Season 1 Of Daredevil On Netflix Is Peak Marvel TV And Important To The MCU
The rumor mill keeps turning, and the latest meal to come from it is that Daredevil is getting a new TV show on Disney+, likely with Charlie Cox returning to the role. To me, this feels more like one of the “leaker” cabal’s educated guesses rather than an actual unannounced scoop. Still, it’s clear from the #SaveDaredevil movement fans want more of this version of the Man Without Fear. So, in part because of this and my general desire to rewatch the Marvel Netflix experiment, I recently re-viewed Daredevil season 1. This show doesn’t just “hold up” six years after its debut but may even be “better” given that the Defenders-suite of storytelling is over. Even though the Marvel Studios side of the house had little to do with the show, Daredevil remains a pinnacle of Marvel TV.
As I’ve mentioned in previous articles and podcasts, I walked into 2012’s Avengers prepared to not enjoy it. Like with the (rightly) maligned X-Men Origins: Wolverine, I expected a big goofy mess of a film, but was prepared to simply support the attempt. Instead, the Marvel Studios braintrust and the writer/director delivered something very special. So, it just made sense that Jeph Loeb’s TV division would copy that format for their multi-series deal with Netflix. While the ultimate legacy of this Netflix experiment is a mixed bag of successes and failures, there is no doubt that Daredevil season 1 is a near-perfect 13 hours of Marvel storytelling.
Marvel Studios rightly made the decision to make their films reflective of the bright, optimistic Silver Age of Comics era. Yet, Daredevil was not that. Steven S. DeKnight and colleagues made a dark, gritty drama that did not lack for heart and hopeful themes.
Netflix Let the Daredevil Storytellers Take Big Chances in Season 1
Image via Netflix
Perhaps the biggest difference between the Marvel TV approach and the Marvel Studios approach was the hero’s costume. Both suits worn by Cox’s Matt Murdock are remarkably comics accurate. Yet, the signature red costume only appears in the series for about ten minutes at the end of the first 13 hours. Instead, for most of the series, Murdock wears the eyeless black mask popularized in the 1993 series Daredevil: Man Without Fear written by Frank Miller and illustrated by John Romita Jr. Still, as practical as that costume is, it does feel like a big risk to take when fans wanted to see Daredevil in all of his glory. Yet, due to the 60-episode commitment Netflix made, it wasn’t a huge risk.
The other big risk the storytellers took was in tone. The Daredevil of the MCU was not a bright, shiny hero like Iron Man, Captain America, or Thor. The streets of Hell’s Kitchen were dark and blood-soaked, making the series a tonal outsider from the rest of the MCU. (Even the Marvel TV’s other MCU project Agents of SHIELD was more in keeping with the films’ tone.) Yet, this gritty and violent drama showed the other side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This Daredevil was brutal and often took as much of a beating as he doled out. Still, he drew the line at killing and became the sort of hero the street-level MCU needed.
While the Netflix and film MCU was always segregated, Daredevil season 1 proves that even if there was no connection at all, this “universe” could stand on its own. Character-focused, cinematic, and very grounded, it served to make the MCU feel more realistic.
A Fantastic Cast, Even If Some Characters Remain Underdeveloped
Image via Netflix
Key to the success of this series is the cast itself. There is a reason that Daredevil fans don’t just want the character back but this version of him. Charlie Cox is able to imbue Matt Murdock with the right amount of hero complex, Catholic guilt, and joy in violence that the 2003 film failed to capture (among other things). Though the 2003 Daredevil did have an excellent Kingpin in Michael Clarke Duncan, Vincent D’Onofrio’s take on Wilson Fisk is just as inspired. In Daredevil season 1, D’Onofrio’s Fisk is the perfect mix of calm, collected crime boss and utter rage monster. Every actor in the series delivers a fantastic performance, though some characters do remain criminally underdeveloped.
