The Netflix Marvel TV Experiment Is A Mixed Bag

Teetering on greatness.
Teetering on greatness. Netflix

Two years and five seasons in the making and at last Netflix’s The Defenders is here and ... it’s fine. Totally fine. The primary cast do a good job, including Finn Jones returning as Danny Rand, and especially Krysten Ritter’s Jessica Jones. The action sequences are bountiful and for the most part competently choreographed, and eight episodes is a perfect length for a series of this type. Even still, none of it manages to congeal in a way that justifies the hype.

It’s nice to see the four main players hanging out, kicking ass and busting each others balls (and lady balls) but it feels more obligatory than earned. We never really get a scene like the Thor, Iron Man, Captain America scene from The Avengers . It speaks to a larger problem with Marvel’s TV side of things. There isn’t that degree of quality control that is present with the cinematic universe. I wasn’t the biggest fan some of Daredevil season two, the better half of Luke Cage or the majority of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. but besides Iron Fist , nothing has been out and about horrible. (See you later this summer Inhumans ) it’s more that none of it ever feels as realized as it should.

Establishing these mini-sagas that tie into the larger world unfolding on the big screen is marketing brilliance, and when it works it really fucking works. Daredevil season one gave us the best villain of the MCU hands down in Vincent D’onofrio’s Kingpin, as well as proving the studio can handle grit better than anyone expected. Daredevil Season 2 on the other hand; alongside the definitive Frank Castle played by Jon Bernthal, we also got the complete bastardization of one of Frank Miller’s greatest creations (which is saying a lot, his mental state notwithstanding) in Elodie Young’s Elektra. That isn’t to say Young is at all at fault, she does a fine enough job with the schlock she’s given, it’s more to do with the hackneyed plot that revolves around her in Season 2 that encroaches on the infinitely more compelling Punisher stuff. The Hand is BORING. In general, the mixed bag that is Marvel’s television division has trouble discerning what makes for a good story arc. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, which is admittedly much better than it was, still leans heavily on references and the charisma of Clark Gregg to veil what is for the most part a show comprised of thin plots and thinner characters.

Iron Fist suffered a similar fate, though Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, even at its worst, never achieved the ignominious lows of Danny Rand’s solo outing. Saying nothing of the flat, confused, wooden performance of Jones, and the cursory, boring action sequences, the decision to have the entirety of the season center around The Rand Corporation conspiracy was well … misguided to say the least. ABC hasn’t been able to quell concerns regarding the upcoming Inhumans series, after the less than stellar response to the trailer, though they have gone back and touched up some things in the most recent trailer, most noticeably Medusa’s awful CGI hair. Even still, the prognosis isn’t looking too good.

My reservations about Marvel’s TV programs only exists because of the high bar established by the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s like there’s this perpetually inconsistent momentum that seems to plague even their best tv shows. Always in the vicinity of greatness but never quite make the full swing through. Fortunately they come close more times than they don’t, I just feel like they can use the presence of a Keige to establish and maintain a more consistent and cohesive structure. Marvel needs to do more than just competently juggles stars and stories if it wants it’s TV ambitions to have the impact of it's nearly flawless theatrical ambitions.

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