Who's the best Defender? We rank every Marvel Netflix show: From Worst to Best
Tomorrow, Netflix will be dropping all 8 episodes of The Defenders. The mini-series will see three widely beloved street-level heroes - Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones - and Iron Fist teaming up to, presumably, defend. Will they be a cohesive unit or will they be sneering at one another, as per the time-honoured custom? Probably both. Who knows. One thing's for sure, a whole lot of hallways are going to be littered with the bodies of bruised, barely conscious goons.
This is as good a time as any to rank each and every one of the Marvel Netflix shows. In this fan's opinion, the Marvel Netflix shows are 3 for 5. Not bad, sure, but hopefully The Defenders will play to the strengths of each hero's respective solo outings and make for something even greater than the sum of its parts. Also, don't forget to look out for our upcoming Spoiler Nation podcast debrief on The Defenders.
Here are the five Marvel Netflix shows ranked, from worst to best. Be sure to check out the recommended tracks from each show's soundtrack to maximise some of that Defenders hype.
5. Iron Fist
Surprising no one who's even passingly familiar with these shows, the latest Defender ranks last. Dead last.
Finn Jones, a Game of Thrones vet, is young Danny Rand. After being trained as a living weapon for 15 years in the mystical realm of K'un-Lun, he returns to New York City to reclaim his family's corporation, Rand Enterprises, from his childhood pals the Meachums. Unbeknownst to Rand, the enemy he has been trained to destroy since he was a kid has infiltrated his company.
It's a generic premise. Now that there's more superhero media available than ever, it's just not good enough to see something that's too familiar. Worse still, Iron Fist fundamentally misunderstands its own storytelling needs. Iron Fist, Danny Rand, needs to be believably lethal and serene – I'm not terribly familiar with Iron Fist comic books but I know that much. But for some reason he's incompetent and petulant. The fact that other characters often remark upon his failings doesn't help and isn't cute.
The fight choreography is shockingly mundane, nothing rising above what you'd see on the average episode of Arrow. The over reliance on corporate drama and prime time soap opera shenanigans is also an incomprehensible choice for a martial arts/superhero show, and is only incidentally interesting thanks to a surprisingly layered and sympathetic performance by Tom Pelphrey as one of the Meachum kids. Jessica Henwick as dojo master Colleen Wing also managed to hold my attention when I was on the verge of tapping out.
Still, this was a low point.
Recommended Tracks: Please Stay, Things Changed
4. Luke Cage
Although it ranks pretty low on the list, Luke Cage has the best world-building of all the shows. For the first few episodes, you don't mind just luxuriating in the Harlem setting, listening to its colourful characters shoot the shit. Things start off with style and grit, but by the end of the season much of it descends into parody (like, Luke Cage's climactic tussle with his half-brother straddles the line between intentional and unintentional comedy. It was kind of mesmerising), and the urgency evaporates around episode 9 and never comes back.
Reprising his role from Jessica Jones, Mike Colter is Luke Cage, an ex-con with unbreakable skin who's trying to lay low and live his life in Harlem. But when Harlem is under threat from a rising criminal element, Luke Cage has got to step up and protect his community.
Luke Cage has a lot of cool textural things about it. Mahershala Ali's performance as the main antagonist Cottonmouth. Its hip hop soundtrack composed by A Tribe Called Quest's Ali Shaheed Muhammad and famed hip hop/funk composer Adrian Younge. Reclaiming the hoodie as a potent symbol for underdog heroism. Pops and his barbershop. Mike Colter, sometimes. The origin story episode; the only episode that feels like a satisfying narrative in its own right.
Despite all that goodness, the elements never come together for Luke Cage. The main reason for this is that it loses the mission halfway through, when the slow-burn plot of a community and a man taking responsibility for his role in that community is thrown out the window for a boilerplate narrative about a vengeful brother determined to fuck with our hero because daddy issues, I guess. Said vengeful brother is a bible quoting, broad, one-note psycho, and ridiculously out of place in a show that prides itself on a degree of believability.
Not a terrible show. But all the same it's a damn shame, a missed opportunity.
Recommended Tracks: Coffee at Midnight, Bulletproof Love, Mesmerised
3. Daredevil Season 1
Up until this point, we'd only seen urban hero Daredevil in that Ben Affleck film nobody likes, including Ben Affleck. I, however, will shyly go up to bat for it any day. Chalk it up to nostalgia. In any case, a serialised television show seemed a much better fit for the Devil of Hell's Kitchen. And so it was.
British actor Charlie Cox is Matt Murdock, an attorney who moonlights as a vigilante. To compound this fraught contradiction, Murdock is also a practicing catholic wrestling with his darker impulses. In Daredevil, we find an equally complex villain in Vincent D'Onofrio as Wilson Fisk, a mobster who's gathering the disparate crime syndicates to execute his own destructive plans to rebuild Hell's Kitchen.
