WARNING! Spoilers below for “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones,” “Luke Cage” and “Iron Fist.”
After more than two years, four Marvel heroes will join forces in a darker, gloomier and imponderably less condo-filled version of Hell’s Kitchen to fight the bad guys.
“The Defenders,” which brings Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist together, more or less amicably, made its Netflix debut Friday at midnight. Set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the aftermath of 2012′s “The Avengers,” which caused enough destruction in New York that it need only be referred to as “the incident,” the new “Defenders” is heavy on martial arts mysticism. We see a band of ninjas led by one delightfully nefarious Sigourney Weaver, who plays Alexandra, a leader in The Hand, which is an organization both ancient and terrible that’s bent on destroying all four heroes.
On the whole, the franchise has received critical welcomes that started warmly enough back in 2015 for the inaugural season of “Daredevil,” grew to passionate acclaim with entrances by “Jessica Jones” and “Luke Cage,” and then quieted down for April’s “Iron Fist.” With any luck, the Defenders will be strongest together.
For those who haven’t had time to watch all five previous seasons, or need a refresher, here’s what to know before you catch the new one:
Daredevil (Charlie Cox), aka Matt Murdock, has been given not one but two exceedingly violent seasons in Netflix’s Marvel franchise. Blinded in an accident as a child, Matt noticed his other senses were significantly heightened ― he can tell whether people are lying by their heartbeat ― and over the years he learned to hone those senses into a superpower, amplified by a deep knowledge of martial arts. By day, he works as a defense attorney, and by night (but sometimes also by day) he fights crime in a red bodysuit. His enemy list is long: mobsters, gangsters, corrupt cops and other seedy caricatures of the underworld. Luckily, he’s joined by his childhood best friend Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) and a former client-turned-ally, Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll). Occasional appearances are made by his mentor, Stick (Scott Glenn), the one who taught him how to master his special abilities, and Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), the nurse who seems to exist in the series to prove even superheroes need medical attention from time to time.
In Season 1, Matt’s main target is a baddie named Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio), a classic mob boss type. By Season 2, Murdock is up against Frank Castle, aka the Punisher (Jon Bernthal) ― and gets to reunite with a love interest, Elektra (Elodie Yung). The mysterious Hand also comes into play in Season 2 as it’s revealed that Stick has been fighting a war against it the whole time. Sadly for Matt, that war claims Elektra as its victim, and Hand operatives appear to have sinister plans for her corpse.
Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) is such a no-nonsense superhero she doesn’t even use a nickname or a costume to shield her identity. She’s a private investigator extraordinaire whose private life is a bit of a trainwreck, but she’s also got a positive influence in childhood best friend Trish (Rachael Taylor), a peppy blonde radio host. Throughout Season 1, Jessica grapples with the PTSD she acquired from a nonconsensual relationship with Marvel’s most hair-raising villain, Kilgrave (David Tennant). (Yes, we do get a joke about that uninspired bad-guy moniker.) While Jessica is gifted with superhuman strength and the power of flight, Kilgrave controls minds, and while he held Jessica captive in a relationship he used her powers for his own gain. Now, she drinks too much. It’s a habit that led to her meeting Luke Cage (Mike Colter) at his bar, sparking a sexual relationship that dies with the revelation that Kilgrave used Jessica to kill the love of Luke’s life. As Kilgrave’s ambitions get more and more out of hand as he attempts to woo her back to his side, finally, Jessica defeats her nemesis.
“Luke Cage” is as much about Luke as it is about Harlem ― and all the good people who live there. As an escaped convict, Luke begins the season working at Pop’s barbershop, a too-good-for-this-world father figure to the neighborhood who obviously doesn’t live past Episode 2. As it turned out, Luke told a gang member to hide out in the barbershop while he tried to make things right for him with Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali), the owner of a glamorous nightclub where Luke just so happened to work as a dishwasher on the side. When Cottonmouth’s goons shoot out the barbershop, Luke turns against him, and becomes consumed with trying to bring down the arms trafficking operation Cottonmouth runs alongside his corrupt councilwoman cousin, a supplier called Diamondback (Erik LaRay Harvey) and a shadowy lackey going by Shades (Theo Rossi). Guns, luckily, have no effect on Luke, who was gifted with bulletproof skin and super strength when an unofficial prison experiment went wrong. He’s helped at times by detective Misty Knight (Simone Missick), who also just wants to help the neighborhood thrive, and manages to leave the night club in new, better hands.
Danny Rand (Finn Jones) is heir to his family’s mega-corporation, boringly titled Rand Enterprises, who returns to New York after 15 years when everyone thinks he died in the Himalayan plane crash that killed his family. While struggling to prove his identity ― eventually accomplished thanks to a handmade ceramic bowl he adorned with a fingerprint as a child ― Danny seeks out the Meachums, who now run the company. But he has a secret. Thanks to a bizarre alternate dimension called K’un-Lun, Danny has been transformed into the Iron Fist, meaning he can punch things real hard and is pretty good at martial arts. He’s also the sworn enemy of The Hand, which is now involved in sketchy operations at Rand Enterprises. Through the season, he comes up against the heroin dealer Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho), makes a friend and romantic interest in Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick), and realizes Harold Meachum (David Wenham) was actually the mastermind behind that long-ago plane crash. Predictably, Harold doesn’t survive the season. But Danny is prevented from retreating peacefully back to his K’un-Lun hideaway ― which means he’s back for “The Defenders.”
“The Defenders” is now streaming on Netflix.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misidentified the actor portraying Stick, who is Scott Glenn.