Edited by Sanyam Garg
'The Defenders' is Marvel and Netflix's latest collaboration in the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe and is the biggest television crossover event of the year. New York's grittiest, maverick vigilantes finally unite after four solo seasons of sinuously and painstakingly woven character arcs which set-up the conflict with their quintessential nemeses, the five members of The Hand (or fingers, as they laughably call themselves)- a global crime syndicate that carries out human and drug trafficking, massacres and assassinations, but for some reason only in Manhattan, the 'crime-loaded' Gotham City of the Marvel Universe. Following this year's catastrophic critical failure, 'Iron Fist', the creative department clearly played it close to the chest with this one. After ambitiously and victoriously venturing out of the studio's family-friendly zone with experimental stories like 'Daredevil' -which presented an absorbing true picture of the violent, savage and rampant criminal underworld below- and 'Jessica Jones’- which astutely dealt with dicey subjects like PTSD, abuse and prejudice, it's particularly dispiriting to see that Marvel doesn't even try to scale those heights, even with the opportunity to build upon some of the most groundbreaking characterizations of the franchise and bring more engrossing character dynamics to the table. This is 'event' or 'tent-pole' entertainment at best, with not enough of the essential ingredients for a truly memorable superhero saga. That's just not enough for a steadfast fan of the superhero league like me. The bar is consistently raised, almost every year, by genre-defying films like Logan, Wonder Woman and Deadpool that separate themselves from the flock, so it's difficult to really place 'Defenders' at either side of the spectrum because it tries so hard to show us how dark it is, but also wants to be a fun team assembling game. The result is rather unsatisfying, and every gutsy direction or opportunity missed shows that Marvel is simply pulling their punches.
However, in the midst of the show's inconsistencies and a rather botched-up screenplay, it's the four leads' well-toned chemistry that makes this a quick and fun watch. Charlie Cox always impeccably proves his mettle as both the Lawyer, Matt Murdock and the Devil of Hell's Kitchen, with a grounded and viscerally emotive performance. Marvel had proficiently managed to strike a balance between a 'Batman' and an everyday citizen like 'Spider-Man', back when the parallel Netflix storyline kicked off in 2015 and it really pays off here because Daredevil is the most relatable character of the show, and the one you actually root for throughout, as the series' high-stake events form a crucial chapter in his individual story arc, providing more gravity to his situation as opposed to the other Defenders who are in it for the ride. The potential repercussions of his return to the city's battleground add more weight to the decisions he takes alongside the other team members. This creates the required dramatic tension, because his life in law is at stake. Also, stealing the show here is the charismatic Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones. She manages to electrify the duller and slower portions with her signature cocky quips and her lack of interest in the ancient mumbo-jumbo that the other trained ninjas or warriors of the squad's roster throw around every chance they get to thicken the plot.
Speaking of warriors, we're stuck once again with Danny Rand. He's 'the immortal Iron Fist, protector of Kun' Lun and sworn enemy of The Hand' (as he never ceases to announce) but what they haven't added is that he is also 'the streak-ender of the Marvel Universe' because everyone knows that all it took was a 'Fist ' for Marvel to pummel itself in the streaming service world, in a single year. Iron Fist is hilariously reduced to a dude-in-distress for the last half of 'Defenders'. That isn't' what you expect from the greatest hand-to-hand fighter in Marvel's comic book world. Sure, he hasn't finished his training yet, but that isn't a valid excuse for the writing, considering that other Defenders are presented in a irreproachable form. Ironically, he has a bigger role than anyone else in the central conflict. He's the most indispensable fragment of the antagonist's plan, and a key (quite literally) for unlocking some kind of substance which will let them live longer (yes, it's as silly as it sounds). However, the character does work very well as a team player. Finn Jones has a blast alongside the others. He lightens up the Chinese restaurant sequence where everyone gets acquainted with one another over food, and stands out in a bunch of grumpy, gifted and conflicted New Yorkers. Mike Colter is the muscle, or rather the 'Daya' of the team, getting to break down doors and walls when he must (tons of CID fans just freaked out right there. Oh wait, what fans?). His best scene is when he pans Danny's white privilege. It’s very socially relevant and makes Luke Cage’s street-level motivations much stronger, even though they don’t seem to tower over those of the others.
What's also noteworthy is how it's a convergence of all the individual shows and not just the characters. For instance, it never feels like Jessica Jones is guest-starring in Daredevil's show or Iron Fist is hogging the spotlight. The unique tones and film-making aspects of all four individual shows are left intact, and that's where ‘Defenders' truly soars above today's sub-par television crossovers. When the series is exploring a single hero's subplot, you get the similar style of dialogue and camerawork that defined his or her solo series. Jessica Jones' eerie background score, Luke Cage's energetic hip-hop vibes, Daredevil's identity crisis and inner conflict and even Iron Fist's childish whining; They're all here, and so fans unfamiliar with the team as a whole are going to have just as much fun as the rest of us. The crafty use of lighting and colour scheming leaves a persisting impression too. Each hero has a detached colour code for the frames he dominates (Red for Murdock, Purple/Blue for Jessica, Yellow for Cage and Green for Danny), to subtly complement the distinct tones and ideals that they bring to both the show and the team. There's even a cheeky blend of red and purple, when Jessica and Daredevil fight together at a fancy restaurant.
The big four's motivations are intricately connected and they do finally band together, but the people they're going up against never feel like a threat.' The Hand' has become a joke. They're never as menacing as they were in season 2 of 'Daredevil', when their 'Foot Clan' ninjas attack a hospital, killing nurses or when they mercilessly kill off hostages to lure Matt and Elektra (who, by the way, is back in seductive and awesome style in the last couple of episodes). Sigourney Weaver's much- hyped vamp is a total cop-out. She brings her killer flair to the role, but her character is criminally used as a mere plot device for obfuscation to create a gasp-worthy twist. She sits and mopes around in modular interiors, lecturing Elektra and the other baddies about death, the purpose of war and plenty of other concepts that you could remember if you manage not to nod off. She also displays lot of Vader-isms with standard moustache-twirling lines like 'Join me, and together we'll..blah,blah". It's a performance that would have been great for a cheesy Bond flick, but one that just doesn't fit here. The villains' aggravating vulnerability reduces the impact of the sky-high stakes. It also impairs the script's ability to show a necessary sense of urgency. We're talking of city-level wipe-out here, but it seems like a walk through the park for our heroes, compared to what they've had to endure and give up in their earlier adventures.
In the end, 'Defenders' lacks those cinematic brawls and epic blood-spills that we've been asking for, ever since the first piece of promo material. Even with a shallow script, it manages to entertain, thanks to its lead performances and a taste of their chemistry , which will hopefully evolve in later seasons. At 8 hours, it's quick and fun binge-material that you'd still want to take over the boring soap dramas on 'the other side' (*cough* The Flash *cough*).