On August 18th Netflix released their newest Marvel Superhero series, The Defenders. The Defenders brings together Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, who have all had their own shows previously. While not perfect, the Defenders is still an extremely fun and satisfying series. There is a strong chemistry between the principal cast. Charlie Cox in particular gives a strong performance as Matt Murdock, Daredevil. He is responsible for much of the emotional heavy lifting in the series. Sigourney Weaver gives a fun turn as Alexandra, the sinister leader of the evil Hand organization.
The Defenders has a wonderfully diverse cast of characters. It features Irish Catholics, African Americans from Harlem, a rich white man raised by Asian monks, and capable white, Asian, Puerto Rican and African American women. It showcases the difference in experiences, personalities, abilities, and motivations of the heroes. The diversity of the characters is a major asset to the series and makes you wonder why more shows and movies in Hollywood do not feature cast this diverse. Especially well done in the first couple episodes is the use of different music and color schemes to frame each hero. Daredevil is always framed in red, Cage in yellow, Jones in bluish purple, Iron Fist in green, Alexandra in white. It made for a series that really felt like a comic book. I really enjoyed The Defenders and recommend it highly.
Confession: Daredevil is one of my favorite superheroes. He probably ranks only behind Spider-Man and Superman. Particularly important to Daredevil is his Irish Catholic Faith. This defines his character. He does not kill because he believes murder is wrong. It drives him to do what is right, to defend the weak and fight injustice both in the court room and in the streets. One of my favorite scenes appears in the first episode. Matt Murdock goes to confession. While in the booth the priest tells Matt to open his heart to God to which Matt responds “even if it is a broken heart?” The priest responds especially if it is a broken heart, so that God can come in and heal it.
In a sense I feel this explains the Defenders as a whole. They are all broken people with extraordinary powers suffering from an identity crisis. Murdock is in emotional turmoil after failing to save the woman he loves. He is trying to decide if he is Daredevil, a lawyer, or both? Jessica Jones is suffering from trauma and abuse, has a drinking problem and self-destructive tendencies. She is so adrift she is not even running her detective agency. Luke Cage is a former inmate trying to figure out how to do the right thing to protect his neighborhood. Iron Fist is an orphan raised by monks, who is searching for a family, and struggling with his destiny. They are all struggling to find their role and story in the greater narrative of the world. What is their place? Where do they belong? What is their purpose?
The Defenders are all street-level low-powered heroes who get wrapped up in events way above their heads. Even in their brokenness they seek to do what is right. They take a stand against evil forces much stronger than themselves, even though they know they are not really capable of beating them. This connects the viewer to the characters. In their struggles and story we see our own. We too ask ourselves, what is our role? What is our purpose? What is our story?
In another telling scene, Colleen Wing, Iron Fist”s love interest and skilled warrior, has her own identity crisis. Colleen had at one point been part of the cult, the Hand. She had joined because she was looking for a place to belong, for a family, for purpose and meaning in her life. Now that she has broken away from the Hand her life feels lost. She cannot see where her life is going. She does not know what her role is. She is searching for her meaning in the story. In the show another character tells Colleen to look to herself; that Colleen is a foundation. Defenders wrongly places meaning and purpose as something to be made by the individual. This exchange, however, highlights that meaning and purpose are not in ourselves. This is why Colleen is searching for meaning and purpose. In that moment I wish Daredevil or his priest would’ve been there to point her to the reality that true meaning and purpose come from God. Faith in Christ gives meaning to our lives.
At one point in the series a character confronts Matt Murdock, asking him what happened, he was so close to not being Daredevil any more. Murdock replies “I am Daredevil.” At this point Murdock has accepted God’s role for him to play. He has his powers for a reason. He is meant to use them for good, to fight injustice and protect the innocent. With accepting his role Matt Murdock receives clarity, and rises to become the real leader of the Defenders. In the same manner we as believers are called to recognize the purposes God has for us. He shows us our place in his great story. As Ephesians 2:10 tells us, God has good works for us to do that has planned for us. When we accept the roles God has given us, he enable us to do this good works.
One of the more fascinating themes in the series relates to the villains. The story of Weaver’s Alexandra and the rest of the Hand is all too familiar. They are afraid of death and are seeking immortality. Their fear of dying drives them to do all manner of evil deeds to preserve their power and lives. Their narrative is driven by their fear of death. The Hand recognize rightly that death is the enemy of us all, but in their desire to save their lives, they forfeit their souls.
I could not help but think of Matthew 16:25, “Whoever desires to save their life will lose it, but whoever will lose their life for my sake will find it.” Members of the Hand desire to save their lives at whatever cost. In doing so they ultimately lose their humanity, their souls, and their actual lives. The Defenders however, are willing to sacrifice their lives for what is good and right. Matt Murdock specifically in his love of Elektra is willing to sacrifice his life to redeem her soul. In being willing to give up their lives for what is right their lives take on true meaning. Their broken lives and hearts begin to be mended. In the final moments of the series we see all the characters accepting their roles. Cage, Iron Fist, and Jones are all in a better place than they were before. They now know their purpose.
Our purpose in life is more than mere existence. We are called to something greater. We are called to an intimate relationship with the creator of the universe. Those who give their lives to Christ will find true purpose and meaning. In Jesus Christ we find our true identity as sons and daughters of the Father. Through Christ we are invited to join our stories to the greater overarching narrative of the Father. Our loving Father calls us to take up our roles in his great story and by accepting our roles we have hope that our story will reach a final happy end. We have purpose because we are children of God, called by God, to be used for his great purposes. Our story is made complete in him.
“Our purpose in life is more than mere existence. We are called to something greater. We are called to an intimate relationship with the creator of the universe. “