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Defenders, The

Entry updated 17 January 2022. Tagged: TV.

US online tv series (2017). Netflix presents a Marvel Television, ABC Studios and Walt Disney Television production in association with Goddard Textiles and Nine and a Half Fingers Inc. Created by Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez. Directed by Phil Abraham, Félix Enríquez Alcalá, Farren Blackburn, Uta Briesewitz, S J Clarkson, Peter Hoar and Stephen Surjik. Written by Drew Goddard, Lauren Schmidt Hissrich, Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez, based on the Marvel Comics characters Daredevil by Stan Lee and Bill Everett, Jessica Jones by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos, Luke Cage by Archie Goodwin, John Romita Sr, Roy Thomas and George Tuska, and Iron Fist by Gil Kane and Roy Thomas. Cast includes Mike Colter, Charlie Cox, Eka Darville, Rosario Dawson, Scott Glenn, Elden Henson, Jessica Henwick, Wai Ching Ho, Finn Jones, Simone Missick, Krysten Ritter, Ramón Rodríguez, Rachael Taylor, Sigourney Weaver, Deborah Ann Woll and Élodie Yung. Eight episodes of 44 to 55 minutes. Colour.

Vigilante lawyer Matt Murdock, protagonist of Daredevil (2015-2018), persuades binge-drinking private investigator Jessica Jones (2015-2019), former Prison inmate Luke Cage (2016-current) and billionaire martial arts expert Danny Rand from Iron Fist (2017), to combine their efforts against the perfidious Asian Crime syndicate "The Hand", the Secret Masters behind a series of earthquakes that begins to afflict contemporary New York.

The original line-up of The Defenders from Marvel Feature #1 (December 1971) included the man from Atlantis Namor, the Alien emissary the Silver Surfer, and The Incredible Hulk, central character of both the US tv series (1977-1982) and the film of the same name (2008); this was coordinated by Comic-book Hero Doctor Strange, most recently given the big-budget treatment in Doctor Strange (2016). The membership of the four-strong team of Superheroes changed frequently, however, over the course of its run in Marvel Comics from 1972 until 1986, as it did on a mission-by-mission basis under the name The Secret Defenders (1993-1995), and was always subject to the kind of contractual availability and convenience that made it suitable for current-day aims of the Television arm of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Critical reaction to The Defenders judged it a qualified success. That series creators Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez, who were also the showrunners on the second season of Daredevil, took their aesthetic cues from New York-set crime dramas The French Connection (1971) and Shaft (1971) rather than from the range of Graphic Novels from which its set of characters is drawn does not quite obscure the thematic fissure dividing The Defenders down the middle: where Daredevil (Cox) and Iron Fist (Jones) agonize constantly about the effects of their heroism on themselves and their nearest and dearest, Jessica Jones (Ritter) and Luke Cage (Colter) understand that it is by persistence and compromise that lasting change is affected in the communities they seek to protect. "We didn't think about it in terms of how we'll combine all the tones," Ramirez told Entertainment Weekly on 13 January 2017. "We thought about the tone as its own thing. It's about making sure this thing is something that could encapsulate all four worlds." Each of the heroes is colour-coded – Jessica Jones is darkly-lit in blue, whereas Daredevil tends toward red interiors and artificially-lit street scenes – and various attempts are made to dramatize the differences between the heroes, such as in the punch-up between Iron Fist and Luke Cage in episode two, but there is no disguising that Daredevil and Iron Fist are pulpier in tone than Jessica Jones and Luke Cage; efforts to insert noir-style story exposition and consideration of human motive into the mouth of Danny Rand – "I am the Immortal Iron Fist!" – result in some comically inept announcements of off-screen plot developments, and the dramatic tone of The Defenders is not sufficiently well calibrated to communicate the balance between Optimism and Pessimism that so characterized the expansion of Pulp magazines into the glossier market for Slicks that thereafter affected the development of Comics.

The real coup for the makers of The Defenders is the inclusion of Sigourney Weaver, Cinema icon of Alien (1979), as the Villain Alexandra, spearhead of The Hand's attempts to access the skeleton of a dragon buried deep beneath the City of New York: this is the means by which the secret society (see and Theosophy) might replenish the rapidly-diminishing elixir of Immortality that has sustained its "five fingers" (i.e. leaders) over the centuries. The group's attempt to harvest the skeleton of the Supernatural Creature is weakening the foundations of New York – Iron Fist is tricked by Daredevil's on-off lover Elektra Natachios (Yung) into using his glowing right hand to open the dragon's tomb – and likely to inflict Disaster on the eastern seaboard of the United States. Weaver uses icily dramatic pauses and boardroom stagecraft to charismatic effect but some of the dialogue – "It's too late for heroes!" – is too clunky even for a lead actor of her abilities. That Alexandra is killed (and replaced) by Elektra in episode six diminishes some of the narrative momentum The Defenders has gathered over its shorter run – each of the four eponymous superhero series that preceded it sometimes seemed to lull over thirteen episodes – and rather serves to put it in the shadow of Daredevil, somewhat undermining its intended status as the jewel in the crown of the Marvel Television project. [MD]


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