The Defenders Is A Good Offense

Netflix’s The Defenders is finally out! My pre-Defenders blog became obsolete so fast! (If you’re not interested in this series, I recommend streaming the following international films on Netflix, depending on your region: Tag, The Forbidden Room, Wetlands, Filth, Look Who’s Back, Bon Cop/Bad Cop, & The Treacherous.) I was impressed by Daredevil season one, loved Jessica Jones, disappointed by Daredevil season two, & pleasantly surprised by Luke Cage. Instead of bothering with Iron Fist, I watched Crazyhead, which has the best title sequence so I regret nothing! Last chance to defend yourself from The Defenders spoilers!

I’m glad this is eight episodes as opposed to being stretched over thirteen. I watched it in two sittings, but I probably wouldn’t have minded doing it in one. The pacing is that propulsive.

The first episode feels like four separate shows before everything becomes intertwined, which worked for me. In addition to at least one exciting fight scene per episode, the character bonding is endearing. It almost matches the greatness of this scene. The Marvel Knights Defenders have good chemistry as a unit & in pairs. Thankfully we only need to wait until the climax of episode three to get the four leads together. In a world saturated with superhuman weirdness, why doesn’t everyone instantly accept Danny met a dragon? Claire was previously the Phil Coulson of Netflix, so it’s rewarding to see the rest of the supporting casts finally interact. Claire, Colleen, & Misty should be considered official team members. Sadly Trish (who doesn’t become Hellcat) & Malcolm barely contribute. Foggy & Karen fall in the middle. Luckily there’s only two superhero misunderstanding fights, & one of them is the team taking turns beating the idiocy out of bullheaded Dragon Hugger Iron Fist.

People tell me Iron Fist is better here in terms of character & fighting than in his own series. Finn Jones is adequate but falls short of the other leads. His lack of costume is the most inexcusable. I kept picturing him wearing a yellow bandanna mask that never comes. He did the year’s second best “destroy a sword with your hand” move after Ares. Daredevil dialed back being a self-righteous hypocrite since last we saw him, so Danny Rand has taken up the reigns as most annoying Defender. I do respect that he went straight to the top after Luke admonished him for roughing up The Hand’s lackeys, even if that’s as far as his plan went. Without having watched his show, The Defenders quickly caught me up on his deal. (Your mileage may vary if you weren’t previously aware of the concept of Iron Fist.)

The plot favors both Daredevil, Iron Fist, & Colleen due to their personal connections to The Hand. Luke & Jessica are the redundant muscle, which makes me wish they’d made one of these show about someone who wasn’t superstrong or skilled in karate. (The Punisher is getting a series next? Stupid Monkey’s Paw!) It feels chauvanistic that Luke is always shielding Jessica from gunfire when her strength level appears equal. Luke’s bulletproof skin is a defining trait, but shouldn’t she also be extra durable to keep her skin from shearing off when she pushes a jeep through a window? I wish they’d carried her flight over from the comics to give her a distinctive power of her own, but Marvel Studios can’t even bother to make SHIELD’s cars fly.

The Hand are not as prepared as you’d expect. They cuff Stick around a pole with his hands in front of him so he can escape easier. (Stick’s stump wrapped in a bloody rag as large as the hand he removed looks distractedly bad.) While they do have tranq-dart guns (that they don’t fire at him while he’s stationary), having Iron Fist’s escort shock him into unconsciousness would’ve been more effective than holding him at gunpoint. They use multiple shell companies & freelance crime underlings, but all admit to knowing The Hand by name when asked. Alexandra is not subtle with her Highlander-ish anecdotes either. She keeps picking A-pseudonyms & uses the same style signature on each transfer deed across centuries.

The Hand felt like racist cliches in Daredevil. The Defenders’ solution is to make Sigourney Weaver’s Alexandra leader of these ninja. (The five Fingers of The Hand are multi-racial since they were international pilgrims to to K’un-Lun that were expelled for going rogue.) They already had a white savior theme going on before with Iron Fist, Stick, & (to a lesser extent) Daredevil. I don’t think Asian villains are inherently negative, but I do want to see them get fleshed out characterization like Agents of SHIELD’s Jiaying. Trying to make The Hand more inclusive feels a bit like erasure, instead of specifically delving into its organizational culture. With quadruple the real estate of an MCU film, there’s no excuse no to. (It does work better than attempts to make HYDRA more generically evil, although The Hand’s threat is more nebulous.) The only villain with sympathetic traits was Alexandra. (I still found her less compelling than Madame Gao.) If they’d cast a Chinese-American Iron Fist to balance out a Japanese Alexandra, for instance, this probably wouldn’t be an issue. Colleen Wing is the series’ only heroic Asian.

The Hand’s Fingers are Immortals with occasional superpowers instead of Quickenings. Madame Gao is telekinetic! Alexandra & Murakami can teleport? Sowande would’ve been much better if he actually caused dissent in the Defenders, whereas Bukato needed to shut up. Why are only Alexandra’s organs failing? Why does Bukato’s actor get his name in the opening credits but not Gao’s & Murakami’s? As the best Finger since before we knew there were any, Wai Ching Ho deserves better! If Alexandra was the thumb keeping the Fingers down, Gao would be the underestimated Pinky.

