TV review: It’s team-up time for Marvel’s ‘The Defenders’

We’ve watched Matt Murdock try to balance working his regular day job as an attorney with moonlighting as the vigilante Daredevil. We’ve seen Jessica Jones show off her detective skills and outsmart the mind-controlling villain Kilgrave. We’ve cheered for Luke Cage as he used his courage and bullet-proof skin to become a protector of his city. And we’ve watched Danny Rand fulfill his destiny as the immortal Iron Fist.

Now, it’s time for all those characters to team up in the Marvel/Netflix series “The Defenders,” which unites these four very different superheroes for a common cause. The eight-episode miniseries premiered Aug. 18 on Netflix. Although I was at Gen Con in Indianapolis this past weekend and didn’t get to watch it right when it came out, I’m about halfway through the series and enjoying it so far.

“The Defenders” starts out a little slow — perhaps slower than an event series with only eight episodes should. The first couple episodes focus on the Defenders’ individual storylines and begin introducing us to the series’ main villain, the mysterious Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver). Although it was good to get caught up on what all the heroes were doing, I think the series took a little too long to team them up, especially since, as mentioned earlier, there are only eight episodes. Still, it’s a genuine thrill when the Defenders’ paths finally converge for a big fight scene that shows off their individual powers, and they have great chemistry as a group.

While it’s tough to delve into the plot without veering into spoiler territory, the story kicks off with the Defenders chasing different threads that lead them all back to the Hand, a shadowy criminal organization that dabbles in the supernatural. Daredevil’s former associate Elektra has been resurrected as a living weapon known as the Black Sky and now plays a key role in the Hand’s ultimate plot.

“The Defenders” may not have the same budget for epic special effects as “The Avengers,” but I think the show uses its smaller scale to its advantage. This isn’t a battle for the survival of the universe, and that’s actually refreshing. These Netflix shows excel at telling taut, gritty stories within the confines of New York City. The well-choreographed fight scenes provide plenty of action, and the mystery surrounding the Hand and Alexandra kept me intrigued.

Alexandra almost remains too much of a cipher early on in the series, and isn’t as immediately compelling a character as Kingpin, Kilgrave, and Cottonmouth. That air of mystery could pay off in the end, though. I also wasn’t a huge fan of Elektra in “Daredevil” Season 2 (I thought the relationship drama weighed down the show), but I like how she’s used in “The Defenders.” I also love that Rosario Dawson, as nurse Claire Temple, has become the Nick Fury of this series, her story interweaving with all the Defenders.

At the halfway point, I feel that as fun as “The Defenders” is, it’s not necessarily greater than the sum of its parts. Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage’s individual seasons are stronger than the team-up, at least based on the episodes I’ve seen. Perhaps because these shows have such distinctive styles/themes, it’s tough to blend them all together (even though I did really like the use of color in the cinematography to signify character POV). Yet maybe the show will continue to build as I keep watching — and I’m definitely going to keep watching.

It’s also worth noting that Iron Fist is used better here than in his individual show. Although I had intended to watch all of “Iron Fist,” I got sidetracked after the first few episodes and as more time passes I haven’t felt too motivated to go back. That series is the weak link in the Marvel/Netflix partnership, so I was glad to see the character used better here and (hopefully!) better in his second individual season.

So, what are your thoughts? Did you enjoy the team-up series? Who’s your favorite Defender?

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