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Here's What Marvel Can Learn From The Defenders

From shorter seasons to more unexpected pairings, here are the biggest takeaways from 'Marvel's The Defenders'

Marvel's The Defenders has been described as Marvel Television's version of The Avengers, but that comparison is unfair.

For one, The Defenders is a slow burn. It takes about four episodes (roughly half of the season) to really get going. Even then, the action is street-level, grounded. There's no cosmic hole in the sky threatening to destroy the entire planet. (Although there is a hole in the ground threatening to destroy New York City.) The real fun of The Defenders isn't the otherworldly stakes, or even the dizzying action sequences. Instead, it's what happens when you throw four wildly different people together in a Chinese restaurant and watch them annoy the hell out of one another over dumplings.

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"Even in the comics, they were always characters that never really intended to be a team," executive producer Jeph Loeb told MTV News back in July. "I always compliment Joss Whdeon because he had the extraordinary task of putting all of those heroes together and at the end of it, they had to form a team. They had to wear an 'A' for Avengers and be in a big tower and go out and save the world.

"But when we first sat down, all the way back in Daredevil, we said, 'When we get to Defenders, these people don't need to get along, and these people don't need to see each other ever again.' So it enabled us to have everyone maintain their core personalities. Jessica Jones isn't going to suddenly like, 'Go team!'"

And she doesn't. Now that we've had time to digest Marvel's latest superhero team-up, and analyze all of its highs and lows, it's time to start looking ahead. The Defenders wasn't perfect, but there's a lot to glean from its first season. Here, just a few observations:

  1. Eight is the magic number
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    For as much as I enjoyed Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, I also felt like they could have been three to four episodes shorter. Netflix's Marvel shows all have a tendency to stretch their plot far too thin and meander in the middle — and that can largely be attributed to the episode count. Why do we need 13 episodes a season?

    The Defenders' eight-episode season worked in its favor. (Despite the fact that there were still some major pacing issues.) For the most part, the season was succinct, and even if you didn't agree with some of the plot twists. Not to mention, every episode was easily under 60 minutes. In the age of Peak TV, it doesn't get anymore enjoyable than that.

  2. Don't try to force character interactions simply because they're canon
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    At times, Luke Cage and Danny Rand's interactions felt ham-fisted, as if they'd been scripted only because the characters have such an iconic friendship in the comics. Watching Luke check Danny on his white privilege was surely appreciated, but that doesn't mean those scenes always worked. Matt Murdock and Jessica Jones, however, were a revelation together. Much of that has to do with Krysten Ritter and Charlie Cox's natural onscreen chemistry, but there's also something to be said for the unexpectedness of their pairing. Watching Matt and Jessica play a game of cat-and-mouse in broad daylight wasn't something I knew I needed, but I could probably watch an entire season dedicated to just that.

  3. The female characters need more to do
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    While each member of The Defenders gets their own individual arc, Daredevil is the show's emotional center and, in many ways, everyone else is just existing in and out of his orbit. (Even Ritter, who's fantastic in Defenders, is missing the emotional resonance that made Jessica Jones such a firecracker in her own series.) That doesn't leave a lot of room for the excellent cast of supporting characters — most of them women — the Marvel shows have built up in recent years. Characters like Claire Temple, Misty Knight, Colleen Wing, and Karen Page don't have a whole lot to do, which is a shame because the chemistry between Claire, Colleen, and Misty, in particular, is combustible. (At least Colleen gets to resolve her main arc from Iron Fist and take down Bakuto once and for all.)

    I know The Defenders isn't their story, but that doesn't mean for instance that Colleen Wing, an extremely skilled fighter, should stand on the sidelines for most of the action, worried about Danny. (Nor should she put up with Danny's woe-is-me ways.) With so many kick-ass female heroes in its arsenal, it would be nice if Marvel actually started using them.

  4. Please let this be the end of The Hand
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    A hero is only as great as its antagonist, and The Defenders was weighed down by all of this Hand nonsense. It's not that I don't think Elektra (or, the Black Sky) isn't a worthy villain — in fact, I think her scenes mostly worked — but for as terrible and fearsome as The Hand is supposed to be, I felt that most of their power plays were lame and predictable. Plus, they didn't really seem all that immortal, did they? For as commanding as Sigourney Weaver’s Alexandra was, we never really got to see her flex, and that was kind of a bummer. How can a deadly organization of ruthless mercenaries and skilled ninjas be so boring? (Not for nothing, but I can go my whole life without hearing the word K'un-Lun again.)

  5. Iron Fist needs a major attitude adjustment
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    The Defenders make a lot of jokes at Danny's expense. They're not entirely unjustified: He's a guy with a glowing fist who talks about chi far too much and won't stop calling himself the Immortal Iron Fist. My main complaint about Iron Fist (the man and the Netflix series) — aside from the fact that he's a dude with a magical, indestructible fist and awesome kung fu skills, and still can't defeat anyone — is that Danny Rand has a horrible attitude about everything. Danny should be fun. He should add levity to the team, but instead he just walks around being angry all the time. Such a drag.

    The Defenders did, however, give us a few glimpses into the Danny I'd hoped to see. Episode 4, arguably the show's best episode, finds the Defenders seeking refuge from The Hand in a Chinese restaurant. Here, Danny actually looks like he's having ... fun. Rather than letting his ego consume him as in so many other scenes.

    "The polarizing aspect of Iron Fist is something I think the critics had a good time with, but at the end of the day when you talked to people who actually watched the show, they really enjoyed the show," Loeb told MTV News when asked about the lukewarm response to Fist. "Unlike many of the other characters, particularly in the entire Marvel universe, Danny's story is a different one. He is finding his way in terms of where he wants to be."

    Seeing how the season ends with Danny watching all of Hell’s Kitchen from the rooftops — taking Daredevil's place as the city's protector — it seems like things are only going to get darker for the Iron Fist. And that's a real shame because when the writers let Danny be the kid he's supposed to be, he's a hero actually worth rooting for.