NOTE: This Daredevil Editorial will be SPOILER-FREE.
Marvel has launched its Daredevil Netflix series, and early reviews and feedback from fans indicates that it is indeed another hit for the superhero entertainment company. Like so many things Marvel is doing right now, Daredevil arrived with a lot of big questions hanging over it, with one main theme between them all: Can Marvel change its formula and still have as much success?
Now that Daredevil is streaming into homes worldwide, it seems that the show (along with films like Guardians of the Galaxy) prove beyond doubt that the Marvel brand holds strong across all mediums, in a variety of forms. More than that, though, we think Daredevil is yet another milestone marker for how Marvel continues to change the game of shared universe superhero entertainment. Here are 5 Reasons Why.
7 It Proves There's an Adult Market
If any parents out there are letting their young children continue to pursue die-hard Marvel fandom by watching the Daredevil Netflix series, those parents are definitely making a mistake. This show is strictly for the adult crowd.
Without SPOILING anything: in the dark world of MCU Hell's Kitchen, gruesome death, injury and violence is commonplace. In fact, moments in the series reveal some truly gasp-worthy acts of brutality that a month ago - a year - many would've assumed to be too explicit for the Disney-owned MCU.
As Daredevil continues to stack up viewers and hype, it's become clear that an adult market Marvel was clearly probing is probably even bigger than they thought: large numbers of adults are willing to jump into the MCU, if the material is suited to their tastes.
WHAT IT MEANS: Now that Marvel has once again stepped out and tested the waters first, other companies building these massive shared universes can be rest assured that there is a viable market for adult-themed material.
For Marvel, this means that characters like Punisher, Blade, Moon Knight or Ghost Rider (all back in the possession of Marvel Studios) can be properly explored in darker, more adult-themed series. For other studios also hoping to build similar shared universe franchises, there is now confidence in the idea that the superhero genre can viably play to a strictly adult crowd, on the small screen - and possibly the big one, as well. Bring on Deadpool.
6 It's a Perfect Genre Middle Ground
Here are two problems the superhero genre was facing before the Daredevil Netflix series came along:
- Origin story movies were getting too repetitive and formulaic to guarantee bigger box office returns - especially individual heroes (something that Ant-Man and Marvel's Phase 3 films all have to overcome).
- Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (and arguably shows like Arrow, Flash and Gotham) proved that the network TV format for superhero shows wasn't necessarily the best fit. Between episode requirements (22), the resulting budget restrictions, the pull between network standards and advertising dollars... superhero TV has been a tricky thing to get right.
Now that Daredevil is here, it's clear that the paradigm of superhero TV has been changed.
WHAT IT MEANS: Forgetting aspects of the show unique to Netflix (no ads, the binge-watch option) and just focusing on structure: By adapting the cable or UK-style miniseries structure, in a medium free of all the aforementioned network TV hangups, Daredevil proves how superhero origins can still be told effectively, both in terms of cost, and audience reception.
13 Episodes of slow-build character drama (and plenty of action) is enough to really get to know, appreciate and grow with a character in a resonant way. However, it's also not enough time for good pacing to be dragged down by too many side characters or storylines to help sustain a 22 episode season.
Now companies with a large stable of characters (DC, LucasFilm) have a cost-effective and proven method that could arguably grow brand potential out of just about any character in their library. Let's see how many DC and/or Star Wars series make their way to streaming services in the coming years.
5 It Inspires More Brand Diversity
One big thing we wished for during our Screen Rant Underground podcast was to see Marvel Studios follow the example of the comic book publisher and create different lanes of its cinematic universe. Marvel Comics fans of the '90s got to enjoy the horror/supernatural heroes of the "Midnight Sons" imprint - and later, the darker, grittier heroes of the "Marvel Knights" imprint (to name a few examples). Our thought has always been: why couldn't the same work for a cinematic universe?
Marvel has led the way in diversifying their brand, with AoS, Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America 2 and even Big Hero 6 representing a varying range of material that appeals to an equally wide range of demographics. With the more adult-themed Daredevil, Marvel now has indisputible evidence of why different lanes of the MCU - with different tones - can be lucrative.
