Episode 1 – “The H Word”
The series kicks off in a surprising way; with a cold open following Iron Fist and his compatriot Colleen Wing as they investigate The Hand in Cambodia. It’s strange move to start the much hyped ensemble piece with what many consider the weakest of the Netflix Marvel shows but the scene is mysterious and interesting enough to pull you in. It’s refreshing to see that Marvel is not pushing away the black sheep of the of the Marvel television universe after the (undeserved) bad reviews of his solo series, if anything they do the opposite and double down. It’s not going to convince the most adamant haters but Finn Jones is genuinely very good as out of touch rich kid Danny Rand and his partner in crime, Jessica Henwick’s Colleen, is my favourite of all The Defenders bff’s. As somebody who enjoyed Iron Fist greatly it’s rewarding to see him finally getting his due as his starring role continues through out much of the episode. Now if only we could get a Ward Meachum cameo…
We catch up the other heroes next and it feels like no time at all since we’ve been away. It’s 2 years since we saw the last of Krysten Ritter’s alcohol abusing PI Jessica Jones but her grungy half demolished flat feels immediately familiar, what with it still showing the Officer Simpson sized holes from a bust up in her standalone series. She’s reluctantly on the trail of a missing architect involved in some shady dealings with an even shadier organisation (spoilers, of course it’s The Hand). In no time at all she’s in skid row surrounded by crates of explosives. Ritter has always been one of the strongest pieces of the Marvel canon and it’s no different here, being as as hilariously sardonic as always. In the mean time Luke is fresh out of prison and on his way to deliver some hot coffee to Claire. A brief catch up with Misty Knight later and he’s on the trial of some local Harlem boys all wrapped up in some shady business (spoilers, duh it’s The Hand). Mike Colter’s Luke Cage is the Defender with the most heart and perhaps the most to say in today’s political climate. Despite the genre trappings of a big ol’ team-up Luke’s story still manages to hit a nerve and is startlingly relevant (his privilege talk with Danny in couple of episodes time is fantastic).
Last but not least it’s the turn of the Charlie Cox’s Daredevil, or The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen. Except after the tragic murder of Elektra at the end of Daredevil season 2, he’s back only as pro bono lawyer Matt Murdock and has hung up the Daredevil cowl. And for episode 1 at least, it seems to be staying that way. Cox’s Daredevil is the Batman of the Defenders in that he’s instantly the most familiar (and the one who seems to do the most brooding). Cox is perfect at as Matt and carries many scenes wordlessly and with lots of tiny physical nuances. The group don’t actually team up this episode but for now it’s more than enough just to see them back on the screen. Iron Fist has barely been away and I’m overjoyed to see him return. Some people might be confused as to why, in an 8 episode crossover series, the team don’t assemble in episode 1. But this episode not only serves as a reintroduction to the characters, it also lays the ground work for on going plot lines such as the plans of the villainous Alexandra, played by the legendary Sigourney Weaver. The Defenders might not be together yet but they are all back on our screens, and better than ever.
Episode 2 – “Mean Right Hook”
The second episode of The Defenders sees the heroes’ plot lines beginning to converge. Not completely, the full team still isn’t assembled by the episode’s end, but the group starts tentatively pairing up during this instalment. Luke Cage and Iron Fist are brought together at the end of the episode when their individual investigations bring them to the same dodgy warehouse. The Harlem youths Luke is following are caught up in some sort of body disposal racket for The Hand and Danny and Colleen are led to the same warehouse in their pursuit of The Hand. When Danny and Luke come face to face for the first time it’s incredibly satisfying and luckily not very contrived. A brawl between the two leaves no clear winner but with the two of them them being the most likeable out of the Defenders, you end up rooting for both of them. The chemistry foreshadowing there team up as the comic book ‘Heroes for Hire’ is slight in episode 2, but it’ll be coming in spades by episode 3.
The other half of The Defenders meet up this episode too. Jessica’s search for the missing architect leads her to a show down with a reincarnated Elektra and the poor man’s brains splattered up Jessica’s already-grungy apartment wall. Misty Knight takes Jessica into custody where only one lawyer can help her out – everyone’s favourite avocado at law, Matt Murdock. Although to be fair Matt is helping out Foggy (who now works for Jessica’s friend/old boss Hogarth). His defending of Jessica is not because of their mutual links to the hand. But whatever, the team’s very nearly together and next episode finally assembles the team fully.
Episode 3 – “Worst Behavior”
I think the main thing I took away from episode three of The Defenders (apart from the awesome team-up) is just how much I like Finn Jones’ Danny Rand. The scene this episode where Danny goes to Midland Circle, Alexandra and The Hand’s base of operations, is probably the best performance Jones has given in the role. He goes to the boardroom to try an peaceful negotiation but when Alexandra reveals that’s not gonna happen, and the Hand in fact require Danny for a mysterious reason, all hell breaks loose. Danny vs. 20 or so baddies (armed with those awesome telescopic batons straight out of a Donnie Yen fight scene) sounds like a recipe for disaster. Fans of Iron Fist might expect quick cuts and obtuse camera angles to hide the fact that Finn Jones supposedly can’t fight. But that wasn’t even true of Iron Fist and it certainly isn’t true here. Jones convincingly channels the spirit of The Immortal Iron Fist and gives us the shows first truly great fight scene. And Luke busting the door down to the sounds of Run The Jewels and teaming up with Danny is the icing on the cake.
Don’t get me wrong, the rest of the episode is also fantastic. A scene of Jessica undercover at the dead architect’s office is hilarious and the scene of Luke and the grieving mother was one of the most heart wrenching scenes in the Marvel Netflix universe. A scene that caused some discussion though is Luke’s ‘privilege’ talk with Danny. Some people hated it but I thought it was a great moment showing the often forgotten difference between the shows heroes. Not to mention the current real-world climate making it the whole thing pretty damn necessary. Bit of a shame it was all directed at Danny though, but maybe that’s just me. Regardless, all this fantastic stuff culminates in a fantastic team-up hallway fight. Daredevil faces down Elektra too, in superb one on one combat. It may have taken a while to assemble The Defenders but damn it was worth it.
Episode 4 – “Royal Dragon”
After last episodes spectacular finale the show slows down for an episode. But it’s no bad thing as it allows the team to interact with each other as a whole team. Individual relationships start forming almost immediately. It’s brilliantly done by show runners and episode writers Douglas Petrie & Marco Ramirez. Even small moments like Luke and Danny sharing a plate of Chinese food shows their growing kinship as much, if not more than a fight scene could. Each member has a different relationship with each of the other team members and it’s a joy to discover them all. Jessica’s constant irritation with Danny’s mystical backstory is a definite highlight. To be honest the show probably could have kept going with this slower more character driven pace for perhaps another episode, but the amount we do get is still wonderful. When Stick turns up it adds yet another dimension to the already fantastic character interactions – even if I personally was never completely sold on Scott Glenn’s self righteous, morally superior sensei.
The fantastic direction of these shows if often overlooked but with the The Defenders it’s arguably more impressive than ever. As often as possible each character is shot in their series’ main colour – Luke is yellow, Jessica is blue, Danny is green, and Matt is red. It sound’s like it could become annoying or intrusive and sure, some people probably won’t like it. But it’s stylish as hell and really adds a comic book aesthetic without going too over the top. The Red Dragon Chinese restaurant episode might be the best example of this and the jokes and insults thrown about amongst the team are never better than in this episode.
Episodes 5-8 coming soon! (probably)