Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist and Luke Cage must join together to save The Big Apple in a Netflix original series. USA TODAY
The Defenders are only as strong as their weakest link. And they have a very weak link.
After giving four street-level superheroes their own series on Netflix, Marvel has joined Daredevil (Charlie Cox), Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Luke Cage (Mike Colter) and Iron Fist (Finn Jones) in the new team-up series Marvel’s The Defenders (Netflix, streaming Friday, ** out of four stars). And, at least in the first four episodes made available for review, the series can’t make the combination work.
The four heroes are drawn together by an increasing threat from an organization headed by the elusive Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver, a bright spot). The criminal activity draws in each hero, although some of these plots are noticeably weaker than others. Iron Fist’s ancient mission is to fight the organization. Daredevil’s reincarnated ex is one of Alexandra’s minions. Jessica Jones gets a case that involves them. Luke Cage tries to help a neighborhood kid who is recruited as a grunt worker for the group. Eventually, the heroes’ paths cross.
From the first scene, Danny Rand/Iron Fist is an undeniable handicap. His own series premiered earlier this year to a chorus of negative reviews after weathering the backlash for whitewashing and cultural appropriation.
So how do you build a series when three heroes are appealing, well-formed characters with strong actors behind them, but the fourth is annoying, boring and poorly acted? One would hope that The Defenders would shy away from Danny and his petulance, but unfortunately, Iron Fist is integral to the larger plot. Every scene featuring him drags, and he is in too many to ignore, with clunkier dialogue than his fellows.
It’s unfair to blame Iron Fist for all of The Defenders’ problems. Like all of the solo series, it’s poorly paced, and takes far too long for the heroes to team up. They don’t appear together until the end of Episode 3. And even after all that lead time, they don’t fit together. Jessica and Luke gel — he was introduced on her series. Daredevil and Iron Fist share mystic roots. But they lack chemistry as a group.
It’s not just that the characters are different, it’s that their shows (well, minus Iron Fist) had strong points of view that are completely lost in The Defenders. This is most detrimental to Jessica and Luke, whose respective series thrived on their personal stories — Jessica Jones is a sexual-assault survivor and Luke Cage explored themes of race, identity and family. Now both are just two out of four generic punching superheroes.
The Defenders will likely please devoted Marvel fans who merely want to see these four in the same room. The fight scene that finally brings them together checks all the fan-service boxes, as when Iron Fist stands behind Luke as he takes bullets. But viewers who were attracted to one or more of the Netflix series for their unique perspectives will be disappointed.
Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and even Iron Fist deserve better. And it’s gratifying to remember that three of them will likely have better series to return to once they finish this mission. There’s no shame in admitting defeat, even for superheroes.
Some acts are just better off going solo.