Anghus Houvouras on Marvel’s The Defenders…
This one kind of smarts. Imagine after all the Marvel Phase One films you finally get to The Avengers and it ends up a poorly written dumpster fire. This was my experience with Marvel’s The Defenders. It’s absolute garbage. A poorly written piece of pure inevitability that never manages to capitalize on its excellent premise.
I could go into vast detail about my thoughts on Marvel’s Netflix offerings, but here’s a brief recap.
Daredevil is the single best thing Marvel has ever done (on TV or film). Charlie Cox is an exceptional Matt Murdock and there isn’t enough glowing adjectives to describe how good I think this show is.
Jessica Jones was a captivating piece of character work slightly undermined by Krysten Ritter’s performance which seemed to rely heavily on a perpetual resting bitch face. Uneven, messy, but ultimately worth watching.
Luke Cage’s first season was marginally interesting and went off the rails once Mahershala Ali’s Cottonmouth got ganked. Not bad by any stretch, but the whole series crawled to the finish line.
And finally we have Iron Fist. Remember the dumpster fire I used to describe The Defenders? Danny Rand lit the fuse.
The Defenders is an absolute mess. A hodge-podge of contrasting styles that is ultimately destroyed by atrocious writing and barely salvaged by its charismatic cast. What should have been Marvel’s defining moment for their Netflix output has become the most salient example of the issues that continue to plague their shows.
There’s precious little story to The Defenders. And what story it does have is simply a copy/paste continuation of what we’ve seen in Daredevil and Iron Fist. If I’ve had one complaint about all the Marvel Netflix shows (besides Daredevil), it’s that we’re consistently watching six episodes of story spread thin to 12 or 13 episodes. The Defenders is four episodes worth of story stretched to eight. And it’s the stretched story that makes the series a strain to watch. Here’s a quick synopsis of the major issues that made The Defenders such a chore to endure.
There are moments in The Defenders that felt insulting. And I’m not talking about liberties taken with characters or story elements. Just terrible writing that would be terrible in any show, original or adapted. There’s a moment in the final episode where Iron Fist is in the bowels of the city surrounded by the bones of an ancient dragon after learning The Hand wants to extract liquid from it to extend their lives, and in a moment of anger screams “What is your plan?”. I stopped for a moment, almost convinced I had heard the line wrong. There should have been no question at this point what their plan was. It was practically spelled out for Danny boy by every exposition dropping member of The Hand. And yet, he’s still oblivious. I was starting to wonder if channelling your Chi had an unfortunate side effect of destroying brain cells.
Most of the terrible writing is reserved for the ridiculous concept of having our heroes constantly deal with the NYPD. There are so many scenes that involve Cage, Iron Fist, Daredevil and Jessica Jones dealing with the cops. WAY too many. Not only is every single one of these scenes boring, it also grinds the plot to a screeching halt. The heroes deal with the hand, the cops show up and spend multiple scenes telling the NYPD that they can’t let them get involved because it’s too dangerous. Only to then see the Police get involved anyway and get the crap kicked out of them. Speaking of which.
Making Misty Knight absolutely useless
This constant bureaucratic headache not only sandbags the show but pretty much makes Misty Knight simultaneously useless and grating. After a few episodes I started feeling bad for the actress playing Knight. She would show up every episode or two forced to ask the same labored questions that our heroes refuse to answer. “It’s safer if you don’t know.” is uttered so many times that it eventually becomes comical. Misty Knight is supposed to be a strong, intelligent character but is relegated to the role of perpetually sidelined, frustrated question-asker. The moment she asserts herself and gets involved she gets her arm chopped off. Great job, Misty. Maybe you should have listened to your friend Luke Cage.
Misty Knight is just the best example of the supporting cast that is given so little to do that they spend 75% of the series sitting at a police precinct for their own protection. Such a boring choice for so many characters that could have been anything other than padding to stretch out a simple story to eight painful episodes.
Danny Rand: Too stupid to live
Danny Rand is the Cheddar Bob of The Defenders. The well-intentioned idiot who can never seem to do anything right. Sure, at the last rap battle he gives B-Rabbit the idea of tearing himself down before Papa Doc can verbally assault him, but for the most part Cheddar Bob was a useless member of the ensemble far more likely to shoot himself with his own gun.
It’s so strange how useless Danny Rand is in The Defenders. He has a few moments of helping out with an ass-kicking or two, but his character just seems to stumble from one plot point to the next. His choices and characterizations are so strange. One moment he’s talking about the destiny of his fellow heroes meeting to take on the hand. The next he’s fighting them all and getting captured like a dunce putting the whole city in jeopardy. It’s not just that Danny is brash and impulsive. It’s that the entire plot relies on his continued idiocy to advance. You could make a strong argument that if Luke Cage or Stick would have snapped Danny’s neck sometime around episode 4 The Hand would have been soundly defeated. If you’re better off dead to your team, you’re not exactly winning the superhero game.
The Defenders was a massive disappointment. I understand that there are those who gave it a pass because they are pleased as punch to see these characters inhabit the same space. However, in terms of story, character development and execution The Defenders is painfully, tragically flawed and a major disappointment.