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The Defenders is most ambitious TV project ever, says Marvel's head of TV

Krysten Ritter, Finn Jones, Charlie Cox and Mike Colter in The Defenders
Krysten Ritter, Finn Jones, Charlie Cox and Mike Colter in The Defenders. Photograph: Sarah Shatz/Netflix

The recent hold of caped crusaders over cinema has been unavoidable, but now a new Netflix show aims to push the boundaries of the superhero genre on television.

The Defenders, which has been described as the “urban Avengers”, is the latest show in the ever-expanding Marvel universe and is released on 18 August. It brings together the New York-dwelling outsider superheroes – Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Daredevil and Iron Fist, who all had their own individual Netflix shows – and unites them as a quartet to battle the crime syndicate known as The Hand.

The expensive production and ambition of the project confirms Netflix’s commitment to superhero television. This week the streaming site announced it had acquired comic publisher Millarworld, whose roster includes Kick Ass, Kingsman and Wanted, in a move to own and develop its own universe of superhero TV series and films.

The Defenders began as a comic in the 1970s, with heroes such as Doctor Strange and the Hulk appearing throughout. It was discontinued but in January, ahead of the TV series debut, Marvel relaunched it as a comic book written by one of the comic book company’s most popular writers, Brian Michael Bendis. He described it as “a sprawling, Godfather-like epic at the street level of the Marvel universe” based around “a modern, elaborate organised crime story”.

Marvel’s head of television, Jeph Loeb, said the decision to bring together the four heroes in a single, eight-episode TV show had been a challenging and risky undertaking. It had been based on the model of Marvel film The Avengers, which united Iron Man, Hulk, Thor and Captain America on the big screen after each starring in their own movies.

A scene from the first season of The Defenders
A scene from the first season of The Defenders. Photograph: Sarah Shatz/Netflix

He said: “I think that The Defenders is the most ambitious television project to date, period. We really set out to do something that had never been done in the history of television. From the very beginning, we started and committed to four separate television series, not knowing whether any of them would work.

“The idea was that at the end of completing all four of them, we would take all of our actors, not knowing if any of them would even be suitable for the roles, and put them together in a story where they would interact with each other and fight a common problem. That’s an extraordinary journey.”

Daredevil, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones were all praised, but fans were critical of Iron Fist.

The series opens with Luke Cage (Mike Colter) recently out of jail; private investigator Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) drinking hard; Iron Fist Danny Rand (Finn Jones) returned from Cambodia; and blind lawyer Matt Murdock AKA Daredevil (Charlie Cox) working as a pro-bono prosecutor.

Loeb said a key appeal of bringing these troubled, solitary, often reluctant heroes together in one series was “that you would get to see what the nature of heroism is from the perspective of four different types of people. It’s not easy with the job that they have or the choices that they make, because the choice that they’ve made is to stand up when everyone is told to sit down. That’s really the hardest part about being a hero.”

Sigourney Weaver plays the show’s villain
Sigourney Weaver plays the show’s villain. Photograph: Sarah Shatz/Netflix

It was a view echoed by Cox, whose character, Matt Murdock, got his powers after being blinded as a child. Cox said: “If you think about all four of these characters and the possibility that on a daily basis they all live with a level of loneliness and shame around who they are, there is suddenly the possibility to feel part of something, to feel heroic in a completely new sense of the word and to feel understood in a way that they haven’t been understood before,” he said.

The show’s villain is played by Sigourney Weaver, and aside from her name, Alexandra Reid, and her immaculate wardrobe, Marvel and Netflix have kept her role and her character’s motives secret. Weaver described her as “a very confident, smart and persuasive leader. When people say that I’m the villain, well, I think that that is just one way to look at the character.”

She added: “To me, Alexandra has a lot of wisdom because she’s been doing what she does for a long time and she has a lot of empathy. She’s a very complex character and I felt delighted to be a part of that. There’s also a lot of comedy, action and a lot of great character work, plus a lot of surprises in the show.”

The Defenders’ showrunner, Marco Ramirez, said it was driven by the differences and clashing personalities of its four heroes. He said: “We wanted to pay respect to Brian Michael Bendis and to a lot of the creators who have worked really hard on the comics and who have already established this very layered, backstreets of New York world. I think that some of the fun has been seeing where a storyline can intersect with the comics and give fans, like myself, some really fun moments.”

This article titled "The Defenders is most ambitious TV project ever, says Marvel's head of TV" was written by Hannah Ellis-Petersen, for The Guardian on Friday 11 August 2017 05.11pm

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