From Day One, when Netflix and Marvel first heralded a set of series based on some of the comic-book company’s fringe superheroes, we knew this was coming. And just as the early MCU movies teased the Avengers over four years, so its smaller-scale small-screen cousin has been gradually, inexorably building up to a crossover that sees Daredevil (Charlie Cox), Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Luke Cage (Mike Colter) and Iron Fist (Finn Jones) sharing the frame as the Avengers’ scrappier, grittier, street-level equivalent.
There is enough joy in watching the sparks fly to make you feel it might just have been worth the wait.
But while Daredevil first streamed only two years ago, it feels as if it’s been a much longer journey than the Avengers’. It’s taken 65 episodes to get here via four shows, whose moments of genius (those long-take Daredevil fight scenes; Luke Cage’s musical numbers and slap-fu; all of Jessica Jones) have been tempered by chunks of frustration (the irritatingly perky Foggy & Karen show; the non-event that was Diamondback; much of Iron Fist). We could but hope The Defenders would put right all the solo-shows’ wrongs — not least the stretching of thin plots over 13-episode structures — while playing to each hero’s super-strengths.
The good news is The Defenders comes in at a leaner, punchier eight episodes. And showrunners Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez (fresh from Daredevil’s second season) do have some crowd-pleasing fun with the lead characters’ interactions. When Luke and Iron Fist (who in the comics are partners and best buds) first meet, they have a full-on punch-up — and we get to see what happens when chi-infused knuckles hit a bulletproof jaw. There’s a savvy sense of self-awareness, too — borderline meta, arguably. At one point Iron Fist admits, “I tried being a one-man army and I failed”; many critics of his solo show would agree. Meanwhile, the team’s somewhat uneven skill balance is swiftly skewered by Jessica: “Am I the only person around here who doesn’t know karate?” she snarks.
However, even with fewer episodes, you can still feel that Marvel/Netflix narrative drag. It’s not until the end of episode three that the crime-fighting quartet is finally formed (with predictable reluctance) and we start to feel we’re watching a show with its own style and identity rather than intercut clips from the solo outings.
And, we’re sorry to report, the big threat that unites the group proves a mild disappointment. Alexandra feels like yet another businessperson baddie whose dirty deeds are hidden by sharp suits, while the ongoing, vague chicanery of The Hand (like HYDRA, but ninjas) fails to ignite much excitement. Indeed, the peerless Sigourney Weaver herself seems desperately bored by it all.
Even so, there is enough joy in watching the sparks fly as these four alpha characters finally collide to make you feel The Defenders might just have been worth the wait. It's a long-anticipated crossover series that delivers some engaging character clashes, but which fails — in the first half at least — to up the ante story-wise.