What Can Marvel Do To Make Daredevil Work? Copy “Arrow” (Or, “Angel”).
Marvel Studios executive Kevin Feige recently announced that the media rights to one of the comic publisher's oldest characters have reverted back to their ownership, after 20th Century Fox passed on Joe Carnahan's grind house reinvention and then promptly sat there, blinking like a blind man at a sign language conference. I'm with Fox in thinking that a Daredevil movie is perhaps not worth the effort, though I love the character. No, now is the time for Daredevil to be reborn on television. Really, anything to wash out the taste of that dreadful movie would suffice -- and, before you mention it, no, the director's cut does not make it better.
Daredevil, starring Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Colin Farrell, Michael Clarke Duncan and directed by Mark Steven Johnson, is bad. Just plain not very enjoyable or well-made. It isn't the worst superhero movie or the worst comic book adaptation (hello, once again, dearest X-Men: The Last Stand), but all the source material fidelity gets lost in the bland execution and being overly serious without realistically grounding any of the theatrics like Nolan did with Batman. Daredevil, a.k.a. Matt Murdock, definitely has a dark origin and many depressing story arcs, but he's not always so damned tortured and woe-is-moi like Affleck's tears in the rain performance. He's supposed to be like Spider-Man haunted with Catholic guilt, and also an incredibly talented and charming public defender. When the character is written well in the comics (Mark Waid, Joe Kelly, Brian Michael Bendis, pre-crazy Frank Miller), he's almost better than Batman, minus the psychosis but with the ability to have semi-normal human relationships with other grown men and women. That really doesn't sound too dissimilar from the CW's version of Green Arrow does it? Or, let's be honest, Joss Whedon's "Angel."
Okay, yes, Daredevil and Green Arrow (and Angel) are very different characters - one wears head-to-toe red, the other dons green (and the other-other black); one is blind, the other an archer (and the other-other a vampire); etc., etc. - but Marvel could definitely learn a thing or two about television shows from their super heroic competitor. Certainly, with Joss Whedon's "S.H.I.E.L.D." and, supposedly, a "Hulk" series arriving in the future, the studio probably thinks it's already got a handle on this TV business. But team espionage and wandering outcast shows are far different from the lone hero working in one area with a small-ish supporting cast. Actually, with Whedon on the payroll, I'm sure the studio could handle that, as well, but he's only one (super) man and surely he can't oversee two shows and the cinematic Avengers, as well as passion projects like Much Ado About Nothing? Luckily, this is where internet blogging comes to the rescue.
With stories that are usually less about the action and more about the intrigue, and Daredevil solving crimes and prosecuting criminals at least as much as he's kicking ass, there's much more narrative potential for an ongoing superhero legal dramedy than another attempt at a blockbuster franchise. What would that show look, sound, and feel like? If you weren't paying attention earlier, go ahead and re-read the title of this piece. So, hey, let's make "Daredevil" a TV show, Marvel. Here's how:
DON'T Focus On The Super Heroics
Of course, that doesn't mean there shouldn't be any red-tighted acrobatics and thug punching. Every episode should feature Daredevil, but, like "Arrow" is about Oliver Queen, the show should be all about Matt Murdock and why he dresses up like a freak and swings between rooftops despite being blind and a not unsuccessful attorney. DD's super senses are the perfect kind of TV powers to feature in and out of costume, and would require a much lower effects budget than "Smallville" ever needed. Imagine how exciting it would be for Murdock to uncover a villain's secrets because he recognizes the heart beats from a previous Daredevil encounter, or vice versa. What makes the comic character great is that he doesn't have two personas; his identity may be hidden, but it's always Matt in that costume and Daredevil in those power suits.
DO Flashbacks Of Daredevil's Origin
But as important as Matt Murdock's personality and motives are, his origin doesn't need to be retold in extensive detail in a pilot episode. Nor does his martial arts training with his mentor, Stick. Those elements should absolutely be included, because they're fundamental to understanding the character, but "Arrow" has handled this beautifully by parsing out information when the overall story demands we need to know, and meanwhile we follow the lead and try to piece together what he's up to based on the piecemeal facts we do have. It's simply engaging television, and Daredevil's back story - blinded in accident by chemicals that gave him super senses, boxer father murdered "in front of his eyes" by the Kingpin for not taking a dive, and trained by a ninja to fight crime as a way of supplementing his legal work - is rife with interesting and entertaining mini-narratives. All we need at the start is why Murdock is a superhero, then we can find out how he did it.
DON'T Cast Stars In The Lead Roles
This is probably obvious, but it's easy to get caught up in dream casting. So unless Guy Pearce wants to start slumming it on genre television, Murdock/Daredevil needs to be played by a relative unknown who is also more than a pretty face and a cool haircut. Not bringing baggage from earlier work is really important for a character like this, who could otherwise be boring if we know what to expect week in and week out. David Boreanaz was sort of a name when he got promoted from "Buffy" to "Angel," but his true talent was kept mostly under the radar before he got the title gig. Likewise, Stephen Amell was "that guy from that thing, maybe" for eight years before "Arrow." Just like those anti-heroes, we need to be with Murdock from the ground running and no sooner. That said, please feel free to fill out the cast with welcome genre actors like John Barrowman, Paul Blackthorne, Kelly Hu, and Alex Kingston.
DO Include His Supporting Cast
As fundamental as his origin is, Murdock's co-workers, friends, lovers, and enemies are also an integral part of what makes the comic great (when it is). Foggy Nelson is one of the best friends and sidekicks in all of fiction, much less superhero fiction, and Jon Favreau's performance in the movie pretty much nails the character. But there's also Nelson's overbearing mother, Murdock's own mother (a nun), the reporter Ben Urich (also played well, but totally against type, by Joe Pantoliano in the flick), and, naturally, all the various girlfriends and lady acquaintances Matt Murdock has accumulated, or will accumulate throughout the series. (Elektra just scratches the surface.) But a great hero needs a great villain, and the aforementioned Kingpin of crime more than fits that bill. Michael Clarke Duncan (RIP) did well enough with the part, but he needs to be more than the big bad who's taken out at the end of the first season. He needs to be the series' big bad, who may not even get his comeuppance in the final episode. He needs to be the Wolfram and Hart of the whole shebang.
DON'T Skimp On Comic Cameos
While super-heroing shouldn't fill up all 42 minutes of this prospective show, "Arrow" has shown that not tiptoeing around comic book references can be a fun nod to fans and not distracting to n00bZ. "Smallville" did this exactly wrong. At first, that show molded its comic characters to fit a teen soap opera, and then it allowed for all the costumed craziness you'd want from a Superman show... except from Superman himself. It became a joke that the only character the "no flights, no tights" rule applied to was the man of steel. "Arrow" has already solved this by just putting its lead into the costume right away. Once it convinced the audience Green Arrow wasn't ridiculous, the show was able to squeeze in the Huntress, Deadshot, and Deathstroke with very little fuss. And since comic Daredevil and comic Black Widow have had relations in the past, a cameo by Scarlet Johansson wouldn't be remotely out of place.
Like my recommendations for MTV's "Scream" before, I don't presume to think these suggestions would make for groundbreaking or award winning television -- though there's no reason "Daredevil" couldn't also have the storytelling flair of cable TV's best -- but it could be immensely watchable. Just like the shows it could best emulate. Or maybe there just isn't an audience for Daredevil, but he's got more upside than a "Hulk" sans Mark Ruffalo. There's no way that will be a winning proposition.