Review of The Defenders (Netflix)

“It’s been a long week.” — Jessica Jones, “The Defenders”

The much(?)-anticipated “The Defenders” mini-series has finally been released, capping off the first four Marvel/Netflix series. I finished watching it a few days ago, so I have a few thoughts to share….

You probably figured I’d put out some sort of review, right? Regular readers already know how I feel about the actors and these versions of the characters from my earlier reviews, so I won’t say too much on that front. (Too many to link to here; just do a search on “Netflix” or go to the Reviews page linked above.) I assume most people who are interested in the show have already watched it, but I’m adding a Spoiler Alert, anyway.

SPOILER ALERT!! SPOILER ALERT!! SPOILER ALERT!! SPOILER ALERT!! SPOILER ALERT!!

Let’s start with… I liked the opening/closing credits music. It reminded me of a cross between those for Daredevil and Iron Fist.

I also really appreciated the getting-to-know-each-other scene at the Chinese restaurant, after our heroes survived their first team-up. It was reminiscent — probably intentionally so — of the shawarma shop scene at the end of Avengers.

Our heroes all remained very much in character. Luke Cage and Jessica Jones did their usual strong-guy/gal thing, smashing, slamming, punching, and kicking the crap out of The Hand’s lackeys. Nothin’ pretty. Luke also got to play “human shield” on occasion. (I think he actually enjoys it, despite the costs to his wardrobe.) Once he was on board, Matt Murdock / Daredevil re-confirmed that he’s the best fighter of all of them, in my opinion. However, he also takes some chances — specifically, re Elektra — that put himself and others in danger. Of course, the writers can make even foolish decisions turn out to be the “right” ones in the end.

Each of these three, at some point along the way, had their doubts about taking on The Hand, preferring to stay out of the “war” or just not ready to go “all the way”. But, they realized the threat that The Hand represented to the people of New York (and likely beyond), and they stepped up. They knew they might not survive, but they were the city’s only real chance. That’s what makes them heroes.

I would really love to see Daredevil pair up with Cage. That could be an awesome partnership. (Cage and Rand, not so much.)

Not surprisingly, I thought Danny Rand / Iron Fist was quite disappointing. Without the chi-powered fist, his fighting skills are still mediocre — clumsy-looking, even. Good thing The Hand seems to only have mediocre-level soldiers, rather than the ninja-assassins from the comics. (Elektra aside, of course.) He also continued with the part-petulant child, part-stranger-in-a-strange-land bit, while never understanding why people aren’t impressed by his “I am the immortal Iron Fist” claims, followed by tales of dragons and mystical cities. Sheesh! Either give it a rest, or at least show off the “fist” a bit earlier.

Colleen Wing’s presence mostly made up for that of her boyfriend. She’s attractive, passionate, willing to do what needs to be done, and brings some much-needed skill with bladed weapons to the good-guy side. She seems to start many fights by charging at her opponents, which doesn’t seem too smart to me, particularly when it’s a superior fighter like Bakuto. Then again, it’s not like she’s gonna surprise him/them, especially beginning from several feet away. Maybe the head-on approach is best, just to get the fight underway?

Some of the best acting in this series was in scenes with the Colleen and Claire characters, especially the one where Colleen briefly broke down in tears. Well done, Miss Henwick.

Claire’s how-did-I-get-myself-into-this reflections and lines were welcome as usual. She really is the heart of the (non-)team, and not just because she is the acquaintance that they all had in common. She also probably surprises no one more than herself that she is still in the thick of it and, well, not dead, yet. Like Colleen said, Claire’s a hero, too.

It was nice to see Malcolm, Trish, Karen, and Foggy, too, and to find out what they were up to since we last saw them. There wasn’t much for them to do in this story but hide out. But, it made sense in the plot to have them involved, since they were the closest associates of our heroes. However, it still seems odd to have them essentially camp out in the police station, when the cops never really understood what The Hand was or how dangerous they were.

Misty Knight… yowza! (Ahem, sorry.) The lovely Detective Knight returns! Yay! (“Detective Knight” sounds like a twist on a certain Distinguished Competition’s pointy-eared vigilante, doesn’t it?) She continues to be frustrated by our heroes, but she comes through in the end and supports, even aids, them. Yay, again! She pays a dear price for it, though, since she (finally) loses her arm. Triple-yay! That’s right, I’m glad she lost her arm, ‘cuz that means she will probably, eventually, get a super-strong bionic arm, just like in the comics. (I have a feeling her benefactor will be Rand, though, instead of Stark.) Then, she just needs to become a P.I. and partner with Colleen Wing, and I’ll be a happy man. (Especially if they get their own series!)

