What is it? The humdrum Avengers assemble.
Why you’ll love it: Because it is short, and better than Iron Fist. The term ‘Netflix bloat’ was pretty much exclusively coined for its clutch of Marvel shows. Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist all had interesting stories to tell but they were given far too many episodes to tell them.
The good news is that The Defenders is just eight episodes. Eight episodes to throw these characters together, watch them reluctantly align, introduce a villain comprehensively enough for us to understand the stakes, and craft and resolve a satisfying conflict. In world of superheroes, where quantity is consistently prized over quality, this brevity is unheard of. Daredevil alone had 26 episodes; a day and night of glowering, mumbling and reminiscing with his stupid friend. Compared with that – and with the 13 witless episodes doled out to Iron Fist earlier this year – an eight-episode ensemble feels like a treat.
That said, The Defenders is still slow to get going. The first two episodes are agonisingly low-key, with each character contained in their own storyline, and each storyline primarily concerned with murmuring and skulking. Ostensibly, this is to get everyone up to speed on who everybody is. But you know that, because you have already seen full series about each of them. Daredevil is blind and reluctant. Jones speaks solely in offhand quips. Cage is seen only in yellow-tinted scenes soundtracked by hip-hop or R&B. Iron Fist is a whiny baby. This is basically all you need to know. Unless you want to watch an introductory flurry of who-the-hell-are-yous so predictable that you have already guessed them word for word, you could jump straight in at episode three and not miss a thing.
That is when we properly meet the antagonist. Unlike the films, where they are anaemic and reedy, Marvel TV baddies are traditionally the best part of each show. So it is with Sigourney Weaver. After her first scene (in episode one, admittedly) where she is introduced in a moment of extreme vulnerability, she instantly becomes the best thing about the show; easily the equal of Kingpin or Kilgrave. And since she plays an unintentionally hilarious immortal – who keeps giving away her hand by saying things like: “You know who was nice? BEETHOVEN” and “This food reminds me of ANCIENT CONSTANTINOPLE” – that’s saying something.
Episode three is also when the series starts coming together. The initial draw of Daredevil was that it would be the TV equivalent of The Raid. If you like punching in hallways, you would love Daredevil. That didn’t come to pass but. But there is punching in hallways in The Defenders. The first fight scene, when it eventually comes, is giddy with excitement. It is fast and fun and tightly choreographed and, like the airport fight in Civil War, there is the undeniable thrill of watching kids fling their action figures together. The punching in hallways is when everything clicks. It is when you will start enjoying yourself.
Only the first half of the series was up for preview, and it ends on a note that suggests much more punching in hallways to come. Hopefully, that is the case, because The Defenders should be all punching in hallways. Every scene without punching in hallways is wasted.