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Daredevil’s been born again as a Marvel nice guy — but can he still be serious?

She-Hulk gives Matt Murdock the chance to be more MCU-like

Charlie Cox as Daredevil in a yellow and red costume smiling in a parking lot at night Image: Marvel Studios
Matt Patches is an executive editor at Polygon. He has over 15 years of experience reporting on movies and TV, and reviewing pop culture.

Marvel fans are hungry for just about any new movie or show, but Disney Plus’ She-Hulk: Attorney at Law became a major event for longtime MCU devotees when mega-franchise mastermind Kevin Feige revealed that the series would bring Charlie Cox’s Daredevil back into the fold. And since the premiere, each episode of She-Hulk has been met with one burning question: When does Daredevil show up?!?

Good news for those giddy viewers: Daredevil finally showed up this week, just one episode shy of the She-Hulk season finale.

And now for some potentially bad news: He’s not exactly the Matt Murdock people fell in love with during the character’s Netflix years.

Like many dreary New Yorkers who blossom in the warm sun of Los Angeles, MCU Phase 4 Daredevil is full of smiles. Even in combative lawyer mode, defending tailor-to-the-heroes Luke Jacobson from the whiny Leap-Frog, he lays on the charm. When suited up in his new yellow-and-red suit, Matt bounces around parking garages on a proper Marvel Studios budget. We thought we knew Charlie Cox’s Daredevil, but it turns out that after three seasons of Daredevil and a stint on the Defenders, he was only getting started.

Cox’s Matt Murdock has been through hell — if the hell that happened during his stand-alone series and The Defenders remains MCU canon (which, based on The Kingpin’s appearance in Hawkeye, seems to be a yes). Across three seasons, Daredevil grappled with the towering Wilson Fisk, crossed paths with The Punisher, outmaneuvered a version of Bullseye posing as his double, and teamed up with Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist to take on the ancient syndicate known as The Hand. The Netflix Marvel shows were technically part of the MCU, but kept at an arm’s length on Netflix, where more mature storytelling — and bloodshed — could play out. The approach limited the cinematic feel for better or worse; while Daredevil made headlines for staging long-take hallway fights where Matt could pound the living hell out of goons, the street-level stories were often shrouded in shadows for the sake of lower-budget production design.

Daredevil (Charlie Cox) in his black ninja costume looking at the red daredevil costume from the 2015 Daredevil series. Image: David Lee/Netflix

Still, out of all the Netflix experiments, Daredevil was the one that struck a chord with Marvel fans. When Netflix decided not to move forward with season 4, hundreds of save-the-show campaigns exploded across the internet like a fleet of Chitauri warriors out of a Marvel portal. The Daredevil fervor was so palpable that with nearly every round of Avengers-related PR, Feige was pelted with questions about a potential Cox cameo or revival. The answer was never yes… until it was.

The actual last time we saw Charlie Cox back as Matt Murdock was just last year, popping up in Spider-Man: No Way Home for a split-second appearance as Peter Parker’s lawyer. Though rumored for what felt like ages, Feige went the extra mile during the No Way Home press tour to insinuate that Cox’s Daredevil was here to stay.

“If you were to see Daredevil in upcoming things, Charlie Cox, yes, would be the actor playing Daredevil,” Feige told CinemaBlend in December 2021. “Where we see that, how we see that, when we see that, remains to be seen.”

Now we’ve seen it — and Daredevil’s appearance in She-Hulk, acting 30 and flirty with Tatiana Maslany’s Jennifer Walters, is only the beginning. Cox is currently set to reprise his role in the upcoming Hawkeye spinoff series Echo, which will delve deeper into the backstory of actor Alaqua Cox’s deaf assassin character and her ties to Kingpin. From there, Marvel Studios will mount a sequel series to the Netflix show, entitled Daredevil: Born Again. Details on the series are nonexistent, except that Cox will suit back up in spring 2024.

