Some (Mostly Spoiler-Free) Thoughts About “The Defenders”

The Defenders

Column by Jason Kahler

What do you say about an experience you look forward to, enjoy, and then quickly move past? Because that’s how I feel about Marvel’s The Defenders, the latest installment of super heroics in the MCU that debuted on Netflix Friday.

When I was “in” the show, I found it to be an enjoyable experience. The four main characters interact nicely, personalities meshing in expected and unexpected ways. I was happy to see the pairing of Luke Cage and Iron Fist work well, and pleasantly surprised by the friendly antagonism between Jessica Jones and Matt Murdock.

But watching The Defenders feels a lot like going to a party that left you smiling on the way home, but by the next day, even the hangover is gone and all the empty cups are neatly thrown away. There isn’t much staying power to The Defenders, and I think I know why.

The Defenders suffers from the same ailment that plagues several of the MCU’s offerings: there’s no compelling villain. Sigourney Weaver makes the most of her screen time, and Wai Ching Ho’s Madame Gao is an awesome deranged Asian Yoda, but The Hand as an organization of evil is too amorphous and generic to generate much interest. Their motivations are clear but, frankly, uninteresting, with little personal connection to the main characters.

The MCU has offered up some great villains–Loki, The Kingpin, Mariah Dillard–but when the creators choose to portray vast evil empires or their agents, things drag. What did Ronin want in Guardians of the Galaxy? Or Kaecilius? Or the Chitauri? I’m at a loss to remember much of the particulars about those guys. They all run around searching for a MacGuffin while the good guys punch stuff, I think.

Interesting bad guys make the good guys more interesting, and flat bad guys have the reverse effect. That’s the major weakness of The Defenders.

People are its strength. While most of the interest in the series has focused on getting the stars into the same room, some of the best scenes are shared by the heroes’ supporting casts. At one point, they are all in the same room, wondering how they’ve gotten themselves in such a mess. None of them have super abilities, yet they are routinely thrust into situations that require the extraordinary of them. Heroes don’t need to be super strong or have a glowing fist to make a difference.

If The Defenders is an annual party to which I always get invited, I’ll keep going. Next time, though, I hope there’s at least a karaoke machine or something to liven up the experience. It’s fun hanging out with good friends, but let’s have something interesting to do, too.

Jason Kahler is a writer and scholar who lives in Michigan. His latest work is forthcoming in the book "How to Read and Analyze Comics" from SequArt. His poem, "After National Geographic," will soon appear in an issue of Analog…

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