As I’ve stated several times over the course of this column, we are living in a new golden age of television. Never before has so many wonderful takes on comic book superheroes, both in motion pictures and television, have occurred at the same time. 2018 has been an incredible year for the Marvel Universe on the big screen with the incredible success of both “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War.” That being said, it is the Marvel Universe portrayed on Netflix that has captivated me even more.
“Daredevil” was the first Marvel show on Netflix that set the tone for the rest of their shows on the streaming channel. Fifteen years ago, “Daredevil” the movie starring Ben Affleck as blind lawyer Matt Murdock during the day and vigilante at night was, despite doing big numbers at the box office, panned by critics. It wasn’t the casting that killed the movie, as Affleck, Jennifer Garner as Elektra and Michael Clarke Duncan as Kingpin were more than capable in their roles, but the writing and directing that resulted in just an even more disastrous prequel “Elektra” starring Garner. The Netflix series was a different story.
Charlie Cox as the lead character brought an intensity to the role that Affleck didn’t. Cox was made to play the role, and his scenes with Elodie Yung, the actress portraying his love interest Elektra, captivated the audience with the intensity and desire that both characters have for each other. You want to see these characters happy, but circumstances continue to get in their way, culminating in Elektra’s death. Vincent D’onofrio is devilishly evil as Daredevil’s archenemy Kingpin. Daredevil also was the introduction to another great Marvel franchise on Netflix: “The Punisher.”
Jon Bernthal was born to play The Punisher/aka Frank Castle. With his rugged looks and piercing eyes, Bernthal was the perfect actor to portray a man who’s grief stricken after seeing his entire family murdered in front of him. In the second season of “Daredevil,” Castle murdered the entire crime family he thought was responsible for their death and then faked his own death. Castle reappears in “The Punisher” as a construction worker under an assumed name. He is still mourning over the loss of his family when he discovers that it was the United States military that killed his family as a way to silence him because of an illegal mission he was involved in Afghanistan.
Castle teams up with a National Security Agency analyst who is also believed to be dead, David Lieberman, played by the excellent Ebon Moss-Bacharach. Together the two fight evil U.S. intelligent officials attempting to keep the truth from coming out. The ensemble cast is tremendous; especially Ben Barnes and Jason R. Moore as Castle’s best friends Billy Russo and Curtis Hoyle. For those who have yet to watch “The Punisher,” the tension and action through the entire 13 episodes of its initial season keeps viewers in suspense. Bernthal’s expression of his pain and angst, as well as his vulnerability due to the fact he has no superpowers, has the television audience rooting for him.
Before “Black Panther” premiered this past February, Netflix premiered “Luke Cage” in September of 2016, the first Black superhero television series. Based and filmed in Harlem, the show is authentic because the backdrop of Harlem itself is a central character of the show. It also, like the aforementioned shows, consists of a tremendous cast. Mike Colter as Luke Cage has incredible charisma and is built like a tank. Colter’s character Cage was wrongfully imprisoned and like Castle, his wife was murdered. It was his wife that as a prison doctor helped arrange Cage being a guinea pig in a prison experiment that gave him his superpowers, which include being bulletproof and superhuman strength.
The rest of the cast has major star power. Oscar winner Mahershala Ali and Emmy award winner Alfre Woodard play cousins who are phenomenal as Cage’s primary adversaries, Cottonmouth and Black Mariah. Rosario Dawson as Cage’s love interest, Nurse Claire Temple, lights up the screen as the chemistry between her and Colter is sizzling hot. Finally, Simone Missick as Detective Misty Knight is not only a Black detective, but a Black female detective who assists Cage in battling evil in Harlem. Creator Cheo Hodari Coker has created a masterpiece and assembled a cast that makes this Black superhero series one of the greatest superhero television series of all time. It is the first time that a dramatic television series with a predominantly Black cast has been given a golden opportunity to shine and prosper.
Netflix has set the standard with its Marvel lineup of superhero shows, which also include “Jessica Jones,” “Iron Fist,” and “The Defenders.” Cox, Bernthal and Colter are perfect in their roles because of the vulnerability each man portrays when faced with adversity. Each hero has had loved ones murdered and they use that grief in exacting revenge against the evil perpetrators of those murders. Despite being considered vigilantes, all three men are true heroes as they do their best to bring justice to the men and women who wronged them.