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Marvel’s ‘The Defenders’ falls short on story but fights to be fun

Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Danny Rand (Finn Jones), Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) and Luke Cage (Mike Colter) prepare to face the villainous organization The Hand in Marvel's "The Defenders" (Courtesy of Netflix).

Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Danny Rand (Finn Jones), Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) and Luke Cage (Mike Colter) prepare to face the villainous organization The Hand in Marvel’s “The Defenders” (Courtesy of Netflix).

Although all eight episodes of Marvel’s “The Defenders” have been out for about a month and a half, this show is still worth mentioning, especially as the Marvel Netflix continues to develop and grow. “The Defenders” serves as a quick beginners’ guide to the Marvel TV world — prior experience not necessary, but all the superheroes included. In that regard, the show pays off, but to seasoned Marvel enthusiasts, “The Defenders” falls short. Nevertheless, “The Defenders” is still so much more rewarding within the franchise. Marvel’s advantage over the DC franchise (both in film and TV form) is how cohesive tied together the narratives are — even if the films always fail to actively incorporate what actually happens in the TV series. Plenty of easter eggs litter the series — from tying up loose ends in “Daredevil” to putting in comic book references, Marvel does an excellent job of trying to appeal to long-time fans, increasing the reward as viewers stay on for each subsequent series. Even if it’s not perfect in all aspects — all-in-all, it’s still a fun show.

Fans of Marvel’s Netflix shows bank much of the fact that these shows are incredibly character-driven — that is, viewers begin to associate deeply with the individual protagonists much more than the narratives themselves. 13 hours of TV is a lot of material to play with, and for the most part, Marvel does a solid job. With “The Defenders,” audiences are expected to already have a sense of each character, even if each of them is never fully introduced, and the reward is expected to come within the small time frame of the season, which takes place over the course of a little more than a day or so.

The four heroes don’t actually meet or join forces until the end of the third episode, but this buildup felt natural — it’s the consequential agreement to form a team that feels too unbelievable to actually be true. I was never truly convinced that the loner Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), reticent sarcastic-in-residence Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), duty-driven Luke Cage (Mike Colter) and unfortunately immature Danny Rand (Finn Jones) had enough of a reason to join forces after meeting once or twice, and that’s where “The Defenders” falls flat. Because this baseline level of team is never fully established, I began to feel disconnected from the narrative itself.

“The Defenders” tries to make up for a lack of narrative context by incorporating cinematic elements of color and imbuing it into the association with each character, but it doesn’t provide enough substantive information to actually shape the viewer’s experience. Despite its slick transitions and musical insertions, I couldn’t help but feel like these were simply superficial additions placed within the show for the intention of making it a step up from other streaming platforms without any added effort to actually make a more engaging series.

Alexandra Reid (Sigourney Weaver — as Stanford’s representation in this show) was played up as a menacing villain during the marketing of this show, but her role was significantly diminished during the eight episodes themselves. Aside from her somewhat wasted character, the concept of the villains as a whole also felt very hastily put together, which may be even more confusing for viewers who have no basis for the concept of The Hand as a villainous organization. Even as a character never before introduced in any of the other Netflix series, her character’s power was incredibly strong — but her potential for causing damage and actually creating a strong antagonistic organization in the narrative itself was lost amidst attempts to include more scenes with the Defenders themselves. All the scenes that include her character are mostly dialogue-based, centered around intangible motives and plots that do nothing to drive any audience response to her character as an evil force. The only interesting parts of her character are revealed during her scenes with (the returning character) Elektra, and Alexandra acts as a sort of twisted mother figure, which creates a curious dynamic but again still fails to actually add any deeper meaning or personality traits to her character.

Yet a sole redeeming factor of “The Defenders” is simply its fight scenes. With extremely lackluster fight performances and editing for “Iron Fist,” it was wonderful to experience some highly engaging moments including a classic Marvel hallway fight scene. Elektra (Elodie Yung) herself (who, at the end of “Daredevil” season two, is implied to have been prepared for being revived through a mystical process) was a true joy to have, lending the series some much-needed emotional tension. Elektra and Matt’s journey through “Daredevil” and now through “The Defenders” is heartbreakingly beautiful as Elektra is reborn but cannot remember who Matt is, her murky morals a hallmark of her fascinating character lying deep in the depths between antihero and murderous villain. Every scene with Elektra seemed to come alive with a certain flame — a character as unpredictable as she can be risky, but Elektra’s finest moments really do pay off.

Marvel’s build-up to “The Defenders” was a multi-year process, and with the success of “Daredevil” season two, “Punisher” will be out soon as well. It’s tough to say whether a second season of “The Defenders” will actually occur — the critical and audience response was positive enough for it to be commercially viable, but Marvel’s trick for this show was for it to be a one-off event — a once-in-a-lifetime team-up never before seen in television history. I can’t say for sure whether this show lives up to the hype, but if you’re looking for some good quick fun and some heroic everyman antics, add “The Defenders” to your Netflix queue and check out some of the other Marvel shows while you’re at it.

Marvel’s “The Defenders” is currently streaming on Netflix.

Contact Olivia Popp at oliviapopp ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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