TV shows

‘Defenders’ review: Too many elements at work to deliver justice

The Netflix-Marvel production unites Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist and Luke Cage against a common enemy.

What happens when a band of superheroes, all of them victims of various crimes or neuroses, gather together in an effort to protect their home city? Can they put their differences as both humans and vigilantes aside and focus on eliminating a dangerous threat, or will personal differences get in the way? This is roughly the premise of many superhero movies, including various mutations of the X Men franchise and Captain America: Civil War, and it becomes the backbone of the rather ambitious Marvel-Netflix venture, The Defenders.

The Marvel-Netflix universe has been building to Defenders for years now, from the release of the first season of Daredevil in 2015. Since then, there have been two seasons of Daredevil, two critically acclaimed series (Jessica Jones and Luke Cage) and one lukewarm Iron Fist. All of these shows are about heroes, usually supremely troubled and traumatised ones, who work in different neighbourhoods of New York City. Defenders unites the four, by presenting them with a threat too large for a single hero to contain.

The show has a run of eight episodes – shorter than the Netflix staple of 13 – and takes off immediately after Iron Fist ended. Danny Rand (Finn Jones) and his associate Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick, familiar to viewers of Game of Thrones) are returning from seeing the devastation at the gates of K’un Lun, the mystical city in which Rand became the Iron Fist. They run into members of the Hand, the notorious splinter organisation that has the power to resurrect its members. The Hand is planning something huge in New York, and Danny and Colleen return determined to end them once and for all.

The Hand formed the main villains of Iron Fist and were also a core element of Daredevil’s season 2 arc, so the association with Jones and Cage is the one that takes a while to set up. Jones, still reeling from the long-term effects of her showdown with Kilgrave, is approached by a woman who claims that her husband, an architect, has gone missing. An investigation reveals to the sharp-tongued detective that there’s something majorly sinister afoot.

Further uptown in Harlem, a newly released Cage learns of a recent trend: young men from the streets suddenly coming into flushes of cash, working for a mysterious organisation briefly before disappearing altogether. A hero in his largely poor community, Cage determines to find out what’s happening, and thus the paths of the four heroes cross, though not without some misunderstanding and punches thrown at each other.

Play
Defenders.

One of the main strengths of a superhero show or movie, or comic, really, is its villain. The Marvel shows have thus far been graced with compelling, complicated, terrifying ones, often played by noted actors, including Vincent D’Onofrio’s coldblooded Wilson Fisk and Mahershalah Ali’s smooth-tongued Cornell Stokes. In this iteration, that villain is Alexandra, played by an elegant and restrained Sigourney Weaver. Alexandra plays a key role in explaining what exactly ones of the last scenes of Daredevil season 2 showed us: a dead Elektra being placed in a mysterious sarcophagus, possibly in the hopes of her being revived.

Well, Defenders proves that what makes up hope for the Hand spells bad news for most other people, most tragically, in this case, Matt Murdoch.

There are so many ingredients at work in this show that any satisfying melding of flavour was going to require an amazing script, or the sort of sustained, longer look at the universe that a comic book can afford. Marvel has pulled this off multiple times in print, whether with the Civil War arc or Secret Wars, but to expect the same feat in the series might have been asking for too much. The problems lie in uneven pacing (it takes far too long for the four characters to come together) and what seems an undue emphasis on the wrong character.

Danny Rand is not exactly everyone’s favourite superhero from this particular sub-universe, and using him both as an entry point to the action and as a key element in the Hand’s plot makes the whole Defenders set-up a bit shaky. Danny still comes across as a petulant, entitled whiner, and while this allows the other characters, such as the constantly harassed and warred-upon Luke Cage, to emerge as even more heroic and balanced, it does so at the cost of a core character who we, as viewers, are no doubt expected to sympathise with, if not root for.

Defenders. Image credit: Netflix.
Defenders. Image credit: Netflix.

Though the narrative does loop in all four heroes, there’s no escaping the fact that some are more obviously invested than others. Defenders is primarily Rand and Murdoch’s story, since they have the greatest emotional stakes in the Hand’s existence and plans. Jones and Cage are almost sidelined by the narrative, only stepping in to deliver some punching, quipping or schooling others in their privilege (which Cage does in a brilliant scene with Rand). The reasons they are involved are outlined at the start, but as the narrative progresses, they seem less and less integral to the plot, though as always, their presences are welcome and the actors take care to keep them entertaining.

This is, at heart, the problem with Defenders: there are way too many elements at work to provide a cohesive narrative that does justice to everyone. Claire Temple, the nurse who ties together the various shows, re-enters, still working her healing magic and serving as the primary love interest for Cage. Simone Missick reprises her role as the tough cop, Misty Knight, and provides a breath of fresh air in scenes otherwise overladen with grim superhero posturing. The friends and family of Jones and Murdoch also reemerge, playing key roles in getting Cage out of the prison he was placed in at the end of Luke Cage, and keeping Jones on track.

It’s a lot to keep in mind, and the result is an uneven storyline that jostles some characters out of the way even as it works to keep others perhaps unduly in the spotlight.

Defenders. Image credit: Netflix.
Defenders. Image credit: Netflix.
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Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

1. Billions

There is no better setting for high stakes white collar crime than the Big Apple. And featuring a suited-up Paul Giamatti going head-to-head with the rich and ruthless Damien Lewis in New York, what’s not to like? Only two seasons young, this ShowTime original series promises a wolf-of-wall-street style showcase of power, corruption and untold riches. Billions is a great high-octane drama option if you want to keep the momentum going post GoT.

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2. Westworld

What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

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3. Big Little Lies

It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

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4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

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5. American Horror Story

As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

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6. Empire

At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

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7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

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8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

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9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

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10. Rome

If you’re still craving an epic drama with extensive settings and a grandiose plot and sub-plots, Rome, co-produced by HBO and BBC, is where your search stops. Rome is a historical drama that takes you through an overwhelming journey of Ancient Rome’s transition from a republic to an empire. And when it comes to tastes, this series provides the similar full-bodied flavour that you’ve grown to love about Game of Thrones. There’s a lot to take away for those who grew up quoting Julius Caesar, and for those looking for a realistic depiction of the legendary gladiators. If you’re a history buff, give this Emmy-winning show a try.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.