It sort of makes sense that Stick would be the one to unite — however reluctantly — our heroes. Or, at least, try to keep them together after that initial big fight. (Btw, since we already know these Netflix shows take place in the same world as the films, it would have made sense to have someone say something like, “Why not tell those Avengers guys? Let them HANDle it!” OK, maybe without the pun.) I’m a little surprised that they killed him off, but not real disappointed. For one, he was getting annoying; for two, with The Hand out of commission (thankfully, at least for now), there’s little reason for Stick to show up, and this should help our heroes — well, Matt, anyway… and Elektra — move on.

I hate to say it, but Sigourney Weaver looked… old. But, then I realized she’s 67, so she’s allowed to have a few wrinkles and such. Don’t know that I would have thought of her as a villain for this series. But, as the Alexandra character was written, she was a decent choice. We suspected they would bring Bakuto back, as well as the ever-present and deceptively powerful Madame Gao. The other two new Hand leaders — Murakami and Sowande — seemed formidable at first. But, the latter was too easily defeated, and the former was ultimately not that impressive.

I have mixed feelings about the whole Elektra thing. I mean, we already knew she was being resurrected by The Hand, so she’d probably be involved in another series storyline. And, it makes sense the way it was done and why. I think. Her betrayal of Alexandra was a surprise, which made for a nice plot twist. However, I don’t understand why she suddenly became so cold, amoral, etc. I guess it had something to do with her soul being affected (seared? tainted? infected?) by her brief time on “the other side”. I don’t remember hearing a good explanation for her behavior, but maybe I just missed it or didn’t put the pieces together.

If Elektra survived and if she eventually returns (though hopefully not for awhile), I hope she becomes more the assassin-for-hire that comic readers are familiar with. One with a damaged, yet still present, moral compass and ethical code.

The overall plot wasn’t bad, though it seemed to take a little while to get moving. Definitely room for improvement here and there, which might have been do-able if they had another episode or two to work with. Or, maybe fewer episodes would have forced them to tighten it up and get to the good stuff sooner. For the most part, though, the four heroes’ individual stories came together fairly well. It all flowed OK (though the earlier episodes were a bit rocky), and there was some good character development. (Even Rand.) Most of the interaction between our heroes was good, too, and I appreciated the occasional doses of humor.

Open questions: Why didn’t the NYPD file a report? Why wouldn’t they charge our heroes with terrorism? I’m not saying there isn’t a plausible way around it, with Jeri Hogarth (and Foggy, of course) coming to their aid. (Even “The Defenders” sometimes need a legal defense of their own, right?) But, the “wrap-up” at the end seemed too easy.

Overall grade: When feeling generous, I’m tempted to give “The Defenders” a solid ‘B’. Other days, I might go as low as a ‘C’. So, let’s split the difference and go with a ‘C+/B-‘.

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Review of Iron Fist (Netflix series)

“You are the worst Iron Fist ever.” — Davos

I had originally meant to do a “Mr. Zeus” installment this week. But, I decided I’d better do this review while the show is still relatively fresh in my mind. Some of my comments may be briefer or less systematic than usual. We shall see…

For the most part, I’m going to ignore the many missing or changed details in this version of Danny’s becoming an orphan, the Rand connection to K’un-Lun, the introduction of Colleen Wing, etc., from the comics version. Unfortunately, the bulk of my comments will still probably be negative, so allow me to start with something positive: I liked the opening credits. The music was good, with a sort of Asian/mystical feel to the electronica vibe. The dark-ish mood and swirling, inky effect with the semi-slo-mo kung fu guy worked for me. I don’t know if that guy was real or totally CGI, but he looked like a good fit for Danny/Iron Fist.

Speaking of which, as you might guess from my earlier fan-casting for the title character, I thought Finn Jones was all wrong. True, the studio didn’t cave in to demands to make the character Asian. Jones is also the right age, height, and has blonde hair. But, Iron Fist should’ve been more muscular and athletic looking, and his hair should’ve been cut shorter and straight. (And get rid of the beard, too.) As for the portrayal of Danny, I don’t know whether to blame Jones, the writers, or the directors — probably a bit of all of them.

SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER!

Finn Jones as Danny Rand

Danny’s seeming naivete and other mannerisms were annoying, as were his fits of anger and going off half-cocked at the end. He acted like a child. And what were those “episodes” toward the end, when he’d grab his head and his vision got blurry (or, at least, ours did)? Sometimes, he had a memory flash from the plane crash or K’un-Lun. What was that about?

We never really got satisfying answers either for Danny’s abandoning of K’un-Lun or even for Colleen’s going against her own principles when she did the cage matches. In fact, motivations in general were a weak point.

