They say that all the risks are taken in television these days. And, for the most part, they’re right. The prospect of making and marketing a big budget superhero blockbuster in the 2010s means that studios tend to play it safe when it comes to showcasing their tent pole properties. One need only look at the theatrical cut of Justice League (love it or hate it all you want, it’s an unmistakably compromised movie) to see a testament to how nervous studio executives can get. That said, ever since Marvel Studios came out of the gate with Iron Man, they’ve demonstrated a steadfast belief in their characters and an ability to present appealing blockbuster fare while staying true to the characters and their respective comic book canons.
Yet while the films of the MCU have had their edgier moments, few could deny that the shows produced under the Marvel Netflix banner have had a darker and more adult tone akin to the “Marvel Knights” label of comics that Marvel once ran. Not only have these shows been true to their respective characters, they’ve given us numerous moments so daring, inventive, boundary pushing and jaw-droppingly audacious that audiences have found themselves reaching for the pause button time after time…
15. DAREDEVIL SUITS UP
You’ve got to hand it to all involved with the making of Daredevil‘s first season…they knew how to tease. Although the black suit that Matt Murdock wore for the majority of season one was a loving homage to Frank Miller’s Daredevil: The Man Without Fear graphic novel, audiences had to wait 13 whole episodes to see Hornhead finally don his familiar red garb.
Even then, the costume was seen only in a few fleeting and sparsely lit shots.
It added immeasurably to the inherent mystique of the character but it was infuriating for costume buffs who wanted to get a really close look at DD’s new threads. Of course, it was all worth it to see Daredevil standing triumphant on the rooftops of Hell’s Kitchen before leaping off with billy clubs held high in a familiar pose that had fans reaching for the pause button.
14. THE PUNISHER REVEALED
Boy, do the people behind Daredevil know how to keep an audience waiting. The show’s first season had fans practically foaming at the mouth in anticipation of seeing how this medium would translate ol’ Hornhead’s iconic costume. Infuriatingly, the show kept us waiting until the final act of the very last episode.
When Jon Bernthal was cast as Frank Castle in the second season fans were delighted at seeing the Punisher brought to life by such a celebrated actor, and surely they wouldn’t keep us waiting a whole season to see the character don his iconic skull logo, right… Right?!? Once again, the show make us wait right up until the last episode to reveal The Punisher in all his comic book glory but when we finally see him with the legendary skull on his chest it was nothing short of glorious (however brief).
13. MATT AND ELEKTRA TOGETHER AT LAST
Jennifer Garner, we love you…but the role of Elektra Natchios belongs to Elodie Yung. She completely embodies all the extremes and nuances that make Elektra such a compelling, mysterious, attractive and (let’s be honest) kinda scary character.
Yung’s charisma radiates through the screen and while she owns whatever scene she’s in, she’s at her best opposite Charlie Cox’s Matt Murdock.
The chemistry between the two really pops throughout the season, sizzling with desire tinged by animosity and resentment. The complexities of their relationship are laid bare when a sparring session at Fogwell’s Gym takes an altogether steamier turn. This provocative scene serves as a neat encapsulation of the relationship that has kept fans coming back for decades in the comics, performed by two actors that were born to share a screen.
12. THE IRON FIST CONNECTS
Luke Cage and Iron Fist: Heroes for Hire. They’re one of the great double acts of the Marvel pantheon and fans were rightly excited to see these two seminal characters come together on-screen. But, let’s be honest, we were always going to see some sparks fly before we saw this famous friendship brought to life on our screens.
In episode two of The Defenders, the two would-be best friends come to blows and Danny Rand busts out his repertoire of kung-fu moves. Each blow lands on Luke Cage’s impressive chassis but he doesn’t so much as flinch. Fighting his frustration and summoning his chi, Rand unleashes his iron fist on an unsuspecting Cage. When unbreakable skin meets immortal fist, that’s got to be worth a pause!
11. THAT HALLWAY FIGHT
Daredevil came out of its cage roaring, treating us from the very first scene to some daring and explosive fight choreography. This was the Daredevil that fans had longed to see, alive and very much kicking with savage grace.
It was everything that the sanitized wire-fu of the Ben Affleck version wasn’t. But we were soon to realize that we hadn’t seen anything yet.
The second episode brought us the daddy of all fight sequences. A clear homage to Park Chan Wook’s Oldboy; the three-minute long knock down brawl was brutal, intense and appeared to have been shot all in one take. This led many eagle eyed fans to hit the pause button many times to try and spot where some creative editing had taken place.
10. THE IRON FIST OF HELL’S KITCHEN
Poor Danny Rand. Despite the best efforts of the writing teams and actor Finn Jones, he still hasn’t been given that many opportunities to shine so far in the Netflix shows. Nonetheless, hardcore fans of the character were much more satisfied with his treatment in The Defenders than in his own series. As well as being integral to the plot and a vehicle to bring the team together he got some cool character moments, some superior fights and arguably the coolest shot in the miniseries.
Atop the rooftops of Hell’s Kitchen, illuminated by the glow of his first, Danny solemnly surveys the city he has sworn to his friend Matt Murdock to protect. It’s a cool homage to Ed Brubaker’s run on Daredevil and a beautiful shot that will no doubt serve as the desktop background for many an Iron Fist fan.
9. KILGRAVE BECOMES THE PURPLE MAN… KIND OF
Jessica Jones may not have quite as many jaw-dropping action beats as its contemporaries, but it’s nonetheless incredibly compelling viewing and perhaps even the most faithful adaptation of its source material of all the Netflix shows. The first season is ripped straight from the pages of Brian Michael Bendis’ Alias. One of that comic book run’s greatest achievements is its ability to take an also-ran villain like The Purple Man and turn him into the truly insidious threat that he should be.
