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Netflix's The Defenders Is for Fans Only, and That's Its Biggest Problem

TV Reviews Marvel's The Defenders
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Netflix's <i>The Defenders</i> Is for Fans Only, and That's Its Biggest Problem

Sometimes it is our job to render a critical opinion on something and we are in the hashtag-blessed position of knowing why we think something is awesome, or why we think something is tragically non-awesome. And sometimes Netflix hands us Marvel’s The Defenders and things get freaking awkward because we have no clue what we think but have to act as though we do.

OK: I’m not going to play games here. Screw learned opinions and proper use of the terms mise-en-scène and character-driven and But What Are The Stakes? and stuff. Is Netflix’s new addition to the eternally swelling pantheon of Stan Lee Superdudes good?

No clue. Seriously, I have no idea—and I have no idea why I have no idea. Here is what I can tell you. There is this collection of characters, who are sort of flawed and sort of heroic, who might or might not be part of an eternal lineage of mystical warriors, or might or might not have run afoul of an experiment, a chemical spill or gamma radiation or something, who probably have a bunch of baggage but have learned to clock bad guys over the head with it. There’s a shadowy enemy threatening to destroy Gotham. Um, New York. I meant New York. There is a reluctant coming together of people who Work Alone. Now, these folks have previously televised origin stories and maybe if you are a dedicated Jessica Jones watcher you wouldn’t be grappling with all the “what’s going on?” shit in The Defenders. See, I wouldn’t know, because I haven’t seen it. Now, I happen to believe I should not have to have seen some other show, or indeed read any of these comics, in order to have a clue what’s going on. And I have the distinct sense watching the first episodes that I am on the wrong side of a bunch of in-jokes. For you, this might not be a minus. For me, it is.

Jessica Jones  (Krysten Ritter) is a private investigator who’s really strong but her main superpower is metabolizing cheap booze. She’s laconic enough to give Deadpool’s girlfriend Vanessa a run for her money, and to make things even more déjà-vu-ey, she actually looks quite a bit like Deadpool’s girlfriend Vanessa. She’s crabby and flippant, probably because she has a supersized hangover most of the time or because she has seen a lot of evil and as anyone knows who’s watched the news any time in the last few years, that’ll put a dent in your mood.

Luke Cage (Mike Colter) is The Hero of Harlem and recently sprung from the Stoney Lonesome for… reasons. He is bulletproof. But not indictment-proof. He has a presumably well-earned stick up his ass about people with “privilege” even though I’d say being superstrong and bulletproof in Harlem qualifies as a fucking privilege but hey, it’s Stan’s world, not mine. He is nailing Rosario Dawson in a manner not consistent with a teen-friendly rating.

Danny Rand (Finn Jones) is a billionaire playboy who owns Wayne Enterprises. I mean Stark Enterprises! No, I mean the Rand Corporation, sorry. He was raised by kindly but disciplinarian nuns in a mystical Asian city after the murder of his parents. He is the Immortal Iron Fist. No, look, honestly, he is Ser Loras Tyrell without the lustrous curls and with a glowing qi-bomb right uppercut instead of a sword. Like you can take the boy out of Westeros, etc., etc. He even has this sidekick, Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick), who was totally just killed by Euron Greyjoy like two weeks ago on that other show, so… um… possibly my failure of imagination. But truly, possibly just not super versatile performers here. No offense, Nymeria Sand.

Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) is a blind lawyer who has hung up his supersuit and is hung up on a lost love named Elektra. For a blind guy he can move really, really fast and with such precision I am assuming he has echolocation and several X-Man type meta-powers.

Mega-meta-mutant-muddle, folks. Thank God Sigourney Weaver and Scott Glenn are here. They’re totally cogent. She’s R’as al-Guhl, and he’s that awesome astronaut from that one movie about those astronauts. No, seriously. They’re both really good. But when Immortality and Infinite Power Whore Alexandra (Weaver) resurrects Murdock’s departed ex into a fighting machine called “Black Sky,” and Weary Warrior-Dude Stick (Glenn) cuts off his own hand to escape capture and goes to round up the Unusual Suspects?

Oh yeah: “The Hand” is the name of the League of Shadows/SPECTRE/Old Man Witherspoon in this one. So when he cuts one of his off, that’s, like, a poetic device, I think. I think. Probably.

Wait, hang on. I’m getting ahead of myself. (Trust me, you’d be doing it, too.) The Hand. They want to control the world. Iron Fist has a mystical mandate to stop them. Cage has a worldly mandate to stop them because they’re seducing young Harlemites into a life of crime. Murdock has a mandate because Elektra has been turned into a zombie weapon and Jessica tries to walk away because she’s a cynic and a loner, but she realizes the X-Men need her. I mean the Guardians. I mean the Avengers! I mean the Scooby Gang! I mean… shit.

Timing is an issue here. These people take four entire episodes to coalesce into anything like a team, and until they do, things just aren’t very coherent. At least they weren’t for me. Maybe if I’d read the comics? But I should not have to have read the comics. Is it possible these folks just aren’t as charismatic and fun as Tony Stark and Bruce Banner? Is it me? Is it me? Am I the problem? I might be the problem.

The deal is as follows: Finn Jones is probably not a good casting choice for Iron Fist. Mike Colter is good as Luke Cage, but I don’t love what they give him to work with. Krysten Ritter is a totally reasonable Jessica Jones, but that character is just a little one-note. Charlie Cox? He’s charming. Sure. And for sure, they all get way more interesting when they come together, a feat which takes fully half of the season’s eight-episode arc. Weaver is terrific as the way-too-worldly Alexandra. Scott Glenn can basically dignify any set he walks onto. It’s got elements.

But so many of those elements just feel like retreads. So I guess I’d say if you’re already a diehard fan of these characters, you will find things to love. There are plenty of cool moments. I just finally hit the “I don’t get what this is adding to anything” wall here. (I thought I was going to hit that somewhere around Ant Man, but I totes didn’t!) I mean, I am in, with the Marvel thing. I am on board.

But this time I was just bored.

Marvel’s The Defenders premieres tomorrow on Netflix.

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