I wanted to love The Defenders. I counted down the days. I planned out my time. I carefully avoided the internet in those few hours before I could get to my TV, ensuring that when I finally sat down to watch it I was spoiler-free.
I'm not sure it was worth it.
The Defenders seemed as though it took the worst, most heavily-criticised elements from each hero’s individual series and focused the plot on them, in the hopes that constant exposure combined with audience hype would forcefully endear them. Those inexplicable and tiresome plot threads, those problems that fans typically ignore or brush over, they were all brought to the forefront in gleaming neon. Elektra, The Hand, Iron Fist. I don’t know where to start.
No, wait, actually I do. Let’s start with Iron Fist.
Iron Fist To The Face
Iron Fist was the only solo series that I skipped. Even aside from the whitewashing criticism, every report panned it, the plot summary was uninspired, and the trailers and clips released looked downright bad. Not to mention that infamous 35-second fight scene with 56 cuts.
Source: The Defenders via Reddit
I love Marvel. But I also love myself – too much to put myself through that.
So, of course, The Defenders opens with an Iron Fist fight scene. To its credit, it is not as bad as that 35-second fight scene. But improved stunts aren't enough to make me want to spend any time with Danny, whose hobbies include brooding and introducing himself as “The Immortal Iron Fist” - which sounds a lot like a challenge when uttered by an individual as unlikable as Danny Rand. Sometimes he'll throw in that he is also the “Protector of K’un-Lun”, which is akin to proudly proclaiming you're the Defender of the Dodo.
Danny is the anchor weighing the Defenders down, the damsel that creates his own distress. The Creator's Pet. He rarely amounts to more than an irritating child the rest of the Defenders have to babysit. At one point they literally have to leave Luke to watch him, because he is a giant infant who cannot be trusted with matches, himself, or a mystical place called K'un-Lun.
One would imagine that after the events of Iron Fist he would have emerged matured, or at least less obnoxious. Unfortunately, Danny Rand is as whiny and self-important as previously reported. I refuse to believe Danny's characterisation in The Defenders is an improvement to his appearance in Iron Fist, because I don’t have the energy for the kind of rage and despair that concept demands.
Check out his little dance. Source: The Defenders.
Iron Fist's main purpose is as an irritant, for the Hand, for the Defenders, and for the audience themselves. Danny starts the show complaining that the others don't want to work together, then when they do decide to work together he complains that they're not doing what he wants them to. At no point does he come together with the others in more than a superficial "we have the same enemies" way. I understand that a large part of these character's identities is that they work alone, but half the fun of a team-up is watching disparate characters overcome their isolationist tendencies, get to know each other, and gradually warm to each other. Nobody warmed to Danny, because he spent the entire time fighting the other Defenders, before getting kidnapped and requiring a rescue.
Without the other Defenders, Danny's individual efforts at superheroics are ineffectual. Apparently unburdened by an overabundance of brains, it takes Luke to rightfully point out to Danny that, hey, you’re rich, you have connections! You could just go straight to the source instead of flying around in your private jet, chasing down lackeys in Cambodian sewers.
And even when Danny realises this, his solution is to put on a suit, march straight into the Hand’s headquarters, and tell them to their face that he plans to end them. And then what, Danny? Are you expecting to just walk out of here? Do you think that they’re going to say, "Oh, sorry, our bad, we’ll stop it with the crime now"? Did you think about this at all, or did you assume that standing in the same room as them would be sufficient to defeat them considering that everything you touch turns to garbage?
This includes Colleen Wing. I was keen to see her, her existence being the one thing that made me consider watching Iron Fist. However, Colleen largely fades to the background for the majority of the series, apparently there merely to alternately express exasperation and support for Danny’s shtick. Also they’re dating, because nothing about anything within a 50m radius of Danny makes any sense. In some (many) ways she is too good for him, but also she’s an enabler and needs to love herself.
Abandon All Logic, Ye Who Enter Here
There is this thing called "continuity". In a piece of fiction, the rules established early in the piece must be upheld later in the piece, otherwise the entire scenario loses credibility and falls apart.
