So I watched Marvel's The Defenders this weekend and on the one hand I LOVED IT and on the hand I kind of hated it. Yes unfortunately I have to admit there was a real problem with the series and the problem was the story. While waiting for this major team-up of all of Marvel's street level heroes, the big question on everybody's mind was what threat would bring them all together. That threat turned out to be the Hand ... and just the Hand. Now that The Defenders has been released, we can look back on the previous Marvel series, particularly Daredevil and Iron Fist, to see how their stories were structured so that they set up the big crossover. With this new insight I believe The Defenders is in large part to blame for the problems with Iron Fist.
How I Think 'The Defenders' Ruined 'Iron Fist'
I would like to clarify for everyone here that I personally did enjoy Iron Fist and I think Finn Jones is great in the role. I feel a lot of the criticism is generated by the outside debate around the show and not just about the show itself. That being said, while I enjoyed it, I recognize some glaring problems with the show, namely the choice to heavily focus on the Hand. In retrospect it is clear that the show was all about setting up The Defenders and personally I think that was a mistake because it sidelined or prevented other potential Iron Fist story lines in favor of just one aspect of his character; being the enemy of the Hand. It was hard to get behind Iron Fist focused only on fighting the Hand considering that he was also supposed to be trying to take back his father's company, reconnect with the Meachums, and get to know the streets of New York through Colleen, as well as show the audience more of his time in K'un-L'un besides a few flashbacks that really didn't show anything.
Any one of these other plot lines could've been worth exploring as opposed to having a 13-episode long fight with Hand, especially since Daredevil already did that. Before the show aired people, myself included, were hoping to see Danny's journey as he tries to build a new life in New York while exploring the lessons he learns and brings with him from K'un-L'un. Instead the Hand just ended up inserting itself into all these other stories with no real reason, whether it's the Hand intimidating the Meachums, being responsible for Danny losing his parents, or the Colleen twist which I feel was done simply for drama and didn't really hold much weight when you consider how Danny and Claire quickly forgive her. Ultimately if you take the Hand out of Iron Fist and refocus the story, the show might have been much more cohesive and entertaining for people.
As it is the Hand felt much more appropriate on Daredevil where the involvement of Stick and Elektra in the storyline helped connect Matt Murdock and the Hand in a much more believable way. With Danny Rand it just felt forced.
The Problem With 'The Defenders'
The Defenders succeed in bringing all four heroes together and while they had great chemistry and the each brought something out of the others, their team-up ultimately felt forced. While Daredevil's previous connections with the Hand helped bring real weight to his fight with them, in the case of Danny Rand, it just seemed that he was fighting with the Hand and they were trying to get to him "for reasons" and there wasn't any real emotional stakes for him or Sigourney Weaver's Alexandra. As for Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, they get involved in the fight for very tenuous and extremely coincidental reasons; given how secretive the Hand were in Daredevil and Iron Fist, it's surprising that they would show up on Luke and Jessica's radar anyway.
The plot also seems nonsensical. From what I gathered, all this was so the Hand could get more of the substance that helps them resurrect their followers. For starters, did they just now run out and if so, how have they not taken the time to get a steady supply. I f they've run out before, how is this time suddenly so hard for them. While they were presented as major threats in previous shows, they had a lackluster showing in The Defenders considering every time the heroes fought them, they won. It's also disappointing to see Sigourney Weaver's character reduced to a partnership. The show consistently switches back and forth, at some points painting Alexandra as the main leader of the Hand, and at other times insisting that she is one of five "fingers," or leaders, that are simply working together.
This brings me to another problem, they don't really work together. A big part of the story is spent pitting Alexandra against the others for using Elektra/Black Sky. This at least is believable since they don't seem like they get along, and according to some, they haven't got along throughout history. But this begs the question, if their supposed to be this devastating unified force, why waste time in the story giving us various leaders that fight each other as much as the heroes, and why paint Alexandra as the big bad if she is hardly the only threat.
Also as great as Elektra may be to some, I maintain that her story should belong on Daredevil and seeing her overthrow Alexandra so easily (again undermining her status as the main villain) and take control of the Hand and becoming the ultimate threat seems ... a little too much. While it would be great in a Daredevil storyline, is this really what we wanted in a Defenders crossover because making Elektra the villain really doesn't necessitate Luke Cage of Jessica Jones. While both have heroic tendencies and wouldn't turn their backs on this threat, they also don't have a personal reason to be involved. In Danny's case, the show actually takes time to point out how it would be better if he wasn't involved since he is the key to the Hand getting what they want.
