We’ve been waiting ages for Marvel’s vigilante urban heroes to unite in the forthcoming Netflix series The Defenders, and because the show doesn’t premiere until August 18, we need to hang on a bit longer; but critics got copies of half of the eight forthcoming episodes and have reviewed them. The consensus? The series mostly lives up to the hype, with the characters pulling much of the weight for a flawed plot and dearth of exciting fight sequences.
The Defenders follows the story of four Marvel heroes who’ve each already gotten individual Netflix series: the cynical detective Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter); the martial arts connoisseur Danny Rand, aka “Iron Fist” (Finn Jones); the blind lawyer and crime-fighter Matt Murdock, aka “Daredevil” (Charlie Cox); and the bulletproof, wrongly-sentenced former convict Luke Cage (Mike Colter). They team up to fight the corrupt organization “The Hand” and Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver), a mysterious villain who wants to see New York City crumble.
The best parts of The Defenders, critics agree, are the interactions between the lead characters, including the classic Marvel duo of Luke Cage and the Iron Fist who form an “interesting, dynamic relationship” on the show, says 411 Mania. Empire writes that there is “joy in watching the sparks fly as these four alpha characters finally collide.” We Got This Covered calls the main characters “complex and fascinating.”
Another popular character is Sigourney Weaver’s Alexandra, who is “the biggest surprise,” writes The Washington Post, and “a compelling villain with a mysterious past that borders on the unbelievable.” 411 Mania writes:
“Sigourney Weaver is one of the best new additions to the cast. Alexandra is steeped in mystery, but right off the bat, Weaver allows the character to show an interesting sense of vulnerability. Weaver very much adds a nice sense of elegance and gravitas to the miniseries [….] Weaver playing off the other main cast members are also among some of the best scenes for the show. Weaver also provides a sense that despite her elegance, her pragmatism and love for the finer things, her character is holding back what could potentially be a vicious monster that would be unyielding and unforgiving if unleashed.”
Collider also loved the characters, but hated the pacing:
“If you were hoping that The Defenders, with its short 8-episode run, would rectify some of the issues of the solo series regarding pacing and narrative choices, it does not. […] A bright spot, though, is the banter among the heroes, which starts in pairs and slowly builds to a four-way hallway fight scene (it wouldn’t be a Netflix Marvel show without it), and ultimately, a begrudging team-up. There are a lot of great interactions and cameos by staple characters from each of the series.”
Other outlets also criticized the pacing, with Empire noting that “it’s not until the end of episode three that the crime-fighting quartet is finally formed” and blaming “the Marvel/Netflix narrative drag.” We Got This Covered writes that an “indistinct plot” is executed via a “slow burn.”
But some critics actually liked this measured narrative approach. TV Guide writes:
“It’s to showrunners Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez’s credit that they don’t try to jam all the necessary exposition into the first five minutes so they can get to the superhero fights. Don’t get me wrong: there are a lot of superhero fights. But where Avengers was epic spectacle on a global scale, Defenders is far more concerned with the characters. It’s a slow burn, not an explosion. For some fans coming in expecting fireworks immediately, this might seem to be a detriment; but I’d argue that’s where the Netflix model excels.”
Some outlets thought that there weren’t enough fights and that the existing confrontations weren’t so compelling. We Got This Covered critiqued “inconsistent fight choreography”; 411 Mania thought that the action wasn’t as good as Daredevil but better than Iron Fist and Jessica Jones.
Despite some perceived flaws, critics are ultimately coming down in favor of the series. Some are even exuberant: “The new show is every bit the event that Marvel fans hoped it could be,” writes The Washington Post.
Now it’s up to you to decide. The Defenders hits Netflix on August 18, 2017.