Daredevil is a tough character to sell people on. He’s a superhero whose powers are based on some radioactive gunk making him blind and increasing his other senses by a zillion. He’s a grimmer Spider-man and a hornier Batman. He once dressed in colors most commonly found on top of hot dogs and hamburgers.
And then they went and made a movie with Ben Affleck in the starring role. It’s hard to blame Affleck for that financially successful disaster. He loved the character and wanted to do right by Daredevil. But Mark Steven Johnson (the director of the terrifying family film Jack Frost and the pile of fiery skull feces known as Ghost Rider) and Fox were not the right combination to bring Matt Murdock to the big screen. The film initially received mixed reviews and its reputation has only gotten worse since then.
There have been some incredible runs on Daredevil over the years from some of the best in the comics industry. A great adaptation is possible. There are grim Daredevil stories. There are light-hearted ones. You can go noir, legal, absurd, emotional; there’s no one direction that a Daredevil story needs to go in to be successful.
Joe Carnahan’s proposal for a gritty 1970s crime movie sounded awesome and very much in the Frank Miller vein of DD stories. Fox passed on that and let the rights revert back to Marvel Studios, setting up their current slate of street level superhero shows on Netflix.
Daredevil’s current success as a character began with Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada’s run back in 1998. It’s a decent story, but not the great one that a television series needs. I’d love to see the Netflix series draw its inspiration from Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev ’s run. Bendis and Maleev spent five years torturing Matt Murdock, culminating in old hornhead ending up in prison and setting up Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark’s great run.
A large part of Bendis’ story relies on Daredevil’s identity getting leaked to the press and Murdock denying it. It’s a strong basis for a series, but I wonder if Marvel would want to save that storyline for a second season. It works better when the character is already established, and I can’t imagine they’ll want to point at a movie where Daredevil took time out of his day to spell out DD in gasoline in a subway station.
However, if they do go this route, Brubaker and Lark’s Daredevil in prison arc would make for a tremendous second season. Superhero Oz! Presumably without all the rape. Presumably.
Charlie Cox has been cast in the lead role of Matt Murdock/Daredevil. His big credit to this point is Boardwalk Empire, which I’m ashamed to say that I’m just starting. DD can come off a bit like Batman, so it’s important to nail Murdock. Bruce Wayne is barely a real person at times, a mere front to cover up and fund vigilante activities. Matt Murdock is an accomplished lawyer and a notorious manwhore. He’s far from a mere front for his nocturnal street justice. Murdock can be a tortured soul, but he can also be a lot of fun, especially in his dealings with his partner, Foggy Nelson.
Foggy is the heart of the DD universe. He’s a character that people can be tempted to relegate to pure comic relief. This is the wrong approach. Foggy Nelson is Matt Murdock’s pillar. Who’s playing him in the Netflix series? Remember the tall kid with the killer slap shot in The Mighty Ducks? Fulton Reed? Yeah, well Fulton Reed himself, Elden Henson, is playing Foggy Nelson. I’m really not sure how to feel about this casting. He’s in the next two Hunger Games movies, so that’s a notch in the old résumé. Remember that Devon Sawa movie Idle Hands? Hooray for you other five people who remember that! Like Cox, we’re just going to have to wait and see what he does with the role.
While Marvel went with two lesser known names for the leads, the two members announced as part of the supporting cast have a little more experience. Rosario Dawson will be playing…someone. Dawson could be playing anyone, from Matt Murdock’s girlfriend to a key villain. Possibly both. Yes, Daredevil has slept with a few of his rivals. Who am I to judge? You can’t really blame the man. My first thought is Elektra, but I’m not sure they want to play that card yet. Typhoid Mary could be a fun role. She’s a batshit insane assassin employed by the Kingpin. Dawson could have some fun with Mary’s many personalities. Of course, she could just be playing an original character. No one knows yet.
The final piece of announced casting is perhaps the most vital. Vincent D’Onofrio will be playing Daredevil’s arch-nemesis, The Kingpin. D’Onofrio is best known for his work on Law & Order and Full Metal Jacket, but when I think of the Kingpin, I look at his cameo in Ed Wood as Orson Welles. D’Onofrio doesn’t even provide the voice for Welles (that honor goes to the great Maurice LaMarche), but he brings a certain weight to the role as he sits and smokes and writes in that restaurant.
Where Michael Clarke Duncan did an effective job bringing the power and weight of Wilson Fisk to that flawed film, D’Onofrio will bring more of the menacing businessman aspect. The Kingpin didn’t start out as Daredevil’s key villain, but the two are inseparable now.
There’s undoubtedly more casting to be made. I’m sure Bullseye will be involved at some point. The master assassin is so much more than a crazed Colin Farrell with a target carved into his head. If Rosario Dawson isn’t playing Elektra, I would expect her to pop up. She is kind of the love of Matt Murdock’s strange life.
With a ton of great stories to mine for material and the makings of a solid cast, I’ll be sorely disappointed if Netflix’s Daredevil turns out to be terrible. I may just have to crush myself with my six pound omnibus. That sounds like a painful way to die Marvel.