them through decades of comic books. It doesn’t all work, especially once the number of supporting characters from the different shows grows well beyond the needs of the plot, but when it does, it’s a treat.

The series attempts to tie up a number of previous loose ends among the shows, including the fate of Matt’s supposedly deceased former flame, Elektra (Elodie Jung), and his mentor, Stick (Scott Glenn), whose war against the Hand finally comes to a head here. Elektra probably gets the series’ strongest character arc, and Jung gives the haunted assassin some nice emotional nuance against the broader “evil ninja gang wants to destroy New York” shenanigans.

The end result of several years of storytelling build-up is a series that shows both the strengths and weaknesses of Marvel’s partnership with Netflix. It gives the characters room to grow by finally throwing them all together, and if the showrunners are smart, they’ll build on those relationships as they move into the next phase. It also gets a bit lost in a plot that doesn’t always line up properly and includes at least one ill-conceived “twist.” To be certain, The Defenders isn’t on the same level as The Avengers. Like the heroes themselves, it’s rougher around the edges and considerably less sure of itself, but it’s got plenty of fight left in it.

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