Netflix’s ‘The Defenders’ Challenges The Powers Of Team-Ups [Review]
From Iron Fist’s white privilege being attacked to the mysterious Sigourney Weaver plotting something — we preview the first four episodes of Netflix’s The Defenders.
The Defenders—Netflix’s series of street-level Marvel superheroes—finally comes out swinging this Friday after years of buildup, and expectations riding high are a given. The real question is, whose expectations? There are geeks (hand raised!) sweating the minutiae: will the show end with a Luke Cage/Iron Fist heroes-for-hire partnership, and will Misty Knight get it on with Iron Fist, and do Colleen Wing and Misty partner up, and does Jessica Jones hook up again with Luke, etc.? Those disappointed in Iron Fist (the most recent series of the Netflix Marvel Universe) wonder if that annoyingly earnest character gets any better. Fans of Luke Cage, Jessica Jones and both seasons of Daredevil have chemistry concerns, questioning if they’ll all mesh together as well as The Avengers over in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Answering any of the above (based on four episodes previewed for media) without any true spoilers is tricky. A safer question to start with might be, what brings the quartet together? Sigourney Weaver comes aboard as the villainess Alexandra, head of the shady Midland Circle corporation. The Hand are involved, though nowhere actually to be seen in the first half of The Defenders’ eight episode arc. There’s a sinister real estate grab afoot in Hell’s Kitchen. And Elektra returns. If all that leaves a lot to the imagination, that’s because—even leading into episode five—the plot isn’t neatly laid out enough to diagram. Whether that’s good or bad remains to be seen Friday.
The most pleasant surprise is the charge of white privilege leveled at billionaire Danny Rand (a.k.a. Iron Fist) from Harlem superman Luke Cage which flips his whole approach at taking down the enemy. In the comic source material, these two go down with Django Unchained, Men in Black, Lethal Weapon and Miami Vice as one of the tightest black-white bromances in pop culture, so we all expect things to end up there eventually on The Defenders. We should all also be used to the trope demanding that heroes butt heads before bonding. But Cage (fresh out of jail) ideologically taking Rand down a peg, challenging him to confront his naïve white, male affluence in the larger picture of what’s unfolding, is golden.
Back in the four-color comics of 1971, putting your finger on the raison d’être of the Defenders wasn’t easy when they debuted in Marvel Feature #1. The motley crew consisted of heroes who’ve made it to Hollywood since (Doctor Strange, the Hulk, the Silver Surfer, Thor: Ragnarok’s Valkyrie) and others who haven’t (Namor, Nighthawk). By no means the Avengers, the Defenders seemed made up of castaways who never had much business being grouped together. (If the X-Men were organic like Wu-Tang Clan, the Defenders felt forced like Gravediggaz.) Netflix recast the group as more underground heroes of the people, protecting Harlem and Hell’s Kitchen instead of planet Earth per se, and so far it works.
Remixing concepts from the House of Ideas (a.k.a. Marvel Comics), Netflix has barely scratched the surface. The Defenders supporting character Patsy Walker (late of Jessica Jones) was a card-carrying heroine in The Defenders comic of the 1980s:Hellcat. Will Patsy ever slip on the spandex? The soap opera slant to all this comic nerdery is clear, don’t remind me, but Luke Cage and Jessica Jones eventually end up together with a baby girl. Will they at least walk down the aisle in, like, season five? So many unanswered questions. For now, feast on The Defenders at the stroke of midnight Friday and satisfy your own checklist of Q’s.
Miles Marshall Lewis is a popular cultural critic and author. Follow him (and us!) on social media @MMLunlimited.