The Defenders (2017)

Let’s clear something up straight away: I don’t plan on explicitly reviewing this. I don’t generally like reviewing television series, in that it often feels like something akin to the exhausting way I used to review music.¹ I’ve done it before to be sure, but, even then, I noted that it’s not something I like doing. Now, putting that to the side, I would like to discuss the show a bit–just reflect a bit on it having just finished it, and note some things about the entirety of the Netflix side of the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” (such as it is–at least, in the sense of being fully connected).

This series, as you presumably know if reading this, draws together the (mostly) disparate threads of Daredevil (Charlie Cox), Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Luke Cage (Mike Colter), and Iron Fist (Finn Jones). Ol’ hornhead (that’s DD, for the unfamiliar and those note making the horns+head+devil connection) has had two seasons, one to initiate everything, and one to really insert the mystical side of this world via The Hand (Frank Miller’s mystical ninja organization in his original run on Daredevil, which would later inspire the parody of both its organization and the entire ninja trend in Eastman and Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). Jessica got one season to address the obnoxiously renamed Zebediah Killgrave (by which I mean, they pretended that was not his real name, and insisted that the name Killgrave–a real, if uncommon, name–was a pseudonym) and the harrowing way that his powers were used on her. Luke got a season to insist he didn’t want to be a hero for 80% of the season, before a weird turn in the final act. Danny Rand got a season to be returned to the normal, understood (by us, not him) world of not-K’un-L’un.

Previously, the only connective tissue amounted to a handful of things: first, Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple, a mixture of a few characters, mostly coming out as something akin to the “Night Nurse” (a nurse who tasks herself with healing injured crime-fighters); second, the extremely fucked-up relationship between Cage and Jones; third, the existence of the Hand in the second season of Daredevil and first of Iron Fist. Other, minor connections existed, but this was the vast majority of it.

The series are brought together with some ease, in pleasingly ridiculous but quite palatable fashion–particularly wehn Luke and Danny run into each other, and their unexpected conflict leads a sighing Claire to realize she should put them more directly in touch with each other. The threat they face is, if treated as a mystery, only surprising to anyone who has not watched the other shows.

And that’s where I am:

I used to frequent the AV Club until certain trends in the way they approached things caused me to drift away. I already frequently disagreed with both conclusions and the means by which they were reached, but this came to reach a point that my approach and theirs didn’t have anything at all in common, and it would be one thing to read differing conclusions, but something else to read a pre-ordained conclusion of sorts. Still, I momentarily tapped in upon finishing the series, both out of curiosity and because it was a source I could think of, and once followed for, at least, the first two shows (and dabbled in for the later ones).

Before I go any further, let me explicitly lay out my stances on what came before:

I quite liked Daredevil. The first season’s last few episodes almost put me off it entirely, for spoilery reasons, and because the initial Daredevil costume came off ridiculously and looked bad, so the gigantic build up to it was extremely deflated by the end result. The second season I enjoyed well enough but did feel slipped a bit in the latter half. I’m also not a fan of anyone taking up Garth Ennis’s superhero-including Punisher stories, as his rampant and explicitly expressed distaste for superheroes inevitably makes it come off poorly. They tweaked it enough to not make it as “stacked deck” as the original scene, but still…

I quite liked Jessica Jones, though there was a moment of treading water (something almost every show suffered) that really made me teeter partway through. And, of course, as noted, I did not enjoy the weird decisions about Killgrave’s name–I’m sure they felt they couldn’t convincingly use the name, but such is life. Additionally, this sort of re-naming (part of the problems I had, it must be noted, with the otherwise excellent Spider-Man: Homecoming) affected Patsy Walker, a character I have some affection for–who they used without using in almost any way, other than inserting her name (which she rejects and uses a different variant of!) and her youthful modeling career. I’m not sure I can see this character ever becoming The Cat (or, later, Hellcat). Nor sure I’d want to…

I found Luke Cage unquestionably the hardest show to get through. It wasn’t the craft (the craft–music, editing, direction, cinematography–was excellent), or the villains. Not even the weirdo turn to melodramatic supervillainy toward the end. No, it was Cage’s relentless insistence that he didn’t want to help, with any hint of a turn inevitably turned almost immediately to a guilt-ridden decision to yet again refuse involvement. Just a minor tip, but if you want to make a show about a superhero, don’t make them spend 10/13 episodes expressing vocal disinterest in being one. Most everything else is fair game, but that’s just irritating.

I’m one of the six or eight people in the world who really liked Iron Fist. I thought it was by far the best-paced show, and managed its disparate threads more neatly than any of the rest, and did interesting things with the character by having him established as The Immortal Iron Fist from the outset (ie, not “Ugh I dun wanna be a hero!” a la Luke Cage), and instead left his origins about finding his life in the world we know.

And so, with that:

I was informed, offhandedly, that this was a very Danny-centric show. Well, yes and no. Plot-wise? Sure. Focus-wise? No, it’s actually pretty balanced. Well-balanced, even. But…one of the first things in the first AV Club review was a snarky comment implying the Danny parts would be terrible, before even watching it. I immediately stopped caring what the author had to say, as there’s no real point in it at that juncture–if you think one of the main characters or actors or whatever component or combination is terrible, there’s not much to save things. The author also suggested the mystery and villainy was unexplained. If you didn’t watch any of the other shows…I guess…maybe? But I don’t think it was at all intended to be truly mysterious, at least to the viewer. Particularly as we received greater insight into the plot, via villainous dialogue without heroes present, than the protagonists do.

In the end, though–it’s a good mixture of personalities, motivations, and stories. Everyone’s supporting cast was well-treated, their stories worn-in properly to feel like continuations of what came before. The interactions, too, managed a natural feel as continuations–and the moments with Luke and Danny were amusing as all hell, and did not fail the chemistry that those two characters are supposed to have, thank goodness. We learned more about the characters but, as we’d hope in this context, we got to watch them learn about each other–the interactions that are the reason any of us is really interested in seeing “team-ups” and the like. We got the things we wanted–and we even advanced stories for some of the characters outside their own shows (!), a manoeuvre I’m not sure I expected them to really pull off, as it always carries the baggage of “What if during the next appearance, someone didn’t watch this? Won’t we alienate them?” that can either destroy continuity of characters or lead to facile, gutted crossovers that aren’t allowed to change anything.

So, I guess I did (basically) review this. I think I can live with myself. Life shall go on. But there we are: if you don’t hate one or all of these characters, I think this much-tighter 8 episode format does them a great service and worked quite well.

 

¹I’m pretty sure it’s covered in the most recent (and three year old) post on there, but it was truly, truly exhausting. Detailing an entire album, as I felt obligated to do, took hours on end to listen, write, reflect, break-down and then constantly feel like I was repeating myself and failing to express anything useful. I’ve had some artists I reviewed tell me they really appreciated the level of attention I was clearly showing, but it’s extremely difficult to bring on that level of dedication, and not terribly fun.

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