Well we’re here at the end of Defenders. And it certainly ends. While not as bad as Iron Fist, Defenders can’t help but feel like a missed opportunity given the overall quality of cinematic superhero storytelling on film and TV.
“The Defenders” was directed by Farren Blackburn and written by Lauren Schmidt Hissrich & Marco Ramirez
1 Everything is Sex: Daredevil and Elektra
While not the prettiest fight in this series, the abundant psycho sexual dynamic in Matt and Elektra’s final encounter just made me giddy. It is the apotheosis of their relationship, two characters so defined by their embrace and repression of violent urges coming together one last time in violent physical union. Each trying to pierce the another. Fighting one another, each partner is able to speak honestly. It is the kind of moment that makes emotional sense despite making barely any plot sense. That whole encounter is a fun undergrad media studies term paper waiting to happen.
2 How Not to End a Series, with 15 Minutes Left
One of the reasons why “The Defenders” feels so dramatically lifeless is a decision it makes to “end” on the death of Daredevil and Elektra with 15 minutes left. It is a ploy that doesn’t work for a variety reasons, internal and external, to the show. Internally, this death feels unearned. Externally, viewers are smart enough to know what’s going on. In #PeakTV era, you can’t trick audiences, only surprise them with the expected happening sooner than expected. The whole epilogue plays laboriously with a false sense of importance, sure they think he’s dead but we know otherwise. And then, as expected, we see Matt coming to in a sequence straight from a comic.
3 It’s Never A Good Thing to be compared to BvS Theatrical Cut
I rather enjoy Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – Ultimate Edition. It is utterly the wrong movie and story to tell when trying to launch an interconnected story universe, but is one of the more interesting Elseworld stories to come out in recent years. A film I truly loath, however, is Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (the theatrical cut). That movie is – to put it nicely – an incompetent mess for many reasons. The output of those failures is realized in an inert, moribund, emotional journey that undermines character with hollow spectacle. Watching “The Defenders,” especially for a second time, I can’t help but think of the BvS theatrical cut.
As previously stated, I buy and dig the whole tortured doomed romance of Matthew Murdoch and Elektra Natchios. What I don’t buy is Matt being suicidal, even with his cartoonish masochisim. That story isn’t told (well) in Defenders. Yes, the first couple of episodes paint him as something of an addict for vigilante justice and there’s the scene between Matt and Foggy in “Fish in the Jailhouse” but nothing else really connects these two ideas, which are separated by hours of television. “The Defenders” plays out like the writing staff realized they needed the series to actually have someone at the center to help cohere everything at the very end. But, like BvS and that missing half hour, there wasn’t the connective tissue that allowed the product to tell a story. Leaving us with a hollow spectacle. (I don’t even care about the death fake out, this is Hollywood, they aren’t killing the lead to a successful property.)
In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, showrunner Marco Rameriez said the following in response to a question about one character having an overall emotional throughline for the show. “It’s hard for me to tell, having worked on it, and trying so hard to make sure that that didn’t happen. Honestly, I would like the ideal answer to be no. I don’t want this to feel like it’s so-and-so’s show and everybody else is visiting.”(emphasis theirs)
Well, they succeeded. The Defenders was nobodies show. Yes, as seen in the final 15-minute epilogue, it had an effect on characters. But it wasn’t really anyone’s overall. There was no center for everything to rest on, as the other cast members went on nice mini arcs. So, it all collapses in on itself like Midland Circle. And those mini arcs are largely pretty good.Continued below
Overall, The Defenders isn’t as bad as BvS (or Iron Fist). But, it would still rank at the bottom of the ‘good’ Netflix Borough seasons. It is TV that could’ve been better, if it did the things that good TV does.
4 What Was the Substance and a Black Sky?
Asking these questions feels like somewhat of a cheat. I tend to give people the side eyes when they get overly excited around macguffery. They are the key to the story but not the story. The best ones are often symbolically relevant to the core emotional theme of the story. At the same time information about magical items are part and parcel to this brand of storytelling. The Defenders gives some answers to these questions, but that wanting feeling is symptomatic of poor emotional storytelling in general.
So “The Substance™” was dragon bone marrow? At first blush, this is some fun superhero cheese. Upon further inspection, how would more of this stuff get the remaining Fingers closer to returning to K’un-Lun? Elektra’s flippancy with that whole endeavor makes much more sense.
Speaking of Elektra: What was a Black Sky? After it being spoken of in such hush tones, you think we would’ve gotten a better answer then the vague ones in Daredevil season 2 about bloodlust and killing. It isn’t like showrunners Douglas Petrie & Marco Ramirez weren’t in the room when it was first broached in Daredevil season 1 or brought up again when they ran the second season.
None of these questions would matter if “The Defenders” had given a satisfying ending.
5 Pointing Toward the Future
- Luke Cage: Of all the characters coming in and out of Defenders, he seems the least changed. Mostly because him being the soulful, empathetic, protector of Harlem was so well established in the first season of his series. He was a guest spot in a crossover event done well, a strong rendition of his core character that isn’t super effected by his time in the crossover. Hopefully with the kinks worked out, Cheo Hodari Coker can bring a truly great season of Luke Cage in its second season now with more sweet robot arm action!
- Jessica Jones: With Jessica, things are a little less clear. In many ways, she appears to be back where she started. Her ending visually echos the final shot of “AKA Smile” with key differences. Instead of a slow dolly out, we have a dolly in and that frosted glass ‘Alias Investigations’ window is in place. This being a crossover, having Jessica transform her into if not a hopeful person, a more traditionally heroic one seems a little much. It’s the kind of thing that would be told in the main series. And that story still can, trauma isn’t something you magically get over. While she isn’t going to be golden age Superman anytime soon with season 2 of Jessica Jones in production she’s setup to be a bit more helpful and maybe playfully snarky instead of defensively snarky.
- Iron Fist: Readers, maybe Danny Rand isn’t the Sure, he’s still a terrible Iron Fist and Finn Jones plays him with the emotional range of a teaspoon. But getting to see him bounce off other characters was fun. If they wanted to turn him into the rich guy of the group who guested on other series (like Luke Cage and Daughters of the Dragon) that’d be great. That isn’t happening. Raven Metzner has been tapped to run the second season. While he can’t be as bad as Scott Buck, his tenure on Sleepy Hollow raises some concern. Going forward Iron Fist needs to realize their titular character is best when he’s surrounded and helping the much more interesting people around him. If that green screen shot at the end is any indication he may be helping the people of Hell’s Kitchen out very soon.
- Daredevil: Is he being Reborn or Rebirthed? The scene in the convent visually homages images from “Born Again.” Maybe now that he’s “died” he can be a little more upbeat. This version will never be the swashbuckling acrobat, but there’s plenty of room to grow from this experience.