Superhero cinematic universes move at such a breakneck speed that it’s difficult to remember a time before they were common. 2012’s The Avengers defined the form, and this year, Marvel’s smaller-scale superhero team, The Defenders, will follow suit. Though Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Matt Murdock, and Danny Rand represent a very different gang compared to the group led by Steve Rogers and Tony Stark, they can stand to learn a lot from what the Avengers figured out back in 2012.
Before the first Marvel team-up film debuted, fans were unsure of how the studio could possibly make sense of an overcrowded story. Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, Hulk, Hawkeye, and Iron Man joined forces against Loki, juggling all of their conflicting backgrounds and objectives to star in a cohesive movie. Two more superhero films, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War, followed. These films suggest quite a few lessons that Netflix’s The Defenders could stand to learn.
When Marvel and Disney got together for “superhero team-up round two,” the companies’ second attempt, Avengers: Age of Ultron didn’t fare as well as well as their first. Captain America: Civil War, which many fans consider Avengers 2.5, did an impressive job adding more heroes into the fray. Ant-Man, Falcon, Bucky, Spider-Man, War Machine, and Scarlet Witch added small flurries of excitement into an already-crowded frame, but the important factor was this: all minor heroes fit neatly onto one side or the other. Everyone in Civil War was either Team Cap or Team Iron Man, and that gave audiences a clean roster to keep track of.
Of course, the division between superheroes who prefer total independence (Cap) and superheroes who don’t mind being regulated by the government (Iron Man) split the Avengers in two, and the MCU now stands without a central team. The Defenders, though they operate at the street level and are focused wholly on New York City, will face similar arguments when they unite in 2017.
Daredevil and Luke Cage are similarly focused on a single borough — Hell’s Kitchen and Harlem, respectively — while Jessica and Danny float around Midtown, Jessica working to protect low- to middle-class New Yorkers and Danny being entirely focused on himself. Luke and Jessica, on the other hand, have had no run-ins with the Hand and will need some convincing that defeating a freaky ninja cult should be at the top of their personal priority lists as superheroes. Before The Defenders begins, Jessica will still be in the throes of recovering from her horrific experiences with Kilgrave, and Luke is still incarcerated.
Not to mention, Netflix and Marvel’s presentation of their heroes has all but eliminated what made them click as a team in Defenders comics. In comics canon, Luke and Danny are best friends (they have nothing in common according to Netflix), Misty and Colleen are partners (no evidence of this), Misty and Danny are romantically involved (highly unlikely), and Jessica and Luke are a romantic end-game (again, Luke has moved on to date Claire Temple). Not only have their comics-canon relationships all been eliminated, but they don’t really share any values. Jessica, Luke, and Matt are all working class entrepreneurs who work against people of means in different ways. Danny, on the other hand, hasn’t learned how to leverage his economic power in order to help those around him.
The developments in Iron Fist which complicated the Hand suggest that the Defenders’ central villain, who’ll be portrayed by Sigourney Weaver, will have to unite the group as an antagonistic force they can all agree is troublesome. In order to do that, Weaver’s character will have to be mystical enough to catch Danny and Matt-from-Daredevil-Season-2’s attention, but grounded enough in presentation to register on Luke and Jessica’s pragmatic radars. That’s a hefty challenge.
As we saw in Avengers: Age of Ultron, superhero stories only get more complicated when sidekicks are involved, and the Defenders are bringing all their side pieces to play. Foggy Nelson, Karen Page, the Punisher, Claire Temple, Colleen Wing, Misty Knight, Hellcat, Stick, Elektra, Jeri Hogarth, and Malcolm the addict-in-recovery are all confirmed to appear in The Defenders, and Iron Fist’s Davos, Joy, Madame Gao, and Ward will likely be present as well. That’s an even more crowded line-up than Marvel faced when putting together Civil War, and instead of fitting onto opposing sides, all these characters will have to get behind the Defenders or stand in their way.
Most fans hoped Iron Fist would clear up some of the questions regarding the narrative shape of The Defenders, but the series only served to make some things more confusing. All we know for sure is that the Hand is alive and well in New York City, and Sigourney Weaver is about to step into the light as a formidable enemy.
The Defenders is slated to stream on Netflix sometime in 2017.