Do you think of Arrow as “the one with the abs”? Don’t know your Captain Cold from Professor Zoom on The Flash? Did you give up on Agents of SHIELD once you realized you didn’t care who the Clairvoyant was? If yes, it might be time to graduate to a superhero drama that’s a bit more mature. Don’t worry, you don’t have to watch Blue Bloods (yet). We’re talking about Netflix’s first Marvel series Daredevil, which is unbinged April 10. It may be the only current superhero TV series that doesn’t seem like it was created to sell lunch boxes. It’s not just that Daredevil’s lead, Charlie Cox, is (gasp!) over 30, it’s that the complex narrative is crafted for more mature audiences. Here’s how the show does it:
Serious fisticuffs, not goofy gadgets: The lawyer son of a boxer who fights crime as a masked vigilante by night, Matt Murdock (Cox) takes on bad guys using only his fists, which means plenty of raw physical beatdowns and minimal sci-fi sorcery or impractical weapons (we’re surprised nobody has yet greenlit Quarterstaff: The Series). Instead, the magic happens in the fight choreography. There’s a single-take scene at the end of the second episode features a hallway fight where Daredevil challenges a horde of child traffickers that will leave you breathless (and feeling a little out of shape). “Our templates were the Jason Bourne movies and The Raid,” says showrunner/EP Steve S. DeKnight. “We wanted the audience to feel each hit.”
Subtle use of superpowers: Blinded by chemicals as a kid, Daredevil developed other heightened senses to be able to navigate his neighborhood (just go with this). Rather than using cheesy sonarlike perspective shots the way the notorious 2003 Daredevil movie, the series mainly suggests his powers aurally— like when Murdock follows a man by the ticking of his watch. “We wanted to explore how to tell this story without a visual effect, so we used sounds to make it feel more organic,” DeKnight explains.
A MacGuffin-free zone: Murdock’s goal isn’t to protect some glittering inviso-portal-crypto-thingy, and he’s not trying to be a guardian of the galaxy. He’s just the protector of 10 blocks! It’s as if his superpower is modest ambition. And yet the show’s lower stakes don’t feel less dramatic. “Instead of trying to find this and neutralize that, it’s a conflict between people and personalities,” DeKnight says.
No geek badge required: Don’t you know that Dr. Fennhoff showing up on up Agent Carter means he’ll eventually turn into Dr. Faustus who later runs the mind control program that turns Bucky Barnes into the Winter Soldier as seen in the Captain America sequel? No? You don’t know that because you have to do other things to do in your life aside from studying Marvel’s 7,000-character universe. Like laundry. Here’s what you need to know about Daredevil: Remember that big alien attack on New York City at the end of The Avengers movie? That happened, and that’s pretty much it. “Marvel was clear they wanted this to stand alone,” DeKnight says. “It’s part of the Marvel Universe, but it doesn’t build on that. That said, there are a ton of Easter eggs.”
Realistic(ish) violence: There this a moment with a bowling ball and a man’s head where … do we need to actually describe it? Let’s just say this scene would make Barry Allen throw up. Unlike most superhero shows, which rely on cartoon-style violence, Daredevil is bruising and bloody. Murdock spends most of the first half of the season in various states of recovery, leading one character to remark that he might consider exchanging his black sweatshirt for some kind of body armor. Which is to say, he won’t turn up in a codpiece anytime soon.
It’s pretty dark: With a blind hero, perhaps it’s not surprising the show uses darkness and single-source lighting heavily. It’s very distinct and moody since most scenes in TV shows are lit as bright as a Costco. “I’m always a big fan of bold lighting and one of my biggest complaints about network shows is everything is turned up to as bright as possible,” DeKnight says.
Easing up on the romance: Get this: You don’t see the main villain, Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio), until the very end of the third episode. Oh, the future Kingpin impacts the story from the very start, but his reveal is gradually built up. And when you finally meet him, he’s awkwardly trying to win the heart of an art-gallery owner—yup, the series casts the bad guy as the season’s romantic lead, rather than saddling Murdock with the typical “My work is too dangerous to love you!” relationship. “The great thing about Netflix is they allowed us not to get into a soap opera with Matt,” DeKnight says. And when Fisk finally shows us his dark side, guess what weapon he uses? That’s right, his fists. What did you expect, a magic hammer?