daredevil defenders!

The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen

Make no mistake: even though this is supposed to be a show about a team, Daredevil is the focal point of The Defenders. He’s the Iron Man/Tony Stark of the Marvel-Netflix world, the character who came first and is therefore the default lead. Charlie Cox is pretty good in The Defenders, and seems to be the most comfortable in his role, probably because he’s the only one who already has two whole seasons in the bag. But that doesn’t really make him the most interesting, and of all the characters, Daredevil seems to be the one most stuck in a rut, retreading the same old ground.

Matt hung up his horns at the end of Daredevil season 2, and is instead trying to focus on being a lawyer while making amends with the people in his life he’s alienated, Foggy (Elden Henson) and Karen (Deborah Ann Woll). He’s also still reeling from the death of Elektra, who, of course, isn’t very dead after all, which Matt will learn soon. The Defenders wants Matt’s journey to be its emotional core: time after time, Matt strives to save Elektra, often while putting others at risk. The problem: this is all kind of boring. It’s also ground that was mostly covered in season 2 of Daredevil, so rehashing it here gives The Defenders a spinning-the-wheels vibe that nearly sinks it.  

Still, The Defenders does the impossible: it makes Daredevil’s costume look cool. I don’t know if it’s just a matter of direction, lighting, or the fact that I’m finally used to it, but this is the first time the Daredevil suit looks formidable and imposing rather than a collection of elbow pads. Part of this is the way Cox carries himself in it, often taking a stance of a boxer ready to deliver a killing blow.

Matt struggles with the whole “team” aspect at first, maybe even more than Jessica. He doesn’t want to reveal himself to his new super friends, because he’s tired of people around him getting hurt. But he  eventually comes along and the show gives him a somewhat sweet moment in the final episode where he tells his hero buddies “I’m glad we found each other.” The show immediately tries to rob this moment of its emotional heft by having Jessica and Luke downplay it as corny, but it works thanks to Cox’s performance.

Matt’s arc here involves him coming to terms with his relationship with the brainwashed Elektra, trying to save her, and realizing that even if he can’t, he still won’t leave her. It should be powerful stuff, but it’s not, really. Mostly because Cox and Élodie Yung have very little chemistry together, so their big emotional moments fizzle. The true emotional weight rests with Matt’s relationship with Foggy and Karen, and all of Matt and Elektra’s scenes have nothing on a moment in the last episode where Karen and Foggy hopefully look towards a doorway, waiting in vain for Matt to stroll through it after Matt has been “killed” (which, of course, he hasn’t, since Daredevil season 3 still has to happen).

Marvel's The Defenders

Ugh, this guy.

Ugh, I Guess I Have To Talk About Iron Fist Now?

Iron Fist stinks, let’s move on!

Alright, fine, I should say a little bit more. Look, Iron Fist is the Hawkeye of The Defenders – the character no one really cares about but we’re stuck with him. And just as Hawkeye was mostly sidelined for the first Avengers here, so is Finn Jones’ Danny Rand, who spends a good chunk of the series tied to a chair or strapped to a table.

Danny does work considerably better as a supporting player than a lead, and The Defenders gets points for having the other characters continually roll their eyes every time Danny lamely announces that he’s “The Immortal Iron Fist!” But the show also makes the misstep of having Danny be sort-of the focal point of the whole shebang – the bad guys want to use Danny to set their evil, vague plans in motion. Danny’s like a human Infinity Stone here; a McGuffin that everyone has to keep focusing on when they could probably be focusing on more interesting things.

Also following Danny into The Defenders from Iron Fist is Jessica Henwick’s Colleen Wing, who is so much more interesting. Honestly, The Defenders would’ve done everyone a favor if it had opened with Danny leaving the show completely and having Colleen become the Iron Fist instead. Win-win.

defenders supporting

And the Rest!

The Defenders heroes bring along all their supporting characters from their respective shows (the ones that are still alive, at least), which could’ve lead to something captivating, but ultimately goes nowhere.

Front and center, of course, is Rosario Dawson, who continues to be stuck patching up characters who get hurt while not having time for anyone’s bullshit. The Defenders makes Dawson’s Claire and Henwick’s Colleen a dynamic duo of eye-rollers; the characters who have had just about enough of all this craziness. Honestly, a spin-off series about these two ladies would probably end up being better than The Defenders.

The other big supporting lead is Scott Glenn’s super badass Stick, who is pretty much the fifth Defender. Glenn is continually delightful in this part, and one of the funniest moments in the show comes when he casually cuts his own hand off to escape a sticky situation. Stick meets his untimely end in The Defenders, but if Daredevil season 3 finds a way to bring him back, I won’t complain.

There’s a moment in The Defenders where our heroes gather up their friends and loved ones to spirit them away to protective custody, and all the supporting players are sequestered together in one room. A smarter show could’ve turned this into an entire episode itself; a bottle episode about what it’s like to be on the sidelines; what it’s like to be a friend of a superhero. But The Defenders isn’t that smart of a show, and so the scene amounts to little more than the audience saying, “Oh look, there they all are together.”

Simone Missick’s Misty Knight gets the fourth most supporting-character focus behind Claire, Colleen and Stick, and while Missick is strong in the role and Misty has the potential to be a great character, The Defenders turns her into little more than a huge buzzkill. Pretty much every scene with Misty involves her showing up and telling our heroes that they need to start answering her boring police questions. Look, I get it: this is actually pretty realistic. Misty is doing her job, and she’s doing it really well. The problem is, we as an audience are already way ahead of her, so to have her continually ask everyone questions we already know the answers to gets real old real fast.

One missed opportunity: Jon Bernthal’s Frank Castle, aka The Punisher, does not make an appearance here, despite being featured in some promo material. The Punisher is a lone-wolf who wouldn’t fit in with the whole team element of The Defenders, but they likely could’ve worked him in there somewhere. I’d rather have seen him than any of the boring villains who show up. Speaking of which, let’s talk about them.  

Continue Reading The Defenders Spoiler Review >>

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