The Defenders Sucks. Details Inside.

Monday , 28, August 2017 40 Comments

One of the oddest parts of this decidedly odd job (err, “””job”””) is having people make specific requests for reviews. Not in a “I’d really like to know how good this movie is.” sort of way, more in a “I’d like you to subject your brain to hitherto unknown levels of mental abuse for my general amusement.” sort of way.

Hence why I got requests for me to play through, then relate the experience of playing through, Mass Effect: Andromeda, presumably penning the piece before the liquefied remains of my brains leak out my nose. I also got a request for a review of The Emoji Movie, which I can only assume it came from some kind of demented ninja assassin too lazy to actually stab me through the heart, so he’d hit upon a plan to have me commit suicide in a manner both painful to me and hilarious to him. I declined both requests on the grounds of me not being a total idiot and also wanting to live to see my next birthday with my brain matter more or less intact.

Then there’s Marvel’s Netflix’s The Defenders. Look, I’ve been tracking this project since long before the original Daredevil series even went into production, eventually watching its precursor series in their totality: DaredevilJessica Jones, Daredevil Season 2, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist. That’s a total of 65 hours of not-quite-superhero not-actually-heroics, and though most of those series were awful, by gum and by golly I’d watched them all and I wasn’t going to quit before I saw the mother through.

So I watched it. All 8 hours. And here’s my review: It sucks. Not in the spectacular fifteen-car-pileup-with-burning-wreckage-rubbernecking-motorists-and-puking-ambulance-drivers way that Mass Effect: Andromeda and The Emoji Movie suck, but rather in the way that sitting in your dentist’s office, flipping through four-year-old issues of Golf Club Maintenance Monthly magazines for eight hours sucks.

It was long. And it was boring. And it was unmemorable.

How unmemorable? I had to watch the last two hours of the show all over again to write this review, because it had been a week and I couldn’t remember a damn thing that had happened in what was supposed to be the MASSIVE OMHECK SO EXCITING CLIMAX of 73 hours of television. Seriously. This was the culmination of plot threads established way back in Daredevil Season 1, the critical showdown with the mysterious and EEEEEEEEEVIL The Hand ninja clan, a chance for all four characters to avenge themselves on hated enemies, and the resulting action was so pedestrian and unremarkable I couldn’t remember what had happened just a week after watching it. That’s pretty disappointing, in my not-so-humble opinion.

What makes it even worse is that, in that ensuing week, I’d watched the entirety of Van Helsing, a SyFy Channel original series also based on a comic book. AND IT WAS BETTER.

That’s right, the Walking Dead ripoff basic cable television series about a vampire apocalypse, with a tiny budget and unknown actors, made by THE SYFY CHANNEL was better than Marvel + Netflix’s big budget streaming video EXTRAVAGANZA. Now that’s just embarrassing.

The critical difference between the two wasn’t the quality of the special effects, the elaborate and opulent sets, or the sheer skill with which actors portrayed their characters. The chief difference between an expensive show that failed and a cheap show that succeeded was this:

In one of them, SOMETHING HAPPENED. People did things, than someone else did something in response, then other people did things in response to that. This used to be a thing in television, all the shows used to do it. What did they use to call it? Oh yeah, STORY. Van Helsing bothered to tell a story, every single episode, and Marvel’s Netflix’s The Defenders did not.

(SPOILERS!)

Now, I’m not saying it was a perfect story—they dug too deep in the big box of zombie apocalypse cliches, despite it not technically being a zombie apocalypse, the secret of why it’s called “Van Helsing” is immediately obvious, though they don’t confirm it until the very last episode, and also the season finale is marred by a stupid downer ending (two or three, TBH)—but at least it was a story. There were bad guys and a thug henchmen, all three of whom were maneuvering against each other, there was a bunch of human blood slaves, a resistance movement against the vampire overlords, a human serial killer stalking the survivors, an attempted coup in their sanctuary that ended in blood, and a woman who’d been comatose for three years who woke up and turned out to be a superpowered vampire killer. They found out her blood could revert vampires to human in Episode Two, and were talking about administering a cure to all the vampires in Episode Three. They started off in a fortified hospital but by Episode Seven they’d been forced to abandon it after a massive battle with combat elite vampire murder cultists that ended with them BLOWING THE ENTIRE BUILDING UP WITH ALL THE ELITE VAMPIRES INSIDE.

Things happened. Every. Single. Episode.