WHAT IT MEANS: Daredevil and the rest of the Netflix Defenders already seem to reflect the Marvel Knights mentality (grittier, more adult-themed), so getting characters like Moon Knight or Punisher into Netflix Phase Two (in proper dark, violent depiction) seems only logical. Same goes for Ghost Rider, Blade, Morbius and other supernatural characters that build toward a "Midnight Sons" horror-themed team.
With the adult crowd still largely up for grabs, DC has its own supernatural wing that could be kicked off by Guillermo del Toro's Justice League Dark; the company is already jumping into exploring the villain side of things with the Suicide Squad movie, and Fox is going hard-R with X-Men spinoff Deadpool.
There have been strides forward in making superhero entertainment geared toward the adult crowd - but clearly there is much more potential for Marvel and DC characters, X-Men mutants - or even Star Wars - to follow the Daredevil model with adult-themed TV programming. A dark and violent Star Wars: Bounty Hunters series? Yes please!
4 It's a Strong Case for Cohesive Diversification
There is one huge difference between what Marvel is doing with Daredevil and what DC/WB is doing with shows like Arrow, Supergirl, Flash, or the upcoming Flash spinoff show. The difference is: Marvel is risking real shared universe chips on Daredevil.
DC/WB executives have floated the idea that the separation between DC movies and TV shows (like having a TV and Movie Flash both cast at the moment) represents a fun "DC Multiverse" sandbox where fans can get different versions of their characters and stories, with the hope that such diversity just increases the fun.
That's all well and good, but with Daredevil, Marvel is showing confidence and investment in building up a character (and actor) who matters to their universe in such a way that he could one day stand on the big screen alongside The Avengers. Moreover, by being a direct extension of the larger MCU, Daredevil is automatically considered to be more crucial and important than say The Flash TV series, which (for all its good) will likely be totally invalidated by events of The Flash movie coming in a few years.
WHAT IT MEANS: Marvel has at once proven an important theory about shared universe branding, and managed to transcend its own branding limitations. After Daredevil, it will be hard to argue that the MCU is just "kids stuff" - just as it will be hard to argue that a shared universe can only have one kind of approach to its tone and/or brand. Worlds may collide if Daredevil is ever on an episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but now we know that they will not shatter - only grow stronger, together.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has earned the ability to be anything it wants, and can still be more than the sum of its differing parts.
3 It Proves Any Hero Is Potentially Worth Exploring
Some may read that heading above and take it as a slight against Daredevil as a character - please don't. Obviously there is a lot of inherent merit in the story of a blind lawyer who is a righteous lawman by day, and violent vigilante at night. Daredevil's mythos is not something that "any character" can offer to TV audiences.
At the same time, however, Daredevil could be compared to so many Arrow's and Batman Begins' that came before it; but what distinguishes the show and its character is how the Netflix series builds and explores who this character is. We've already touched on how the freer (and shorter) form of binge-watch TV enhances the focus and effectiveness of superhero origin storytelling; it's a formula that many other characters could potentially use to their advantage.
WHAT IT MEANS: Two years ago, nobody would've guessed that Luke Cage, Jessica Jones and Iron Fist were all potential big money makers for Marvel, but as I write this, few would now bet against The Defenders being a huge success for the company. We've already pointed out how having stalled movie franchises like Punisher, Ghost Rider and Blade back in the fold could lead to success in Netflix MCU Phase Two - but we're sure Marvel already realizes that potential for themselves. :-)
If other studios aren't seeing the possibilities for turning entire second and third tier sections of their character libraries into successful series, then they're blind as Matt Murdock. Daredevil blazed the trail; all that's left is for more studios to follow.
It's hard to deny that (love it or hate it) Marvel's Daredevil Netflix series is a game-changer. What do you think of the show? Has it lived up to expectations? Are you happy that the stars Charlie Cox and Vincent D'Onofrio are full-fledged members of the MCU? Or do you prefer DC TV's "Multiverse" approach? Discuss with us in the comments!
1 NEXT: Daredevil Easter Eggs Guide
Daredevil season 1 is now available for viewing on Netflix. A.K.A. Jessica Jones will debut later in 2015, followed by Luke Cage in 2016, and Iron Fist (most likely) in the second half of 2016. The Defenders will presumably come sometime after that.