Starring: Charlie Cox, Krysten Ritter, Mike Colter, Finn Jones, Sigourney Weaver, Elodie Yung, Jessica Henwick, Scott Glen
James R: This should be the surest of sure things. By this point, Marvel's Netflix TV wing have five superheroic seasons of superhero under their belts, and have been pretty savvy in casting their leads: Charlie Cox (Daredevil) Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones) and Mike Colter (Luke Cage) have all done great jobs in bringing their characters to life. So putting them together - in true Marvel Comics team-up style - well, that's bound to be a smash, isn't it? Sadly, the answer is no. The Defenders certainly isn't the worst eight hours of TV you'll ever watch - but it's way, way off being some of the most memorable.
The biggest crime The Defenders commits is that it's just not very interesting. Beyond the leads and their interplay, which works nicely, the plot itself is deathly dull. The Hand were the obvious choice of villain seeing that they've already made their presence felt in Daredevil and Iron Fist, but lawks, they are rendered bland here! They're packaged as a mix of Ra's al Guhl's League of Shadows and the Illuminati. Their goals in this series are pretty nebulous - immortality, long-standing grudges over being banished from K'un-Lun and of course, the destruction of New York are all in the mix, before building to a reveal of no real excitement.
It's fantastic to see Sigourney Weaver as the Hand's mastermind Alexandra Reid, but she's not given very much to actually do. When our heroes come together (in pleasingly speedy time) there is never a sense of urgency or desperation - the plot just meanders along. I will avoid any spoilers here, but a twist at the end of Episode 6 not only seemed arbitrary but landed with hardly any dramatic tension.
It's clear from the eight-episode run time that Marvel TV have learned from the criticism of their earlier series, wherein plots were strung out to justify thirteen episodes. That's good to see, but in trimming the fat, they have also dispensed with a compelling story.
Given the budget and creative weight behind this project, I am amazed that either the Hand weren't given a better raison d'être or a better plot couldn't have been constructed. One of the things the Marvel movies have done right is simply cherry-pick some of the best ideas to form the nexus of their plots - 'Extremis', 'The Winter Soldier', 'Civil War' - but Marvel TV has opted to take only vignettes and moments from the comics for The Defenders, and it feels poorer for it.
Is it worth watching? It depends entirely on how much time you have at your disposal - in this era of 'Peak TV' there are numerous better shows to watch, and The Defenders certainly feels weak by comparison to some of the shows currently dominating the cultural mainstream. As mentioned, the interplay between the leads is what saves it - it's great to see Matt Murdock argue with Jessica Jones, and Danny Rand and Luke Cage form a fledgling friendship. It's also boosted by the supporting cast; Jessica Henwick was easily the best thing about the misfire of Iron Fist, and Simone Missick was great in Luke Cage, her portrayal of Misty Knight is certainly one of the big wins from Marvel TV. In total, the world of The Defenders is filled with interesting characters with not much to do.
There is one exception, of course. Finn Jones as Danny Rand, the Immortal Iron Fist, still doesn't feel like the right fit. I'm not going to give Jones too much hassle - others have already done that - but what exasperates me as a viewer is that the creative team choose to make the Living Weapon such a blunt force. He remains an unlikeable character who is outclassed in battle so often, that his (repeated) declaration of "I'm the Immortal Iron Fist!" sounds increasingly desperate rather than an intimidating threat.
I can sum up my thoughts on The Defenders by means of anecdote: Having got up to Episode 6, I waited three days to watch the conclusion to the series. I thought "Ahhh, I suppose I'd best see how this ends..." Great drama shouldn't make you feel like watching is an obligation, and every good drama should keep you riveted; sadly, The Defenders is very much the former, and has none of the latter. I'll certainly watch the second seasons of Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, but before Marvel TV reassemble the Defenders for another outing, they should really give them a memorable mission, and more worthy adversaries. It turns out it's not the Hand that's the biggest threat in The Defenders, it's apathy. 5/10