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With the four superheroes of Hell’s Kitchen each given their own Netflix series to shine, The Defenders sees these heroes come together for the first time on the small screen. Although there’s some good bursts of action, its poorly shot with large shadows obscuring most of the key scenes and tiny pockets of phosphorescence the only source of light. The Defenders is at its best when the characters clash on both sides of the fence and ultimately begin fighting, its just a shame that these moments are so few and far between. Its plot is a little convoluted too, with the bulk of the series taken up by the characters forming an alliance and arguing amongst themselves rather than fighting enemies. It all combines to make The Defenders a good but ultimately flawed show that could have been so much better.
With Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Danny Rand (Finn Jones) and Luke Cage (Mike Colter) all combining forces to tackle a shadowy group called “The Hand”, the stage is set early on for a big showdown. This group, operating in the shadows for vast periods of the show, have appeared in all four series’ working behind the scenes and pulling the strings. Alexandra Reid (Sigourney Weaver) takes the helm as the leader of The Hand and her performance is one of the best in the show. Unfortunately, it all builds to an anti-climactic ending that’s both frustrating and just a little cliched. Its a shame too because on the whole, the script does do the characters justice – especially Murdock and Jones who are by far the stand outs here. The story does necessitate that you watch all four shows in order to fully grasp every nuance the story has to offer, lending itself to some confusing scenes and character altercations that won’t be grasped by those unfamilar with the material. Although you could probably jump into this one without prior knowledge of the other series’, it certainly isn’t advisable with nods to the other shows, background knowledge of The Hand and why they’re such a threat. A lack of characterisation for some of the supporting cast who are reduced to cameo roles further accentuates this, with characters like Hogarth (Carrie-Ann Moss) given a few scenes at most.
Despite some good conflicts and interesting dynamics between the heroes, The Defenders ultimately fails to deliver a compelling narrative against the ultimate evil, The Hand. They simply feel like generic end-of-the-world evil with unclear motivations and a muddied perspective Ironically, some of the better action comes from the four heroes clashing more than once as they prepare for the ultimate showdown. It certainly makes for some well shot choreography, despite the repeated jump cuts that feel tiring by the finale, but the slick rotating one shot cameras help to accentuate some of the action.
The lighting is a constant thorn in The Defender’s side and from the opening skirmish in the blue neon-lit sewers right through to the climax in a scarcely lit underground cave, its a constant battle to see exactly what’s going on. Its ironic too because the only compelling fight against the enemy comes early on in the series; a well shot, dynamic hallway scene that sees all four heroes fighting swathes of enemies together. Aside from this, the majority of fights take place under the cover of darkness, backlit by a few lights that cast tiny pockets of light on the characters. If there’s one positive here, it comes in the form of the clever use of colour whilst the heroes are separate. Luke Cage’s scenes are bathed in yellow hues, Jessica Jones in a cold dark blue/purple, Danny Rand in baby blue and Matt Murdock in red. It helps to differentiate the characters and when they come together a more neutral palette is used – its just such a shame that so much of the show is shot poorly as the use of colour is very good.
Ultimately, The Defenders is good but flawed. The characters are portrayed well, with their traits carried over from the individual shows they feature in to tackle a common enemy that’s been a threat to all of them throughout. The use of colour is good but the lighting on the whole isn’t, with shadows obscuring crucial scenes and battles. The cliched, anti-climactic ending (don’t even get me started on the jarring hip hop number that ruins the fight) sours what’s otherwise a good ride until that point. Whilst it certainly isn’t as world changing or epic in scale as something like The Avengers, The Defenders is a good effort but it feels like a missed opportunity that ultimately fails to hit the mark for what could have been a great show.