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: Daredevil, Jessica 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.
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.