With the rise of the superhero trend in today’s American cinematic society, the company that rears most notably, in particular to quantity, is Marvel Studios. Whether film, comic, or miniseries, Marvel has the resources and the ambition to continue their trek into the spotlight with their seemingly limitless superhero roster. Their latest production comes in the form of The Defenders, an eight-episode Netflix-exclusive miniseries that brings together four drastically different super personalities to take down a common foe. If that premise sounds familiar, it should, but don’t let it set the tone for a series that provides the insight to survive on its own accord.
As has become common within Marvel features, The Defenders leaves those ignorant to past works to bridge the gap between character relations and plot points on their own, as nothing more than occasional comments are presented as casual reminders. Going into this particular series, one would feel advised to look back on works starring the superheroes present so that they receive proper context. And while this could be seen as more recommendable than not, it is not absolutely necessary. One without any information can watch this on its own and be able to appreciate the fascination put into each detail, though not without some moments of confusion.
Characters are the name of the game, and it starts out on a selectively high note. Immediately, the viewer is introduced to Danny Rand, also known as The Iron Fist, battling his way through underground sewers. As it continues, the series transitions between numerous points of view, most specifically through the characters of Luke Cage, Matthew Murdock—also known as Daredevil—and Jessica Jones, who round out the not-so-fabulous four. With eight episodes spanning between 45-55 minutes a piece, The Defenders takes its time bringing these people together, sharing their personas and current situations before laying out the inevitable doom that will bring them all together.
A noticeable quirk can be seen all throughout with the tone of the production. Very serious, very structured, and often times dark and grimy. Somewhat akin to the crime dramas found on cable TV networks, bereft of a lot of the whimsical humor that many other Marvel works strive to accentuate. It can bring down a lot of the enthusiasm one can have when slogging through the introductory phases of the series, with a lot of the downtime designated to a lot of dialogue, epiphanies, and moments of silent resignation.
Once the likes of Cage, Jones, Rand, and Murdock enter the scenario together, much of the lightheartedness that these characters bring with their opposite personality provides a generous break from the monotony of gray set by the tone. If not for the constant hesitation caused by Murdock’s past and Cage’s altruism, the pace would be far quicker in comparison, which could have alieved the slow climb of the set-up phases. While most of these heroes aren’t perfect, it is their willingness to step in at the right moments that make them the exemplary heroes society is accustomed to. Such willingness is what develops these characters—who at times indulge their self-centered motivations—into likable human beings who can be rooted for in the end.
The same credit can only be somewhat provided to the main antagonists of the story, who come across as the one-dimensional, evil stereotypes that simply desire power and nothing more. Perhaps the one exception is Alexandra, who orchestrates the entire plot at hand, and who retains some of the human qualifications necessary to empathize with her plight. Not altogether apparent by her manipulative behavior is the sense that her goals gauge the necessities of happiness within life, at the cost of life itself. The Defenders does more than enough to showcase the situation from her viewpoint, allowing the viewer to settle into the psyche of one so close, yet so far from fulfilling her ambitions.
If not for humorous exaggeration and self-awareness, Marvel’s works would be most notable for their dazzling special effects and action scenes. Unfortunately for those accustomed to light shows, The Defenders’ brightest moments come from a glowing fist. And explosions. Emphasis on core action is established through tight and quick choreography; rapid body movements and dexterity is a must. While supernatural phenomena exists, much of it is restrained to large quantities of basic hand-to-hand, or sword-to-sword, combat. This provides a little sense of realism within a plot so disheveled by fantastical scenarios (such that even the characters scoff at), though doesn’t do much for overall cinematic grandeur. With the matter of ever-changing camera angles and shots, it all feels more like a puppet show, without a lot of the excitement from true combat being shown without the work of behind-the-scenes magic.
Fans of Marvel are sure to find solace with The Defenders, though with some different stipulations attached in terms of tone and presentation bravado. To those looking for a series to start off into the never-ending journey of Marvel’s cinematic universe, look elsewhere; not because its quality is of question, but because the gaps in information and the magnitude of its tone could become alienating for potential future fans. The Defenders could be seen more as a dessert than a main course. It is something worth eating as a treat at the very end, but starting with it could ruin an appetite.