The Defenders pilot doesn’t introduce a team of superheroes, brought together by their geographic location and extraordinary abilities, but finds its band of complicated miscreants wondering why they’d want to pursue that lifestyle in the first place?
[Warning: The following will contain very light spoilers for the first episode of The Defenders.]
The Defenders picks up right where Iron Fist, Marvel and Netflix’s fourth show in its small-screen universe, ends. Iron Fist is in Cambodia, trying to find out more information about the Hand, the organization that he’s sworn to take down. His other Defenders counterparts are back in New York. Jessica Jones is still boozing, Luke Cage is fresh out of prison and being hailed as the “Hero of Harlem,” while Matt Murdock is trying to live a life of normalcy, swapping out the red Daredevil costume for dating.
Each of the heroes are dealing with one of the human issue someone with extraordinary ability must; do you sacrifice your livelihood to be the city’s great defender or do you ignore that part of your life and try to remain an anonymous, average citizen? Does great power come with great responsibility?
This is the question that The Defenders’ first episode really wants to focus on. Although the Hand is still active and crime sprees are rampant — this is New York City, after all — does the city still need the Hero of Harlem? Does it need the incredibly strong Jessica Jones?
Or will it be just fine if left to rely on the expertise of the NYPD?
It’s an internal battle that we see play out on screen over the course of the whole episode. Jones, Cage and Murdock remain the most interesting characters of the four heroes, stewing in their various vices and left angry about the state of their own personal affairs. Iron Fist is the only hero who refuses to let the Hand get away with what they’re doing. He’s plagued by the catastrophic potential the criminal organization is capable of. The Hand becomes his obsession, their demise spun into his own personal mission in life.
We never once see the four heroes unite in the first episode, and that’s what makes it so enjoyable. Marvel and Netflix aren’t trying to force the idea of this team coming together harmoniously, sporting the same uniform and living in an ostentatious Manhattan tower that calls attention to who they are — no offense, Tony Stark.
The Defenders is about individuals who have been burdened with gifts. It’s not a traditional superhero story, and that’s what makes it so captivating to watch. The Defenders is about a group of unique characters — some selfish, some not — who will inevitably do what’s right because that’s the power associated with being a good person, but it never forces the idea of heroics being a natural part of their identity.
These aren’t always honest people; they’re not altruistic. They don’t always believe that the benefit of the group outweighs the benefit of the individual, and The Defenders plays into that mentality. It’s a little easier to love these characters immediately because, unlike other heroes, they’re deeply problematic and, for lack of a better word, properly fucked up.
Just like the rest of us in some capacity.
Even though you know they’ll end up getting together to take on the worst villains the city has to offer, having a first episode to set up their own personal identities and narratives goes a long way for a show like this. It’s not until the very end when Sigourney Weaver’s Alexandra is standing on top of a rooftop with a recently revived Elektra that the superhero aspect really comes into play.
Alexandra is a dangerous woman; she holds the Hand in the palm of her, well, hand, and disposes of people like they’re annoying pests ready to be stomped on. She’s also quite fabulous. She never raises her voice and she carries with her an air of cruelty despite an otherwise pleasant demeanor. She’s quite intelligent, too, and that comes through with every sinister plan or callous decision we see play out on screen.
Weaver’s Alexandra is one of the more entertaining and intriguing antagonists we’ve gotten in a Marvel/Netflix series and, as her relationship with the revived Elektra is explored more on screen, she has the potential to be the most deadly.
Like any good show about humans with overpowering strength and skills (even glowing fists!), The Defenders will have numerous fight scenes, as seen in the most recent trailer. But it’s the lack of fighting in the first episode and the intense focus on who each of these characters really are that has us excited to see what the rest of the episode has to offer.
After Iron Fist, I was concerned about how The Defenders would play out. I’ve only seen the first episode, but based on what I’ve seen, I’m stupidly excited to binge the rest of the season.
The Defenders premieres on Aug. 18 on Netflix.