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'The Defenders' season 1 episode 1 review: It's all about character in a highly cinematic opener


‘The Defenders’ season 1 episode 1 review: It’s all about character in a highly cinematic opener

We got a chance to watch ‘The Defenders’ episode 1 in Hall H at SDCC 2017!

“You’re not a hero.”

“That’s your word, not mine,” Luke Cage replies. And so defines Netflix and Marvel’s new series The Defenders, being released August 18, 2017. That’s because this “team” of heroes is anything but, and being on the street level, they aren’t what you’d normally expect from heroes in this day and age.

The show was detailed and explained via Jeph Loeb at Hall H in San Diego Comic Con 2017 and, as a special surprise, the entire first episode aired to patrons. Needless to say, the entire audience was extremely surprised and elated.

So what’s it about?

Check out the latest trailer if you need a refresher.

Why does this matter?

After two seasons of Daredevil, and one each of Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and the recent Iron Fist, Marvel and Netflix are going all in on their shared universe formula hyped at the past two New York Comic Conventions. Not every season of these shows were winners, but some were excellent(Jessica Jones)–which means The Defenders is primed to be one of the most exciting collaborations on television in some time.

Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?

'The Defenders' season 1 episode 1 review: It's all about character in a highly cinematic opener
The gang is together!

The episode opens with excellent fight sequences involving Danny Rand, aka the Iron Fist (played by Finn Jones), Colleen Wing (played by Jessica Henwick) and a mysterious shadowed person. They’re thwarting a murder and pulling off some Matrix-style moves. Truly, if you doubted the martial arts in the Iron Fist show, don’t worry–there are wall flips and tight editing that keeps things easy to follow and exciting. The episode cuts from character to character after this point, giving the viewer a good sense of where they’re at in their own personal story.

Right off the bat, the showrunners are making it clear they’ll keep you in tune with each character, but do so in a strong visual way to keep your attention where it needs to be. Luke Cage for instance, always seems to have hip hop playing in his scenes (with some cool Tony Scott style transitions to his scenes that look grungy and street level) and Matt Murdock’s scenes always seem to be shot in isolation with black space taking up much of the frame (or in one case a sliver through a door) as if to suggest his giving up the Daredevil mantle is making him lonesome.

As far as team ups are concerned, it’s clear showrunner and writer Marco Ramirez is taking the time to give each character a personal journey, but also ensure the heroes need to fight alongside each other. This is in part due to the character work given to the villain Alexandra played by Sigourney Weaver, who has a confidence and wherewithal that’ll put Kingpin to shame. A strong villain is required to put one hero up against the wall, but four? As of this first episode, Ramirez (along with co-writer of the first episode Douglas Petrie) makes Alexandra interesting due to her mystique. I’ll say no more to avoid spoilers, but this character has a very personal reason to be fighting and a good reason not to care about people dying or New York City itself. She’s ruthless, sure (as is seen in the trailer where Weaver says, “It’s just a city–you’ll get used to watching them fall.”), but there’s a strong argument for self-preservation behind it all.

Meanwhile, Ramirez and Petrie give each character a moment to shine and all the actors involved stay true to their characters. Luke Cage (Mike Colter) has become something of a hero of Harlem, Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) is trying to get by with a hole in her apartment wall and as many drinks as possible, Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) is trying to live a life as a lawyer and not a hero, and Iron Fist is preoccupied with taking down The Hand. They all have personal stakes and the writing team does a great job keeping their narratives strong. It’s also worth noting there’s a good balance of drama and humor (Jessica Jones got more than a couple laughs out of the audience) which many of these heroes’ past seasons were lacking in.

The camera work in this episode is stellar too. Always moving, and with some purpose in mind, the cinematography and camera work take this episode to the next level. Every scene felt highly cinematic and at times I was so lost in the episode I could have sworn it was a movie. Seeing it on a giant screen with great speakers in Hall H certainly helped, but the visual aesthetic is bar far better than most TV shows today.

'The Defenders' season 1 episode 1 review: It's all about character in a highly cinematic opener
Could Weaver win an Emmy for this role?

It can’t be perfect can it?

It’s hard to find flaws in this first episode, though nitpickers will point out after the opening there’s no action to speak of. I was a tad surprised at this, but given the time and attention spent on character it really didn’t bother the flow of the show.

The only other gripe I had was a quiet scene between Danny and Colleen which seemed to drag on way too long. It was obviously an exposition moment but seemed to pale in comparison to the rest of the episode which had fast pace or interesting character work.

Is it good?

Based on the excellent first episode, The Defenders is in great shape and the series as a whole should be on everyone’s must watch list. People who haven’t seen the previous shows may feel lost, but seriously, why are you watching this if you haven’t seen those?! The first episode proved the showrunners are more than capable of juggling many characters in an hour long show due to strong character writing and fantastic editing. Believe the hype, The Defenders will defy your expectations.

'The Defenders' season 1 episode 1 review: It's all about character in a highly cinematic opener
'The Defenders' Episode 1
Is it good?
An excellent first episode fills viewers in on who is who, what their journey will be about, and clearly defines the strength of the villain.
Excellent opening fight sequence
Each character is given proper time to feel whole and give them purpose
Weaver is all strength in this episode!
Excellent editing and cinematography makes this feel like a movie
After the opening there's no action, though it's more a surprise than a failing
A quiet scene between Danny and Colleen drags

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