When it comes to comic book adaptations, “dark and gritty” is the term du jour. After the Dark Knight trilogy managed to reboot the Batman franchise by giving audiences a more grounded, realistic take on the characters and the world in which they inhabit, television and movie studios alike have adapted their strategy when it comes to their comic book properties and, for the most part, that dark and gritty take has worked out pretty well. So, it should come as no surprise that Netflix’s newest original series, Marvel’s Daredevil, is following suit and giving audiences a much darker offering than Marvel’s other fare. At a recent press event, DD executive producers Jeph Loeb and Steven DeKnight took some time to discuss the decisions that led them in this direction, which go far beyond just joining a fad.
Jeph Loeb has more than a bit of history with the comic book world, including numerous comic book adaptations for the small screen. Steven DeKnight, while not having worked much with the world of comic books, has plenty of geek cred under his belt, thanks to his involvement with shows like Smallville, Angel, and Dollhouse. Between the two of them, there are decades worth of experience, so when they made the decision to go dark with Daredevil, they definitely knew what they were doing:
Jeph: [The tone] was something that was discussed from the very beginning. Not just about Daredevil but also about all the [Marvel] Netflix shows that we were going to be doing. It really wasn’t a question of whether or not we were going to do it to do it; it was that Daredevil warrants that kind of storytelling. Marvel starts with story. What is appropriate for that character? What is appropriate for the kind of story that we are going to tell on Netflix in 13 hours? Beginning in that place, when we first started talking to [Daredevil series creator] Drew [Goddard] and then ultimately with Steven, it was important that we all saw it the same way. The nice part about it was that there really wasn’t any other decision to be made. It was what was appropriate for…if we were going to tell a story about the rise of a hero and the rise of a criminal empire, we always set out, and I’ve said this before, to do a crime drama first and a superhero story second.
Steven: Well put! When I came on, it was already set in that gritty, grounded world, and, you know, I threw a little bit more dirt on there but, also, we never wanted to take it to “R”. We all agreed that Daredevil wasn’t the property – it didn’t warrant going all the way to “R” rated. I think it’s, what, PG-15, technically?
Jeph: You know, it’s TV-MA, we never hid that from the very beginning. We’ve talked about it always; that this was going to be something that would be different from what we are doing but we also look at it from a very practical place, which is…I think that if I said to any of you two years ago, “we’re going to make a movie and two of the main characters are going to be a three-foot gun-toting raccoon and a talking tree”, that you might look at us and go, “Really? From Marvel? How’s that going to work?”. So, this is just simply the same thing. It’s how to find the best way to tell the best story and in this particular case, it was on Netflix in 13 hours that had a real feeling to it because at the end of the day, Daredevil takes place in Hell’s Kitchen. We wanted to make sure that it felt very much like New York City and that it was a different kind of New York City than we saw in the world of Tony Stark and the world of the Avengers. Just starting out from the very beginning, we always saw that the Avengers were here to save the universe and the street level heroes, as we like to call them, are here to save the neighborhood. In order to make that work, you had to see the neighborhood – to believe the neighborhood, get to know what was going on. The kinds of movies that we were referencing at the very beginning when we first started talking about this, before Steven came in and agreed with that same vision, were…in the early 70’s when filmmakers were doing different things. Films like Taxi Driver and French Connection, and Serpico; those were the films that really influenced where we were because they were also the films that were influencing [Daredevil comic book writers] Frank Miller and Brian Michael Bendis. It all sort of filtered together to come up with where we landed.
Listening to Steven and Jeph talk about their new project is a lot like hearing new parents talk about their newborn baby. The excitement and love they have for the series seems more than sincere and, honestly, they have every right to be excited for the world to see the series. Is it dark? Absolutely, both in tone and in style. Most of the scenes seem to take place at night, in the shadows, even during the daytime scenes. The brutality that is displayed throughout may be a bit beyond the TV-15 DeKnight claims they were going for but one could argue that it is necessary violence and it is easy to agree that the level of realism achieved in the series truly hit the mark that the showrunners were aiming for. Each punch, kick, even stare, carries weight and that weight can be felt through the screen with each episode. If you haven’t had a chance to read our spoiler free review, here’s your chance.
Marvel’s Daredevil premieres this Friday, April 10, exclusively on Netflix.
Are you over the “dark and gritty” fad? Do you agree that there really is no other way to provide a satisfying Daredevil series?