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The Defenders Is What Killed Netflix's Marvel Shows

The Defenders on Netflix

Is The Defenders the real reason why Netflix's Marvel shows are being canceled? With most of Netflix’s MCU TV shows already canceled, and The Punisher likely to be next, there’s still a lingering question of why the series are being canned so ruthlessly. There are a myriad of reasons behind the cancellations of Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, although one of the least pressing is the looming presence of Disney Plus, since these decisions are Netflix’s alone.

Rather, the cancellations are due to a general lack of interest, offset against the expense of making them in the first place. The Marvel Netflix ratings, by and large, weren’t great, and they didn’t drive subscriber retention. Disney Plus certainly didn't help, but these shows were struggling regardless.

Related: Agents of SHIELD Is More Popular Than Any Marvel Netflix Show

The Marvel Netflix shows have evidently been in decline, either in terms of viewers or quality (or both), from some time. And all of that can be traced back to just one series: The Defenders.

Marvel Netflix Shows Were All Building To The Defenders

The Defenders Team Luke Cage Daredevil Jessica Jones Iron Fist

When Netflix and Marvel first announced their mega-deal, there was a clear plan in place. 60 episodes of television would be produced, with 13 each for Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist. That would all lead to The Defenders, an eight-episode event series bringing the heroes together.

Still, the shows started out as relatively isolated. There were some shared links - Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple the biggest - but mostly they told self-contained stories. Like MCU’s Phase 1, the point was to establish these characters, and then team them up.

Things started ramping up further to The Defenders with Daredevil’s second season, which introduced the Hand. The villains were then featured heavily in Iron Fist’s debut run too. That might have been underwhelming, but then not every Phase 1 movie was a hit. This was about the bigger picture, evidenced by the reveal that the Hand would be the villains once more in The Defenders. There wasn’t much talk of individual stories in the future, because the focus was the team up.

Related: Every MCU TV Show Ranked Worst To Best

The Defenders Was A Disappointment

Defenders on the subway

The Defenders, then, was essentially The Avengers of the Netflix MCU. Each hero had been introduced, the stakes and universe established - now it was time to bring them together and let fireworks commence. Unfortunately, The Defenders completely fizzled out. Things didn’t start well, with the show taking until the end of the third episode to even assemble the team. From there, a series of missteps ensured it didn’t come close to its potential.

The fight scenes couldn’t reach the heights of Daredevil. The Hand was once again incredibly dull. The direction was lackluster. Worst of all, it could never justify a reason for the team to be together. It felt more like a story for a stand-alone season of Iron Fist, rather than the street-level version of The Avengers.

It wasn’t a complete disaster: there were some particularly good character moments for Matt Murdock and Jessica Jones, and important setup for Daredevil season 3. That wasn’t enough to leave it feeling like a major disappointment though. The Avengers worked so well it’s hard to think what would’ve happened to the MCU had it failed. With The Defenders, we don’t have to imagine. The show’s lack of quality has had a knock-on effect, which the Netflix MCU hasn’t recovered from.

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