For example, Peter Shinkoda’s Nobu is a fascinating character and one that should have had much more development. According to the actor, Jeph Loeb deliberately chose to not develop this character for truly troubling reasons. Yet, save for Fisk and the two Russian brothers who are Daredevil’s entry into this larger story, none of the villains are given the story space they need. For example, Toby Leonard Moore is Wesley, Fisk’s canonical right-hand-man. Deborah Ann Woll’s Karen Page takes him out before we can ever lean why he’s so ruthlessly loyal to Fisk. Similarly, the great Bob Gunton shows up as Leland Owlsley (much different from his comics counterpart), but he also is taken out before we can learn anything significant about him. Even Ayelet Zurer’s Vanessa is a crucial part of Fisk’s story, yet her motivations for sticking with Kingpin are left only to subtext.
Still, despite these shortcomings, the screen time these villains get is truly a treasure. The fight between Daredevil and Nobu is perhaps the best one-on-one fight in the season.
Why Netflix Was the Perfect Home for Daredevil Season 1
With the film MCU being a bright universe of wonderous things, Daredevil season 1 was visually very distinct. Hell’s Kitchen was dark, with wet streets littered with refuse. Where the violence in the films was distant and often bloodless, the fights in this show were the opposite. Often when dispatching baddies, Daredevil would throw three or four extra punches, highlighting the brutality with which he policed the streets. Daredevil is a hero, but he’s not as squeaky-clean as some of the top-tier MCU vigilantes.
In fact, a Netflix executive said that viewers often found this series after viewing shows with anti-heroes like Breaking Bad, Dexter, or even House of Cards. Years before Deadpool and Logan showed that Marvel audiences are okay with grittier fare, Daredevil opened Marvel up to the visual vocabulary of films like Taxi Driver, The French Connection, and other films that captured the culture’s attention in the 1970s.
Yet, unlike Agents of SHIELD, the Netflix model allowed Daredevil season 1 to come together more like a film than a series. Traditionally, TV shows are in production while they are airing. Yet, the Netflix model allowed Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Iron Fist to complete production before the series debuted. The cinematic style used to film the series could only happen on a Netflix-style show rather than a traditional network TV production. From the big fight in the rain during the pilot to the iconic “hallway fight” (above), this TV series looks like a film. One of my favorite shots was during a scene in which a blind drug mule sits in the back of a car singing a popular Mandarin song. The camera spins around in the interior of the car multiple times, and Daredevil appears and disappears until a fight breaks out.
Daredevil Established a Solid Foundation on Which to Build a Universe
Image via Netflix
MCU connections notwithstanding, Daredevil season 1 was a fantastic series on which to build the Netflix Marvel universe. Like the first season of Arrow, it was a gritty, violent series that served as the baseline for increasingly fantastical characters. Still, whether alone or as part of a whole, Daredevil delivered in a way that every Marvel fan can respect. From gorgeously bleak visuals to deep character studies, it establishes a world in which superheroes exist but remain as these mysterious, misunderstood figures. Regardless of how you feel about the Netflix and Marvel shows, or even the other two seasons of Daredevil, season 1 gave us a new perspective from which to view this world of gods and monsters. It also shows that even though Red Skulls, trickster gods, and war machines exist, typical human beings can be just as menacing.
Truth be told, the Netflix Marvel Universe could have taken some lessons from the Arrowverse, particularly with how the crossovers should be done. With the sole exception of Jessica Jones, none of the other series’ leads popped up in the other shows. A simple walk on cameo from Charlie Cox or perhaps a scruffy-looking Finn Jones getting off of a bus would have gone a long way to making this universe truly feel connected. Still, even with that small mistake, these shows are worthy additions to the Marvel Universe. Even the much-maligned Iron Fist has a dedicated fanbase tweeting with a “#SaveIronFist” hashtag. Even though the new Marvel TV shows like WandaVision, Loki, and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier are very good, they could learn a lot from how the Netflix series approached their storytelling.
All seasons of Daredevil (for now) are currently streaming on Netflix.
What did you think of Daredevil season 1 or the Marvel and Netflix experiment? Sound off with your own reviews, gripes, or favorite moments in the comments below.
Featured image via Netflix.
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.