TV Review: ‘Marvel’s The Defenders’ on Netflix

Defenders
Netflix

Marvel’s The Defenders” is significantly better than the last offering from the comic-book factory’s ongoing collaboration with Netflix, “Iron Fist.” That was one of the most notable misfires ever in the realm of superhero TV, but “The Defenders” is a workmanlike series that gets the job done with a reasonable amount of energy and a few bursts of flair.

It may not offer the highest highs of “Jessica Jones,” which proved itself the star performer of the Marvel-Netflix universe during its debut season. And while “The Defenders” is occasionally a bit blander than an endeavor featuring deadly ninjas and elaborate costumes should be, the eight-part drama has notable selling points, chief among them an elegant and fierce performance from Sigourney Weaver.

Weaver plays a criminal mastermind, and she sinks her teeth into the role with glee, but throughout the first four installments of “The Defenders,” her work remains measured and her wily charm carefully deployed. The drama’s blocky dialogue is often unexceptional and sometimes borders on the unfortunate (“It’s too late for heroes!”). But Weaver has an almost supernatural ability to make her scenes crackle with electricity, no matter how predictable her character’s dastardly schemes.

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Getting a genuine movie star to make a TV series was a coup for Marvel, and “The Defenders” is generally smart about how it uses Weaver’s ability to combine silky, intelligent charisma with intense tenacity. Her character, Alexandra, is believable as an accomplished New York City power player and also as someone much more malevolent than she first appears.

Even if viewers haven’t seen any of the other Marvel-Netflix shows, “The Defenders” will bring them up to speed, an exposition-heavy process that can sometimes give the proceedings a rote feel. Each superhero’s core traits are reinforced in separate storylines in the first few episodes, and many characters from each show’s supporting cast also put in appearances, which packs the drama with a crowded array of faces. But the fact that “The Defenders,” at least in the early going, switches frequently among its lead characters gives it a pleasing sense of momentum, a quality that can be difficult to find in the opening hours of other Marvel (or Netflix) drama series. There are also exciting fight scenes, and the return of Elodie Yung to the Marvel TV universe is welcome indeed; her mystery character in “The Defenders” has a desperate, melancholy persona and, of course, a lethal edge.

Finn Jones, who plays rich guy Danny Rand, aka the Iron Fist, remains the Achilles’ heel of the Marvel-Netflix empire. Not only does Jones lack the presence or skill to create interest in Rand’s dilemmas, but the character’s dumb choices make it even more difficult to care about anything he attempts. Given Rand’s superficial, trust-fund kid vibe, it’s tedious to hear him talking about his chi, and it’s semi-comical when he intones the phrase “I am the Immortal Iron Fist.” “The Defenders,” however, has some awareness of how annoying Danny can be, and a portion of the comedy involving the character is intentional. Most other characters don’t take him seriously, and more than once, the intensely pragmatic Luke Cage (Mike Colter) looks like he wants to put Rand through a wall. Still, even if Danny is exasperating, at least his naive, one-dimensional character does not unduly dominate the proceedings.

The other members of the core cast — Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock/Daredevil, Krysten Ritter as tough private detective Jessica Jones and Colter as the bulletproof Cage — are quite capable, and Scott Glenn, Jessica Henwick and Simone Missick are notably engaging in their supporting roles. As the Defenders alliance comes together, the superheroes exhibit a sense of self-awareness about their plans and their powerful enemies, and now and then they toss out a sarcastic remark or a well-timed bon mot. Colter, Weaver, Glenn and Ritter are particularly gifted with one-liners and perfectly calibrated glares, and Cox makes Murdock’s pent-up Catholic guilt highly watchable.

One could wish for a little more diverting lightness. But now and then there’s a sense that “The Defenders” is dutifully checking boxes rather than having a blast running around with men and women who enjoy donning form-fitting leather and slicing up their enemies. “The Defenders” is recognizably a superhero team-up, but like some tentpole films, it’s also a careful piece of IP synergy. Still, if it lacks a bit of magic, at least, at least it’s not a heavy summer commitment. Our heroes have only eight episodes to save the Big Apple, after which they’ll return to their respective places on the Marvel release schedule. New York never sleeps, nor do valuable corporate assets.

TV Review: 'Marvel's The Defenders' on Netflix

Drama: 8 episodes (4 reviewed); Netflix, Fri. Aug. 18.

Crew

Executive producers, Marco Ramirez, Douglas Petrie, Jeph Loeb, Jim Chory, S.J. Clarkson, Cindy Holland, Allie Goss, Alison Engel, Kris Henigman, Alan Fine, Stan Lee, Joe Queseda, Karim Zreik, Drew Goddard.

Cast

Sigourney Weaver, Charlie Cox, Krysten Ritter, Mike Colter, Finn Jones, Elodie Yung, Scott Glenn, Jessica Henwick, Rosario Dawson, Rachael Taylor, Eka Darville, Simone Missick, Deborah Ann Woll, Carrie-Anne Moss, Elden Henson.

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  1. Dave says:

    I think they really missed the mark in this one, overall it’s ok with plenty of great action scenes
    Cons:
    Not enough of Jessica and Luke dialogue, their dynamic relationship was brilliant in Jessica Jones not sure what got in to the minds of the writers, however what was presented was good, though few and far between.
    College sidelined at the police station really great character underused
    As for the Claire temple really absolute madness kind of ruined the character and at points kinda laughable (beating up ninjas with a wrench) and the love thing with luke just doesn’t work, great as supporting character in the previous chapters but please no more.
    Final fight scene Dare Devil and Electra well I think worst scene of the lot really spoilt the ending.
    Saving grace the baddies Sigourney weaver was great killed off too early, should have been there at the end alongside madam gao also brilliant.
    Overall not bad but could have been a whole lot better

  2. mikeholloway says:

    The soft porn totally ruins it for me. I understand Disney’s goal of targeting teens and young adults, and the replies to my comment here will evidence how effective that has been, but there are far more kids and families that will not be able to watch this without a great deal of shame and regret. Totally unnecessary, and not good for the House of Mouse.

    • tomalak says:

      Sorry, what “shame” and “regret” are you referring to? I honestly don’t understand what you’re talking about. Why would you experience “shame” or “regret” from watching The Defenders?

  3. “Trust-fund kid” is an odd description of someone who has spent most of his life abandoned and penniless, working in a monastery in Central Asia, and who has to sleep in the park when he first returns to NYC.

    • Movieguy says:

      If she accurately described the character as a trust fund kid whose parents died in a plane crash that he suffered through and has PTSD from, before being subject to fairly systematic physical abuse throughout his childhood, he would not seem as “one-dimensional” as the review describes. For intelligent criticism I would seek somewhere else.

  4. Robert says:

    “Getting a genuine movie star…” :-) I’m sure that went over well with Ms. Ritter.

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