It’s all led up to this – a group of disparate warriors cross paths with one another while embarking on their individual journeys, and must band together to defeat an evil menace bent on conquering the world. That description sure sounds a lot like the superhero mega-crossover “The Avengers”, but there’s actually another team of somewhat more jaded superheroes within the Marvel Cinematic Universe who will soon be joining forces for the first time. The group we speak of is, of course, none other than the MCU’s street level crime fighters, The Defenders!
Each of the team’s constituent members – Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist – have already made their individual debuts on their own eponymous Netflix series’, and fans will finally have the chance to see them band together for the first time when the eight-episode mini-series “The Defenders” arrives on Netflix (this Friday) on August 18th. However, as luck would have it, we were granted the privilege of seeing the first four episodes of the series and that can mean only one thing – strap in and hold tight, readers, this is KFK’s first impressions of “The Defenders” season one!
The series wastes no time in bringing us right into the middle of our heroes’ individual status quo. While Jessica Jones and Luke Cage are each trying to rebuild their lives after the fallout from their past adventures, Danny Rand is bound and determined to destroy the mysterious ninja clan known as “The Hand” once and for all following their assault on K’un-Lun, the other worldly city he’s sworn to defend as the Immortal Iron Fist.
Matt Murdock had previously waged his own war on The Hand as Hell’s Kitchen’s resident vigilante, Daredevil, but he’s since begun directing his desire to do good towards his career as pro-bono lawyer. However, all of them soon find themselves faced with their greatest challenge yet with The Hand’s return to New York City, under the leadership of the shadowy Alexandra, who also commands a formidable right-hand woman in the form of Matt’s newly resurrected ex, Elektra Natchios.
As far as continuity with the past Marvel-Netflix shows, “The Defenders” flows the most directly out of the respective second and first seasons of “Daredevil” and “Iron Fist”. Finn Jones has even commented that his character’s own show and “The Defenders” collectively comprise the character’s first full season, and it’s clear from the outset that Danny’s is the most central role to the events playing out in the series.
The show kicks off with him and his close friend Colleen Wing hunting down members of The Hand, and like all great comic book adventures, “The Defenders” is careful to pace the amount of exposition its revealing. By the end of episode four, we’ve effectively learned everything and nothing about just what The Hand is cooking up for New York, and how exactly Iron Fist fits into what Alexandra has planned. We can tell almost immediately that she has a particularly strong interest in Danny, but exactly WHAT that entails remains a mystery by the season’s mid-point – thus ensuring that no viewer will be able to turn away from the show’s latter half!
Indeed, Alexandra herself remains an enigma even halfway into the series. Sigourney Weaver steps into the villain’s throne for the crossover, and is at once both completely innocuous and unnervingly sinister, enough to put the usually perfectly poised Madame Gao, played by the returning Wai Ching-ho, on pins and needles street. While the crown of the MCU’s greatest villain still rests atop the head of Vincent D’Onofrio’s portrayal of The Kingpin (and, admittedly, I don’t see him giving up that title for years to come – case in point!), the mystery surrounding Alexandra, from exactly who she is and want she wants, is one of the strongest incentives the series has in enticing fans to set aside an entire day to binge through the series as quickly as possible.
I say “one of” because the moment in which our four heroes unite, in the obligatory hallway brawl (that’s a staple of Marvel’s Netflix shows) is certain to leave viewers eager to see where “The Defenders” goes from there. Under the action direction of XMA champ Matt Mullins, the fight sequences of the series start out fairly small scale with Danny and Colleen’s pursuit of The Hand, but it’s in Danny’s first encounter with Luke that the show really starts to bloom into the “street-level Avengers” Marvel and Netflix have positioned it as. Comic book lovers know the unbreakable bond these two characters share, but as if in a baptism of fire, they begin their relationship in the MCU in a back-alley scrap, with Luke’s superhuman durability enabling him to stonewall everything Danny throws at him – though that swiftly changes when Danny summons the Iron Fist. Viewers get a glimpse at the kind of power Danny can unleash in the trailers, but you don’t gain a full appreciation of just how well every use of the Iron Fist has been executed until you see it in its full context, and the punishing right cross Danny delivers to Luke’s jaw is no exception!
However, the aforementioned hallway battle is easily the most show-stopping moment of the series’ first half, all the more so because of how it brings our heroes together for the first time. Beginning with Danny single-handedly battling minions of The Hand, the fight keeps getting grander and more spectacular as each individual Defender, for their own separate reasons, arrives to party, and it’s hard not to feel yourself reliving the same feeling of giddy, child-like excitement that accompanied the 180-degree sweeping shot of The Avengers finally assembled in Marvel’s first big crossover event five years ago (my, has it already been that long?) With any luck, the Justice League will pull off the same magic themselves in just a few months’ time.
In its first half, “The Defenders” blends plentiful superheroic butt-kicking with a villainous plot that keeps itself shrouded in mystery, and fans will be hard-pressed to not simply blast through the entire series in under 24 hours. Who or what Alexandra is and exactly what devious plot she’s concocted with The Hand is unveiled so incrementally that even those of us lucky enough to sample the series’ first half still have plenty of surprises awaiting by the series’ mid-point.
The hallway battle where The Defenders first join forces is another win for the Marvel-Netflix venture (and further proof that modelling fight sequences on “The Raid” will never not be a recipe for success), and fans are sure to love Luke and Danny’s banter as it slowly morphs into the bromance comic book fans know and love, especially when our heroes stop for a little Chinese in an episode-long riff on “The Avengers” shawarma scene!