The premise was ambitious: an Avengers-like miniseries to put a cap on two years of street-level superhero shows. After introducing Daredevil (Charlie Cox), Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Luke Cage (Mike Colter), and Iron Fist (Finn Jones) in their own Netflix solo series — all critically acclaimed and well-received by fans with one notable exception — the streamer brought them together for an incredible crossover event.
It’s not perfect, but The Defenders is still amazing. And thanks to the three-dimensional characters that had already been established, it’s a lot more satisfying than a quip-heavy Avengers movie. The fact that the miniseries, which debuted five years ago on August 18, 2017, also helped set up some of the Marvel/Netflix saga's most satisfying stories only cements it one the best MCU crossover of all time — if not the best.
The premise of The Defenders is simple enough. The team assembles to fight off The Hand, a secret ninja society already established in previous shows. Sigourney Weaver shows up briefly as a half-baked villain, but the main point is to watch your favorite heroes fight together against waves of deadly ninjas. This only gives the characters a chance to grow, redeeming some of them in the process and improving on others.
In terms of redemption arcs, no one shines more than Finn Jones as Danny Rand, who has legitimate instances of character growth compared to his embarrassing stint in the first season of Iron Fist. He’s still as stuck up as he ever was (he even fights Daredevil and Cage after they try to hide him away from The Hand in one of the best fight scenes of the show), but he starts to learn his skills by interacting with other heroes and accepting the responsibility he holds with the Fist. The results are clear in Iron Fist Season 2, which improves greatly on the original thanks to the character development provided by The Defenders.
But the best part of the series is how it sets up Matt Murdock’s redemption in Daredevil’s third season. There’s no doubt that Charlie Cox was born to play Murdock and is by far the best character in the entire Netflix/Marvel saga. But if Murdock hadn’t stayed with Elektra (Élodie Yung) as Midland Circle collapsed, he wouldn’t have questioned his faith in the third season of Daredevil. Going through the events of The Defenders causes Matt to physically and psychologically regress to the frail “hero” we were introduced to back in Season 1.
We also get to see more of Matt’s skills as a lawyer in The Defenders. With Charlie Cox returning in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, we have a feeling that his legal skills may soon be just as important as his crime-fighting abilities.
For all these reasons and more, The Defenders soars more than any other MCU team-up or crossover event. The main characters aren’t one-dimensional quip machines but have been properly developed in their own respective series. And when they do unite, they grow even further.
The show’s last act together inspires Luke, Jessica, and Danny to continue fighting for Hell’s Kitchen and accept their responsibility as heroes to protect the city, while Matt will go through the wringer and become a more committed hero after the events of Daredevil Season 3. And while it’s exciting to see the return of Matthew Murdock to the MCU, I hope Marvel Studios will learn the lesson of The Defenders and realize that this team of heroes is greater than the sum of its parts.
As the MCU seemingly leans further into street-level heroes with the introduction of Maya Lopez/Echo and the return of Daredevil, there’s never been a better time to bring back the rest of the Defenders. So what’s the hold-up?
The Defenders is streaming now on Disney+.