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Spider-Man: No Way Home, Marvel’s biggest success story since Avengers: Endgame, had no shortage of cameos. The multiverse-led storyline meant that any number of characters from past Spider-Man movies (especially the Sam Raimi trilogy) could plausibly be shoe-horned into the narrative—and they were.

The mouth-watering line-up of villains included Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin, Alfred Molina Doc Octopus, Jamie Foxx’s Electro, Thomas Haden Church’s Sandman and Rhys Ifans’ Lizard. The loudest whistles and cheers were reserved, of course, for Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire, representing their respective Spidey eras.

But the cameo parade began earlier than that, with Matt Murdock/Daredevil turning up as Peter Parker/Spider-Man’s lawyer — Charlie Cox reprising his role from Marvel’s Netflix show Daredevil, developed by Drew Goddard. In 2015, Daredevil had kicked off Marvel’s (as it turns out, short-lived) Netflix era—in the years immediately after this, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist followed, with the crossover miniseries The Defenders featuring all four Naot Shoes Womens  of the titular characters from the previous shows. Daredevil even spawned a spin-off, The Punisher, featuring an anti-hero character Frank Castle from the second season.

These shows might not have had the numbers or the near-universal viewership commanded by contemporary Marvel streaming shows like Loki or Ms Marvel or Moon Knight. But what they did have going for them was their slow-burning, intense, dramatic styles, their depth of storytelling and their special focus on characterisation—these traits placed them alongside the ‘prestige’ dramas they so clearly looked up to.

Also, they were not bound by the ‘house style’ that comes with the Disney tag, which means they could (and did) feature nudity, sex scenes, cuss-words and some spectacularly bloody fight sequences. In March, the rights to these characters fell back to Disney, however, and in India these shows have recently been uploaded onto the Disney+Hotstar platform, since their removal from Netflix.

What made Marvel’s Netflix era click?

In a word: ambition. DaredevilJessica Jones and Luke Cage are three shows that are very different from each other but share some key values, not least being their distinctly ambitious screenplays.

Daredevil did the hard yards: the makers knew that fleshing out Matt Murdock, the blind boy who learns to adapt to his physical reality and turn his body into a living weapon, wasn’t going to be enough. Instead, they paid close attention to the people around him, and made sure that we were emotionally invested in these characters. It wasn’t always about the bravura fight sequences, although those were amazing, real technical feats, many of them being 5–8-minute combat sequences shot without a single cut.

Foggy Nelson (Eldon Henson), Murdock’s best friend and law firm partner, was funny as hell but he was also righteous in an aw-shucks, unsexy way (a very un-Marvel narrative choice, as anyone who has watched even a few minutes of Captain America can tell you). He was cynical and said the wrong thing at the wrong time and yes, he ragged on Matt when he felt his best friend was crossing the line or taking undue risks. He was interesting and flawed and deeply human.

Ditto with Karen Page, played by the remarkable Deborah Ann Woll, whose remarkable performance meant that Netflix had her reprise the role in The Punisher. Woll brought a sense of humanity and compassion to the role, coupled with a worldliness and a take-no-crap New Yorker attitude that appealed to a wide cross-section of viewers and critics.

Jessica Jones gave us a hard-drinking, foul-mouthed, rough-around-the-edges heroine (Krysten Ritter) who wasn’t written in a stereotypical, paint-by-numbers way. This was a ‘street-level’ superhero who had absolutely no patience for grandstanding, righteousness or the hypocrisies of government-adjacent superhero team-ups. More importantly, her story, especially season 1, worked as a simple revenge story as well as a powerful allegory for the way men control women’s lives.

That particular symbolism was achieved by the show’s choice of villain in season 1, the scary Kilgrave, who has mind control powers. The storyline about Kilgrave forcing Jessica to stay with him in the past resonated with viewers, especially those who had in SAS Sneakers abusive relationships of any kind, really. According to the Doctor Who actor David Tennant, who delivered a knockout performance as Kilgrave, the character was meant to show a man who had suffered abuse in the past and now perpetuates it without an iota of self-awareness.

