What a difference better show-runners, attention to tone and writing makes. While the last Netflix series to delve into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) — Iron Fist — was largely considered a misstep, Marvel's The Defenders steps up the game considerably.
Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez lend a unique touch to this eight-episode miniseries — four of which were screened for critics — and deftly make this mash-up of the previous Netflix MCU shows (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and the aforementioned Iron Fist) work seamlessly. There's a lot of heavy lifting (and punching) involved here: The Defenders has to re-introduce the Marvel characters, re-establish character motivations and ensure that all four characters get the proper amount of screen time.
Having Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock/Daredevil, Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones, Mike Colter as Luke Cage and Finn Jones as Danny Rand aka Iron Fist all reprise their respective roles is one of the cool and interconnected things about this whole affair, as is the fact that the characters manage to share a cool chemistry while staying true to their characters. Jones' stilted take on Rand is still the weak link, however. This roster of the Defenders bears nothing to the original comic book lineup — itself a deep cut of Marvel lore that begs for reinterpretation — but, for the most part, the show nails it; the tone veers lighter without corniness, the dialogue is crisper and the fight choreography is a clear upgrade compared to the Iron Fist series.
The fearsome foursome is forced to team up to battle ancient ninja crew The Hand, a returning (and conflicted) assassin in Elektra (Elodie Yung) and related conspiring threats to New York City. Bringing Sigourney Weaver in as the mysterious Alexandra was a brilliant bit of casting, and she lends an enigmatic flair to the proceedings without chewing up scenery.
A huge chunk of the supporting casts from the respective shows reprise their roles in a nice bit of continuity, too: Rosario Dawson (Claire Temple), Simone Missick (Misty Knight), Jessica Henwick (Colleen Wing) and Elden Henson (Foggy Nelson); it's enough to make one wonder how they managed to pay them all.
Overall, it's a Marvel team-up that promises to live up to expectations. The first four episodes take their time letting the four protagonists get to know one another, allowing their distinct personalities to bounce off each other in enjoyable fashion and in a manner that reflects their relationships from the comics. With The Defenders, the Netflix corner of the MCU feels like it's back on track — it's bit of synergistic fun with a self-aware, workmanlike tone that gets the job done.