the first season of daredevil was met with praise, so was the first season of jessica jones, which raised our expectations for future series such as luke cage and iron fist. the quality of those shows in comparison weren’t as great as the shows that preceded them. was that because of poor writing or was it because of the acting? it varies. the netflix marvel series had a large collective cast and the acting quality of that cast varies. it’s to be expected, after all, some of the starring actors are more experienced on screen than others.
we’re going to take a look at the casts of the netflix marvel series and compare them. we’re taking the heroes, villains and the important supporting cast members to see just how great and how bad some of them are in comparison to their fellow actors, just so we can get a sense of their impact on the overall quality of this part of the mcu. we’ll be looking at all the netflix marvel shows, including the recent punisher netflix series. so, just a warning to all who may not have finished the series of have only just started binging… there are spoilers ahead.
20. eldon henson as foggy nelson
foggy nelson is one of matt murdock’s closest friends. he’s the nervous, uncertain lawyer in the beginning, mostly because his firm was having financial troubles and his best friend was secretly a vigilante, but by the end of the second season, we could see that nelson had become a confident attorney working for the lawfirm, hogarth, chao and benowitz.
while the character is written as well as most others in the daredevil series, eldon henson’s performance as foggy is lacking in several areas. instead of really becoming the character, he constantly appears as though he’s reciting lines and trying his best to conjure up emotion, leading to awkward body movements with the same expression for sadness and anger. it’s the writing and the actual dialogue that shows us the character has developed, because it certainly doesn’t come through in henson’s acting.
19. finn jones as iron fist
this probably comes as no surprise to some fans but finn jones’ performance of danny rand is less than spectacular. danny was lost as a young boy and raised in the mystical land of k’un-lun until he left as a man when the gate reopened to earth 15 years later. he learned how to fight and how to channel his chi, all so that he could become the immortal iron fist.
finn jones is clearly trying his best. he throws emotion into almost every line. the problem is, it can be too much at times, making the character seem more childish than perhaps was intended. that might make sense sometimes when he’s getting to know this world but when it comes to emotion, it might have been better to portray him as being just a little more disciplined as you’d expect a warrior from k’un-lun to be. maybe it’s just because of his skill as an actor or maybe it’s just a misunderstanding of the character he’s playing; whatever the reason, it added to the numerous flaws with iron fist.
18. jessica henwick as colleen wing
if there’s one character from iron fist (not including characters that turned up from other shows, like night nurse) that helps to make the show just a little better, it’s colleen wing, played by jessica henwick. she’s the martial arts instructor with ties to the secret and evil organization, the hand.
her performance is relatively believable in spite of everyone else around her. her reaction to danny rand’s antics and the revelation that the hand is actually evil, is all pretty much what we’d expect, which is more than can be said for her fellow cast members. the most important moments are well acted, for example, when she attempted to fight rand out of fear in “lead horse back to stable” (directed by deborah chow). if only more of her scenes conveyed as much believable emotion.
17. ramon rodriguez as bakuto
bakuto was revealed to be one of the founding members of the hand. for the most part, he’s calm and decisive, something you’d expect from most if not all immortals. it was a while before we knew for certain that bakuto was a really bad guy, but when we found out, it became blatantly obvious.
rodriguez’s performance as bakuto seemed a little too cautious. when he was introduced, he seemed to be concerned for the wellbeing of colleen and the iron fist, that aided in the subterfuge surrounding his character. when it was finally revealed that he was evil, there seemed to be a slight change that didn’t quite fit. he suddenly became a much more aggressive beast. we get it, the iron fist is infuriating, but bakuto is immortal. there was no real reason to depict that character as if he’d been wearing such a brittle mask this whole time, but that’s what we got.
16. elodie yung as elektra
elektra was supposed to be the black sky, a highly trained killer destined to lead the hand. elektra chose to defy this and aid daredevil in his fight against the hand. he was killed and brought back as a pawn for the hand, this time seemingly embracing her role as black sky.
as a trained fighter, she’s believable enough. in the flashbacks where we’re shown how much of a bad influence she was on matt, we believe her as that reckless youth in the daredevil episode, “kinbaku,” but we can’t believe her as the reprogrammed killer back from the dead in the defenders. for the most part, she wears that hint of regret on her face that doesn’t blend well with the anger she feels at the end of that climactic battle. it’s an emotionally uneven performance.
15. eric laray harvey as willis stryker
stryker was luke cage’s half brother, mistreated by his father and angered that luke seemed to have a slightly more privileged life. over the years, his hatred of the lucas family grew and it turned him into the coldblooded killer and feared crime lord named diamondback.
the hate is apparent in harvey’s performance as stryker and we believe how stryker might have become unhinged and unpredictable. harvey has that sinister grin to help his performance but there’s still a lot missing. he grimaces and gives a lot of people the stink eye, but that’s not enough to make the character compelling. we can only hope that if he does show up in future shows or the next season of luke cage, harvey will embrace the other facets of the character and show us just a bit more complexity than just the occasional frown.
