Marvel’s new crossover miniseries had the potential to be brilliant, but there’s a fundamental incompatibility that they haven’t managed to overcome. It has all the makings of a great show but, ultimately, their obsession with the annoying white man character and his unrelatable problems, drags the whole thing down.
The Defenders is a combination of four Netflix original series that have been released over the past three years: Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist. It centres on New York City, where all four heroes are recovering from the fallout from their respective exploits, when they all become entangled in the same case. At its root, a seemingly all-powerful criminal organisation called The Hand, led by Alexandra, a sinister mastermind obsessed with mortality, played by Sigourney Weaver.
The four superheroes (though you wouldn’t dare call them that to their face) have to combine their powers to overcome The Hand, as well as their own baggage and egos in the process. Much violence, and many sassy one-liners, ensue.
Prior to this, I’d watched all of the brilliant first season of Jessica Jones, a few episodes each of Daredevil and Luke Cage and thankfully none of Iron Fist. So you don’t need to have watched all four lead-up series to enjoy The Defenders, but a certain amount of background knowledge is definitely required if you want to be able to keep up.
And it’s a good show, no doubt about it, and I’m excited by the prospect of a second season. But throughout watching I couldn’t help but feel that The Defenders faced a big obstacle in the combining these characters and their worlds, which all come from vastly different source material. An obstacle which mainly comes down to the fourth member of the super-squad – young billionaire Danny Rand, otherwise known as “The Immortal Iron Fist.” Please read that title with a tone of appropriate skepticism.
“For starters, there’s a marked difference in the sheer quality of the shows. Luke Cage got a 96 on Rotten Tomatoes, Jessica Jones and Daredevil 92 and 86 respectively. Iron Fist got an embarrassing 17.”
For starters, there’s a marked difference in the sheer quality of the shows. Luke Cage got a 96 on Rotten Tomatoes, Jessica Jones and Daredevil 92 and 86 respectively. Iron Fist got an embarrassing 17. The brilliant premise and writing of Jessica Jones and Luke Cage was able to attract actors of the league of David Tennant and Mahershala Ali for their lead cast, while Iron Fist could just about rustle up some secondary actors from Game of Thrones. When the shows combine, the disparity in calibre is glaringly obvious.
But this incompatibility becomes most blatant when it comes to the plot, which revolves around human resurrection and a magical substance which grants immortality. Iron Fist comes from this universe, one where a white guy can go to Asia and gain magical powers through the study of meditation, auras and god knows what else. Jess, Matt and Luke may have superpowers, but their battles are very much rooted in the real world.
Although in her series Jessica fought a super villain with mind control powers, ultimately it was a story about rape, abuse, depression and post traumatic stress disorder. It’s no surprise that the show resonated with female audiences – David Tennant’s chilling performance gave me nightmares from the first episode. Meanwhile Luke Cage battles gun violence, corruption and poverty in his home neighbourhood of Harlem; Matt fights an underbelly of crime in Hell’s Kitchen on behalf of the citizens the police ignores. They belong about as much in Iron Fist’s world as you or I do. Although they joke about this disconnect – Jessica’s sceptical eyebrow quirk at Danny’s talk of “channeling his chi” is a series highlight – it feels to me too large a chasm to overcome.
“We live in a world where known sexual assaulters are allowed to lead nations.”
We live in a world where known sexual assaulters are allowed to lead nations; where our state guardians can murder black civilians without consequence; where the poor and vulnerable can burn in their beds in one of the richest cities in the world and no one is held accountable. Jessica Jones and Luke Cage don’t need mythical immortal forces as their super villains. For women and people of colour, the real world is quite scary enough.
Other franchises have spotted this – other recent Marvel films have focused on themes such as terrorism, government corruption, the military-industrial complex and fear of the surveillance state. So why do The Defenders writers still think creepy cult rituals are the most terrifying obstacle out there?
But perhaps I’m being unfair. Overall the show manages to combine the elements of angst, snarky dialogue and punching stuff in nice proportions, and I was appropriately surprised by the plot twists. The characters manage to bring a comedic edge in their interactions that was a rare find in their much darker respective shows. The character development as they learn to trust each other walks the line of heartwarming without falling victim to cheesiness. And the ultimate goal of these shows was seemingly achieved, as I binged the episodes a handful at a time.
But there’s got to be a clue in the way my heart leapt when I read one of the episode descriptions, which said “Danny finds himself sidelined.” Marvel’s struck on brilliance with three-quarters of its Defenders team, but the other is a massive dead weight.
My advice? Ditch the culture-appropriating magic guy and give Luke and Jess a steamy sex scene instead.