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The Defenders: Season 1 - Advance Preview

Just a few months after the critical disappointment of Iron Fist - which admittedly improved during the latter half of its inaugural season, but still fell short of its predecessors - Marvel seeks to right the ship with the long-awaited team-up series The Defenders. Judging by the first four episodes, which was offered to select members of the press in advance of the premiere, things are mostly back on track, but even with the decision to scale back to an eight-episode run, The Defenders is still plagued by some of the pacing issues that have marred the studio's previous Netflix offerings.

Fans expecting the four heroes to join forces right away will be scratching their heads by the end of the first episode, which focuses solely on catching audiences up on the whereabouts of each character. Matt (Charlie Cox) is taking pro bono work and has ceased his nighttime habit of beating up criminals, Jessica (Krysten Ritter) is working a missing persons case and still hasn't bothered to fix her apartment door, and Luke (Mike Colter) is fresh out of jail and for a little TLC with Claire (Rosario Dawson). As for Danny (Finn Jones), he and Colleen (Jessica Henwick) are hot on the trail of the shadowy criminal organization known as The Hand.

The Defenders deftly juggles multiple narratives that slowly begin to converge, but showrunners Marco Ramirez and Douglas Petrie wait until the end of Episode 3 before allowing all four heroes to appear together, converging on the offices of Midland Circle Financial to confront Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver), the criminal mastermind at the center of The Hand's plans for New York. It's a long wait, to be sure, but when it finally happens the action is immensely satisfying, and each character is allowed an opportunity to showcase their talents. Luke's brute strength is the perfect complement to Matt's agility, and his impenetrable skin makes him an ideal shield for Danny to duck behind when the automatic weapons come out. And of course, Jessica holds her own alongside the boys' club, knocking out henchman and firing off snarky quips without breaking a sweat.

The fight choreography is stellar here, and special recognition goes to Finn Jones, whose physicality has improved exponentially since the last time we saw Danny onscreen. Iron Fist tried to mask his shortcomings with numerous editing techniques, resulting in fight sequences that often felt clunky and awkward, but The Defenders has no need for such tricks, and Jones is considerably move believable as a martial-arts badass when the audience can see that it's actually him in the middle of the action. The writing for Danny is also a considerable improvement, and the script even manages to acknowledge some of the fan criticism which surrounded the character earlier this year.

With four complex and multi-faceted heroes, a sinister and intriguing villain and a lengthy list of supporting characters, The Defenders could easily find itself bogged down under the weight of the world that Netflix and Marvel have created. But by the halfway point, this hasn't happened, and the slow pacing feels like a reasonable price when the action-packed payoff is so strong. That being said, there's a hell of a lot of ground left to cover in the latter four episodes, and plenty of opportunity for things to go sideways. Here's hoping Ramirez and Petrie can stick the landing.

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