Marvel’s recent slew of impressive villains — most notably Michael Keaton’s Vulture — and the upcoming film debut of Thanos (Josh Brolin) made the casting choice of Sigourney Weaver in Netflix’s The Defenders all the more exciting.
But a superhero show is only as good as its supervillain, a character type that the Netflix/Marvel show-runners have excelled at creating, giving us Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk, Jon Bernthal’s Punisher and David Tennant’s chilling Kilgrave.
If you haven’t seen the show yet, I would suggest not reading any further as the rest of this review is rank with spoilers and probably smells slightly of sour milk because of it.
The Defenders falls short where Daredevil and Jessica Jones shined. Weaver’s portrayal of Alexandra — the founder and former leader of The Hand, an ancient, previously immortal, criminal organization — is entertaining, but lacks the ferocity of Fisk or the emotional pull of Punisher’s antihero persona. The show’s creators attempted to rectify their villain situation midway through the season by killing Alexandra off, but their replacement villain, Elektra (Elodie Yung), brings problems of her own.
Since her appearance in the second season of Daredevil, Elektra has been a foil for Matthew Murdock (Charlie Cox), using her to pull him closer and closer to his life as the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen. Elektra’s role as a foil for Matt overshadows Matt’s internal struggle between his Daredevil alter ego, and his life amongst his friends becomes his defining character trait very quickly during the course of The Defenders.
Despite the lack-luster villains and, at times, annoying character development for Matt, The Defenders does up the ante for the heroes of Netflix’s Marvel universe. After a poorly received first run as Danny Rand/The Iron Fist, Finn Jones returns with a vengeance, bringing more emotion and depth to the character in these eight episodes — surrounded by other top-tier actors — than he did throughout all of the first season of Iron Fist.
The convergence of all of these powerful characters and their less-powerful-but-still-badass friends makes for some well-crafted television, giving us a reunion between Luke Cage (Mike Colter) and Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) and some top-notch banter amongst the supporting characters of Claire (Rosario Dawson), Colleen (Jessica Henwick), Karen (Deborah Ann Woll), Foggy (Elden Henson) and Trish (Rachael Taylor).
It’s not all sunshine, butterflies and rainbows for the heroes, though. While Danny begins The Defenders more spirited about fighting The Hand than he appeared at the end of Iron Fist, the rest of the Defenders can’t seem to get far enough away from the fight for New York.
Luke, Jessica and Matt each struggle to come to terms with their role in the fight to save New York; Jessica even leaves the group at one point, but that lasts all of about 20 minutes of show time before she finds her way right back into the middle of the good fight.
No Marvel product would be complete without some sort of twist to keep the audience at the edge of their seats, and The Defenders is no different. This twist comes in the very last scene; after being led to believe that Matt was killed under a falling building in the penultimate scene of the first season, he is seen awakening in what appears to be a church.
This shot, while plain visually, will speak volumes for people familiar with the Daredevil comic books. The show-runners ended The Defenders with a bang by setting up Season 3 of Daredevil with an allusion to the widely acclaimed “Born Again” storyline from the comics.
The Defenders marks the end of what has become Phase One of Netflix’s (rapidly increasing) Marvel shows, and while it may not have wrapped up Phase One perfectly, it beautifully sets the stage for Phase Two.
Not only did the show hint at the fate of Matt Murdock and the rest of the Defenders, Netflix also included a trailer for the next Marvel show, The Punisher, set to be released later this year.
Netflix’s first major superhero crossover had its bumps and bruises, but the success of the preceding Marvel shows and the excitement surrounding the upcoming ones makes the overall product one that will make both long-time fans and those new to Marvel love superheroes all over again.