In contrast, the writers of The Defenders are under the delusion that character development comes from standing around yapping. It does not. It comes from characters taking action. DOING things. Only they never did anything on The Defenders, because they were always standing around yapping.

Episode One of The Defenders had literally no story. It was a bunch of people yapping. Or walking and yapping. Or arguing and yapping. And that’s it.

Most of the ensuing episodes featured little more than yapping, even Episode Four’s extended fight scenes being ruined by extended verbal diarrhea. Lots of combat, nothing happening.

The end of Episode Six actually featured something happening and I was like “FINALLY! Things are getting good!” But then Episode Seven of The Defenders—the penultimate chapter—featured NOTHING AT ALL happening for the first 25 minutes, outside of the ever-present yapping. I checked. Nope.

And then, after seven-and-a-half episodes of dithering, bitching, whining, yapping, and refusing to actually become a team, the four members of what’s supposed to be a superhero team finally team up in Episode Eight. Sorta. For a bit. Because they’re forced to. (Van Helsing would have had the team form in Episode One, then give them lots of crap to fight every episode since.) Then they BLOW UP A BUILDING WITH ALL THE ELITE NINJA ASSASSINS INSIDE and… it’s a total snoozefest. Not a flicker of excitement at all.

Look, on some level you could argue that The Defenders is “better” than Van Helsing. The performances are better (though the characters suck, mostly), the camera work is better, and the budget lends a sheen of quality to the whole production. None of that matters.

Van Helsing told a story. It held your attention. Stuff HAPPENED. All that happened in The Defenders was Matt Murdock whining about not wanting to be a superhero, Jessica Jones whining about having to talk to other human beings, Luke Cage whining that he hadn’t signed on for this, gol dangit, and he wanted to go back to Harlem right gol dang now, and Iron Fist whining about… well, everything. It’s his default state. Oh, and they occasionally fight ninjas. Not a lot, you understand, but just sort of as a momentary change of pace from all the yapping.

Say what you will about Vanessa, the vampire-slaying superheroine from Van Helsing, but she kept the whining to a minimum and the ass-kicking to a maximum. Which is why, given a choice, I’d rather watch the crappy low budget SyFy series all over again, instead of sitting through Marvel’s Netflix’s big budget The Defenders. One is entertaining and the other is not, and it’s all down to story.

As in having one.


Jasyn Jones, better known as Daddy Warpig, is a host on the Geek Gab podcast, a regular on the Superversive SF livestreams, and blogs at Daddy Warpig’s House of Geekery. Check him out on Twitter.

40 Comments
  • Ostar says:

    Focus on talking. Focus on action. I’d be interested to see the gender breakdown of the two writing/creative teams – that could explain a lot.

  • Hrodgar says:

    I’ve watched four of the five precursor series (skipped JJ) and, well, color me unsurprised. The first Daredevil season had some promise, but the more they made the less good stuff there was and the more vaguely depressing and mostly pointless padding. If they took out all the impotent whining and pointless stupidity, I’d bet that you could cut the run time in half. I’d be surprised if all the good stuff from Iron Fist broke an hour.

    And even if they wanted to focus on dialogue, it didn’t have to be this bad. It is possible to have a story that mostly moves through dialogue in which stuff still happens (though I really wouldn’t recommend telling a, y’know, SUPERHERO story that way) but they didn’t even really manage that.

  • Tomas Diaz says:

    I think you’re being a bit too hard on the show. Just because it focused extensively on relations expressed through dialogues, that doesn’t mean it lacks a story. Otherwise you have to say Homer, Sophocles, Virgil, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Dante, Shakespeare, and basically the whole of Western literature (not even touching upon the literary tradition of the East) lacked story. The tradition of the novel prior to the advent of Sir Walter Scott and still dominant after was focused on dialogue and reflection – this didn’t mean a lack of story (though it sometimes became little more than philosophy with literary dolls).

    If you’re limiting action to “things happening”, plenty happened in the Defenders. The characters tended not to be pro-active, and mostly dragged along (save, perhaps, for Danny Rand, who’s guilt-driven activity was the worst part of the series). Thus Jessica Jones “happened” to come across the architect, Luke Cage “happened” upon Sowande’s use of Harlem Youth. Murdock is assigned Jessica as a case and is pulled into her half-hearted investigation.

    After this, they are put on the defensive as they (ostensibly) can’t act in the open or tell people about it because this will “put them in danger” (which is stupid, but whatevs). They then have to deal with some inner-group stuff – mostly deducing a logical course of action which Rand’s stupidity can’t work with and thus causes the “necessary” PVP scene – until they go on the offensive once they find out that something is underneath Midland Circle. Then we move to climax which is marred by trying to tie up way too many loose ends and being very confused as to what they want to do with the Murdock-Elektra thing.

