‘Daredevil’: Marvel swaggers into Scorsese territory in Netflix series with Charlie Cox

April 11, 2015 | 8:40 a.m.
2420230 et adv daredevil charlie cox023 Daredevil: Marvel swaggers into Scorsese territory in Netflix series with Charlie Cox

A portrait of actor Charlie Cox taken at the Warwick Hotel in Manhattan, NY. (Jennifer S. Altman / For The Times)

“Daredevil,” the comic-based, crime-inflected drama that arrived Friday with 13 episodes on Netflix, represents a very different direction for Marvel.

Think of it as superheroes, Scorsese-style.

“Daredevil” is unquestionably more somber, and more graphically violent, than its Marvel Universe siblings, ABC’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “Agent Carter,” two shows that reflect the company’s customary blend of uplifting entertainment, humor and mostly happy endings.

“Marvel really wanted to take a chance,” said show runner Steven DeKnight (“Spartacus”). “When they told me that they wanted this to be grittier, very grounded, morally complex, that was right up my alley. We approached it as a crime drama first and a superhero show second.”

REVIEW: Built for the binge: ‘Daredevil’ reveals the future of TV

According to Marvel’s head of television, Jeph Loeb (who, in his previous life as a comic book writer, wrote the miniseries “Daredevil: Yellow” for Marvel Comics), the company’s deal with Netflix offered it the opportunity to depict “street-level” heroes such as Daredevil, along with Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist, in an “edgier” world.

Each is set to headline his or her own New York-based Netflix drama before coming together, Avengers-style, for an event series, “The Defenders.” (“A.K.A. Jessica Jones,” starring Krysten Ritter as a superhero-turned-detective, will be the next to arrive later this year.)

“We are doing TV-MA,” Loeb said. “A lot of people don’t really think about our movies as anything other than family films, but in fact they are PG-13…. The thing that I like to always point out is that in the past year you could not think of two films that are more different tonally than ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ and ‘Guardians of the Galaxy.’ Yet somehow when you watch those movies they capture the Marvel spirit. What we’re trying to do in the television division is [generate] that same kind of magic.”

The Matt Murdock character debuted in comics with the April 1964 “Daredevil” No. 1, by Stan Lee and Bill Everett. As a youngster, Matt is blinded in an accident by a radioactive substance that heightens his other senses to superhuman levels. After his father, boxer Battlin’ Jack Murdock, is killed for refusing to throw a match, the son takes up the fight for justice on two fronts: in the courtroom as an attorney, and on the streets as a vigilante.

A portrait of actor Charlie Cox taken at the Warwick Hotel in Manhattan, NY. (Jennifer S. Altman / For The Times)

A portrait of actor Charlie Cox taken at the Warwick Hotel in Manhattan, NY. (Jennifer S. Altman / For The Times)

Classically trained actor Charlie Cox was chosen to star as Murdock in the Netflix series, but “Daredevil’s” first starring turn on the big screen came in 2003 with Ben Affleck as Murdock in a little-admired film that nevertheless spawned a 2005 spinoff featuring Affleck’s now-wife Jennifer Garner as the assassin Elektra. Once Marvel acquired the property from rights holder Fox, a plan for a tonally dark series began to take shape.

“You have to be able to start with what the original IP wants it to be,” said Loeb, referring to intellectual property. “For a long time, because of people like Frank Miller and Brian Michael Bendis, the book became a crime drama. It was just as interesting to look at the world in the mean streets of New York and to look at what Hell’s Kitchen looked like in those days and really set it in that world.”

Shooting the show in New York was critical to give “Daredevil” the right kind of energy.

“We wanted to be able to use the city as a character in the show,” Loeb said. “We’re on rooftops. We’re down in the subway, we are out on docks. We’re in the streets. Where else are we going to be able to get that steam coming up out of the street? Or that odd kind of amber hue that comes off a taxi cab’s headlights? Or the way that the color blue washes out at night in New York? That is the palette of our show.”

Drew Goddard (“The Cabin in the Woods”) wrote the first two episodes and was originally set to oversee “Daredevil” for Marvel. When commitments to movie projects forced him to bow out, DeKnight, a lifelong comics fans, was brought on to oversee the show. (Both men have an executive producer credit.)

Those early installments explore Daredevil’s origins in flashback, while in present day, Murdock and his legal partner/best friend Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) set out to help a woman, Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), accused of murder. At night, Cox’s Murdock begins his masked quest in earnest, which ultimately puts him in the orbit of antagonist Wilson Fisk, also known as Kingpin, played by Vincent D’Onofrio.

