As the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues its Juggernaut charge through the otherwise-stale box office, the Netflix series have maintained a surprising level of quality. The four series leading up to Marvel’s The Defenders set the bar for what should have been a pretty-good series, finally building the seamless connection between the Marvel series while attempting to tell a fresh story. Unfortunately, this new series did not live up to the standard set even by Iron Fist and Luke Cage.
The plot picks up where both Iron Fist and Daredevil’s second season left off, and carried the heavy burden of molding all the chaos of the series’ sub-plots into a form that would have some cohesion and reason. To me, it felt more-than-a-little forced, but still worked for the most part up to this point. The action scenes throughout the series were often satisfying and even though it ran a very short eight episodes, Defenders did land some solid excitement if you were able to get past the slog that was its Pilot but it all came to a close in a way that felt like everyone just wanted to get out of this series and on to bigger things.
The Defenders finale sets the stage for the now-united Defenders’ duel with a possessed Elektra (A plotline that carried over from Daredevil’s second season). The heroes then fight their way into a hidden cave deep below a New York highrise where they split up into groups. One to take on The Hand who is attempting to use the Iron Fist to achieve their ends of attaining immortality, and one small group to plant explosives to level the building. That is pretty much it.
I did not have a problem with the simple set up as it carried some plot points from earlier in the season, but this finale was so very, very forgettable. I suppose this was a problem with the entire series. It was necessary to re-establish Jessica Jones and Luke Cage to integrate them into the more comic book worlds of Daredevil and Iron Fist (despite them always having taken place in the same New York City) but the way it was done was rushed due to this spinoff’s very short run. These are the same writers who did Daredevil, yet the entire series of Defenders feels like it’s on a caffeine high, and it culminates in an ending that is far less impactful than it could have been if the creators would have taken their time building things up patiently, allowing for more depth to the story, but it’s difficult to do that in a television series that only runs about six hours in total.
The tone of the finale (simply titled “The Defenders”) is all over the place. It has a lot of dark undertones, themes of sacrifice, love, friendship and facing the past head-on, but then it ramps up the cheese with overwritten and laughably-bad lines. On top of that, all of the the characters (including the supporting ones) are forced to face all of the plot points foreshadowed through the first seven episodes in one 48-minute sprint. It is then blended with hamfisted dialog, bloated action movie cliches, and some truly cringe-worthy scenes, resulting in what is more of a predictable and shallow whimper, as opposed to the promised bang, despite the very literal one at the end.
For all of the problems I had with The Defenders leading up to the finale, I was even more disappointed with the conclusion. It wrapped up safely, not taking any risks, with a predictable closing for all involved characters and the dramatic shift in tone was jarring, at-best. I can say a lot of this is the bad screenplay but some of the blame could be the result of the episode’s director Farren Blackburn. This is the only episode directed by Blackburn and it shows with its shift in focus. The action scenes are all obscured, which is just baffling to me. One scene with Colleen Wing finally facing her former master is spent with almost the entire fight taking place out-of-focus, in the background, behind a bunch of pipes, while the camera focuses on Claire Temple hiding and talking on a cell phone. The rest of the action mostly takes place in a dark cave where quick-cuts and identical-looking bad guys fly through the air. Every scene was so disjointed and ugly and the creators’ decision to obscure the action from the viewer is outright maddening! I cannot even begin to fathom the series of pitches and ideas that brought the writers and director to make that call. It is probably the stupidest decision I’ve seen from any of Marvel Studio’s creations to date.
Add to that the fact that two of the main fights the series were building up to barely happened at all (aforementioned Wing v. Bakuto and then Daredevil v. Elektra) and you have a truly upsetting finale. While Wing and Bakuto’s final duel took place almost entirely off-screen during a phone call, Daredevil and Elektra’s fight was obscured in darkness making the fight barely-visible and was peppered with sappy attempts by Matt Murdock to convince his former love to stop fighting and go back to the way she was before her death. It was really badly-written, repetitive and very, very long. It all ends with a CGI building blowing up, and that’s it. The epilogue involves a long, boring conversation between Foggy Nelson and Karen Page in a church and a tease that there may be a second season of Jessica Jones. Then it just sort of stops with a single, final reveal that essentially undoes all of the drama of the events that took place during the climax and takes suspension of disbelief and mutates it into an outright rejection of rationality.
For a series that had to rush through its 8-episode run, a big, exciting, engaging finale was absolutely crucial. This wasn’t a five-chapter season of Sherlock where the individual episode was like a movie, running 90-120 minutes; this was eight episodes running a standard TV hour block (about 44-48 minutes). There was no room for meandering, laziness and obfuscation of the action. Zero room! The choice to close this much-anticipated and hyped series out with such an ugly, dull, lackluster finale is beyond the pale. It isn’t unusual for a series or even season finale to leave much to be desired, but this isn’t Seinfeld! There was an underlying story, theme and goal here. What needed to be done was known. All they had to do was execute it in a satisfying way. The Defenders was tolerable at best up to its finale so they could have gone big and at least left an impact, but instead we get what is probably the worst of all of the Marvel series on Netflix, a shell of a series hampered by what I can only assume is utter apathy on the part of the director.