Luke Cage, perhaps my favourite among Netflix’s Marvel era, was perhaps the strangest and most unclassifiable among these shows. It was a crime story, a sociological allegory, a tribute to Black art and music down the years, and an action-packed superhero caper with outlandish weapons—all at the same time. The concept of a Black superhero who is literally bulletproof (Cage has impenetrable skin and super-strength) came with immense symbolic weight and potential, just like with Jessica Jones.

And Luke Cage rode the wave, to be honest. The magnificent Mahershala Ali played a fine villain in the first half of the first season, and his club, where most of the action took place, became an excuse for the makers to feature one live musical performance in every episode—an audacious choice that would almost certainly be nixed in a contemporary Marvel Cinematic Universe product. In a particularly inspired scene, hip-hop legend Method Man (who was part of the Wu-Tang Clan, responsible for some the most influential hip-hop albums of all time) is saved from a gunman by Cage and later, we see the rapper freestyling a verse on the radio—the song we now know as ‘Bulletproof Love’. As Method Man says during the song (referring to Malcolm X and Martin Luther King along the way),

“Power to the people and Luke Cage the cause
And the cops got it wrong we don’t think Cage involved
Look, dog, a hero never had one
Already took Malcom and Martin this is the last one
I beg your pardon somebody pullin’ a fast one
Now we got a hero for hire and he a black one”

Given the broadly similar tonality of most contemporary Marvel streaming shows, it’s difficult to imagine this kind of allsorts, multi-disciplinary narrative approach in any of them.

Old Marvel in a new bottle?

MCU head honcho Kevin Feige has already confirmed that both Daredevil and Jessica Jones are set to return to Marvel, with new seasons being greenlit for both and Charlie Cox and Krysten Ritter reprising their roles. How much of the original storylines will be retained as canon is a bit of tricky question, especially since Marvel has gone all in on its Multiverse storyline with Spider-Man: No Way Home and Sam Raimi’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

Can Marvels Netflixera shows reinvent themselves

Still from Spider-Man: No Way Home

There is a possibility that the more, let us say, A-rated elements of these shows will be written out of existence, so to speak. Just look at how the new Doctor Strange movie used the characters Professor X and Mister Fantastic—what we got were not the ‘Prime’ or the ‘Earth-616’ versions of these beloved characters. What we had instead were ‘variants’, doppelgangers who lived in an alternate Earth.

With due respect to Feige and the talented actors who play these characters, I don’t think these shows will work within a sanitised, family-friendly, ‘classic Disney’ kind of setup. The reasons are not difficult to fathom — where would Daredevil be without the glorious fight scenes, which were not afraid to show Murdock getting pummelled to within an inch of his life (before giving it back, of course)? Where would Jessica Jones be without its protagonist’s potty Propet Sneakers mouth and her tendency to make some decidedly not-suitable-for-kids life choices? Where would Luke Cage be without its frank, powerful and polemic-style condemnation of white supremacy? Because these are precisely the elements that the Marvel edit room will claim before anything else.

And yet, there are parts of the old Marvel world that probably will benefit from returning to the Disney fold. Iron Fist, easily the weakest show in this era, could probably use a bit of rebranding exercise, it has to be said. Maybe Disney could hire the fight choreographers from Shang-Chi so that Iron Fist’s combat scenes would improve this time around. Similarly, The Defenders, a much-hyped crossover miniseries that featured all four superheroes, would probably be much more in sync with the MCU’s current tonality — just look at the fan enthusiasm around the Avengers movies. This could be another super-fun team-up exercise for Marvel to dig its teeth into.

It’ll be interesting to see just how much deviation from the Marvel-Netflix era will be seen in these shows’ new avatars. Against all odds, the all-new sanitised editions of these stories might yet work, they might yet have some new tricks up their sleeves, new stories to tell and new sections of fans to win over. But to be honest, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

By Admins

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