Charlie Cox in "Daredevil." (Netflix)

Charlie Cox in “Daredevil.” (Netflix)

For Cox, Murdock might seem to be a serious career departure from his previous roles in “Downton Abbey,” “Boardwalk Empire” or the wistful fantasy “Stardust.” And it’s true that the actor had no previous connection to the character. But in the five weeks between landing the role last spring and filming, he began to study Daredevil’s five-decade run (both Cox and DeKnight mentioned the work done on the title by Miller and the team of Bendis and Alex Maleev as especially influential).

Cox said he became intrigued by the inner turmoil that plagues Murdock, who, as a practicing Catholic, wrestles with an additional level of angst over the extreme actions he takes as part of his covert crime-fighting.

“He believes in God, he believes in divine order,” Cox said. “Then he’s going out and he’s effectively playing God. Having done those things he goes back home and has to sit with himself. I think he’s terribly confused and terribly conflicted and torn in all these different directions, and doesn’t know what the right path is and can’t talk to anyone about it.”

DeKnight thinks Cox’s Murdock studies have paid off.

“He really makes the character live and breathe,” De Knight said. “What I love about his performance — and you’ll particularly see it even more as the season progresses — is that he’s really being torn apart inside…. There’s a part of him that enjoys hurting people, the guilt that he carries with that…. Charlie really brings that out.”

Cox also worked quickly to pack about 20 pounds of muscle onto his lean frame to more authentically represent Murdock’s fighter’s physique. As often as he could, he said, he endeavored to do his own stunt work.

Charlie Cox and Paul Mann in "Daredevil." (Barry Wetcher / Netflix)

Charlie Cox and Paul Mann in “Daredevil.” (Barry Wetcher / Netflix)

“What’s nice is we meet Matt Murdock at the beginning of his evolution to Daredevil; he’s just starting,” Cox said. “At the fight scenes at the beginning of the series, he’s not that good. He’s obviously trained but it’s gritty — there’s not a lot of scenes with amazing acrobatics. It’s more rolling around in the mud just trying to punch the other guy before he punches you.”

Certainly, Cox has found that that there are some real upsides to playing a superhero.

“I felt very cool a lot of the time, I’m not going to lie,” he said with a laugh. “I’m a British actor. I’ve spent the vast majority of my career saying things like, ‘Yes, my liege,’ or ‘No, your grace.’ To get to wear the black boots, the black cargo trousers and a massive black bandanna over my face just felt like the coolest thing I’d ever done.”

— Gina McIntyre | @LATHeroComplex

Blake Hennon contributed to this report.


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11 Responses to ‘Daredevil’: Marvel swaggers into Scorsese territory in Netflix series with Charlie Cox

  1. Chris says:

    I love the grittier fight scenes as they put it. They dont appear as dancing, choreographed acrobatics. In the second episode you can see people getting up after getting knocked down, and the winner is just as tired, leaning on walls. It is very realistic and I would like to see it continue in this fashion. Its a very realistic looking series.

  2. Victoria says:

    I'm on the third episode (trying not to savor and not power watch) and I am LOVING THIS SHOW SO MUCH. You can see how Murdock is adjusting to this role of vigilante and the things that he is learning about his own character as he goes. He's also realizing that no matter what he plans, he is always going to need to be able to adjust, because clear cut as his intentions might be, he has other people's agenda's to work with. I love the fight scenes and the camera angles. I like how they follow and focus on the fights instead of trying to rush you through the experience. There is great character chemistry (Foggy Nelson rocks btw) and I can't wait to see how this all plays out (but like I said, I'm going to take my time and really watch it). Kudos to the creators and thanks!

