The first of Marvel's four highly anticipated series for Netflix, Daredevil, arrives this Friday (April 10). And it will knock your socks off.
We've had a chance to watch the first five episodes of the show (all 13 will be available on Netflix at once, as usual) and it's like nothing else Marvel has produced before for either film or television. This is a dark, dark series, set in a hellish, hyper-stylized version of Hell's Kitchen , and it's as gritty and sharp-edged as a roomful of broken glass. There's a magnetic, slow-burn quality to the drama that makes the action scenes -- including several jaw-dropping fight sequences -- stand out even more.
The cast is stellar, with Charlie Cox achieving a melancholy, almost Shakespearean nobility as the blind lawyer-turned-vigilante Matt Murdock, while Elden Henson (Foggy Nelson), Deborah Ann Woll (Karen Page) and Rosario Dawson (Claire Temple) all bring humanity, toughness and vulnerability to their roles. But the secret gem is Vincent D'Onofrio's Kingpin. His Wilson Fisk is one of the most complex villains we've seen on the big or small screen in years, a man whose brutality and amorality is matched by his loneliness and yearning ambition.
At the recent press day for the series in Los Angeles, executive producer and head of Marvel Television Jeph Loeb spoke about setting Daredevil apart from the rest of Marvel's output: "From the very beginning we always said that this was going to be something that would be different from what we’re doing," he said, referring to not only the Marvel movies but already established shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter. "I think that if I said to any of you two years ago, 'We’re going to make a movie and two of the main characters are going to be a three-foot gun-toting raccoon and a talking tree,' you might have looked at us and went, 'Really, Marvel? How’s that gonna work?' This is just simply the same thing. It’s how to find the best way to tell the best story and in this particular case it was on Netflix in 13 hours that had a real feeling to it."
"For us it all came down to character," said showrunner Steven DeKnight about envisioning Daredevil as a TV series instead of a movie. "With 13 hours what we have is the luxury of time. If we were doing a movie you’d see Wilson Fisk in the first ten minutes and we’d set him up. But because we have 13 hours to play with you don’t see him until the end of episode three. Even if we were on a network you would see a lot more of Wilson Fisk in that first episode. But because we’re with Netflix, you know, they really support long form storytelling where we can let the story breathe, which is what I really loved working on this -- we never felt we had to burn through a bunch of story. We never felt like we had to have three action set pieces per episode to keep the audience interested."
When they come, however, those action scenes are superb, including one showstopper at the end of episode two that places Murdock in a corridor with two assailants for one incredibly sustained battle -- and it's all done in one shot. "I think we did 12 takes and three of them were usable and one of them was fantastic," says Cox about the stunning sequence. "Midway through one of them, Chris (Brewster, Cox's stunt double) took a knock to the head and we weren’t sure he was going to continue. But it was wild because the way that we did it, I go in a door and I quickly hide and he continues and he comes out and I run around the back of the set and I come in and do a little bit and then I'm out another way, and then he goes in and I come back out. It was pretty spectacular."
As for his interpretation of the Man Without Fear, Cox admits that while he read plenty of the comics in Daredevil's extensive back catalog, he did not want to draw from one particular storyline or version for how he played the role. "He's changed not just visually, but also in the way he speaks and operates over time," said the British actor. "I think the danger is to try and please everyone. I think you have to choose your specifics and find the consistencies in order to make him a real person, a fully rounded person. So, I couldn't be more pleased with how Marvel accepted me and trusted the character over to me."
Rosario Dawson -- a comic-book geek in real life -- remarked that she liked Daredevil in particular because he does not possess an "iron suit or magic hammer" (that's from a line in the series as well) and his story is not a clear-cut hero-vs.-villain contest. "It would be so easy if people looked like somebody in the corner twirling a mustache going, 'Heh, heh, heh.' It's much more complex and there's a lot of choices to be made all throughout (the show)," said the actress. "That's what you get to explore in a show like this where it's not just fast action, It's not just 'jump into the spandex, kill the bad guy and have the nice big moment standing in silhouette.'"
Daredevil, of course, is connected to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, with the after-effects of the Chitauri invasion of Manhattan at the end of The Avengers having a direct impact on Hell's Kitchen. "We wanted to be able to do that in a way that could say 'OK, this happened here,' if you’re playing along at home," said Loeb. "But at the same time, it’s not terribly important that you know, because obviously people were going to ask us right away, 'Do I have to see The Avengers in order to understand what goes on in Daredevil?' Our hope is that you see it all because we’re Marvel. but at the same time you should be able to enjoy each of these stories separately and individually."
"Each of these stories" refers not just to Daredevil and the Marvel movies, but the four other series that the studio is creating for Netflix: AKA Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and the team-up finale The Defenders. AKA Jessica Jones is filming now and the other ones are still in development, but Loeb pointed to the larger scale of the MCU for a hint at how these series will be approached.
"I say it all the time, I cannot think of two more different films to come out in the same year than Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy," he said. "We wanted to be able to do the same thing in the television division which is, you know, we can have Hayley Atwell as Agent Carter in 1946 trying to figure out how she’s going to be able to prove that she’s better than anybody else in her SSR office, and at the same time have Matthew Murdock trying to clean up Hell’s Kitchen. And it all lives in the same world."
Daredevil is available for viewing on Netflix this Friday (April 10).