There are other small reasons, but they all add up to the same thing. Alexandra (and by extension Sigourney Weaver) is wasted in a role that really doesn't live up to the hype; and the ultimate threat that was supposed to bring in and challenge all four heroes really only justifies Daredevil's presence. Personally, I think there was a much better way to handle this.
How I Think It Could Have Gone (I.e. No Hand)
The biggest problem with the story was that there wasn't a whole lot to justify all four heroes (and their extended casts) to come together. Instead of using the Hand as the main villain, much of the story should've been re adapted and left as a storyline on Daredevil. Instead Marvel and Netflix should have fallen back on the best of their previous villains, such as crime bosses (Kingpin, Cottonmouth), superpowered and dangerous rivals (Kilgrave, Diamondback), and corporate/political threats (Mariah, Harold Meachum). Alexandra should have been all these characters rolled up into one.
Instead of setting up the Hand in Iron Fist, the show could have capitalized on its show's corporate setting and had Danny Rand discover an organization that is infiltrating his company and the city at large organizing politicians and street criminals alike. I realize this is what the Hand was doing via Bakuto but stick with me there are some key differences with making it a modern day conglomerate like the MCU's AIM. Iron Fist could have focused on Danny finding out that Harold has become a key player in this unnamed group, rather than just being a puppet of the Hand. Furthermore, their power could be furthered explored through Colleen as a small business owner. The show could have then seen Danny trying to bring many of the lessons he's learned in K'un-L'un to a city that is being consumed by corporate greed and material obsession. While I realize this is a cliche story, it still works if done right and it is still topical. The other shows explored their own real world issues and that was mainly why they succeeded; Iron Fist didn't have that.
Moving on to Defenders, if you simply make the organization original to the series and not from the comics, it gives more room to tailor it to each of the four shows. First off, Alexandra would need to clearly be in charge, not just one of several leaders fighting to be in control. That's not to say it wouldn't help to bring in other villains from the shows, especially if it reveals Alexadra has been pulling the strings in New York for quite some time. For instance, sponsoring Madame Gao's drug trade (more on this in a sec), assisting Cottonmouth and Kingpin in their campaigns, or maybe helping to stop them from usurping her plans of controlling New York. By connecting the shows in this way, but through a modern organization seeking full control of society in New York (kinda like Hydra but NOT) would basically lead all four heroes to be invested and also require the involvement of their supporting characters. Whereas the Hand, being a cult of evil ninjas, was too dangerous for those close to the Defenders to get involved, a secret corporation might better provide opportunities for the supporting class. Karen and Trish could have done more with their investigative work, Misty as a Detective might have actually been brought in to what was going on rather than being left in the dark, perhaps teaming up with Malcolm to help in investigating, lawyers such as Foggy and Jeri might have been able to help with understanding legal issues. My point being many of these characters felt like extras rather than key supporting roles. This is of course extra since Jessica and Matt especially can already handle this, but if Alexandra's organization is shown to have infiltrated all aspects of New York life, a few more extra hands might not be a bad idea.
Now what exactly would Alexandra's group be after and what would make them so much of a threat. Personally I actually liked the idea that they were seeking immortality and I wish the consequences of this would have been elaborated on more. Think about it, a corporation that is trying to slowly achieve world domination would be that much more of a problem if they had eternity to do it and they couldn't be truly killed. Many of the world's rich and powerful would love nothing more than being able to live forever with their wealth and influence. Where would this immortality come from, well going back to Madame Gao and Iron Fist and K'un-L'un, it could be that K'un-L'un had discovered a medicinal drug that, when perverted, could allow immortality. OK OK that's actually what the did in The Defenders, but my point is that the Hand just wanted it to have it. I think it actually is a lot more evil (and topical) if a Western corporation has essentially taken control of a mystical land like K'un-L'un and abused it for their own pursuits. Basically, if you take out the Hand and do the same thing with a brand new organization, the plot isn't so emotionally tied to Daredevil and to a lesser extent Iron Fist. I think there's merits to it and if you disagree or think it's the same thing and thus there's no point, fine, it's just what I think would have worked better.
What did you think of The Defenders?