Marvel’s The Defenders
After New York City was literally shaken at the end of The Defenders’ series premiere, the world of these heroes has been turned on its side. “Mean Right Hook” opens with a shot of the city tilted at 90 degrees, rotating back upright as the camera moves over the chaos unfolding on the streets below, then swinging around to reveal Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) perched on the corner of a rooftop. It’s a disorienting shot, effectively evoking how Matt’s radar processes the flood of information his four heightened senses are absorbing all at once. But Matt is also disoriented on a spiritual level, caught between the thrill of vigilante life, the stability of civilian life, and a panicking city’s need for a protector. Crouched on that rooftop, he gives in to the pull of heroism and bolts off to save people in peril.
The fight scene at the top of the premiere suffered from choppy editing and gratuitous slow motion, but the action in “Mean Right Hook” is a considerable step up, starting with Matt’s rooftop rush to save young looters from being shot. (He could stop the looting, but he’s more concerned with saving lives than inventory.) Editing is used to add a superhuman quality to this sprint; quick cuts dramatically increase Matt’s speed as he navigates across rooftop obstacles, and the power of his leaps is intensified by cutting away after he soars into the air to show him gracefully landing on the ground. When it comes to the actual fight, director S.J. Clarkson lets punches land rather than immediately jumping to post-impact shots, making the violence much more visceral.
The big action set piece of this episode is the brawl between Luke Cage (Mike Colter) and Danny Rand (Finn Jones), who meet when Luke’s investigation of the people hiring Harlem youth for shady late-night activities takes him to a building where Danny and Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) are currently holed up. Danny and Colleen discover a room full of murdered people with some sort of connection to the mystical city of K’un-Lun, and the Harlem youths arrive to melt away the evidence with acid when they’re ambushed by the hiding heroes. As Danny lifts his hand to strike the man Luke was questioning last episode, Luke grabs his arm and tosses him to the ground, the first move in a fight that ends with Luke flying into a wall after taking a hit from Danny’s iron fist.
Before that final blow, Danny tries to use regular martial arts against his opponent and quickly learns that his moves don’t do any damage to a man with diamond-hard skin. There are some refreshing moments of humor in this scene: Luke’s annoyed face when Danny tries to karate-chop his neck, the slow-motion shot of Danny unleashing a barrage of hits on Luke that don’t accomplish anything. I cannot overstate the importance of showing the impact of these hits, and seeing Danny strike Luke to no effect amplifies the force of Danny’s mighty finishing move, depicted with a slow-motion close-up of his glowing fist slamming into Luke’s cheek, sending vibrations through his flesh before his entire body is launched across the room.
Luke and Danny’s face-off comes at the end of the episode, which also has Matt and Jessica interacting for the first time. The quartet still hasn’t come together, and while I would normally be frustrated that a superhero team is taking so long to assemble, not having to wait for the next episode makes the slower pace easier to accept. I don’t think I’d be so generous if this were a weekly TV series, but that’s the value of the binge model. Rather than rapidly pushing the four main heroes together, The Defenders can take some time to reorient viewers in this world and set the stage for the big conflict. The most enthusiastic fans are going to barrel through these episodes and get to the inevitable team-up within a few hours, so withholding the group’s formation creates more anticipation.
The Defenders began with an episode spotlighting the central characters on their own separate paths, and those paths begin to converge in this second chapter, starting with supporting players interacting with different heroes. There was a bit of this in the premiere when Daredevil’s Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) greeted Luke Cage at the end of his prison stint, and in “Mean Right Hook,” Jessica Jones is pursued by Luke Cage’s Misty Knight (Simone Missick) and comes face-to-face with Daredevil’s Elektra (Elodie Yung). Misty is one of the detectives examining the apartment where Jessica found all those explosives, and after a tense introduction, Misty trails Jessica until she has no choice but to take her in.
That confrontation comes after Elektra visits Jessica’s apartment, attacking the architect that Jessica has been trying to find. The missing man makes Jessica’s job easy by showing up in her office, although he’s holding a gun to the head of her neighbor Malcolm (Eka Darville, who has buffed up considerably since Jessica Jones’s first season). Their conversation is cut short by the arrival of Elektra, and rather than being taken in by the Hand’s new enforcer, the architect shoots himself in the head. Ritter does excellent work capturing Jessica’s mix of fear and irritation as she chases after Elektra: It’s clear that she doesn’t want to get sucked into this mess, but she also can’t let this woman get away after she burst into her home with the intent to kill.
Jessica’s pursuit of Elektra is cut short when she’s confronted by Misty outside of her apartment, and given that she’s covered in a dead man’s blood, Jessica knows that it’s not a smart idea to fight a cop right now. Each time Simone Missick appears onscreen, she makes a stronger case for a Misty Knight solo series, and even though Misty is often written as a basic portrayal of a tough cop with a good heart, Missick enriches her character’s personality with strong body language and sharp line readings and reactions. Missick has great chemistry with Ritter, but that’s not a surprise given that she has great chemistry with pretty much all of her co-stars. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear her described as a “giving” performer.
Jessica Jones is my favorite of Marvel’s solo Netflix series, so I’ve been very curious to see how Jessica would fit into a story that seems so far outside of the scope of her show. Jessica’s plot is where a lot of the mystery emerges: The sequence of her investigating the company responsible for shipping all the explosives creates a mystique around the Hand, but Jessica doesn’t know what to do with information suggesting there’s a company hundreds of years old that has managed to keep what it does a secret from the world. She only becomes more suspicious when Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss) shows up to give her a warning. After an assassin shows up in her office, Jessica knows that she’s onto something far bigger and scarier than she initially thought.
Jessica won’t have to continue this case alone, though, because she just got a new attorney who is deeply familiar with the Hand. A conversation between Matt and Foggy establishes that Foggy is feeding cases to his old legal partner, and when Hogarth tells Foggy to keep Jessica Jones far away from her firm, he sends her information along to Matt. The final moment of the episode is Matt introducing himself to his new client, and there’s a lot of dramatic potential in that pairing given that Matt and Jessica both hold puzzle pieces the other can use to create a better picture of their shared enemy.
Meanwhile, The Defenders is gradually revealing more about Sigourney Weaver’s Alexandra, whose name is disclosed by a prisoner familiar to Daredevil viewers: Stick (Scott Glenn), Matt Murdock’s childhood mentor who is desperate to recruit him in his war against the Hand. It’s also implied that Alexandra has been alive for centuries — she speaks about Beethoven and Brahms as if she were around to witness their relationship firsthand — which puts her terminal diagnosis in a new light. She’s a woman operating on an accelerated timetable, and even though she’s being counseled to rethink her plans, she can’t slow down if she wants to see the fruits of her labor. This haste puts New York City in immediate danger, and the city’s heroes will need to get together soon unless they plan on defending ruins.