Marvel’s ‘The Defenders’ Fires on All Cylinders

It’s true that Netflix’s slate of Marvel heroes hasn’t tasted the same limelight as their Earth-avenging, galaxy-guarding counterparts, but the streaming giant has presented a much more mature, gritty interpretation of the comics many coveted as kids. It’s a presentation style that works, in effect peeling back the cowl and humanizing the otherwise superhuman. Once secondary heroes, Luke Cage, Daredevil, Iron Fist and Jessica Jones have been introduced to a new audience and completely re-defined — a necessary reinvention considering the affront to comic book culture that was 2005’s “Daredevil” movie. Equally as necessary in comic adaptations is the obligatory crossover, where the forces of evil become too steep of a hurdle for one crusader to brave, setting the table for a goosebumps-inducing meeting of the heroic minds. “The Avengers” hit the nail on the head for what a solid crossover should be, and the jury’s still out for “Justice League,” but every good comic universe eventually sees the mashup. Marvel’s “The Defenders” mini-series follows the same crossover template, but it feels far from formulaic. In fact, “The Defenders” fires on all super cylinders, feeling organic with just the right amount of character work and urgency to keep the series rolling along.

Initially, the series plays out like four different TV shows cut together, with each hero engrossed in their own world. Luke Cage (Mike Colter) is fresh out of prison and wants to move on, Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) is still boozing it up and not yet over her battle with Killgrave, Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) has exchanged the Daredevil suit for a lawyer’s and just wants to fight injustice from inside the system, and Danny Rand (Finn Jones) continues to irritate in his pursuit of The Hand. It’s Rand’s character that really doesn’t fit the mold for this show, and that’s not entirely a surprise. “Iron Fist” criminally under-delivered when it premiered earlier this year, and “The Defenders” does nothing to fix the problems that make him such a hard character to take seriously. Even his superhuman comrades laugh at him when he boisterously declares himself as “the immortal Iron fist.” Thankfully, by about the third episode, Rand is in the thick of things and able to pull back on the shaolin mumbo-jumbo.

The show works really well at organically pulling in every piece of the puzzle, whether it’s Murdock not being able to deny his senses or Jones wandering into trouble. Nobody’s rushed into anything, so that the first time all four characters are together, spines will tingle. When they work in concert to dispatch bad guys, it’s a joy to behold. But they’ve got quite the bad guy to deal with this go-around. Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver) lords over the hand — or at least we think she does, so many people have been revealed as The Hand’s puppet master until someone higher up the chain reveals themselves. She falls into her role as a villain perfectly, striking an eerie calmness that reminds you of that one teacher that never yelled at you for doing your homework, instead just staring daggers through you. Now that’s dark.

It’s easy to get lost in the small flaws this show fails to obscure. No matter how much super strength or martial arts know-how is on hand, you can’t fix continuity. It’s tough figuring out what The Hand is up to, not because they’re being super secretive about it (which they are), but because there are just way too many moving parts here. It feels sloppy, although one can hope the rest of the series can explain these flaws away. If the first half of the series is anything to go by, the back half is going to be explosive, and whatever Alexandra is planning, it’s going to take a lot of man (and woman) power to stop. Thankfully, there’s a crew for that.

Marvel’s “The Defenders” premieres Aug. 18 on Netflix.