We suddenly find ourselves in a new phase of Marvel’s bid for supremacy over our screens: adults-only entertainment. Now, Daredevil isn’t the first adults-only live action series based on Marvel’s comic books. 20th Century Fox recently announced that Deadpool will be Rated R, and movies such as The Punisher and Blade have been rated the same. However, it is the first time Marvel has specifically targeted grown-ups specifically in their plans for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which had been squarely aimed at a family-friendly market so far.
Before we begin, let’s talk about me first. On April Fools’ Day, I received an invitation from Marvel Entertainment for the premiere for Daredevil. It wasn’t the first time I had received such an invitation, and I grabbed a friend and went to the premiere next day. The event was held at the Regal LA Live theater in Downtown Los Angeles, which is next to the Staples Center where the LA Kings won their game against Edmonton Oilers that same night.
Unlike the previous Marvel event that I attended, this was an actual red carpet event, albeit a minor one. It was just a Netflix launch for a Marvel TV show after all. When I think about it though, it’s a pretty big deal. My friend and I couldn’t help but marvel over the fact that we live in a world in which an online video service holds a red carpet event for a tv show in a movie series based on comic books. It’s a wonderful time to be alive.
My friend and I had arrived straight from work, so we were woefully underdressed and stuck out like a sore thumb next to impeccably dressed VIPs and staff. We were soon ushered onto the balcony that had been reserved for the Marvel fan, and after a brief introduction and thank you notes from the Netflix Chief Content Officer, we began watching the first two episodes of Daredevil.
The first thing that I’ve noticed when watching the show was that it was stylistically different from other Marvel Studios works. Marvel Studios movies and shows have been mostly neutral in terms of style, opting for more natural lighting which made it easy for the audience to follow the on-screen action. Daredevil, on the other hand, is steeped in stylistic lighting. The first two episodes were unrelentingly dark both in tone and lighting (paired with exceptional sound design in the first episode for maximum moodiness), and several sequences used heavily filtered lighting for dramatic effect. My friend likened it to other procedural shows.
Another thing I’ve noticed was that the show had a proper title sequence, unlike Agents of SHIELD or Agent Carter. I’m not going to reveal any cool details from the sequence, but it is pretty awesome. And very red.
Speaking of red, Daredevil is very TV-MA. It almost seemed like Marvel went out of its way to emphasize the show’s mature tone by throwing all kinds of adult situations, gore, blood, and even mild, brief nudity into the mix, which almost made it feel like it belonged in a separate universe than the MCU. As Charlie Jane mentioned on her overview, events of The Avengers set the show’s premise without taking the center stage, which helps compartmentalize the show from the rest of the MCU along with the intimate scope of the series that limits the show to one neighborhood: Hell’s Kitchen, NYC.
It means that Matt Murdock may never interact with Iron Man or Captain America, but that’s okay because Matt Murdock’s character wasn’t defined at all by the events of The Avengers. Charlie Cox’s portrayal of the character is instantly likable, and he is by far the most human superhero introduced in the franchise because of his physical vulnerability. Unlike Steve Rogers and Thor, Matt Murdock can’t fight entire armies. He gets hurt like you and me, and that does wonders for the stakes in the show. Matt Murdock is MCU’s first superhero with a secret identity (bar Peggy Carter), and once he’s incapacitated in a fight, his identity is no longer safe, which puts his associates at risk. Unlike Tony Stark or Thor, whose associates have been targeted by villains before, Matt Murdock just simply does not have the resources to keep his friends safe from harm otherwise. If a villain were to get a whiff of the Daredevil’s true identity, everyone who knows him might as well be good as dead.
It’s not all grim, however. Foggy Nelson played by Elden Henson and Karen Page played by Deborah Ann Woll add much needed levity and hopefulness to the show. It would be interesting to see how the show will balance the dark tone and humor from the third episode on. It would also be interesting to see how Daredevil will balance the legal procedural drama and the crime fighting aspects. The first episode was heavy on the legal procedural, which made my friend and I worry that the show would fall into a case-of-the-week structure, but the second episode alleviated some of our fears. Two episodes aren’t enough to tell how the season will play out, but it’s very promising.
One thing I haven’t talked about is Rosario Dawson’s character, who is very awesome and more compelling than Foggy and Karen so far. She gave me the most unsettling moment during the screening, which I won’t spoil for you.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s greatest asset is its capacity to tell different types of stories, and Daredevil will help push the boundaries further while paving roads for other street-level superhero stories such as AKA Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. It’s a risky proposition for Marvel, but from what I’ve seen, it looks like the company has another huge hit in its hand.