‘Marvel’s The Defenders’ pulls its punches, offers underwhelming superhero team-up

"Marvel's The Defenders" | Netflix
Netflix /Courtesy
"Marvel's The Defenders" | Netflix

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Grade: 2.0/5.0

If you were hoping that Iron Fist (Finn Jones) is retconned into oblivion, casually struck by a bus, sat on by Thanos or all of the above at the start of “Marvel’s The Defenders,” prepare to be disappointed. In fact, the series opens with an Iron Fist-centric fight. It’s not an exciting scene — just an invitation to roll your eyes as emphatically as physically possible. And thus begins eight hours of (mostly) such eye rolling.

After five seasons of solo adventures, Marvel finally brings together its stable of angsty, Netflix-based crimefighters. Daredevil (Charlie Cox), Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Luke Cage (Mike Colter) and the frustratingly immortal Iron Fist are united by a common goal — to bring down the Hand, an ancient criminal organization hellbent on securing life everlasting. Against all odds, a show about superheroes fighting ninjas led by Sigourney Weaver manages to be a near-total bore.

Regarding Weaver, she never reaches the heights of villainy that her casting as Alexandra teases. By and large, Marvel’s Netflix shows don’t suffer from the generally tame antagonists of their big-screen counterparts. So when Weaver was brought onboard as Alexandra, the leader of the Hand, fans had reason to expect the relentless badassery of her “Alien” days.

Instead, Alexandra never feels like much of a threat, especially when her own cronies call out her incompetence. Her backstory never develops into anything more than a requisite tragedy, either, and as a result, Alexandra is neither imposing nor sympathetic. Weaver’s undeniable talents can’t mask poor writing, making Alexandra more similar to (insert lame Marvel movie villain of your choice here) than previous Netflix baddies such as Kingpin, Purple Man or Cottonmouth.

In fact, the Hand itself doesn’t exhibit the depravity we assume it is capable of, undermining the stakes established by five seasons of television. At one point, several important supporting characters are all hiding under the same roof — they’re sitting ducks, and yet the Hand, for all its evilness, never strikes. “The more connections you have, the easier it will be to break you,” Alexandra says to the Defenders, despite no such attempt ever being made. There’s no immediate sense of danger, and as a result, slogging through the entirety of “The Defenders” is a feat of superhuman resolve.

But for all the show’s faults, there are at least enough competent moments to please Marvel’s fan base. The snarky banter between Daredevil and Jessica Jones is a highlight, and one realizes that “The Roast of Daredevil by Jessica Jones” would have been a better TV show. Even Iron Fist’s perpetual grimace is tolerable when he’s paired with the levelheaded Luke Cage, the always heroic Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) or the katana-wielding Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick).

The cinematography is occasionally good, too, and before the Defenders unite, the heroes are framed in their corresponding colors — red for Daredevil, blue for Jessica Jones, yellow for Luke Cage and green for Iron Fist. When they finally convene in a Chinese restaurant, each hero’s color is represented in the scenery on-screen. It’s clever as a storytelling device, although one begins to wonder if Daredevil’s powers include the ability to exist within near-constant range of red neon.

Though much of the action is forgettable compared to the brutal choreography of “Daredevil” or the unnerving gore of “Jessica Jones,” the final episode delivers a one-take, “Oldboy”-esque showdown, the kind that put Marvel’s Netflix shows on the map. Still, this scene feels overdue — for much of the show, it seems like we’ll see a Black Widow solo film before watching the Defenders do any compelling, noteworthy defending.

The ending of “The Defenders” asks the viewer for great swells of emotion, but all one feels is frustration at the indulgent, wholly unnecessary final shot. As credits roll for the last time, a teaser for the upcoming “The Punisher” appears, which would normally be exciting — Jon Bernthal as the titular antihero was a match made in comic book heaven. But given Marvel’s recent track record on Netflix, that excitement gives way to unease.

Contact Harrison Tunggal at [email protected].