Netflix's 'Daredevil' Is the Marvel Universe at Its Darkest and Best

The show's resurgence in popularity only shows how good it still is.

netflix daredevil

This article contains spoilers for both Spider-Man: No Way Home and Hawkeye.

With the advent of Disney+, the streaming service that houses everything (popular) under the Disney umbrella, we were treated to a new era of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, one that would play out on television while the tentpole movies dominated the theaters once every few months. WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, and Hawkeye filled in the blanks between Shang-Chis and Spider-Men, setting up storylines with the luxury of multiple episodes that would culminate in later movies. But these shows aren't the first shows to play out their dramas in the MCU, and now that at least one of those—the Charlie Cox-starring Daredevil—is back in the conversation, we're reminded of a grungier, riskier era of Marvel entertainment that wasn't overly in thrall to the whims of a corporate-owned shared universe.

When Disney ended their deal with Netflix and moved their content over to their new streaming service, Netflix was obliged to discontinue their series of shows based on Marvel comic characters loosely set within the MCU: Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, The Punisher, and ensemble crossover The Defenders. All of these shows (with the exception of Iron Fist, which, despite its fantastic cast, bore the unfortunate burden of a white main character in an East Asian-influenced world) were well received, gathered rabid fanbases, and told the kinds of grounded, serious, and oftentimes severe stories that the MCU films shy away from in favor of keeping things family-friendly.

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The first of these, Daredevil, remains the best—so good, in fact, that its title character as well as its big bad have returned to the MCU, in a quick scene in Spider-Man: No Way Home and as the hidden antagonist of the final episodes of Hawkeye, respectively. Matt Murdock (Cox) is a struggling lawyer whose blindness has enhanced his other senses, allowing him to fight crime by night as his masked alter ego, Daredevil, while he and his partner Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) and their friend Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) fight the legal battles by day. Together they protect their neighborhood of Hell's Kitchen from the violent crime lords under the influence of the powerful and terrifying Wilson Fisk (Vincent D'Onofrio) a.k.a. the Kingpin. It's half punches-and-kicks superhero show and half legal drama; the plot arcs are complex, with multiple new characters introduced each season and a wide array of villains as well as a growing number of heroes, and the fight scenes even put a lot of Marvel movie choreography to shame—we can't not bring up the Oldboy hallway fight here.

One of the best parts about Daredevil, and the thing that allowed it to be as good as it was, was how untethered it was from the MCU, especially in comparison to the Disney+ shows and its predecessor Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which spent arguably too much time trying to tie its weekly action into the movies opening simultaneously in theaters. The "Battle of New York," as The Avengers' 2012 climax in midtown Manhattan became known in the films, is referred to simply as "the incident" that has opened up a lot of real estate for crooked businessmen in the area. Heroes with similarly enhanced abilities make occasional appearances—sai-wielding assassin Elektra shows up in later seasons—but their "powers," such as they are, are downplayed in favor of lower impact visual effects. A lot of the episodes' runtime is spent watching characters stitch each other up. Daredevil is indebted to its blockbuster franchise, but also exists at a remove: these are just normal-ass people fighting for their lives in a grungier mirror to our own world, where everything that matters happens in the shadows of dimly lit city streets and when you get hit really hard, you fall. But you get back up again.

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Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.