The Defenders miniseries premiered on the 18th, just two days ago, and already a lot of fans have strong opinions and questions about the future of the Marvel Netflix universe. It picks up directly from where we left each respective Defender; Danny Rand is hunting down members of The Hand with Colleen Wing, Luke Cage is just finishing his time in prison, Jessica Jones is still dealing with the aftermath of her victory against Kilgrave and Matt Murdock continues to lead his ordinary life as a pro-bono lawyer having retired his days as The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen. The cinematography alone deserves an award – with its experimental camera angles and continuous exploration of colours relating to each hero intermingling in the credits as they learn and grow from each other. Daredevil’s red silhouette stands beside Jessica’s bold blue – previously briefly flashing Kilgrave purple before snapping back. Danny’s green outline stands in Luke’s larger gold tones dissolving as more crosses are made between them and ending with their four profiles blazing before the title. There’s a slow but satisfying build to the eight-episode arc, pulling in characters organically and playing off the chemistry of the actors more so than the plot – which has been heavily criticised – so I’d like to discuss the interactions between certain paired characters.
Daredevil & Jessica Jones
Matt and Jessica have been described as having a cat and mouse dynamic. In true Jessica fashion, she calls him an asshole when he wraps her scarf around his face to protect his identity and rolls her eyes when he shows up in full Daredevil costume. They develop somewhat of an amicable (as amicable as Jessica can be anyway) camaraderie. Matt starts off the alliance with the others keeping most of what he knows to himself, much to the annoyance of Stick, but unfurls more and more of his trust to the others as the situation escalates in danger. She chastises him for keeping so much from them and gets defensive over her past but Jessica’s actually the one who tells him she thinks they’d work better together if they trusted each other, which is especially difficult for her to open up to three strangers after living for so long with such a closed off persona. As eager as she is to finish their mission and get back to her life, she’s burdened perhaps the heaviest by Matt’s supposed death. Their relationship is one of the strongest to seep through the series, but Jessica and Luke’s withstanding familiarity also makes for some very tender scenes and reinforces the true nature of each character – Jessica as a tormented P.I. initially looking for answers for her client and Luke as a symbol of power and protection to the people of Harlem. Matt’s relationship with Elektra drives him in this fight and is ultimately his goal in their mission against The Hand, closing the book on their tumultuous love story (or maybe not…?) as they embrace while the rubble of the blown up building encases them. We see how Matt feels dissatisfied not being Daredevil and watching Karen and Foggy quarrel over him returning to being a vigilante is so frustrating – even after Matt’s told Karen that the mask is a part of his life and not something he wants or even can give up. Even so, when they’re clutching each other waiting for him to walk through the door after the other three Defenders return to their loved ones, only to realise he’s not coming, was truly heartbreaking – making the end scene of the whole series not only dull and predictable but unnecessarily drawn out. We knew he wasn’t really going to be dead, the question was how was Matt Murdock going to survive – was he going to use the same substance that brought Elektra back, was he going to just become solely The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen and let Matt die in the building? Naw, he’s saved by nuns. The woman at his bedside calls for Maggie, the name of his mother, but it just makes me question whether the death really needed to be so extravagantly set-up for a whole new kind of twist for season three of Daredevil. If they had brought him back they needed a bigger punch to land the blow, the iconography of Daredevil bandaged in the nunnery wasn’t enough to land the series even for the most devout of fans who picked up the famous Daredevil imagery and the name of his mother. It was just too underwhelming to surprise, excite or even move viewers.
Power Man & Iron Fist
This duo was the most peculiar to watch. Luke’s wise beyond his years, he’s soulful and experienced and Danny’s almost the complete opposite. The show plays on Danny’s petulance and what annoyed me about him in Iron Fist, I looked at through much more rose-tinted glasses in The Defenders. Perhaps due to the characters around him all being that much more wise and ruthless not shying away from calling him a, as Stick puts it, “thunderous dumbass”. The show embraces Danny as a man trapped in a perpetual state of boyhood unaware of his privilege, his tone, his inability to read a room. Luke – as well as the other characters – put him in his place. Danny being the Immortal Iron Fist makes Jessica scoff, Luke do a double-take and the realism in their reactions ground the group and stitch them together from a senseless fan service band of heroes to an extremely differentiated but established set of characters. The budding friendship between Luke and Danny is off-kilter, almost buddy cop-esque, but it’s missing something that’s hard to place. The showrunner said that there are so many characters and such little time of course not everyone was going to interact or have any screen time together, which divided the Defenders into two main pairings and while this one has more potential the Jessica and Matt pair came across as the more fulfilled one. I can’t see Danny and Luke being Heroes For Hire just yet, they’d need more time to flourish together but the scenes that really spark with that primetime flair are already there: Luke telling Danny about his white privilege, Danny being oblivious to Luke not wanting to hear about how he plunged his fist into the dragon’s molten heart, they’re just not fully realized yet. I would like to see more interactions with Matt and Danny and have them explore Jessica and Luke further but with Danny donning the tracksuit and overlooking the city as Matt asked him to gives me hope. It also allows for more crossovers to happen in the future of all four respective series’, Danny’s storyline is essentially finished. In his second season he’ll need a whole new purpose while Luke’s was just further cemented as Hogarth stretches her legal prowess to protect him from being put away again leaving him clear to continue to defend Harlem.
