Disclaimer: The Defenders is great. It’s an almost-perfect final act for this “Phase One” of the Marvel Netflix Universe. Oh, and SPOILERS GALORE.
Iron Fist sucked a lot less. I hated Iron Fist (the series). I hated everything about it. The story was bad, the writing was worse, the acting was bad, Finn Jones was (intentionally?) god-awful, and the whole thing came across as offensive to an audience that has waited with baited breath for the next installment in the Marvel Netflix Universe.
The greatest achievement of The Defenders was that it completely rehabilitated Danny Rand for the audience. And they did it in the best way possible: by having the other characters make fun of him to his face. Every time he said with with sincere earnest “I am the Immortal Iron Fist” the characters on-screen reacted the same way the rest of us reacted on our couches: “shut up.” Murdock told him to stop acting like a child. Luke Cage sarcastically asked him to tell the story about how he punched a dragon and got a magic hand (which he did, obliviously). Alexandra interrupted his big speech in the boardroom and then asked him to go ahead and finish (which he did, obliviously). And of course, Sowande had the best line of the series: “You’re the dumbest Iron Fist yet.” It was great.
But all of that would have been just fan service had Finn Jones not matured and acted like a real human being with emotions that weren’t stuck in pre-pubescence. He was self-aware and knew when to take the joke and when to break the tension. One of Jones’ best scene was when he offered Luke Cage the last dumpling. I genuinely liked Danny Rand in these 8 episodes, and that is a monumental accomplishment.
The Daredevil-Elektra love story. I don’t particularly like love stories. They’re usually boring and if they’re not boring they’re super lame. The guy gets the girl, or the girl changes the guy, or deus ex machina etc. Over the course of Daredevil and The Defenders, the Matt-Elektra love story has been the best tragedy I’ve seen since I pretended to understand Othello in 8th grade.
Everyone thinks Murdock loves New York. Karen thinks Murdock loves her. Foggy knows better. Elektra was supposed to be an empty vessel, one which was then filled with pure evil. Her old life was cast out, never to be remembered. Murdock punched his way through the facade, reminding her who she was, and in turn, who she loved. How do you demonstrate love more passionately than a scene where a blind man looks into a brainwashed woman’s soul? How do you demonstrate love more sincerely than a woman filled with pure evil curling into the fetal position in her enemy’s empty bed? He died for her; she died for him. Their fates were never in doubt… except to those around them. Karen’s tears are the most tragic of all; she lost a man who never loved her and never would.
And now Matt Murdock lays in purgatory, waiting to be judged for his sins.
The visuals. My god, what a beautiful television show. The color-coding wasn’t exactly subtle, but it totally worked. There are some still scenes that could legitimately be framed and hung as art (cough Elektra floating across Matt’s roof looking like a Sith lord cough). A lot of shows try to marry character development to the scenery and imagery, but most fail; The Defenders does not. Murakami’s introduction literally disemboweling an endangered bear tells you everything you need to know about him as a villain. The fight scenes were leaps and bounds above the previous series, Iron Fist. Sure, there were some obvious budget-influenced backgrounds, but comparatively, The Defenders is one of the best-looking shows, maybe yet. The whole visual production team deserves to win all the awards.
Sigourney Weaver. What a great addition to the pantheon of Marvel Netflix villains. Even though she gets taken out two-thirds through the run, she had already established a depth of character that Marvel Cinematic villains never even attempt to reach. With a simple use of “Constantinople” instead of Istanbul, coupled with a knowing smirk before going back to eating, Weaver told us her whole character. She was the leader of the Hand and the audience never questioned it once. That she survived multiple coup attempts — by Gao! — reinforces the message, but it’s a message not in need of reinforcement. Alexandra was in charge… until she wasn’t. Where many shows struggle to find compelling villains and compelling female leads, the Marvel Netflix Universe has done both at an impressive rate.