  3. Brian says:

    I have finished the series, I give it 8/10 and for me that is much better than most superhero movies and shows. The show is good and really watchable, but it suffers from trying to make it dark, blood and violence alone are not really "dark" imo and the choice of only a few scenes that are not at night or on a cloudy day don't make this "dark" either. I will say that I feel people complaining about how dim lit the show is, are not familiar with any batman movie,or CW's Arrow which are poorly lit often so we can't see what is going on. We can see Daredevil's fights and they are good fights, even better than Arrow in regard to visibility and choreography. And have a stylized martial art that is unique and consistent. The style of directing for the fight is interesting and effective. (Good job fight people)

    Some of Murdock's roof jumping is a little over done, doing forward rolls on rooftops for no reason occasionally and although Cox is not as much of a natural as CW's Oliver Queen jumping over what ever is in his way. Why do we need British Actors to play American Superheros – But Cox does much better than Cavill. (In every case British actors as Heros have a hint of underlying whim that they can't seem to shake. Jackman who is Australian fortunately doesn't)

    Sadly the plot although handled well has already been done time and time again with Batman, Arrow, and that last Iron Man movie nobody remembers (Someone wants to destroy a city to save it)

    The show isn't rated but could be close to an R rating for violence I have no complaints but halfway thru my marathon watching I was surprised to see such a show with violence with so little nudity. (You can decide if that is good or bad) I think the most racy clip is seeing a girl in the shower thru a curtain and Psycho was probably more suggestive but at least we are not beaten over the head with character longing for each other like on the CW. We really only see Kingpin's love life. And although I am not sure if I like the way they handled him as a character it isn't they typical or expected one.

  4. Pete M Htoo says:

    Really good, script for the pilot is tight while the character of Matt Murdock has more depth. 100 times better than the movie…

  5. John says:

    I really like the show, but there is one major casting glitch in it for me: the actor playing Foggy, Elden Henson, is just terrible. Sure, he knows his lines and technically he reads them well enough, but there is nothing behind them, just fake emotion. And there is zero chemistry between him and his would-be love interest, True Blood's Deborah Ann Woll. You don't have to be a student of the craft to see that she's struggling to perform with him in their scenes. And when the camera is not on him in some scenes, but he's still in frame, he's just blank. He reminds me of so many actors in high school productions. Here's hoping he loosens up and finds his groove on the show.

  6. I actually REALLY appreciate how true they were to the comics with regard to Kingpin…and yes, I'm talking about his relationship with Vanessa. A lot of sexist comic book fanboys wouldn't believe it, but the Kingpin was a real softie when it came to the Missus. Only, she didn't actively co-sign or seek to "understand" his criminal behavior. Quite the opposite. She threatened to leave him and he actually made the effort to walk away from crime because of her.

    In any case, this was a great first season and the fights were the best I've seen from any comic-themed series or movie. I hope there's a second season.

  7. kevin says:

    Marvel knocked it out of the park with Netflix new Daredevil series. I love the lighthearted “popcorn” feel to the Iron Man and Avengers movies but Daredevil’s gritty more mature aspect is a refreshing break to the MCU. The fight scenes are amazing…even to the point of being a little cringe inducing. But the scenes outside of the violence, especially the depth of the Kingpin character is what I enjoyed most. Well done Marvel and Netflix.

  8. b1ckf0rd says:

    I knew Cox looked familiar but I couldn't place it. Stardust!! That was way better than I expected it to be. I'm only eight episodes in but I'm loving Daredevil so far. I know they're trying to tie this to two other shows in development but please let there be another season!

  9. Joe K says:

    I just finished watching the first series and I thought the entire 13 episodes were done very well. I like Cox as Daredevil. I particularly liked the theme because it was not too far fetched. I have watched the Arrow series as well and although it was good, too much of it was not as believable as Daredevil. Daredevil didn't have things such as green vials of a virus that makes people super strong. I understand that's what makes a good comic and I do take that into consideration, but Daredevil plays on the corruption of a city, which deems the theme more realistic. It left me wanting to see more, and I have recommended it to other Netflix subscribers!

  10. John says:

    I should preface this by saying I'm as addicted to it as the next guy, but… an addendum to my previous post: I am still really enjoying this series (a little over halfway through it), but not only do I stand by my previous assessment regarding the lack of chemistry between the two characters I mentioned earlier, it has occurred to me that NONE of the actors have any chemistry between them. Do you really feel that either of the two male leads would have been best friends in law school? Or would have truly followed the same do-gooder path together? Sorry, but the three leads in the fledgling law firm are acting in voids, not with each other at all. And, at first I really liked the fight choreography, but now I'm seeing more and more completely missed punches that are magically landing by the neck-snapping reactions of those whom are hit. Why can't they see this on playback and reshoot on the spot? Nitpicking? Maybe, but this little stuff just takes me out of the story, if even for a moment.

  11. Alexa says:

    @John – I couldn’t disagree more. The chemistry betw Matt and Foggy is what grabbed me from the very beginning. Their friendship is endearing and what makes me care about what happens in their world.

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