Daredevil’s been born again as a Marvel nice guy — but can he still be serious?
She-Hulk allows Matt Murdock to be more MCU-like.
Marvel fans are eager for any new film or television series, but Disney Plus’ She-Hulk: Attorney at Law became a significant event for longstanding MCU fans when mega-franchise creator Kevin Feige confirmed that the series would reintroduce Charlie Cox’s Daredevil. Since its debut, each episode of She-Hulk has been welcomed with one burning question: When will Daredevil appear?!?
Good news for ecstatic fans: Daredevil debuted this week, just one episode before the She-Hulk season finale.
And now for some possibly terrible news: He’s not the Matt Murdock fans fell in love with during his Netflix run.
MCU Phase 4 Daredevil, like many gloomy New Yorkers who flourish in the bright light of Los Angeles, is full of smiles. Even while defending tailor-to-the-heroes Luke Jacobson from the petulant Leap-Frog as a belligerent lawyer, he puts on the charm. Matt hops about parking garages in his new yellow-and-red outfit on a true Marvel Studios budget. We thought we knew Charlie Cox’s Daredevil, but after three seasons of Daredevil and a spell on the Defenders, it turns out he was only getting started.
Cox’s Matt Murdock has gone through hell — assuming that the horror that occurred during his stand-alone series and The Defenders is still MCU canon (which, given on The Kingpin’s debut in Hawkeye, appears to be a yes). Daredevil faced the towering Wilson Fisk, crossed paths with The Punisher, outwitted a version of Bullseye acting as his duplicate, and joined forces with Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist to take on the ancient syndicate known as The Hand over the course of three seasons.The Netflix Marvel programs were legally part of the MCU, but they were maintained at a distance on Netflix, where more adult narrative — and carnage — could take place. While Daredevil made headlines for filming long-take corridor battles where Matt could pound the living hell out of thugs, the street-level storylines were sometimes hidden in darkness for the sake of lower-budget production design.
Nonetheless, of all the Netflix experiments, Daredevil was the one that resonated with Marvel fans. When Netflix chose not to proceed with season 4, hundreds of save-the-show initiatives erupted like a fleet of Chitauri troops from a Marvel portal. The Daredevil fandom was so strong that Feige was bombarded with queries about a potential Cox cameo or resurrection with practically every round of Avengers-related PR. The answer was always no… until it was.
The last time we saw Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock was in Spider-Man: No Way Home, where he appeared for a fleeting second as Peter Parker’s lawyer. Though it had been speculated for what seemed like an eternity, Feige went out of his way during the No Way Home press tour to imply that Cox’s Daredevil was here to stay.
In December 2021, Feige stated CinemaBlend, “If you were to see Daredevil in subsequent stuff, Charlie Cox, yeah, would be the guy portraying Daredevil.” “Whither we see it, how we see it, and when we see it remains to be seen.”
We’ve seen it now, and Daredevil’s presence in She-Hulk, playing 30 and flirting with Tatiana Maslany’s Jennifer Walters, is only the beginning. Cox will next be seen in the forthcoming Hawkeye spinoff series Echo, which will go more into the past of actor Alaqua Cox’s deaf assassin character and her links to Kingpin. Following that, Marvel Studios will produce a Daredevil: Born Again sequel series for Netflix. The only information available about the series is that Cox will return in the spring of 2024.
Fans of the gritty Daredevil series, which has subsequently been moved from Netflix to Disney Plus, should be ecstatic. But integrating the established Matt Murdock into the new-and-improved MCU was never going to be easy: The Netflix show was created in the aftermath of Marvel’s worst hour, the Battle of New York. Hell’s Kitchen became a microcosm for how terrible life in this Cinematic Universe might go in the MCU’s fictitious Big Apple, which was mending. Daredevil was filmed like a chilly, gloomy Law & Order episode where victims received horrific beatings to the face. Matt was “The Man Without Fear,” yet his environment was meant to scare.Cox would grin now and then, but it was only because his mind had already fragmented. The show was grimdark in the most unironic way possible. The tone made more sense when Tony Stark was struggling with PTSD and Sokovia was being torn apart by sentient AI. That is not the tone of today’s MCU. Not at all.
Marvel has only increased its self-referential and frequently flippant comedy in the ten years since Daredevil debuted. What began with Joss Whedon’s earthy zingers for Iron Man and Captain America has evolved into a more dominant, meta-comedy approach with each successive Marvel picture. This is most likely due to Dan Harmon’s influence. Harmon’s work on the Doctor Strange script in 2016 appeared to open the door for Rick and Morty alumni to join the Marvel team and reimagine how the studio played in its own sandbox. Jessica Gao, the showrunner of She-Hulk, is a Rick and Morty veteran.Jeff Loveness, a former Rick and Morty writer, has been hired to write Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and will next work on Avengers: The Kang Dynasty. Michael Waldron, another animated series vet, wrote both Loki and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness before earning the job to create Avengers: Secret Wars.
While Zack Snyder devotees are chastised for constantly complaining about Marvel-style gags in serious DC films, they’re not entirely incorrect to see the influence: The Marvel aesthetic is authentic, yet the levity in the MCU is becoming overdone. Thor: Love and Thunder was a film about heavenly genocide and finding one’s place in the world… but it was also a fun adventure with honking goats and Taika Waititi’s famous deadpan quips that undermined the seriousness at every step.Marvel founded itself on a genuine depiction of a comic pantheon, avoiding the hacky plug-and-play, afraid-of-color inclinations of late-nineteenth-century adaptations. But now they’re breaching the fourth wall, dumping on D-list heroes, and transforming Moon Knight and Ms. Marvel into caped crusaders a la Juno (minus the hamburger phone). Everyone is zinging. Daredevil now does as well.
Matt Murdock has been rewired by Marvel to blend in with She-Hulk and the new MCU. Fortunately, Cox can hit those notes – he’s an incredible riot, defying gravity during skirmishes and banter with Jen like Nick and Nora Charles from The Thin Man. As a great throwback, he engages in a corridor brawl, which is quickly halted by the more formidable She-Hulk. Punishing expectations, even those that the audience may like, has become a trademark Marvel maneuver.
Daredevil: Born Again may very well return the character to his darker roots — and he’ll surely be back in New York, where brooding and grimacing come naturally — but watching this one-off episode, I can’t help but feel wistful for a bygone period of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel Studios established their image on bringing the work of comic book artists and writers to the screen in a more authentic way than any movie company could dream, no matter how ridiculous their supersuits may appear.Daredevil, as portrayed in the MCU, is a dark figure, and the last one who needs to be undercut by a wink to the camera to say this is all Dumb Comic Shit (which we get in She-Hulk, when Jen pokes fun at his mustard-and-ketchup costume design). Every character is not Tony Stark. Every character is not Spider-Man. Daredevil will always be Daredevil. Yes, the comics character has a tradition of lightness (one of his major insights came courtesy of a duel with a vacuum cleaner), but in the MCU, he contributed a distinct hue to the larger palette.And, although it’s nice to have him back in the Marvel fold, with Charlie Cox as the right casting, you have to question whether this is what fans of Matt Murdock have been longing for over the previous five years.
There are several major concerns concerning Marvel’s future right now: What is going on in the multiverse? What is the situation with the mutant population? What role do the Fantastic Four play? But, with the collision of She-Hulk and Daredevil, I have another question: Can Marvel ever take a serious character seriously again?