There’s not much use fighting it anymore – Marvel’s Netflix and ABC TV output has hit a serious creative rut, and is frankly stuck in an unfamiliar realm of mediocrity.
While I meet new Marvel Cinematic Universe film developments with tremendous excitement and impossibly high expectations (just ask me about Thor: Ragnarok some time), I meet Marvel TV news these days with a combination of apathy and trepidation.
The delusional part of all this is that – even if you feel the same – Marvel’s Netflix output has only been degrading for a single calendar year! In the time since Daredevil season two – the last high point of Netflix MCU for me – Marvel released Captain America 3: Civil War, Doctor Strange, and Spider-Man: Homecoming. As a result, it feels like ages have passed between Daredevil and Defenders. Really it’s no more than a year and a half, and just time enough for Luke Cage and *shudders* Iron Fist.
There’s no doubt that comic book media is a “what have you done for me lately” industry (remember all the laughable end of comic book movie articles after Avengers 2: Age of Ultron?). Realistically, all it will take for fans to move on from a tepid Luke Cage and Defenders is one undeniably strong series.
It’s disappointing that Defenders couldn’t right the ship on its own, as all the pieces are in place. It’s particularly fun seeing Jessica Jones and Daredevil back on screen (and solving crimes together no less!), and I’d be lying if I pretended I didn’t get chills watching Luke Cage and Danny Rand fight Handjas back-to-back.
Unlike Marvel’s bewildering insistence on a subpar Inhumans series rushed to public consumption, Defenders is far from objectively bad. In most ways it’s simply fine and that’s what disappoints. Marvel Entertainment doesn’t just want to be the biggest game in town anymore; they actually are the tog dog. Marvel productions shouldn’t feel hampered by budget and time.
That’s what makes it so perplexing to watch shows like Game of Thrones or Into the Badlands absolutely eat Marvel’s lunch when it comes to creative action. With very few exceptions, the fights in Defenders play like poorly rendered comic book art you skip over to get back to the character interactions.
Defenders also suffers from Marvel’s law of diminishing villains, descending from Kingpin (holy smokes), to Purple Man (HOLY SMOKES!), to Cottonmouth/Black Mariah (Mahershala you laughing winner), to Diamondback (uh… what happened), to Faramir the rich business guy (why?), to finally the 5 boring fingers of the Hand (wtf?). There’s a reason the Hand are only as cool as the supervillain leading them, and it’s because trying to promote internally leads to nap-aids like this.
As it stands, Defenders is a welcome greatest hits reprise of the glory days of Netflix Marvel, but nothing particularly special. The slow build to bringing all these characters together feels like an anti-Avengers, in that now I’d really just rather see them go their own ways again.
Marvel Cinematic Universe Power Rankings
Every time a new Marvel movie or TV series is released I like to update my Marvel Cinematic Universe power rankings. As we hit 20+ entries, I’ve broken the power rankings into tiers that started with my Dr. Strange review.
Tier 1: The Best
2) Alias aka Jessica Jones
3) Guardians of the Galaxy
4) Captain America 3: Civil War
Tier 2: Great
5) Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier
6) Spider-Man: Homecoming
7) Daredevil (Seasons 1 & 2)
8) Iron Man
Tier 3: Good
9) Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
10) Iron Man 3
11) Avengers 2: Age of Ultron
12) Dr. Strange
13) Captain America: The First Avenger
Tier 4: Mixed Feelings
15) Luke Cage
16) Thor 2: The Dark World
Tier 5: I’ll Watch With a Comic In Hand
19) Agents of SHIELD
20) Agent Carter (Season One, pretending Season Two didn’t happen)
21) Incredible Hulk
Tier 6: Nope
22) Iron Man 2
23) Basement flooding
24) Iron Fist
5 Thoughts On Marvel’s Defenders
1- DRESS TO IMPRESS
Sigourney Weaver’s outfits all throughout Defenders are absolutely untouchable. Every change of clothes inspired the most engaged conversations my wife and I had about the entire show.
Whoever was responsible, you can collect your Marvel No-Prize in the mail!
2. IDIOT DANNY
Defenders still plays Danny Rand like the village idiot, but it’s significantly more charming naivety in the vicinity of Luke Cage, Matt Murdock, and (especially) Jessica Jones. Calling out Danny’s absurd lack of self-awareness does begin to soften the character’s nagging foolishness, and although he still comes across like a spoiled child with a dope hand, moments like his heart-to-heart with Luke show how Iron Fist can come into his own.
The most egregious Iron Fist related sin for me remains the dependence on audiences valuing K’un L’un without ever showing it. The entirety of Defenders rests on the perceived holy ground of K’un L’un, a place we have still only heard about in passing. It’d be like a Lord of The Rings movie that only mentioned Mordor or the Shire. An absolutely infuriating decision that I’ll never understand.
3. PUNISHING TIMES
The conclusion of Defenders presents a tease for Marvel’s upcoming Punisher, spinning off from Jon Berenthal’s stellar performance in Daredevil season two.
There’s a lot riding on Marvel’s next Netflix entry really reclaiming their throne, and given the current state of gun violence in America, I really have to question the “heroism” of Frank Castle translating to 2017. This is a much bigger question than I’m giving space to here, and although I’ve never been a real big Punisher fan, I’d argue his presence in Daredevil season two is the highlight of the story.
Nonetheless, whether it’s Las Vegas or the next all-too-predictable act of terrorism, I don’t know how Marvel can roll out a Punisher show today without tackling these subject matters. Daredevil skirted the gun control issues (after flirting with it very briefly) by emphasizing Frank’s family and saving his bloodiest battle for an ammo-less prison brawl. The Punisher will not escape so easily.
4. REAL EMOTIONAL TRASH
At the end of the day, the core emotional throughline of Defenders depends on your investment in Daredevil and Elektra’s “true love.” While I was more forgiving of Elektra’s portrayal in Daredevil, this feels like an awfully large stretch to hang a show on. For starters, Elektra is objectively terrible for Matt, convincing him to do all sorts of illegal things Daredevil would never do on his own.
More importantly, Daredevil as a show has done far more work to set up Matt Murdock and Karen Page. As a result, it’s particularly difficult to feel for a Romeo & Juliet ending between two characters we’re absolutely hoping split up.
5. 2017’s THERE IS NO MANDARIN AWARD
It was real touch and go there for most of the year, but it looks like Defenders rose to the challenge of giving us another better villain most deliberately wasted in service of the plot. While I’d be shocked if she’s actually dead, Elektra appears to have been crushed beneath a pile of rubble at the end of Defenders cementing (no pun intended) a brashly pointless heel turn as the new leader of the Hand.
Elektra waking up from her Black Sky nap and taking out the impeccably dressed Sigourney Weaver was a highlight of the series, but unfortunately Elektra’s motivations and role became muddled beyond comprehension from there. Ms. Natchios joins the following esteemed company for the MCU “There is No Mandarin” award below, and we congratulate her on the honor (which, let’s remember, could be usurped by Thor: Ragnarok later this year!).