Before we get into reviewing The Defenders, I’m going to ask probably the number one question that people have been asking: do you need to watch all the other series before watching this one? The answer is that no, you don’t. If you’ve watched both seasons of Daredevil, then you’re pretty much good to go on the plot. Jessica Jones and Luke Cage are unrelated to the overall plot. They’re probably the two best since Daredevil gets a little weird in season 2 but not essential for knowing what’s going on if you know who the characters are already.
Before getting into the individual episode reviews, there are a couple things worth mentioning beforehand, especially if you’re reading this part before watching anything. Because I hate when reviews give me spoilers, I’m going to do everything I can to avoid giving you them too.
First is to watch the lights. Each character’s scenes are doused in a different color light which should help make them feel more singular. As they become more and more of a team, those colors fade. It’s nothing that will make your viewing less enjoyable if you don’t look for it but it’s something fun.
The second is that The Defenders seems to lack some of the subtleties of earlier shows. Viewers are slapped in the face with “Sigourney Weaver’s character is old” references, just in case they hadn’t picked up on things like that in earlier shows. Another prime example is Luke Cage giving Danny Rand a short lecture on white privilege. He’s not wrong by any stretch of the imagination but when it’s so right there and then just done with it instead of dwelling on it, it loses some impact.
Each episode review was written immediately after watching each one. With that said, let’s get to it.
Episode 1: The H-Word
This episode had the unenviable task of being the season starter for not only a new series but really, the next seasons for four different shows. So, it had to remind us what was going on with four main characters and try to introduce a new one in the criminally underappreciated Sigourney Weaver. It handled those tasks quite well.
Instead of going through the whole rigmarole of how everyone got to where they are, it was simply “Hey, here’s what’s going on now” with a few lines thrown in to hint at how everyone got where they were. We’re given updates on every major and side character you’d expect and ends with the first real plot advancement.
Episode 2: Mean Right Hook
This basically picks up where the last episode left off with minor plot advancement but a fair amount of character advancement. We learn slightly more about Sigourney Weaver and after seeing everyone cowed by Madame Gao previously, it gives you an idea of just how powerful Weaver’s character is as you watch Gao crumble before her.
Also, what is it about when heroes meet that they have to fight? Or why do the heroes, in general, have to fight? Is it because it’s a duel that we primary haven’t seen before? Either way, it seems like they end up fighting each other faster than they fight villains. The Avengers did it, then again in Captain America: Civil War, in Ant-Man, and even Batman and Superman got in on the action. I know I kind of whined about it just now, but it was fun to see Danny Rand get smacked around by Luke Cage. Well played, Marvel.
Episode 3: Worst Behavior
This should’ve been titled “Exposition and Inconsistencies” because that’s what this episode was. For all you people that didn’t watch Luke Cage and Iron Fist, you get their backstories in short form. Presumably, everyone watched Daredevil and Jessica Jones because their stories aren’t mentioned at all. More or less everything important you needed to know from Iron Fist in regard to the overarching plot is delivered to you in the first half an hour or so.
When I say “inconsistencies” I don’t mean technical errors. Well, there was the one guy who spun the opposite way he was kicked but that’s beside the point. I’m talking about Matt Murdock and his super senses not noticing that a non-ninja was sneaking up on him and then took his picture several times. This is the same guy that hears bottles break from across cities. Then we also have the return of Stick who ends up lopping off his own hand with no spray of blood and then somehow survives to find where Danny Rand hangs out normally which is apparently the only place that The Hand who has attacked him there before hasn’t looked.
But that ending fight scene is totally worth everything.
Episode 4: Royal Dragon
At long last, someone has figured out how to make Danny Rand more likable: make him dumber. He’s still all angsty like a teenager but when he says dumb things or doesn’t understand, he becomes a lot more endearing than the walking mope machine that he was all throughout Iron Fist.
This episode also wins for the overall number of smart-ass remarks and probably the first time I’ve laughed out loud in a great fake-out moment.
Episode 5: Take Shelter
For four shows about people whose primary abilities revolve around hitting people, there’s a lot of dialogue in them and in The Defenders. That’s a good thing for two reasons. One is that there’s the ability to have real, deep plot development. It’s hard to really have a full and complete character arc in a two-and-a-half-hour movie but a lot easier in ten-plus hours.
The second is that the big action scenes feel more special and that’s what we get at the start of this episode. We’re treated to our second real big action scene and it doesn’t disappoint. This is the most action we get in an episode so far and it’s all solid and worth the wait. The only thing that’s missing is some kind of swerve.
Episode 6: Ashes, Ashes
I was getting ready to describe this episode as boring. Lots of talking, lots of moving the plot forward, lots of just… stuff. Then the last 10 minutes happened. Remember that swerve I was looking for in episode five? Turns out I was one episode early. I got faked out by one character and then actually faked out by him again. Now all is right with the world, well my world anyway.
Episode 7: Fish in the Jailhouse
At first, I thought this episode was going to be doing nothing but ratcheting up the tension in preparation for the final battle. I kept checking my heart rate just for fun (it peaked at 77 beats per minute) because it got good. Then we got what I had expected to be part of the climactic final battle and it didn’t disappoint. I’m annoyed with myself for not being able to think of a better way to describe it so I can hurry up and get to episode eight. That in itself might be the best descriptor yet.
Episode 8: The Defenders
I have a lot of feelings about this episode and am conflicted.
On one hand, there’s an excellent final battle. It was everything that fan wanted and it had that feel of realism, the fighters literally dragging themselves back to their feet. But on the flip side, we get Daredevil doing his best Luke Skywalker impression while fighting. That kind of killed the mood a little bit for me. However, Jessica Jones finally hitting people at full strength was a nice touch. Although it begs the question why she wasn’t before.
The end was unexpected I do have to say. It’s hard to talk about without doing any spoilers but all the next seasons should be interesting and we’re clearly about to boot up a fifth show. Well, sixth I guess if you include The Punisher. I appreciate that they didn’t do some cheesy “We’re the Defenders” line at the end as well. That would’ve destroyed the mood.
One thing that The Defenders did almost perfectly is that it rationed the amount of action that it handed out. There were a few minor scuffles along the way to remind of what could happen and when the big fights did happen, they felt special. The fight choreography seems more modeled after the combat we saw in Daredevil which was good because Iron Fist was lackluster in that respect. That being said, it did seem like the stars were more up on their combat choreography as scenes without stunt doubles moved at a much quicker pace than previous shows.
Jessica Jones was really the star of the show. She said and acted like a normal person would which helped ground the whole thing. What she said was what we were all thinking and really had the only character development. Her sharp tongue helped overshadow that Danny Rand is a whiny little kid. Seriously, he was by far the worst character and it’s not Finn Jones fault. The character is written that way and there’s only so much he can do.
Know what probably my biggest critique of The Defenders was? Eight episodes. Seriously? Was the story told completely and with minimal filler? Sure, it was but there were some parts that felt slightly rushed. I could’ve gone for at least one more episode of everyone being mean to Danny Rand.
Overall, I give The Defenders a nine out of 10. It had a couple flaws but I’m going to level with you: I had plans to watch this over the entire weekend. A couple episodes on Saturday, some on Sunday and any I didn’t get to on Monday. I watched the entire show in one sitting. I’ve never watched more than four episodes of any show at once. I don’t think I could give it any less than that out of good conscience.