    All of this is perfectly summarized in the treatment of the big bad. In the final act, she has to be removed in favor of someone who can actually have a fight with the good guys (should have let Murakami finish her off in that restaurant…)

    There’re are a lot of problems with this (though I still enjoyed it), but it is far too simplistic to say “nothing happened” or that “there’s no story”. More helpful would be pointing out:

    1) An overemphasis on dialogue and interior reflection when the show’s conceit is about exterior powers and abilities (especially which said dialogue and reflection isn’t about said powers and abilities). Basically superheroes only tangentially doing superhero stuff.

    2) Leaning too much on “happenstance” and not allowing the characters to actually act (rather than react) until almost the climax.

    3) Characterization which is hampered by “guilt” (Rand) or misanthropy (Jones), or worries about others (Murdock). Cage is the only characterization I really like and arguably the only guy who “acts” in the show – Misty points him in a direction, then he pummels everything in his way until he reaches his goal.

    It falls into the problem of most media attempting to take a fundamentally pulp idea and elevating it to prestige-TV. It can be done – I’d say each did a decent job on their own, especially Luke Cage and Daredevil. But something like this teamup requires one to go a bit more HAM on the pulp and less on the prestige, which it failed to do.

    So there’s story. The weakness is that the story can’t decide if it wants to be prestige-TV with lots of interior reflection and inter-relational development, or Pulp with a dominance of exterior action and application of Truth (rather than exploration of Truth).

    • Anthony says:

      Season 1 of Daredevil is amazingly countercultural and the best superhwro adaptation since “The Incredibles”.

      Season 2 was one half aweaome Punisher season and one half meh Elektra season. The first four episodea of season 2 form a great movie.

      • Jeffro says:

        Season 1 of Daredevil sucked.

        They should have quit before introducing the Kingpin.

        • Anthony says:

          I will fight you.

        • Anthony says:

          There is no world in which this is true.

          • Sam says:

            I am with Anthony on this.
            While he is fighting you I will attempt an OSR backstab with no better than 15% chance of success.

        • S1AL says:

          Kingpin is awesome. You suck. A pox upon thee!

        • Michael Maier says:

          DD Season 1 had a few shining moments but they weren’t enough to make me watch a minute of a single minute of any of the other Marvel shows.

          A whole season went by and all I really remember is… there was a pretty blonde working in the law office. And some fighting. And the little they showed of Stick and the Hand didn’t interest me at all.

          I do not get why anyone likes the DD show Kingpin.

          Wilson Fisk was NEVER a damned whiner in the comics. He loved his wife and wanted her cured but he never WHINED about it.

          Kingpin in DD Season 1 was utterly pathetic and emasculated. The comic version would have killed the TV version out of sheer disgust.

        • Vlad James says:

          Completely agree with Jeffro. Season 1 of Daredevil did indeed suck and I never bothered with any of the other Netflix Marvel series after it.

      • Hooc Ott says:

        Dredd may not beat The Incredibles (how to judge?!?!) but considering the cringe of the Kingpin and some lady out of the blue whom we are forced watch for hours romance each other for no seeming reason towards plot or character or anything juxtapositioned against Daredevil’s non-romance romance of not one but two different women, Dredd beats Daredevil without breaking a sweat.

        Also how Anderson is portrayed as an anti-Mary Sue (A woman who can’t do everything!! Impossible!!) AND lets Dredd be friggin Dredd it takes Dardevil’s “Amazing Countercultural” title as well.

        • Andy says:

          Well, The Incredibles isn’t an adaptation…

        • Anthony says:

          The Kingpin was freaking amazing. The time spent establishing his and Vanessa’s relationship was important because it gave him a weakness, something Owsley exploited and that ultimately lead to his downfall. This is very clear in the show; you just missed it. It was a contrast to Daredevil not lettig anyone else, women included, influence his decisions. He is his own man. He might be alone at the end of it, but he is a hero.

          As for Dredd…look, Daredevil had men in masculine roles, women in feminine roles, a truly villainous villain where the consequences of his actions are clearly shown, and the heroes make sacrifices in order to defeat the bad guy. The Church is portrayed in an unambiguously positive light, and a Priest is a major character who unambigously reaffirms the reality of the devil.

          “Letting Dredd be Dredd” and not having a Mary Sue is not enough to beat that.

