TV Review: Marvel's The Defenders - 1.01 "The H Word"

Netflix, Marvel, The Defenders, Finn Jones, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Mike Colter, Sigourney Weaver, Rosario Dawson, Comic Book, Jessica Jones, Daredevil, Punisher


EPISODE 1: "The H Word"

SYNOPSIS: Matt Murdock, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Danny Rand investigate criminals and fight justice, unaware that their paths are about to cross.

Netflix, Marvel, The Defenders, Finn Jones, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Mike Colter, Sigourney Weaver, Rosario Dawson, Comic Book, Jessica Jones, Daredevil, Punisher

REVIEW: Last month at San Diego Comic Con, the entire first episode of The Defenders was screened for the audience in Hall H, all of whom wolfed down the introductory hour of the mini-series and applauded loudly. I was one of those fans who was excited to finally see the culmination of Marvel and Netflix's partnership to develop the comic book company's street level superheroes into a more grounded and gritty version of The Avengers. With the entire first season of The Defenders now streaming on Netflix, everyone can weigh in on whether the show works as intended. From my perspective, the answer is both yes and no. This first hour of the eight part series had the unenviable task of pulling Daredevil, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage from their own shows into a shared storyline. It is at once an ambitious idea and one that falls just short of what it should have been.

The first episode of The Defenders plays like separate entries in each of the individual character's series: Danny Rand and Colleen Wing are searching for The Hand through Europe and encounter a powerful masked warrior who kills everyone they are hunting for; Luke Cage gets released from prison and reunites with Claire Temple (for a rough romp in bed) before Misty Knight enlists the Hero of Harlem to help investigate some mysterious teen deaths; Jessica Jones is avoiding the limelight after her takedown of Kilgrave and begrudgingly takes the case of a missing husband; Matt Murdock is on his own doing pro bono work but misses his life as Daredevil. Each set of scenes following the separate heroes is shot in the signature look of their own series with quick cuts of New York subways and roads serving as interstitials between them.

As an avid fan of the four Marvel Netflix series to date, I was already invested in picking up where these characters left off at the end of each of their shows most recent runs. But, despite the crossing over of characters from one series with those in another for the first time aside from Rosario Dawson and Carrie-Ann Moss, this is the first time we have truly seen the interconnected world these folks inhabit. The passing references from the solo shows has now truly become a unified experience and it is cool to see. But, for the duration of this debut episode, the Defenders themselves don't meet. It feels like an intentional decision by writers, led by showrunners Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez (Daredevil's second season), but one that feels like a wasted opportunity given the shortened eight episode duration of this event series. I kept expecting to see paths crossing but we don't actually see any of our heroes in the same room until the next episode. But, even though I found the structure of the first hour disappointing, I have to give it high marks because of one major factor: Sigourney Weaver.

Each of the standalone series that led to The Defenders had a foe for the main character that was recognizable from the comics. In a risky move, The Defenders main nemesis, Alexandra, is a wholly original creation specifically for this series. Because we have no comic book background to base her performance on, Sigourney Weaver is able to do what she does best and be an actress. In this first episode, we get segments of Alexandra being tested and learning of a terminal medical diagnosis. Knowing her fate to be sealed, Alexandra escalates the plan she has been overseeing, revealing herself to be higher up the leadership chain than even Madame Gao. Gao herself has always been a formidable presence on these shows but here she cowers in the shadow of Alexandra. Who is this woman and what makes her so important? Those questions remain unanswered but begin to peter through in subsequent chapters of this show. What we do know is that the mysterious warrior encountered by Danny and Colleen is none other than the Black Sky herself, Elektra.

Netflix, Marvel, The Defenders, Finn Jones, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Mike Colter, Sigourney Weaver, Rosario Dawson, Comic Book, Jessica Jones, Daredevil, Punisher

I enjoyed the take on Elektra during Daredevil's second season and here, Elodie Yung gets to take her performance to another level. Wiped of memories of her past life, Elektra is now a tool being used by Alexandra to bring about the destruction of New York. With each of our main characters investigating their own mysteries, the conclusion of this hour finds a massive earthquake crossing the city and each of our heroes experiencing it in their own location. Alexandra looks on with Elektra by her side and tells her ward that she will get used to cities falling. It is a creepy performance from Weaver who exudes little emotion in her performance which makes her all the more terrifying. 

The Defenders was never meant to be as epic and action-packed as The Avengers, but it is a monumental culmination of Marvel and Netflix's partnership. I have always felt that the MCU was improved by the existence of these series despite the fact that they don't really seem to exist in the same universe except arbitrarily. Of the big screen MCU characters, I could only see Spider-man really fitting in with this crew and that would be something to see. But what makes the big screen crossovers work so well is that the characters interact pretty quickly when the movies start. Here, we go a solid hour without any of the main characters meeting which leads the show to feel like a slow burn. But, when you tout your series as an event, it needs to feel like one. Having seen the episodes that follow, the action definitely picks up quickly, but the pacing still feels like it could use some work. Thank goodness for Sigourney Weaver who immediately becomes one of the best Marvel villains, big screen or small. The Defenders is worth the wait but needs to stop making us wait too long for the good stuff.

NEXT ON MARVEL'S THE DEFENDERS: "Mean Right Hook" - As a new conspiracy takes shape, Matt finds old habits are hard to break, Jessica gets in over her head, Luke tracks a lead, and Danny meets his match.

Source: JoBlo.com



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