One of the myriad tricks to Marvel’s cinematic success over the better part of the last decade has been the careful curation of a sort of in-house tone, an ever-present throughline that helps a millionaire being kidnapped in a Middle Eastern warzone and a talking raccoon in space feel somehow connected. There’s a spectacle to it that, as big as it gets, never outgrows being poked and prodded by sassy quips. It’s a big tone, and a funny tone, and at this point Marvel has it down to a science, ably applying it to the skeletons of various film subgenres to great effect. But in the recently unveiled first season of Marvel’s Daredevil on Netflix the subgenre skeleton to which Marvel has applied their magic may have been too potent for even the most sardonic Whedonism to overcome.
Iron Man 3 was something of a buddy cop movie. Thor: The Dark World wove threads of heavy fantasy. Many touted The Winter Soldier as a political thriller. Guardians of the Galaxy was a straight up space opera. Yet all of them felt distinctly similar. Distinctly Marvel.
With Daredevil, Marvel has taken their fun, quirky blockbuster personality and applied it to the grit and despair of a Batman Begins or a Man of Steel, and with all the talk of “this city,” and “my city,” and “your city” Daredevil regularly feels like a spiritual sibling to Arrow. Daredevil feels like Marvel’s take on a DC Comics movie.
The grit in question isn’t exactly out of left field given the subject matter. Despite Daredevil’s current comic book adventures by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee focusing on overcoming despair, Daredevil was brought to prominence decades ago by Frank Miller, whose time with the hero focused on wading in it.
The Daredevil TV series smartly avoids the more preposterous depths to which Miller took Matt Murdock, at least for now. The writer’s maverick street savior ideology is still very present, but at its most extreme it’s funneled into the character of Stick, rather than dispersed throughout the show as a whole.
The darker, grittier works of writers like Miller are largely responsible for the clout that began to surround the words “graphic novel” in every other movie trailer in the late 00’s. They boast a psychology that Christopher Nolan masterfully adapted in his Dark Knight Trilogy, but it’s the same psychology that many Man of Steel detractors cite as having ruined Zack Snyder’s take on Superman, and with each successive darker, grittier take on a proven character or franchise that cornerstone characteristics of DC’s film output seems to be trying audiences’ patience and growing more and more outdated.
So how successful is the blend of Marvel’s box office conquering fun and DC’s arguably outdated grit?
Pretty damn successful.
Daredevil is a kick ass show. Charlie Cox instantly proves himself both a charming Matt Murdock and a badass Daredevil who commands an audience’s attention whether he’s brutalizing junkies or getting a latte with a priest. Cox’s supporting cast isn’t hurting for acting chops either. Vincent D’Onofrio in particular turns in a fascinating performance as The Kingpin, his Wilson Fisk feeling almost like Charlie Brown. Almost. The fight scenes on display here are next level and the cinematography and score are consistently inspired. But by the end of the 13 episode first season it’s hard to deny that the DC influence seems to have overtaken that patented Marvel tone.
I love this show. Its release last Friday wreaked havoc on my sleep schedule throughout the entire week. I’m a caffeinated beverage away from tying a black T-shirt over my eyes, suspending a trash bag from my ceiling and punching the night away. But Daredevil isn’t exactly fun. It’s exciting and suspenseful and badass but towards the end of the season in particular the show feels less like Marvel’s take on a gritty crime drama than just a straight up gritty crime drama. There’s nothing wrong with that, but where I found myself excited by the prospect of Tony Stark meeting Rocket Raccoon while I watched Guardians of the Galaxy, watching Daredevil I thought of Matt Murdock crossing paths with Captain America and the pairing felt undeniably strange and disjointed.
I can’t wait to get more of Daredevil flip-kicking punks all over Hell’s Kitchen, but it’s worth noting that I’m more inclined to believe that Daredevil and his city are bouncing back after being devastated by two brooding Kryptonians than I am to believe it’s the same city the Avengers defended from Loki.