Marvel’s cinematic universe has been surprisingly successful at creating great movies anchored by second-tier (and sometimes third and fourth-tier) super heroes and elevating them into household names.They made half a billion dollars on a movie about a guy whose powers (at the time) included shrinking and ant talking. Visitors to Disney’s California Adventure are currently waiting in two-hour lines for a 45-second ride centered around a super hero team that’s one-fourth talking raccoon.
Netflix’s The Defenders, Marvel’s first real foray into a small-screen shared universe (sorry, Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D. and Agent Carter don’t count), falls far short of that sense of cohesion but still delivers a show that will keep fans engaged, though not enthralled.
Let’s be honest. If you want to watch The Defenders, nothing I can say about the first four episodes that Netflix made available to preview will change your mind. In fact, a lot of the negative criticism of The Defenders will be familiar to fans of the solo series (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist).
The most glaring of which is the glacier slow-pacing. Netflix’s Marvel shows never seemed to have enough plot to fill up their seasons, and The Defenders seems no different. This is extra surprising when you consider the series will only run for eight episodes as opposed to the
solo series’ thirteen. The pacing is so slow at times, you wonder if it could survive in a traditional TV format. I’d venture to guess that a large part of the viewership would not stick around if there were forced to sit through commercials and wait a week between episodes. Bingeing the show isn’t just fun, it’s almost necessary.
Weirdly, the show spends a lot of the first hour reestablishing the motivations and relationships of characters with 13 hours (26 in Daredevils case) of backstory a literal click away. The team doesn’t get together until a short fight scene that closes episode three, before spending most of episode four debating the team up (spoiler alert: they eventually decide to defend stuff)
Episode one also introduces the villains’ mystical, secret plot, seemingly orchestrated by Sigourney Weaver. In a series that has given us fantastic villain performances by highly acclaimed actors (ie. D’Onofrio, Ali, Tennant), Weaver’s portrayal can be best described as ‘a thing that happened.’ This world needs a scene chewing villain and, four episodes in, what we get are a baddie that combines the most boring parts of Black Mariah from Luke Cage and Harold Meachum from Iron Fist.
All that being said, the show gives you enough that bingeing the series over two days won’t feel like a complete waste of time to fans who are interested in the universe but don’t neccessarily want to watch them all (*cough* Iron Fist *cough*). Early scenes between Daredevil’s Charlie Cox and Jessica Jones’ Krysten Ritter are fantastic. And scenes between Luke Cage’s Mike Colter and Iron Fist’s Finn Jones are a good time to go to the bathroom. The one action set piece in the first four episodes (the one you saw teased on youtube) felt like a fun but ‘diet’ version of the ab-so-lute-ly FANTASIC Daredevil action sequences (Serious…go back and watch those two hall way fight scenes right now). Daredevil season two showrunners Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez are at the helm and leave the possibility of an action-packed episode five that this reviewer hopes comes a little closer to what they gave us in episode three of Daredevil.
Side note: There is a concerted but very distracting use of color throughout the entire series. Honestly, there’s not one scene where Matt Murdock isn’t coincidentally in front of something bright red or Jessica Jones isn’t bathed in a muted blue light. Billionaire Danny Rand I can only afford green-tinted clothing and and, apparently, Harlem is trying their damnedest to keep the Green Lantern out of the neighborhood (that’s a solid reference about the color yellow…look it up). 99% of the time this insistence on color coding is heavy handed but it regains its subtlety in episode four’s extended Chinese restaurant sequence (For instance, look at the columns near the front door for a cool melding of all four colors).
Long story short, you’re most likely going to start The Defenders. Whether or not you finish it depends on how badly you want to see Daredevil kick Sigourney Weaver in the face. I’ll see you at episode eight…
Marvel’s The Defenders airs on Netflix on August 18th.