14. amber rose revah as dinah madani
the punisher introduces agent madani to the mcu, a character that has no basis in the comics. the homeland security agent crosses paths with the punisher through her investigation into the death of her former partner in afghanistan, ahmed zubair. she’s determined and a little headstrong, that much is clear.
revah’s performance conveys a lot of her character’s desperate need for answers without going over-the-top. what’s admirable about her portrayal of the character is how well it contrasts with the punisher without feeling out of place in the gritty world of the series. the only issue here is that she doesn’t seem to be able to show much else, even when the show tries to show us her personal life. that might say something about the character but it says a little more about the actor’s performance. there’s definitely potential there but for the most part, it’s just fairly average.
13. simone missick as misty knight
the dedicated detective, misty knight, played by simone missick, could have gotten out of harlem long ago, but she chose to stay because she wanted to make a difference. she’s a tough cop with sass and enough experience and skill to top her colleagues and stay on the case of harlem’s criminals.
while it might come off at times as lacking depth, missick actually does a great job at playing knight as the detective who has seen and heard it all and has become almost jaded by the horrible things that happen in harlem’s criminal underworld. whenever she talks to known criminals, she doesn’t show fear. misty is also prone to outbursts and missick does a great job of transitioning from calm to stress to rage, as she did in the luke cage episode, “blowin’ up the spot” (directed by magnus martens) in which she almost choked claire temple. it’s clear that missick has a great grasp on the emotions and the development of her character.
12. ben barnes as billy russo
quite a significant amount of billy russo’s character is being good looking. ben barnes does a decent enough job at that, thanks to the make-up and wardrobe department. barnes is able to bring a nuanced blend of arrogance, experience and intelligence to the role, allowing his character to organically grow from a likeable friend of frank’s to our hero’s worst enemy.
he shines as a man in a suit but as a war veteran, barnes’ performance is flawed, especially when he’s next to bernthal in those scenes. we never see as much of an emotional struggle in russo as a soldier to really believe that he’d commit to the whole conspiracy with rawlins in the end. however, the quality of barnes’ performance gives us hope that he’ll bring more to the character in the next season, should his character appear, out of necessity now that russo isn’t such a pretty boy anymore.
11. mike colter as luke cage
cage had a complicated history, the crux of which, for the purposes of the show, was his being sent to prison after being framed by diamondback. it is at seagate prison where, after becoming a secret prize fighter within the prison, cage underwent an experimental procedure that turned him into the unbreakable man that he is.
mike colter tends to keep things cool, as if nothing can hurt him. he’s able to make us believe that he’s a man trying to stay under the radar and when the time calls for him to show signs of struggling, he shows just enough to make us believe that he’s hurting. that strong, mysterious act fits the role almost perfectly. he’s also just funny enough to keep the character from being bland and never falls too far into darker qualities. colter has clearly found a balance that works for luke cage. unfortunately, it’s not enough to really distinguish him from other netflix marvel stars.
10. deborah ann woll as karen page
from daredevil to the punisher, karen page proves to be an emotionally heavy character. when we first see her, she’s covered in blood, lying next to a dead body in an attempt by the kingpin’s forces to frame karen for the murder of daniel fisher. over the course of several series, page grows from a secretary working for nelson and murdock to a talented journalist, writing for the new york bulletin.
it’s not an easy role to get right but woll manages to make each crucial moment of struggle believable, which adds to the suspense and excitement surrounding characters like daredevil and the punisher. while the character seems to find herself in trouble quite a bit, woll doesn’t seem to repeat herself in her performances. we can see her convey more and more courage, which allows us to see how her character is developing.
9. mahershala ali as cottonmouth
as a young boy, cornell stokes had a lot of potential, but instead of using his intelligence to get out of harlem, he became one of harlem’s greatest crime bosses after inheriting harlem’s paradise from mama mabel. along with his cousin, mariah dillard, stokes was able to control all of harlem and its criminal activities.
all the character’s complexity is evident in ali’s performance. there’s no denying that stokes is more of a tragic character than a simple villain. he’s haunted by a cruel past, forced to become the hardened criminal out of necessity rather than by choice. it’s refreshing to see a whole spectrum of anger and pain come out in ali’s performance which is why, though his appearance on luke cage was brief, it was memorable. as a casting choice, ali was perfect as he was able to hold his own when sharing the screen with the talented alfre woodard, and maintain the dynamic between stokes and dillard.
8. ebon moss-bachrach as micro
we have to keep in mind that moss-bachrach is playing a guy who has more or less been in complete isolation for about a year. the little eccentricities that look like symptoms of madness are each details that make moss-bachrach’s performance that compelling.
moss-bachrach is able to match the bleak and gritty atmosphere that frank castle brings to the screen without becoming just another tragic character. he’s desperate to be with his family again and it comes through, not in what moss-bachrach expresses in his performance but in the things he doesn’t. for example, he doesn’t go overboard when he watches his family on screen, he watches with a subtle longing that, at first glance, appears as calm.
