Find Your Own Super Power
Why even non-Marvel fans will like 'The Defenders'.
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 hits your screens today, 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 doesn’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 S. J. Clarkson and engaging performances by a talented cast: there’s a perfectly coiff’d 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 a.k.a. 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 delve 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, nevermind the bulletproof skin and 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 beautiful 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 set 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, bullet-proof 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 the time. That's a good thing. What we do see is each character is on the path to embracing and accepting his and 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.
The Defenders is now available for streaming on Netflix.