The Link-Up Spell: Disassembling The Defenders, the first Marvel’s crossover on Netflix
We chat a little about The Defenders, the first crossover of the Marvel’s venture on Netflix in this gluten-free and spoiler-lacking review!
The incursion of the so-called Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) on Netflix, the infamous Video-On-Demand service, was well received when they released the first season of Daredevil, the red-clad blind vigilante that walks at night in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City, fighting crime.
The show proved that a grittier and, I dare to say, “realistic” stage could work in a Marvel production to cement a different image than those provided at the Disney financed film blockbusters. In fact, Daredevil was created for a more adult audience, so the subsequent series followed that trend.
Next to the “Devil of Hell’s Kitchen”, the MCU on Netflix started to develop new stories and settings in New York City, after the first Avengers situation. Due to the success of the first experiment, we welcomed the alcoholic detective Jessica Jones, another season of Daredevil, the honest ex-convict of Harlem Luke Cage and the legendary Iron Fist came along gaining a good fan base and collecting a good critic consensus.
In each series, the writing teams paid homage to the comics with reimagining’s of story lines or subtle Easter Eggs and nods, but the product was independent to the convoluted comic books counterpart. At the same time, the and narrative motifs on these characters was different than the recurrent explosive super-hero tropes from the films and, while they co-exist in the same time and space, the Netflix series could be watched without having to search for the Marvel movies. In result, these four super heroes’ stories had the priority of being a drama, instead of relying on the fantastical elements of genre.
I enjoyed the five seasons prior to The Defenders, I admit, even Iron Fist, that was bashed continuously by the critics, so, I expected a lot from the highly awaited reunion from these four super-heroes to unite in the screen and see what happened when their own worlds collide. At this moment, I truly recommend that, if you really want to tackle this mini-series, you should watch the independent stories of each character to get a couple of facts and understand what happens in here.
Surprisingly, with only eight episodes, the writing pace goes forth and back, with some episodes that just rushes adrenalines to others where the action develops very slowly. This is both a good and a bad treat that can only be analyzed through this: The Defenders is a crossover that tries to appeal to everyone, some sort of jack-o’-all-trades of comic books adaptations, but it is stuck at the middle.
On result, the show makes some good work to show what happened with each character in the beginning, but the slow start could be a drawback for many, especially to comic book readers, who are used to a different narrative pace.
The Defenders needs patience and needs understanding. The start seems stitched and put together in a way that could be overwhelming. After all, Marvel had to juggle five different plots, with five different locations and five different concepts at the same time. For many, this could become a hard issue, but the styles for each series was so different that I know the writers had to make these quick transitions between each one to later glue the narration together without giving preponderance to one or another. Keeping the idiosyncratic visual language for each source was, to me, a salvage point for the good, but very slow, start.
It is at chapter three that the four heroes coincide and where the show starts to get its own identity, and this reunion became one of my favorite moments on the product thanks for the good writing of each character. What stood out on the Netflix super hero stories was that Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and, even, Iron Fist had a different and more humane character development, compared to the Captain America or Iron-Man from the films. The situations and villains they had to confront were not only external, but also internal, and that flawed personalities of each one put them in constant dangers that were believable and endowed them a likeable and charismatic presence.
At this time, The Defenders shines when these characters are starting to understand what their powers and personalities do and how they change their environment with them, but this reunion is also a train crash, because the individuals have extreme opposite views about how they see their own worlds.
From the story stand-point, the narration begins one month later from the events of Iron Fist. Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) renounced to be Daredevil due the loss of a loved one and continues his work as a lawyer; Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) does not want to attend more private investigation gigs; Luke Cage (Mike Colter) is out of the prison, again; and Danny Rand (Finn Jones) is chasing his enemies to fulfill his duty as the Iron Fist.
According to this, I thought that Danny was the tie that bound the almost broken team, and a character that got better with this team. The members of The Defenders does not want to play together, these are damaged people that had to face terrible moments on their lives and changed their persona. But, Iron Fist in this moment, felt like a character that is generally advancing on the plot and it is more reluctant to work together, even when he is still a spoiled child that does not think before acting, compared on what he showed on his first appearance.