The show goes beyond the standard hero/villain dynamic. It's a compelling drama about two traumatised sons dealing with the emotional fallout of their terribly flawed fathers. Both of them are well-intentioned. But as Wilson Fisk unfeelingly sees New York from atop his high-rise tower as a knotty problem to be solved, Matt Murdock will put himself through intense physical pain to save one kidnapped child. The famous hallway fight in episode 2 is as character defining a moment as any, as well as thrillingly performed.
The action scenes in Daredevil are mean and beautifully choreographed. The lurid edginess also bleeds into its moody lighting, which endows the show with a particular flavour that honours its comic book roots as a pulpy crime drama. And although Daredevil appears to be a low-rent Batman, he's anything but; he's scared, angry, vulnerable – a rough-around-the-edges prizefighter not too dissimilar from his punch-drunk palooka father. As Matt Murdock, he exudes a smooth confidence and wit befitting a guy whose senses are so enhanced that nothing gets past him.
With the exception of Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple, the supporting cast is unfortunately unable to match Cox's and D'Onofrio. And there's an inescapable feeling that the season loses momentum halfway through (Daredevil's greatest fight scene is in episode 2 and Wilson Fisk's most vile act is in episode 4). But this was a hell of a first chapter in the mean streets of the Marvel Universe.
Recommended Tracks: Battlin' Jack Murdock, Ben Urich, Avocados at Law
2. Daredevil Season 2
Daredevil Season 2 more readily embraced its comic book material than season 1 did. There's the introduction of Elodie Yung as Matt Murdock's ex-lover Elektra Natchios, and the murderous vigilante The Punisher, as portrayed by Jon Bernthal. Although the storyline doesn't quite give Bernthal enough to do in the later episodes and damn near detonates Elektra's agency with a ridiculous twist near the end of the season, both of them are outstanding in their roles and add a dangerous dimension to Daredevil's brand of pulp noir.
Not only are they exciting, but they contribute to Matt Murdock's character development in a meaningful way. The Punisher is what would happen if he granted himself ultimate moral authority, and Elektra is what would happen if he enjoyed himself too much. And in the process of being pulled in two opposed directions, as both attorney and outlaw, Murdock's personal life -- his career, his friends -- all go down the drain. It's classic Daredevil stuff, in the sense that it's a tragic story about a man's addictions messing up his life.
It'd be near classic season of television were it not for a few stumbles. First off, the Hand weigh down the season with their ninja nonsense and unclear plans. And they're a big part of that twist that muddies the waters of Elektra's character arc, and not in the good morally ambiguous way; just a sloppy way. Daredevil Season 2 also could never figure out a cohesive thematic statement on the controversial and brutal methods of The Punisher either, in addition to running out of good story stuff for him.
But once again the action scenes are a consistent highlight. The Punisher gets his own hallway fight scene in prison, armed with a shank and absolutely no compunctions about where to stick it. The result is one of the most visceral and intense fight scenes I've ever seen on television. Daredevil gets another breathtaking long-take fight scene in which he annihilates a bunch of biker goons.
Recommended Tracks: Raindrops, Sparring, Dripping Chilis
1. Jessica Jones
AKA the best Marvel Netflix show to date.
Krysten Ritter is Jessica Jones, an ex-superhero who opens up her own detective agency, Alias Investigations. She's a troubled loner contending with alcoholism and PTSD, the nature of which is revealed as the mind-controlling antagonist of the season, Kilgrave (David Tenant), creepily comes into focus. The thematic scope deftly hones in on trauma, rape, and the collateral damage of toxic masculinity; all of which is observed with sensitivity and intelligence.
Krysten Ritter is more than up to the task of portraying Jessica Jones' haunts and wounds. David Tenant is so goddamn human and darkly charming as Kilgrave that you have to actually catch yourself before you start sympathising with a rapist. Which speaks to Tenant's enormous talents as an actor. The conflict between them is so fraught with tension and emotion that you scarcely notice that the narrative momentum stalls out near the end -- Jessica ends up capturing and losing Kilgrave perhaps one too many times for it to feel consistently effective.
The supporting cast is wonderful across the board too. Particularly enjoyable is Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor), Jessica's step sister. Their platonic love, serving as the main relationship of the series, is a refreshing change of pace from the usual romantic relationships. And the payoff to their complicated dynamic in the last episode is truly moving and funny. Mike Colter as Luke Cage is even better here than he was in his solo series, though that might speak to Colter's somewhat limited range more than anything – nevertheless I like him a whole damn bunch here because he's used well. But the secret weapon is surely Malcolm Ducasse, Jessica's strung out neighbour.
Recommended Track: Maybe It's Enough the World Thinks I'm a Hero