          • Hooc Ott says:

            Heroic lead rejecting women cuz of pensive duty: masculine…

            Nope not even once.

            Kingpin villain made vulnerable by faithful woman drawn to his masculine power and brought down by that ‘flaw’.

            You voluntarily live in a worse time line.
            To break out might I suggest going by these simple words “What would John Carter do?”

            Dredd dispenses with these non-nonsensical romance beats and simply has none of it.

            Considering past and current superhero romances such as Hulk friend-zoning the Black Widow and The Green Arrow/The Flash diversity soap opera for creepy Gawker writers and of course the DareDevil examples simply having zero romance at all is a wise choice. If you can’t do it all than simply don’t.

          • Anthony M says:

            Heroic lead rejecting women cuz of pensive duty: masculine…

            Nope not even once.

            Refusing to compromise on your principles because women want you to?

            Yeah, masculine.

            To break out might I suggest going by these simple words “What would John Carter do?”

            Matt Murdoch isn’t John Carter. He never was. You might have a problem with that, but I don’t.

            Dredd dispenses with these non-nonsensical romance beats and simply has none of it.

            Okay. That’s not the only part of the movie, or the show. You can’t just ignore the rest of it because you were really hoping DD would shack up with Claire.

    • What you’re missing is that the show bills itself as an action-driven superhero/crimefighter show, not a dialogue-driven soap opera. It’s a matter of emphasis. A show like this ought to be 80~90% action and story, maybe 10% character drama or comic relief. In any given scene players ought to be fighting, planning out a fight, or following up leads as to where to find people to fight. IE – doing the job of being a superhero/crimefighter.

    • BLUME says:

      B.S. I don’t see how you can justify calling a story about a walk through he’ll and say it’s focused on dialogue and reflection. 90% of the people don’t talk. Your while classification of literature is just wrong.

      Homer, epic fight scenes with copy paste interludes.

      Sophocles monologues about all the horrible terrible things that happened off screen.

      Dante fanatical descriptions of the terrible fate that awaits your nay sayers and foes. No one talks but Dante and Virgil.

      Shakespeare, lots of bloody deaths and sex, plus dick and fart jokes. Richard the third had some one killed while they were fucking.

      These are dudes aren’t action focused? The only one with significant dialogue is the ancient play wright who saved a ton on special effects having it done off camera.

  • John E. Boyle says:

    Good Lord this is disappointing. FIVE miniseries, 70 plus hours of TV and this is it?

    Does this “job” of yours offer hazard pay?

  • Bryce says:

    What wrong with SYFY? The Expanse is fantastic.

    • Sam says:

      contra many many opinions, I thought The Expanse did top notch noir.

      I also liked the giant political meat grinder of vested interests and corrupt mega-governments. Seems familiar somehow….

      • El Bearsidente says:

        Now just wait for Syfy to cancel it.

        They have a history of canceling good stuff and keeping rubbish.

        Dark Matter just got dropped by them. Mind you, DM wasn’t genius or brilliant, but it was entertaining, it had a story going. Of course it got canned.

        Also, you remember Defiance? Yeah, another good story-telling show dropped.

        So yeah, I’m just waiting for them cancel The Expanse, because they always drop the good and even just decent stuff.

    • Aaron B. says:

      SyFy (when it was The Sci-Fi Channel) did what’s still the best show I’ve ever seen, Farscape, which was made of Muppets, Australians, and half the budget spent on leather. Sometimes the effects and acting were typical of the network (though they got better as the budget increased), but the show was packed with story. Every character had a story (at least one), and every episode had a story. There were at least two story lines running through the whole thing, a lighter space opera fish-out-of-water story, and a deeper one about the nature of space, time, and existence. Great stories and characters who fit into them.

  • David says:

    I am very disappointed by this review, not because it is incorrect but because, deep in my gut, I know Daddy Warpig is right.

    I only caught the first episode this weekend, and it took them 51 minutes to update me on where these characters have been since each of their individual shows ended…

    Iron Fist – Not much, just going on one wild goose chase after another in my private jet.
    Jessica Jones – Not much, just hiding from the world and drinking alcohol and Starbucks.
    Luke Cage – Not much, just hanging out in prison.
    Daredevil – Not much, just doing the lawyer thing now that I have retired from crime-fighting.

    The first Avengers movie spent only a fraction of this setup time on the update, and wasted no time with Loki hitting the ground running with his evil plan. It took Sigourney Weaver the entire episode just to hit the ground…assuming that earthquake at the end was the start of her plan.