Colleen Wing & Misty Knight
Despite the many recurring side characters, Colleen and Misty probably have the largest and most interesting roles. Claire, of course, is also an integral part of the story as the lynchpin to all four heroes but while her storyline is stale and tethered solely to her relationship with Luke (barring one conversation with Colleen about Claire being a hero in her own right) Colleen and Misty blossom on their own. Colleen is overshadowed by the superpowered Defenders and struggles to prove that she can more than take care of herself, facing off against her resurrected ex-teacher Bakuto in the final fight. Meanwhile, Misty remains in a rock and a hard place with her law enforcement job and knowing that breaking the law may be the only way to stop The Hand winding up with a cut-off arm at the end. The two have some scene-stealer worthy moments together, and I can’t help but feel giddy about all the Daughters of the Dragon talk there’s been – especially with how Misty’s injury landed her in one of Danny’s state of the art hospitals. She’s also joined Iron Fist’s second season, which is a pretty good indication that the writers will bring her closer to Colleen and introduce her bionic arm only furthering the exciting and fruitful Marvel Netflix future.
The Black Sky & Alexandra
Elektra is one of my favourite characters and she is brought back on-screen by the substance The Hand uses to ward off death and becomes the infamous Black Sky. Yet, with so much talk about her importance and power, it’s never really explained what the Black Sky is and her powers are never even fully defined. A young boy in Daredevil’s second season was also shown to be a Black Sky but, yet again, all we learned before Stick killed him was that Black Skys are rare and powerful and The Hand seems to worship them. Although there are no comic book counterparts, there are similarities between the Black Sky and the Beast which is a demon The Hand worships in the comics and it teaches them about resurrection. As excited for Elektra’s resurrection story as I was, it needed clarity that I, as a viewer, definitely didn’t receive.
Alexandra, one of the fingers of The Hand and the current reigning leader, uses the last of the substance to bring Elektra back. Since she does not remember anything, Alexandra only trains her until she’s the weapon they need. Their relationship has undertones of a mother-daughter kinship. Alexandra continuously calls her “my child” and defends her necessity to the other fingers of The Hand but once she starts noticing inklings of Elektra’s old personality she threatens her. Sigourney Weaver tries to portray more than just the cliche ice cold villain with interspersed reminiscent scenes of her old world passions – the old records she listens to, the ancient meals she has prepared for her, the regal golden and silver wardrobe she owns – but it mostly reads as a set-up for the shock horror moment of her sudden death at the hands of her psuedo-daughter fully regaining consciousness. Not to say I expected her to stab Alexandra and chop her head off, but I can’t help but feel if that wasn’t planned Alexandra would have had a larger presence to her. Perhaps the subtleties of her character were lost on me but I didn’t necessarily see the praise for how “intriguing” or “compelling” she was. To me, Alexandra was just another suit-clad vague business baddie with a penchant for old timey things and a chilly exterior. If she hadn’t been portrayed by Sigourney Weaver, would she have received the same applause?
Once Elektra takes control of The Hand her motives become cloudy. Her killing of Stick, and then of Alexandra, have been explained by the showrunners as her rejection of her parental figures and owning herself instead of allowing her masters to tell her who she is. When she does that, she’s free of the literal and metaphorical bonds they had over her but her character then becomes questionable as The Villain Because She’s A Villain trope takes over, similar to how Colleen is a Strong Independent Woman because she’s a Strong Independent Woman. There’s no real build or crescendo leading up to it and while it’s a great plot twist, it’s just a tad confusing why she’d want to go from sleeping wistfully in Matt’s bed remembering sweet memories with him to wanting to kill him at the bottom of a hole under Midland Circle. Even after, what Elektra says to Danny about being free doesn’t really match with what she’d doing. If she wants to be free why is she still fighting the fight Alexandra wanted her to? Why isn’t she on a plane to Paris with Matt knocked out in the seat beside her? That would have read much more Elektra to me than staying to open the door with Iron Fist, waiting to be crushed by the collapsing building.
Regardless of the flaws of her intentions as a villain, I’d love to see her return or even helm her own show. If The Punisher, a brooding tortured grisly straight white man, got to take a stab at a solo series why not Elektra? We’ve seen The Punisher’s story time and time again – man has family, family dies, man seeks revenge – and it seems like a wasted opportunity to let Elektra, such a multifaceted character with years of complicated comic book history to boot, rot at the bottom of Midland Circle. And I’d like to see more Elodie Yung. She can act circles around Jennifer Gardner as Elektra.
That’s my two cents.
A second part of The Defenders hasn’t been confirmed yet but The Punisher is set to be released soon with Daredevil’s third season, Jessica Jones’, Luke Cage’s and Iron Fist’s season respective seasons all coming sometime in 2018.