While David Tennant’s performance not only does the source material justice but elevates it, the character’s trademark purple skin was entirely omitted from the show… almost.
8. FISK SHOWS ANATOLY THE DOOR
Wilson Fisk, aka The Kingpin, is one of the most menacing villains in the entire Marvel Universe. While he may not have the outlandish appearance and theatrical MO of a Green Goblin or a Mr. Sinister his combination of intellect, near infinite wealth and bloody minded malevolence make him a truly terrifying threat. With the greatest respect to the late Michael Clarke Duncan, we never quite got that from the 2003 movie, but fans knew if anyone could make Fisk work it was Vincent D’Onofrio.
It didn’t take long for the show to demonstrate the full force of The Kingpin’s threat. In the fourth episode of season one we see Fisk direct his rage at an unsuspecting Anatoly Ranskahov, crushing the Russian mobster’s head in his car door until it’s separated entirely from his body. It’s a jaw dropping moment of intense character driven violence.
7. SMILE, JESSICA! (JESSICA JONES)
It’s a running gag throughout the show that pays off spectacularly. Throughout the first season of Jessica Jones the maniacal Killgrave is adamant that Jessica Jones (despite her many protestations) is in love with him. He spends the entire season trying to manipulate her into reciprocating his twisted adoration.
At various points Killgrave asks her to send him pictures of herself smiling. The best she can muster is a tired smirk.
Yet, at the season’s climax she lets him have it…not just a smile but the most dazzlingly beautiful smile ever committed to screen. The beauty of the smile is matched only by the tragedy that comes with the heartbreaking realization that this means that Killgrave has won…until Jessica snaps his neck. Damn, Krysten Ritter can act!
6. DRUNKEN MASTER
Frustratingly, for a show that’s USP was in its martial arts and fight scenes, the fight choreography throughout Iron Fist was somewhat quotidian in some places and just plain bad in others. Nonetheless, there was one fight scene to which even the most ardently opposed to the show had to grudgingly tip their hat.
The fight with Into The Badlands star Lewis Tan (who many fans believed would have made a better Danny Rand than Finn Jones) is arguably the highlight of the entire season. Tan is clearly having a whale of a time as Zhou Cheng and his undeniable charisma shines through in his movements as he and Jones’ Danny Rand trade blows. This one had fans not only reaching for the pause button, but the rewind button too!
5. FRANK CASTLE’S JAILHOUSE ROCK
Fans of a certain age will remember a time when the PG-13 violence of Tim Burton’s Batman was considered bold for a superhero movie…how far we’ve come since then! When it was first announced that Frank Castle/The Punisher would be a major player in season two of Daredevil, anyone even remotely familiar with the character knew that he wouldn’t end the season with his hands clean.
Few could have imagined, however, just how uncompromising the show would be in its depiction of Castle’s characteristically brutal vigilante methods.
The Punisher dispatches bad guys in numerous creatively savage ways but nothing compares to cacophony of murder in episode nine that had fans hitting the pause button over and over and wondering how on Earth the studio got away with this.
4. REVENGE ON RAWLINS
There are few things more satisfying in a work of fiction than when an evil, scheming and devious antagonist finally gets theirs. And when the object of that character’s ire is Frank Castle, you know that they’re going to have something particularly gruesome in store for them. After recklessly endangering the lives of Castle’s platoon, William Rawlins gets a beating from Castle so severe that he comes away with permanent eye damage…but then Frank was never one for half measures.
After it’s revealed that Rawlins was the big bad of the season, the murderer of Frank’s family and the architect of his misery, The Punisher goes 28 Days Later on the disgraced CIA agent, driving his thumbs into his eye sockets. Even by The Punisher‘s standards it’s a moment of audacious brutality that had fans reaching for the pause button.
3. SAY HI TO POWER MAN
Just in case we needed a reminder that Mike Colter looks terrific in absolutely anything! While most fans knew better than to expect Luke to go full-on Power Man in the first season of his own show, those in the know enjoyed this fun homage nonetheless. Upon escaping from prison in episode ten Carl Lucas, still wearing some vestiges of the experiment that gave him his powers (that look suspiciously like a tiara and bracelets), desperately searches for some clothes to protect his modesty.
Wouldn’t you know it, the only threads to hand are blue jeans and a yellow shirt.
2. THE PUNISHER CREATES JIGSAW
Revenge is a dish best served cold, and the transformation of the infuriatingly handsome and smooth talking Billy Russo into the hideously deformed jigsaw was a gratification worth waiting for. Throughout the season, allusions are made to how pretty Ben Barnes’ Russo is and while newcomers may have taken this at face value (pun intended) comic book fans knew that he wouldn’t stay pretty for long.
In a final confrontation on the very merry-go-round upon which Frank Castle’s family were murdered a fight between the former friends ends with Castle exacting possibly his most brutal revenge yet. Castle smashes Russo’s face into a glass mirror again and again, reducing it to a bloody pulp. More than a few fans hit the pause button trying to determine whether Billy’s wounds would match up with the scars we know from the comics.
1. DEFENDERS ASSEMBLED
In 2012 we saw The Avengers united on screen for the first time. It was a watershed moment in superhero cinema and the proof that Marvel Studios’ faith in their cinematic universe experiment had paid off. While the film had many highlights, the panning shot that sees the team assembled for the first time will live forever in cinematic history. The budget of The Defenders and the nature of the group were bound to preclude such a moment for the Marvel Netflix universe’s motley street level crew.
But seeing them brought together is nonetheless an awesome sight to behold, not to mention a great shot.
Seeing this group of great actors frozen in the confines of a closing elevator is an uplifting moment that will no doubt adorn many a desktop background…just don’t call them a team!
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