Unlike their Avengers brethren on the big screen, the Marvels Defenders on Netflix don’t get all that much attention. This is probably partially because these Netflix Original series are more “adult,” which limits the audience to a more “mature” viewers. They also don’t have the advertising budget of the blockbuster films.
However, if your parents say it’s okay for you to partake in the Defenders’ heavier use of blood, sex, and substance abuse, you should give the Marvel-Netflix Originals a chance. Here’s a mostly spoiler-free break down of how I’d rank each season of that’s out so far (as of May of 2018):
Last Place (Unfortunately)
Iron Fist, Season One
Sorry, to kick a show when it’s down, but—
Although I like Danny Rand’s positive attitude, the first season of Iron Fist is easily the weakest of the Defenders series. The most glaring problems are the fight scenes. The Iron Fist is supposed to be a kung fu master. He should be fast, fluid, and visceral. While I applaud Finn Jones’ effort and fitness, the show fails to deliver a punch in its fight choreography.
With the public’s years of exposure to Jackie Chan’s stunt work and Jet Li’s more-authentic skill, it’s hard to watch Iron Fist‘s snail-slow choreography and buy Finn Jones as an elite kung fu master. They should’ve used more camera tricks and worked the Foley stage to mask Jones’ inexperience in martial arts.
I read somewhere that Jones was rushed through training and filming, so he and the stunt team couldn’t get the fight scenes done right. I hope that’s true, so after however many months, Jones can have a fair chance to make a better showing in the second season.
Overall, I’d still watch this season if you’re enough of a Marvel Cinematic Universe nerd (or simply love the Knight of Flowers).
Daredevil, Season Two
While watching this season, I found the two “parallel” story lines to be drastically different in tone and quality. In short, the bits with the Punisher was good while the parts focusing on Elektra was not so good.
With a quick Google search, I found the likely reason: The season had two showrunners who, I can only assume, worked with too much independence. They weren’t careful enough with pacing and cohesiveness of the season overall. The story with Elektra, however, leads into the Defenders crossover, though. So perhaps the showrunners were being pulled in too many directions.
If you ask me, the flashbacks concerning Elektra’s past were shown too late. They should have built up sympathy for her much earlier so the viewers would not be so annoyed with her. As it is, Elektra’s tossed into the story in a very slapdash way, and we’re force fed some kind of supposed chemistry between her and the Daredevil. It didn’t quite work.
Jessica Jones, Season One
To put it bluntly, I think Jessica Jones kind of got screwed over in terms of budget for the first season. Although I can’t find any clear evidence, I found some circumstantial evidence: The first seasons for all four superheroes plus the crossover were supposed to split a $200 million budget, and Daredevil ate up $56 by himself. The variety and quality of the sets on Jones makes it seem like an indie film in contrast to Daredevil, which came out first, and Luke Cage which came out a little later. A huge number of the scenes and property damage in Jones was limited to her one-bedroom apartment (which, by the way, is much crappier than Daredevil’s big ass loft/studio).
So despite having a solid story about Jones getting over some serious trauma paired with strong performances by the actors, I think the budget (although maybe the production was also rushed like Iron Fist) made Jones’ first season lack the luster it deserved.
Although, David Tennant does a great job playing a character whose face I want to punch whenever he shows up. Pft. Kilgrave.
I’m going to cheat and go with a three-way tie: Jessica Jones, Season Two; Luke Cage, Season One; and The Punisher, Season One
The pacing and apparent production value for the second season of Jessica Jones totally outshines the first. The story has more hooks and barrels forward with more momentum than the first (despite or because of the general lack of David Tennant’s character; I guess Kilgrave, and what he does, makes me uncomfortable).
Luke Cage is awesome, due in no small part to his much-more-impressive superpowers. However, the soundtrack, plot, and tone all work together to make the series very engrossing.
The Punisher, although he’s not technically a Defender, has a great first season. It, like the other second-place seasons, hooks you from start to end. They provide some great action while building a lot of sympathy for the hard-ass protagonist.
All three of these shows touch upon subjects that, outside of fiction, may be difficult to discuss. Jessica Jones is a survivor rape and tons of other sources of trauma; Luke Cage is wrongfully incarcerated and, as many have noted, is in a show about a bulletproof black man released in the midst of the #BlackLivesMatter movement; and The Punisher deals issues veterans face (e.g., PTSD, being and feeling discarded after their service). However, the shows don’t harp too much on these social and political issues. It’s all subtle enough that you can simply enjoy entertaining stories about over-the-top heroes (and anti-heroes).
Daredevil, Season One
The first season is leagues better than the second. I think it’s because it doesn’t have to worry so much about leading into the Defenders crossover as its second season (AKA one of many problems Iron Fist had to deal with). The action in this season is arguably the best in all of the Defenders, with a prime example being the should-be-famous one-shot fight scene from the very first episode.
This first season also benefits from having characters who are smart. They generally make decisions which are well thought out and they speak in a manner that exudes some measure of intellect (this contrasts with the first season of Jessica Jones where people make decisions without thinking and communication is almost non-existent). The season also leans heavily on the charismatic Kingpin, played by Vincent D’Onofrio (I lay most of this out in my so-called review of the season from way back when).
Apparently, I like violence followed by pretentious dialogue.
Full disclosure: I may have a bias for Daredevil because I’m also a handsome attorney who spends too much time in a side hustle. He fights crime with his superhuman senses, and I sit around writing crap no one reads. It’s the same.
Bonus Note: Each Defender show uses the character’s designated color throughout their scenes: red for Daredevil, purple for Jessica Jones, yellow for Luke Cage, and green for Iron Fist. Although the colors are noticeable in Daredevil and Jones, I feel it’s not overdone. Yellow lights are pretty common in real life, so it’s all but unnoticeable in Luke Cage. Iron Fist, however, totally flushes too much out with green. C’mon, Fist team.