Here follow just a few of the ways The Defenders defied both continuity and logic:
- Early on in the series, Matt parkours off down an alley in his civvies, oblivious to Jessica’s big fat DSLR snapping away a few metres behind him. A minute ago he was walking down the street, tailing Jessica like a normal person. Then he loses her and, instead of walking away, decides the best course of action is to start flipping all over rooftops in broad daylight, even though he has no idea where she went. Which is a poor decision even beyond the usual realm of the human disaster that is Matthew Michael Murdock. But the real issue here is that, as demonstrated later on that episode, this man can hear a silenced gun go off several stories above him, yet remains unaware of the click of a camera shutter right behind him. This is a sound even those of us bereft of superpowers can easily pick up. Continuity, people.
- For a mystical superweapon that was worth using the last of the Hand's dragon goo to revive, the Black Sky is rather underwhelming. She can fight well, and is trained to fight even better. And... that's it. That's what you spent the last of your immortality-granting goo on? A normal human woman who can do martial arts? In a world of super strong, bulletproof men, it seems like a misapplication of resources.
- Elektra had no memory of her previous life, which Alexandra uses to turn her into the Hand's weapon. A bit Winter Soldier, but I can jive with that. Elektra then starts getting her memory back, but is still hostile toward Matt. Also cool - she's confused and is only starting to question things, so she sticks with what she's told until she learns more. Then she comes back to herself enough to remember that she loves Matt and to decide literally stabbing Alexandra in the back is an A+ life choice. And this is where her characterisation falls apart, because even though she now remembers her previous life, she still wants to kill Matt. Why? Because drama.
- I need a reasonable explanation for that earthquake in the first episode. The giant hole and cavern had already been dug. So why so shook, New York?
- Is there a reason removing the dragon bones from beneath New York will destroy the city? Assuming it's a structural thing, which it the only logical reason I can think of, the Hand definitely has enough money and resources to build supports and slowly remove the bones over time. Which would be in their interests even considering they don't care about New York, as ongoing construction work in a big city is a lot less conspicuous than a giant gaping hole where a city used to be.
- I'm going to assume that the dragon bones were entirely surrounded by an enchanted wall, like a giant magical dragon coffin, so the Hand had to go through the magical Iron Fist door rather than bust through from another side. But then the structural argument makes less sense, as it would mean the dragon coffin, rather than the bones, was holding New York up.
- Also, did the Hand ever explain why they needed the mystical dragon goo in order to return to K'un-Lun? All of them save Alexandra made it pretty clear they'd be happy to die if they could only see it again, and there was nothing stopping them from doing so considering all its inhabitants were dead (cheers Danny).
- From the point of view of the police, Jessica (extensive police record) and Luke (newly released from prison) kidnapped and possibly killed a lawyer, and then blew up a building. No law firm is good enough to just make that go away, particularly if the dude is still missing. Plus the whole "found you with two unidentified bodies" thing, who by the end of the series are still unidentified. I guess I can see why people resort to vigilantism in the Marvel Universe, because the justice system really, really sucks.
The Defenders Never Started
You go into The Defenders knowing that Matt Murdock, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Danny Rand are going to team up. That’s the whole premise. That’s why we’re here. And yet it takes until nearly halfway through the series for everyone to meet, by which point the viewer's reaction is less "aw yeah!" and more "finally!" Up until that point it feels like The Defenders is simply marking time. Completely ignoring the fact that we had 65 episodes of background and character development to lay the groundwork prior to this series, it spends far too long rearranging the set, stretching two hours of nonsensical plot over eight.
Even when the heroes meet up, the stakes are never raised. Alexandra, the face of the Hand, never feels like a threat. Like Danny, she talks a big game but is largely just talk. She doesn't do anything of import from the time she is introduced to the time she dies, mainly creeping on Elektra and dealing with infighting amongst the Hand. I feel bad for Sigourney Weaver. She was given so little to work with, but she worked it the best she could.
(Also, I just need to take a moment for the lighting and editing, particularly in the early episodes, which seemed to think the audience thicker than Danny. Cityscape transitions and colour-coded characters can be cool. But please, opt for subtlety. Don't overuse them.)
The Defenders was a disappointment. I still had fun, in that you’re always going to have fun when a bunch of superheroes team up. There were even some charming moments and fun banter. But I shouldn't have to ignore the plot to enjoy the show, and those helium balloons weren't enough to buoy the rest of the series. It was like being given a bag of lima beans with a few jelly beans mixed in. Thanks, but could I just get the jelly beans next time?
Maybe that's the problem. The Defenders had so much potential. Perhaps I would have more easily accepted its mindless entertainment had I not had those glimpses of what could have been.
But maybe not. After all, Danny Rand ruins all he touches. Why should The Defenders be any different?