Danny’s fighting skills were, shall we say, rather underwhelming. Dull. Poorly choreographed and/or poorly edited. If it wasn’t clear before, the last couple episodes confirmed that he had a *lot* more training to do. But, imo, he should never have received the powers and responsibilities of the Iron Fist (w/ tattoo) at his current skill level. He should have been even better than Daredevil, but at this point, I think DD would put him down easily.

He says that he spent years training in martial arts, which includes controlled breathing *and* controlling his emotions. A minute later, he’s freaking out over air turbulence, and Claire has to calm him and get him to focus. What?! Same goes for his anger issues.

If (like he told Ward) the only time he drove a car was as a 10yo on his dad’s lap, how is Danny driving around NYC on his own a couple days later? For that matter, if he’s been stuck in extradimensional K’un-Lun for 15 years, why does he seem so unfazed by — even familiar with — NYC? A few familiar buildings and landmarks, sure. But, I’d like to have seen more fish-out-of-water behavior.

Casting for Colleen was good. Jessica Henwick is certainly an attractive woman of mixed Asian & Anglo ethnicity with martial arts skills. In fact, she was much more impressive in that area than Danny was. (She showed what she could really do, even without the sword, in those cage matches!) On the other hand, she’s too short and her hair is supposed to be medium brown to auburn. Still, she was a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing series. (I’ll even forgive the fact that Danny’s supposed to have a romantic relationship with Misty Knight, not Colleen. That is, if they wanted to stay faithful to the source material. In the Marvel-Netflix world, though, Colleen is a better match for him.) Claire (Rosario Dawson) was another one. It was nice to see her involved and continuing to connect the various series together. Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Ann Moss) makes a couple of welcomed appearances, as well.

Not sure about the Meachums, as I don’t remember that much about them from the comics. I will say, though, that that is one supremely dysfunctional family! I despised the manipulative Harold (David Wenham), who treated his son like $#!+ — and that was even before the, er, violent physical exchanges. Of course, he was supposed to be a total jerk, so… well done! I thought I was gonna really hate Ward (Tom Pelphrey), too, but I ended up just pitying him. I wanted to like Joy (Jessica Stroup) more, and she had her moments, but she ended up disappointing me, too. (Especially the final scene.)

What to make of Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho)? She is formidable, but inconsistently so. One day, she exhibits the ability — presumably through focused chi or some such thing — to “knock” someone several feet when she is standing several more feet away from them. (Think telekinetic “shove”.) A day or two later, though, she’s all scared when Danny charges her and she doesn’t even try to defend herself. What’s up with that? Was the latter behavior merely an act in order to give her more opportunities to get in the heads of our heroes?

I question the wisdom of using The Hand again as the “big bad”, especially since we know they will show up in “The Defenders” and/or season 3 of “Daredevil”. Surely, the writers could have found another evil organization to use from Marvel’s stable or even created a new one. Even though there was the interesting twist toward the end with the competing factions, I feel like The Hand was underutilized except as another connecting thread with the other shows. Their fighters weren’t very impressive, either, and they’re supposed to be among the deadliest in the world.

I hesitate to delve into the various other issues with the plot. Instead, I point you to this excellent review by Mike Floorwalker at Looper, which I fortunately read as I was finishing this up. He briefly discusses plot holes, inconsistencies, plodding development, lack of humor, “shoehorned-in moral conflict”, et al. In my opinion, most of his observations are right on the mark.

A few quick, final comments…

o Interesting casting for Davos (Sacha Dhawan) and Bakuto (Ramon Rodriguez). I wouldn’t have gone that way, but I suppose they did adequate jobs. Physically not very impressive, though. No clue why Davos, who I always thought was East Asian in appearance, is played by someone of Indian descent with a Manchester accent, either.

o There was not enough of K’un-Lun, and I think there should have been flashbacks of Danny training with Davos (since they changed the Davos character and made him Danny’s peer) and under the instruction of Lei-Kung the Thunderer.

o The “iron fist” F/X was decent, I suppose.

As usual, I really wanted to like this character/series, especially with its connection to the other Netflix series. It could have been spectacular. Unfortunately, it fell *well* short of its potential. I got the feeling that the series’ creative minds might have known the basics about Danny Rand / Iron Fist — they had some facts about his history, abilities, etc. — but they didn’t really understand the character.

If I were to grade the four series, I’d give “Daredevil” an A-, “Jessica Jones” a B-, “Luke Cage” a B or B+, and “Iron Fist” a C- (and that might be a bit generous). I haven’t read a lot of other reviews, but from what I have heard/seen, the general consensus agrees with me. I just hope that the creators learned something from the criticism and make some positive changes for “Defenders” (though that has already filmed) and any future Danny Rand / Iron Fist appearances.

P.S.  We never saw the iconic costume, either. (That yellow & green robe doesn’t count.) At this point, I’m sort of glad.