When seismic activity is felt throughout all of Hell’s Kitchen, vigilantes Matt Murdock/Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Danny Rand/Iron Fist are soon brought together, learning that The Hand is in New York and will most likely destroy it in order to gain access to a subterranean source of immortality, hidden behind a wall that only the Iron Fist can open. Along with their many allies, the pivotal group of vigilantes must learn to work together as they attempt to foil The Hand’s plans, complicated by the return of Elektra, who has been reborn as The Hand’s unstoppable weapon.
By necessity, The Defenders begins with four distinct segments, seeming somewhat like four individual series openers within a single space, differentiated by distinct colour palettes for each chapter. Again, this is by necessity as we are slowly reintroduced to all the characters, events from the preceeding series are tied up, possibly hinting at future developments, and each defender starts on their own narrative strand that will eventually tie into each other’s. It’s a relatively gentle opening, though perhaps a little slow to get going as it spends time laying the foundation, with the characters going through their own personal dilemmas and, as mentioned before, seeming more like four individual series fitted together.
But then we finally get what we came for: the defenders do indeed assemble and the series hits the ground running as it delves into the meat of the story and gives us plenty of fun interaction, fascinating character development and the pivotal continuation, possibly conclusion, of The Hand storyline; it may be more of what we’ve seen before in Daredevil and Iron Fist but the plot proceeds satisfyingly and there are a few twists and turns as it reaches its fine conclusion. The Defenders can indeed be seen as a small scale Avengers since our heroes eventually learn to stop bickering, put aside their differences and save New York from the forces of evil.
There is some interesting character development throughout and most noticeably, Jessica makes the inevitable change from wanting to keep her powers under wraps, looking out for number one, wanting to avoid the bigger conflict, to realising her responsibility and making it her mission to help save New York, gaining a newfound respect for her companions. As you might expect, Jessica is the MVP as her snarky comments are always welcome and her badassery and attitude is always awesome to watch; the role couldn’t really have been played by anyone else.
Elsewhere, Luke continues to be an excellent character and in this, he quickly sees the big picture and sees it as his responsibility to do the right thing and to help, despite being skeptical of Stick’s mystical tales about The Hand. And despite own his problematic series, Danny is surprisingly a very welcome addition and the series writing allows him to be a far more bearable character; his involvement in this story is vital and downright decent.
But perhaps Matt fares the worst, somewhat short-changed as he doesn’t get to do as much Daredevil stuff as in his own series, it’s some of what we’ve seen before and his withholding of information about Elektra is counterproductive, chiming in with plenty of “It’s complicated”s and “It’s a long story”s, just like many of the other defenders; personally, I wanted him to be much more of a Captain America-style leader. But saying that, it’s once again compelling to witness his tumultuous relationship with Elektra, just like in Daredevil, and it’s clear that they’re kindred spirits; by the end, they oddly seem to have something of a Batman Returns style Batman/Catwoman relationship.
And of course, it’s nice to see loads of supporting characters from the previous series chip in at certain points, though some of them are just cameos. We get Foggy, Karen, Stick, Trish, Malcolm, Jeri, Misty, Coleen and Claire (obviously!) and its fun to see them interact with each other, although Claire should have played a far more important part in the story. Elektra also returns, as was set up at the end of Daredevil, and for the most part, she is an empty shell of what she once was and is remarkably similar to The Winter Soldier: a former ally, presumed dead, trained to be an unstoppable weapon and who goes on a journey of self discovery, learning about her previous life and having a complicated relationship with
Cap Matt, his refusal to kill her causing a rift within the central group.
As this is the culmination of the overarching plot thread of The Hand, we get to learn that bit more about their origins, the revelation of who the five core members are manages to tie in very well into the previous series and watching the growing dissent in the ranks is a compelling plot development. The Defenders introduces Alexandra, leader of The Hand, and while her character development and motivation is a bit problematic, it is intriguing to note that she, along with the other members of The Hand, has lived for an inordinate number of years (hinted at when she refers to Instanbul as Constantinople) but is slowly dying and requires the Maguffin “source of immortality”. Sigourney Weaver is appropriately chilling, imposing and sinister as Alexandra and does the best with what she’s given.
In other areas, the series has some neat fight sequences (the great Danny vs. Luke confrontation provides some neat
Avenger/Avenger Defender/Defender action) and the final showdown takes a leaf out of the Avengers playbook as it utilises a tracking shot that sees all of them in action, later accompanied by a hip-hop musical accompaniment. Some of the fights are a bit frantic and rushed though and sometimes, it’s hard to see just what is happening. As mentioned before, it also cleverly uses colour as it initially transitions between red, blue, gold and green filters to let us know which defender is the main focus and thankfully, they don’t rely on it too heavily and it is gradually phased out as they all come together.
And finally, it’s amusing to see that although they all eventually team up, they’re still not exactly best friends and clearly avoid those tempting “hug moments”, preferring to retain a sense of nonchalance, apathy and a “too cool for school” attitude, especially Jessica and Luke!
Overall, The Defenders takes a necessary amount of time to truly get going, as it was with most of the other series, but when the foundation is laid and the individual plot strands come together, we are treated to some fun character interaction as well as rounding off the overarching storyline of The Hand with noticeable aplomb and interest. There are plenty of exciting scenes, a few revelations and ultimately, it ties everything together very well.