    I kept waiting for something interesting to happen after the initial fight scene(which was difficult to follow because of the darkness), instead I got more Iron Fist frustration and constipation, Luke Cage taking his sweet time getting into town and then getting laid before giving a talk to some kid, and Daredevil acting awkwardly with Karen before confessing to his priest that he really misses being Daredevil.

    Thankfully Jessica Jones spent some of her time advancing the plot with an interesting missing persons case and finding some explosives. If she hadn’t, I might have fallen asleep in the middle of the show, and that would have been bad because I watched the show standing up.

    I skipped the spoilers because I plan to watch at least one more episode, but my hope that things would improve have now been dashed.

  • Sam says:

    The plot didn’t drive, the character development was not consistent or compelling (except for Stick, who isn’t even a headline character) and the dialogue was AWFUL.

    You can do character and introversion and dialogue if you want, but you have to do it well. They didn’t…. except Stick.

    You can do apocalyptic plot, but again, you have to do it well, and it has to interact with the characters… it didn’t. Except Stick.

    It should have been half the length, and called “Stick”.

  • Tommy Kaye says:

    I didn’t even bother to finish watching Iron Fist. What a crappy, boring character with such a stupid “super power”!

    I watched all the other shows and only Jessica Jones was worth watching but that was totally because of the villian and with him dead I have no hope for Season 2, if there is one.

    So many hours of my life I will never get back.

  • S1AL says:

    The best part about Daredevil, IMO, is that Matt keeps trying to fight horrible evil and lawless maniacs by beating them up and probably them in jail – all the while, Stick and Frank keep telling him he’s an ineffective coward.

    And they’re right. And by the end of the Defenders? He’s actually agreeing!

    That’s character development.

    • Anthony says:

      Yeah, season 2 Matt is an ass, but yhe show acknowledges it at least.

      • Taarkoth says:

        Everything wrong with Matt is demonstrated in his 131st action scene in Defenders where he knocks down a shopkeep trying to defend his livelihood from thieves, and then brutally beats the shit out of the guy’s teenage son when he tries to defend his father from the crazy ninja that just attacked him.

  • Erik Jensen says:

    “In contrast, the writers of The Defenders are under the delusion that character development comes from standing around yapping.”

    The ruinous touch of Bendis has ruined many things.

  • Vlad James says:

    Frankly, I never understood the hype over Daredevil Season 1. It was a well-produced, well-acted, forgettable mediocrity. It was the typical overly gritty and “realistic” superhero portrayal of a plot as astoundingly idiotic as a blind lawyer in a dumb costume fighting bad guys without firearms and not getting brutally butchered in the process.

    Acknowledge the silliness and have fun with it. It took until Deadpool for anyone to take that approach, and imperfect as that movie was, it’s a hell of a lot better than Daredevil.

    This is in addition to what Jasyn noted above, that relatively little occurs during the course of the season.

  • El Bearsidente says:

    I’ve only seen the first two episodes of the first season of Daredevil.

    The fight scenes were good, but that’s all I remember.

    I saw a few of the Iron Fist trailers, and quickly dismissed the entire show as rubbish. There was this female character, I call her Bimbonella, running around with a sword all the time and, of course, the actress had no actual clue of how to really handle a sword, so every “badass” fight scene they hinted at, looked absolutely ridiculous (similar to Michonne in TWD.)

    Mind you, I don’t care much for superheroes, they bore me, so I’m already coming in with a not-so-positive attitude towards it, but even just taking DD season 1, the big fight scene in the corridor is all I remember from those first few episodes.

    There wasn’t just anything else remarkable in it, at least not for me.

    If I compare this with, let’s say, Suits (I know, not a superhero show, but it’s been running for years), I still remember how Mike Ross came to work for Harvey Specter. It was a memorable build up and scene. It was well written and there were two actors with the right chemistry.

    GoT, first season, Ed and Robert meet again. Memorable scene, well written, two veteran actors with good chemistry enjoying their work together.

    One of the problems here might be that superheroes are generally horribly done one-dimensional characters. They don’t have much going for themselves, except the whole “I’m a superhero!” thing.

    I mean, take Batman. He’s the textbook definition of a Mary Sue. Batman is one of the few superheroes I like, too, yet I’m fully aware just how ludicrous the entire setup of the character is.

    Or take Superman. All he really has is “I’m Superman”. If we consider the last movie that explored his background, he also comes from a species of blithering idiots, which doesn’t really add anything noteworthy to him.

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