No matter how well or little you like Marvel’s Netflix series, what is undeniable is that in terms of overall quality, the series aren’t quite as good as their big screen counterparts. That’s not to say that the series haven’t had their share of masterpiece seasons nor that the movies never stumble coming out of the gate. But, pound for pound, the movies have simply been better, even if the series offer us a more street level view of the cinematic universe.
Although the movies have long since eschewed their notably weak roster of villains — between such gangbusters antagonists like Killmonger, Loki, Ego, Ultron, Zemo and their controversial reimagining of The Mandarin — their strongest work in that regard has always been on the TV side of things. Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk is undoubtedly the mega-franchise’s most complex, compelling and comparatively challenging foe. Jessica Jones’ Killgrave not only has the most devastating power set of the MCU’s rogues gallery, but is the most terrifying ne’er-do-well by far And while the main antagonist of Luke Cage was a bit of a letdown, both Cottonmouth and Black Mamba were fascinating portraits of crime and corruption that have plenty of staying power over their gradual reveal in the series.
And while I feel that both series were perfectly fine in their own right — an unpopular opinion to take, if the internet is any indication — both Iron Fist and, to a lesser degree, The Defenders were extreme letdowns compared to their much stronger brethren. I don’t just mean on Netflix, either, nor even on TV in general. These were the two low-points of the entire MCU: moreso than Iron Man 2, Thor: The Dark World and whatever the anti-Iron Man 3 contingent is complaining about this week.
This is not to say that either is strictly speaking bad. They’re both perfectly serviceable television series and a fun watch in their own right. It’s just that, compared to everything else Marvel has been putting out since 2008, they fall considerably short of the mark.
Danny Rand was never going to work as the Iron Fist in the 21st century. He is an egregious example of White cultural appropriation and Asian exoticism that has no right to be in a modern TV series. Coupled with the fact that the Netflix interpretation of him is the most insufferable Frankenstein of transcendent douche-bro traits, and that his personal journey in his self-titled series played out like a second rate Arrow knockoff certainly contributed to that. Additionally, all of the uniquely interesting ephemera from the Iron Fist comics — namely, the extradimensional city of Kun Lun — required a Thor-level budget to suitably bring to life on screen, rather than the relative pittance that Netflix necessarily works with.
Excepting the budget (which, lacking a magical city to render on screen, didn’t stretch the series’ resources to breaking), everything that plagued Iron Fist — namely, Danny Rand — was imported into the crossover. Rand was, if anything, even more insufferable when forced to work with working class heroes like Matt Murdock, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. Additionally, The Hand — imported over from both Iron Fist and Daredevil — made for shockingly uninteresting villains.
Due to the lackluster reception of the first crossover series between these heroes, many have called for the cancellation of the presumptive sequel season: cut The Defenders and focus on smaller teamups like Heroes for Hire, Daughters of the Dragon and cross-series guest appearances. I never understood the extremity of this position. Yes, Heroes for Hire would be a fun series (Danny aside). Daughters of the Dragon would be a much needed elevation of supporting female characters to headliners of a show of their own. And I am all for as much inter-series cross-seeding as could possibly be managed.
The important thing, though, is not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The Defenders is a rock-solid premise that simply requires a few tweaks to make work. Ditching Danny and replacing him with somebody like the Punisher (or Blade or Moonknight or Hellcat or She-Hulk) would be a great first move. He is an obnoxious drag on the series as a whole and has terrible chemistry with any of his supposed teammates. There are plenty of interesting street-level heroes to choose from in the pages of Marvel comics, they just need to find someone interesting.
The other big fix that needs to be made is to the villain. While they were profoundly uninteresting, The Hand is a moot point now. They’ve been defeated. They’re done. No muss, no fuss: just move on. Make way for the real villain that the Defenders deserve to go up against: Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin.
Although he’s been set up as a predominantly Daredevil villain, Wilson Fisk is the Loki of the Netflix series: grown far beyond the bounds of the single franchise that spawned him. His legal untouchability, ruthlessness and underworld network make him a perfect fit for a team of low-level heroes while being infinitely more compelling than anybody involved with the immortal ninjas that were running around during the team’s first outing.
Simply fixing those two problems should bring everything else in line. There’s too much potential here to throw away just because things didn’t go perfectly the first time around.