All the responses towards this sudden urge to cooperate for the sake of chasing the dragon are varied and accord to the personalities of each hero. These little quirks and traits to the four of them is what makes the characters more believable and charismatic, I suppose. At every Danny Rand’s optimistic thought, there is a dramatic response from Matt, a complaint from Luke or a sardonic comment from Jessica.
In The Defenders this comes with a flaw. The narrative of these shows were constructed so the watcher connects in some way to the protagonists, but in the crossover, the development of their psychology is mostly stuck and when the mini-series ends, they all return to their former homes and lives. In some parts, there are even supporting characters that were more affected from the story than the main cast.
The millenary ninja cult group, The Hand, returns to New York City and is the main threat, once again. Featured prominently on Daredevil and Iron Fist, the viewer can finally see what is behind the secret of the villains, their leaders and what they motivate them to be evil. Lead by Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver), the personal stories of each representation of The Hand is finally unveiled after all the secrecy.
Mrs. Weaver does an outstanding job acting as the ruthless leader of The Hand. His presence is imposing, even when she is somewhat vulnerable. The “Queen of Sci-Fi” is elegant, but still have a mortal side that is explored within the series, but it is a shame the writing did not made her develop like it should, since the character was very rich and could become a second Wilson Fisk (Portrayed excellently by Vincent D’Onofrio) or a second Kilgrave (my favorite villain, acted by David Tennant). On the other hand, I found that Elektra (Elodie Young) and Stick (Scott Glenn) are marvelous, too, at their own way.
Sadly, the same could not be said of the local grunts of The Hand. In the second season of Daredevil the ninjas posed a real threat to Murdock, but on The Defenders they are easily dispatched and becomes more of a huge mass of running guys that are there for being constantly punched. The leaders still pose a better danger for the four band, but all the suspense was relegated from the villains in some parts. In fact, the city as a whole is never in danger, except for a couple of earthquakes, because all the peril is happening and the heroes resolve it secretly.
Following this topic, the fight scenes are superb, as usual. I think Marvel’s series on Netflix, mostly on Daredevil, have the best choreographies I have enjoyed on TV, so far. In The Defenders, each one displays their own style, adding their individual flair to the heat of battle. Most of the series is shot on interiors, so the directors had to work in the limitations of closed spaces, still doing a good job filming the action, of course.
On the other technical side, sound department was another cool point. Effects, soundtracks and song choices were on-point and I was satisfied by how the tunes sync well with the elements in screen. Even for a non-hip-hop fan like, I really liked the Luke Cage inspired urban music selection (I also liked they did not used that cheesy remix of “Come As You Are”).
Meanwhile, visuals stood out, too, with just a couple of CGI that looked regular. The transitions and the visual language, on the other hand, were great and gives the impression of what I was trying to explain above, that the crossover is a recollection of each hero working together as a dysfunctional team.
In resume, The Defenders is the most “super-hero genre” series of the bunch. The fantastical neo-noir fueled intrigues and social commentary of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and to a very minimal extent, Iron Fist is nearly gone. The story pacing is flawed, and some characters are not pushed forward as they should. This is, probably, a show made to unite this “adult-oriented drama” feel on the first seasons of each individual character with the “super hero” audiences of Marvel.
But, if you found the Netflix series compelling, you will really like this. The “super hero tropes” are not that distracting (until the very end) and it was really cool to see that formula applied to the serious tones of this product line. Dialogues speeches were awesome and motivated (That Luke Cage scold against Danny Rand about privilege was cool!). The acting was great, the cast have a great chemistry and they seem to have put a huge amount of effort to portray their characters with finesse and heart, especially Krysten Ritter’s job as Jessica Jones, perhaps my favorite of the entire line-up.
I will definitely will look towards the next phase of Marvel on Netflix and I am hoping this experiment brings a new light to these series. I still recommend it, but only if you followed everything!
The Link-Up Spell is a weekly Toilet ov Hell column about music, movies, books, retro video games and guaranteed Elfic nonsense. If you want to contact the author to send your material, mail us at toiletovhell [at] gmail.com with the subject “The Link-Up Spell” or message him on social media.