7. krysten ritter as jessica jones
no one can quite do cynical like krysten ritter can, and jessica jones needs to be cynical. jones was a hopeful superhero who was enslaved by kilgrave for several months before the murder of reva connors enabled jones to break free from kilgrave’s control. after that horrid experience, jones gave up on trying to be a hero and became a private investigator instead. she’s a good person, but her complicated past has left her emotionally unstable and cold.
that comes through in ritter’s performance as the snarky jessica jones who reluctantly comes to save the day. that sarcasm and gruff exterior is just a mask for the fragile person within, still trying to come to terms with everything she experienced. we see that in ritter’s performance, especially in the moments when jessica is at her most vulnerable. that’s clearest in the jessica jones episode, “aka wwjd?” in which she explores bits of her past while dealing with kilgrave.
6. charlie cox as daredevil
matt murdock is an attorney by day and the devil of hell’s kitchen by night. that devilish alter-ego puts his career and personal relationships at risk constantly, but matt keeps on fighting because there are some injustices that the law just cannot set right. armed with nothing but his skill, wit and his superhuman senses, daredevil gives the criminals of hell’s kitchen something to fear.
a lot of daredevil functions on the strength of cox’s performance alone, which conveys all the struggle and emotion the character needs without ever losing it or going overboard. what makes the performance even more admirable is the fact that not only does charlie cox have to put on an accent for the role, he also has to act blind the whole time, which is much more difficult than it sounds.
5. rosario dawson as claire temple
claire temple was just a nurse until she found daredevil dying in a dumpster. she bandaged him up and was, from then on, thrown deep into the world of superpowered heroes and masked vigilantes. while at first she tried to stay out of it all, she has slowly prepared herself for her inevitable future in their world. rosario dawson has had quite a career and it shows in her performance as the exhausted, kind-hearted and snappy claire temple.
when she’s in a scene, you could tell how exhausted claire was and how much she struggled to physically push herself. that changed when she quit her job in the daredevil episode, “.380.” in all appearances that follow, she’s got just a little more life in her and she’s ready to engage in her personal life as we can see in luke cage when she and luke… get coffee. that’s why her character is so believable and so compelling. you can see the changes in her behavior and really feel for her as a regular human being in this crazy superpowered world.
4. vincent d’onofrio as kingpin
the first villain we ever saw in a netflix marvel show was wilson fisk, also known as the kingpin. his first appearance in the daredevil episode, “rabbit in a snowstorm” (directed by adam kane) showed us a surprisingly calm enigma of a villain. we’d seen how people feared him but we didn’t know why. in the following episode, we’d see him try to awkwardly court vanessa, something he clearly didn’t do a lot.
it wasn’t until the end that we saw the reason for all the fear surrounding him, when fisk smashed anatoly’s head in with a car door just for ruining his date. it’s not often someone can carry tension in their performance the way d’onofrio does. throughout the series, you never really know if he’s calm or if he’s about to burst into a blind rage. it makes his character that much more interesting and memorable.
3. carrie-anne moss as jeri hogarth
you don’t become a highly successful lawyer in charge of her own firm by being nice. jeri hogarth is proof of that. this no nonsense attorney doesn’t flinch when a difficult choice is thrown her way and she never lets personal feelings get in the way of success, which is why she has never lost a case.
carrie-anne moss can clearly wear that cold, manipulative personality well. it’s in everything from moss’ pensive but unfeeling gaze to her poised and confident posture. she’s all about success, no more and no less, but we can never be sure about whether or not she’s actually willing to hold on to some sense of morality. just look at her performance in the jessica jones episode, “aka sin bin” in which she seemingly remained unpersuaded by kilgrave only to reveal later on that she accepted his deal.
2. david tennant as kilgrave
after cruel experimentation, a young kevin thompson discovered that people were compelled to obey his commands. after his parents fled from him, he grew to revel in his power, never really understanding the difference between right and wrong. inevitably, he became a force of evil, driven by selfish desire and an unfamiliarity with the concept of not getting everything he wanted.
tennant is able to convey that complex frustration and an almost childlike enjoyment of his powers and the world around him. it helps to make the purple man that much more chilling as a villain and yet somehow that much more likeable. a great example is in the jessica jones episode, “wwjd” in which kilgrave shows genuine confusion as to why jessica is still upset with him. it also aids his credibility as a character that tennant doesn’t show overconfidence as a lot of actors do when playing a superpowered character. he understands his character and his limits so he shows fear when he needs to, he shows desperation and fury, everything we’d expect to see if the character was real.
1. jon bernthal as the punisher
the punisher doesn’t have incredible powers or even the will to become a superhero. he just wants to avenge his family and vent his rage on the people responsible. he’s a lot more complex than any brief description of the character would make him seem at first. there’s denial in his character, grief and fury, but there’s also a good man in there, trapped beneath the weight of all the malevolent emotions he doesn’t know how to deal with other than with his brutal campaign of punishment.
bernthal’s performance as the punisher shows us all of that. from his first appearance in daredevil to the very last minute of his own series, bernthal proved that in terms of acting ability in the netflix marvel world, he was in a league of his own. he understands frank castle’s grief and anger but bernthal doesn’t rely on those emotions. he can smile and laugh without making it seem out of character. that’s why we believe him as frank castle and it’s why we can understand his character that much more, despite the otherwise incredible amount of violence and gore.
how believable were the rest of the cast in your favorite netlflix marvel shows? let us know in the comments!
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