This whole “let’s do The Avengers on Netflix” thing? It’s not working as well as it should, but the culprit isn’t what I expected.
Showrunner Marco Ramirez and his screenwriters have successfully melded together these characters’ little worlds. Our heroes have a definite spark when they’re together. The stunt-casted villain did enough to hold our attention before going away. The narrative has dipped into some of the same team-up tropes as The Avengers, but not in a carbon copy kind of way where it all feels overly familiar. The pace has been suitably engaging, even if the last episode started to show signs of a lull. And they’ve done enough to establish that this experience is helping each of our heroes move on from the lingering drama from their most recent solo adventures.
But, damn, this show is being let down by its directors. Part of the problem coming into The Defenders is that Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage each have their own unique visual identities as shows (not so much Iron Fist, the most malleable of the bunch). S.J. Clarkson chose to use character-specific color filters and matchcutting to compensate for that in the first two episodes, and settled in on quick shots of subway trains and skyscrapers for scene transitions to give us the feel of traveling quickly from one part of New York to another. It wasn’t always successful, but that’s the visual identity she chose for The Defenders.
The episodes since then, though, haven’t emphasized that nearly as much, instead leaning toward more traditional styles of shooting (some of kept up her scene transition device, some haven’t). Then Felix Enriquez Alcala (a longtime TV director with 12 episodes of ER and 18 episodes of Criminal Minds on his resume) brought it all back (and then some) in “Fish in the Jailhouse,” and just couldn’t help himself with a free roaming camera that repeatedly botched basic conversation scenes and some epic fight sequences which looked more like he was straining to hide the obvious stunt people doubling for our heroes and villains.
It adds up to make The Defenders feel a tad inconsistent and lacking in visual direction, obstructing what should be some fairly epic confrontations. Madame Gao just threw down, ala Yoda in the Attack of the Clones, and it was so choppy you couldn’t follow any of it. Elektra and Iron Fist had a potential fight for the ages that instead indulged in endless slow-mo shots of her cape. Although, I have to admit, it is outright hilarious to see Danny mouthing off about discipline and loyalty only to then be suckered into a fight designed to piss him off, unleash his chi and open the portal to K’un-Lun for The Hand.
He’s…well, I’ve said it before in these reviews, but he’s just the worst.
With one episode to go, I fear The Defenders has lost the plot at this point, setting Elektra up as the true supervillain for, um, reasons, continually making vague references to some threat to the city and bending over backwards to throw in lines about family and “foundation” to Fast & Furious their way into making these people a team. Luke and Jessica still don’t feel like they completely belong in this story (neither does Misty Knight). Now Colleen’s gonna blow the fucker down, and sure, why not.
But I can work with all of that as long as these characters are fun together, and they absolutely are. It’s the directors who are dropping the ball.
On the bright side, because of “Jailhouse” I got to see Jessica Jones toss a giant cinder block at a little old lady who tore it in half using just her mind (essentially). That’s pretty damn cool.
THE NOTES I WROTE WHILE WATCHING THE EPISODE
- Misty once had an entire episode where she interrogated someone the audience knew to be completely innocent, and by the end she attacked that person (who was still in police custody) and got into serious trouble. It’s about time for people to start letting her in on some of these secrets because she’s been looking far too foolish for too long.
- Looks like the odd camera angles are back this episode.
- New Elektra has lost her patience for The Hand’s bullshit. She’s not alone.
- “Super Joan Jett” – Yeah, Foggy, that is the perfect description of Jessica.
- This Matt/Jessica/Luke “legal advice” pow-wow is an orgy of choppy editing and awkward camera movements.
- Jessica’s the type of girl who will steal a beer from a homeless man, God love her.
- And the cops aren’t immediately questioning Luke, Jessica and Matt’s friends, why?
- “There it is again” – Some of this banter really isn’t landing.
- This Danny-Elektra fight scene is oddly obsessed with her coat.
- I’m still not getting Elektra’s motivation other than self-preservation and Lazarus Pit/Pet Cemetary-style “the substance brings them back wrong”
- Madame Gao fighting- greater than, lesser than or equal to Yoda fighting in Attack of the Clones?
- Don’t know how to feel about The Defenders treating Foggy and Karen like Matt’s AA sponsors who mean well but are kind of just plot obstacles (until Foggy gave him that suit).
Colleen: “And he will tell that to anyone who will listen” – Yeah, she’s not wrong. Danny’s long overdue for some discretion in the “I am the immortal Iron Fist” area.
On to the final episode. I’ll be adding reviews for each episode all weekend. You can follow along here.