Defenders 101

As I am hoping to savour each episode of Defenders rather than engage in a typical Netflix binge-watching frenzy, this review will relate to only episode 1. I am looking to review the season as a whole in due course.

Many moons ago, we were shown the enticing Defenders trailer, accompanied by the strangely-appropriate Nirvana hit, “Come As You Are”. Fanboys and gals were ecstatic. After the abject, utterly shambolic debacle that was Iron Fist, the trailer went some way to raising my hopes. I was looking forward to Defenders banishing the traumatic memories.

Unlike the first episodes for most television shows, the first episode of Defenders isn’t a pilot, obviously because the characters’ individual instalments have already preceded it and viewers have known for a while that the team series has been in the works. It therefore views more like episode 601 of the Marvel Netflix franchise.

For the same reasons, the first act of Defenders isn’t, strictly speaking, a first act. The Setup for each character has already been established in each of our heroes’ solo outings. So episode 1 doesn’t have that responsibility and burden. Unshackled from this requirement, the premiere episode is allowed to jump straight into focusing on (a) developments in the protaganists’ lives and (b) setting up the conflict that will bring our champs together.

The use of colors to distinguish the leads is interesting. Netflix already began this theme in various teaser posters. And in the first episode, the characters are cast in hues of their defining colors – Red for DD, Blue for Jess, Yellow for Luke and Green for Danny. Scenes of each hero are bathed in desaturated hues of these colors. The concept is a fun and simple, yet effective visual cue which goes some way to setting each team member apart.

The episode is on the slow-burning side, as the creators (very) tentatively build up the tension and drama to the eventual conflict.

A few other quick-fire observations from episode 101:

1. The opening scene in the Cambodian tunnels isn’t well-shot at all. The shadowy fight is not easy to follow. After the flurry of sword-clanging, we are left with a couple of conclusions. First, Danny got his ass handed to him by Elektra. Given their backgrounds in comic lore, I’m surprised the battle was so imba. Of course, hateful ol’ me was happy to see the unsufferable on-screen Rand receive a beating. Second, a nameless man just died to deliver a simple message: some shit’s goin’ down in NYC. Thank you for your noble sacrifice, Mr Identity-less Plot Device.

2. Foggy, now a slick Big Law attorney with Messrs Hogarth, Chao & Benowitz, has pulled a rabbit out of a hat by freeing Luke Cage in double-quick time. Quite the capable lawyering. The speed at which Luke seems to have been released (was it a few months?) does under-cut the effect of going into the clinker at the end of Luke’s solo outing.

3. Finn Jones’ Iron Fist is annoying as ever (though I would be a fool to expect otherwise). He engages in some typical spoilt heir, tantrum-throwing histrionics. The excessive screaming in one scene is, sadly, all-too-familiar and typical of the character. On a side note, his Elektra-inflicted blade wound looked a little too fake – almost like the make-up crew just drew a straight line on his chest with a red sharpie. Needs more effort, guys.

4. It’s nice to see Luke getting a nice Claire Temple-shaped reward upon his release from incarceration. The two likeable characters continue to share good chemistry. Unfortunately, the innocent furniture takes a beating from their (not too) long-awaited reunion. Apparently, the furniture is irrelevant and not very valuable to Ms Temple. Couldn’t she at least have asked him to mind the furniture? Looks like the couple’s next date is going to be at Ikea.

5. DD has now dropped the horns and is serving a sabbatical of some sort. While it’s fun to see Matt get the better of evil corporates and dispense justice the legal way, it is clear that he misses his armoured exploits. Charlie Cox does well to evoke that internal conflict and the character’s pining for his rooftop antics is clear. Surely we will see ol’ horn-head back in crimson-clad action pretty soon.

6. The lovely Ms Jones is back to her investigating exploits, although said exploits don’t seem to be very difficult. The cryptic voice-modulated call is easily traced. Must be nice to have a magical operator to trace unknown numbers. It was also good to see Rachael Taylor’s Patsy Walker hanging out with her BFF.

The episode is pretty much linear, which probably has to be the case given the number of characters required to juggle. Each of the heroes beings to uncover a small facet of the larger conspiracy – Danny finding out that New York is where the action’s act (Duh) ; Luke dealing with the errant drug-peddling youth of Harlem ; Jessica stumbling across some major explosives. Not quite sure how Matt comes into play on this front in episode 1, but I’m sure we will find out more in due course.

So the episode concludes with some earth-rumbling shenanigans and no doubt, Mdm Gao and the legendary Sigourney Weaver’s Alexandra have something to do with this. The game is afoot.

So all in all, Defenders 101 gave us a slow start and was just kind of meh. I’m curious to see what happens with the series and am looking forward, primarily, to the protaganists’ pow-wow. Watch this space.

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