Fans of the gritty Daredevil series, which has since relocated from Netflix to Disney Plus, should be over the moon. But plugging the established version of Matt Murdock into the new-and-improved MCU was never going to be an easy task: The Netflix series was born in the wake of Marvel’s darkest hour, the Battle of New York. The MCU’s fictional Big Apple was healing, and Hell’s Kitchen became a microcosm for how grim life in this Cinematic Universe could get. Matt was “The Man Without Fear,” but his world was built to terrify — literally, Daredevil was shot like an icy, bleak Law & Order episode where people took brutal beatings to the face. Cox might crack a smile now and then, but only because his psyche had already splintered. The show was grimdark in the most unironic sense of the world. The tone made more sense in the days when Tony Stark was dealing with PTSD and Sokovia was being ripped out of the ground by sentient AI. That’s not the tone of the MCU of today. Far from it.

Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock wrapped in a blanket on a roof with a gash on his head thinking about life with New York in the background Photo: David Lee/Netflix

In the 10 years since Daredevil premiered, Marvel has only doubled down on self-referential and often flippant humor. What started with Joss Whedon writing down-to-earth zingers for Iron Man and Captain America has led to a more dominating, meta-comedy style for every new Marvel blockbuster. This is likely due to the influence of Dan Harmon. Harmon punching up the Doctor Strange script back in 2016 seemed to open a pipeline for Rick and Morty veterans to join the Marvel team and rethink how the studio played in its own sandbox. She-Hulk showrunner Jessica Gao is a Rick and Morty alum. Former Rick and Morty writer Jeff Loveness landed the job for Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, and will next write Avengers: The Kang Dynasty. And another vet of the animated series, Michael Waldron, penned both Loki and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness before landing the gig to write Avengers: Secret Wars.

While Zack Snyder zealots catch flack for endlessly complaining about Marvel-style jokes in their serious DC movies, they’re not completely wrong to detect the influence: The Marvel style is real, and the levity is getting excessive within the actual MCU. Thor: Love and Thunder was a movie about godly genocide and one’s purpose in the universe… but also a silly escapade with honking goats and Taika Waititi’s patented deadpan jokes that undermine the drama at every turn. Marvel built itself on an earnest portrayal of a comic pantheon, escaping the hacky plug-and-play, scared-of-color impulses of the late-1900s and early-2000s adaptations. But now they’re breaking the fourth wall, dunking on D-list heroes, and turning characters like Moon Knight and Ms. Marvel into caped-crusading variations of Juno (minus the hamburger phone). Everyone zings. Now Daredevil does, too.

Daredevil and Jen walters sit on the neon sign at Leapfrog’s hideout bantering Image: Marvel Studios

Marvel has rewired Matt Murdock to fit in She-Hulk, and in this new version of the MCU. Luckily, Cox can play those notes — he’s an absolute hoot as he defies gravity during battles and banters with Jen like they’re Nick and Nora Charles from The Thin Man. He even gets into a hallway fight as a nice throwback… though it’s immediately interrupted by the more powerful She-Hulk. Puncturing expectations, even ones the audience may enjoy, has become a signature Marvel move.

Daredevil: Born Again may very well return the character to his darker roots — and certainly, he’ll be back in New York where brooding and grimacing come much easier — but after this one-off episode, I can’t but feel a little nostalgic for a bygone era of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel Studios built its brand on bringing the work of comic book artists and storytellers to screen in a more intact way than any movie studio could imagine, regardless of how goofy their supersuits might look. As presented in the MCU, Daredevil is a dark character, and the last one that needs to be undercut by a wink to camera to suggest this all Dumb Comic Shit (which we get in She-Hulk, when Jen pokes fun at his mustard-and-ketchup costume design). Not every character is Tony Stark. Not every character is Spider-Man. Daredevil is Daredevil. Yes, there’s a legacy of levity with the comics character (one of his great revelations came courtesy of a fight with a vacuum cleaner), but in the MCU, he added a different shade to the bigger palette. And while it’s great to see him back in the Marvel mix, Charlie Cox being perfect casting, you have to wonder if this is what people who’ve spent the last five years cutting Matt Murdock fancams were really hoping for.

There are big questions about the future of Marvel in play right now: What’s happening to the multiverse? What’s the deal with the mutant population? How do the Fantastic Four factor in? But after the collision of She-Hulk and Daredevil, I have one more: Can Marvel take a serious character seriously again?

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