There’s not as much ninja action as I was expecting. Sure, The Hand has plenty of multi- ethnic stunt performers, but few bother to wear the ahistorical Hand ninja uniform. That’s the best part of being a ninja! I can get generic hoodlums anywhere. The Hand exemplify conservation of ninjitsu. Every time one of The Hand attacks Jessica or Luke, it should be the Deadpool vs. Colossus scene. It isn’t though, which is a verisimilitude problem.

The Hand’s Fingers keep passing by to make passively menacing vague comments to the Defenders. For some reason, the Defenders listen patiently instead of remembering they could take them down right there with their superpowers. (It doesn’t necessarily have to be murder, just some Bane-style chiropracty.)  They don’t even bluff about post-mortem contingencies. While it’s refreshing none of the supporting casts got fridged, it’s underwhelming The Hand abandons its “kill all your loved ones” countermove after putting such little effort into it. If they lack the resources for Villainy 101, the vague threats that The Hand will destroy NYC seem even more idle. Its Fingers are too focused on mundane goals like trying to live even longer & returning to K’un-Lun. (There is  conflicting intel about whether Elektra perpetrated complete K’un_Lun carnage.)

Elektra is resurrected as a tabula rasa by The Hand. She quickly recovers her English & martial arts prowess as if those are innate rather than learned. That’s not how retrograde amnesia works! (If you get a bump on the head, your memory goes away. If you get another bump on the head, it comes back.) I still don’t get what’s the deal with her being The Black Sky (as opposed to the other Black Skies in Daredevil), but now she appears strong enough to not instantly be pulped by Luke or Jessica. I wasn’t engaged by her until she slew her awful surrogate parents, Stick & Alexandra. Then she declares herself Queen of The Hand! It’s not in line with the comics, but I support self-actualized villainess Elektra! Elektra’s third costume is an improvement despite its lack of signature  headscarf. Too bad Hasbro made a Marvel Legends of her ugliest one. Maybe there’s hope for this one when they get around to making Netflix versions of Luke & Danny?

Elektra2

You’d understand if you watch Gotham.

We finally find out what’s the deal with Daredevil season 2’s literal plot hole! At its bottom is a wall erected by somebody from K’un-Lun that can only be unlocked by an Iron Fist’s chi-punch. Elektra tricks Danny into doing so because he’s a hothead. Behind that is a dragon skeleton that’s the prime ingredient in Lazarus Pit water The Substance that resurrects The Hand. Dragon bones are nifty! I guess that was worth waiting for. The Fingers calling them “The Substance” was unnecessarily cryptic. When you’re among fellow nigh-immortals, just say dragon bones!

The epic climax is good up until it isn’t. There’s lots of punching of Hand fodder, a ticking bomb, & the world’s fastest mining elevator. It’s overshadowed by Daredevil & Elektra cry-fighting each other without any catharsis because they prematurely explode. The police are surprisingly nonchalant about the destruction of a midtown skyscraper. So after all the build-up, The Defenders doesn’t stick the landing as well as The Avengers. On the plus side, Misty will be upgrading to a new arm & Jessica got to perform an impressive feat of strength.

I still don’t understand why the cops didn’t arrest the Defenders since it was only their word that Midland Circle was HQ to a nefarious ninja cult. (I also doubt putting explosives in just one central room is a safe way to implode a building.) Since 99% of The Hand were underground at the moment, just disabling the elevator would’ve sufficed. I’m glad The Defenders don’t have to go on the lam, but it was pointless to introduce then abruptly drop the police opposing their vigilantism. Imagine if they’d gotten the NYPD’s help in taking down The Hand: The building & the dragon bones could’ve been saved!

In what may be a record for quickest reversal of an obviously temporary death, Daredevil is miraculously alive at the end. I guess he must’ve breathed in a lot of dragon bone dust. (Elektra & Madame Gao shouldn’t be dead either then.) He’s going to meet his absentee nun mum in the next season of his solo show. Chekov’s gun says that if you show Stilt-Man’s armor in season one, he’d better punt Daredevil through a high-rise in season 3!

Now that the Defenders have finally gotten together, I’m not sure if I can handle separate slow burn series for them anymore. I have a notion that they could do a twelve episode Defenders anthology series where each gets a three episode arc. Considering individual Avengers get two hour movies betwixt team-ups to tell an engaging story, the equivalent of a three hour movie for each doesn’t seem like a narrative hardship. I’m not expecting it to happen for logistical reasons, but cutting the episode count to tighten up the pacing & bolster the spectacle budgets could only help the solo series.

So The Defenders is a fun series bolstered by camaraderie, swift pacing, ample action, & the excitement of a crossover. If you look at the story, however, it’s much ado about barely anything. While trying to make The Hand less offensive, they also removed the specificity needed for them to stand out as worthy antagonists to a superhuman quartet. The climax fizzles out so it’s unclear whether The Defenders really thwarted their plan. These flaws are common to many team-ups in multiple media, however, so maybe I’m inured to being more disappointed. My opinion may shift, but at the moment I will defend hose eight hours as time well spent.

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