When Walt Disney 's (NYSE:DIS) Marvel division announced a batch of Hell's Kitchen hero stories, with exclusive American distribution rights signed over to Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX), it was like a superhero suit without a hero. Now, the cast for the first of at least four mini-series is coming together, painting a better picture of what to expect. Are Marvel and Netflix putting together a champion for the ages in Daredevil, or should fans have expected better choices?
The latest addition to the Daredevil crew is Vincent D'Onofrio, signed to play the part of elegant super-gangster Wilson Fisk -- better known as Kingpin.
D'Onofrio is an acclaimed character actor. His resume includes brand-building roles in classic films like Full Metal Jacket, Ed Wood, Men in Black, and The Cell. He brings an appropriately imposing 6'4" presence to the Kingpin role, and has experience with big villain roles.
In short, D'Onofrio should bring a quiet dignity to his Kingpin turn. He's not a Brad Pitt-style superstar with ticket-selling prestige, but a quality actor with more modest paycheck demands.
In the opposite corner, we already knew that Daredevil himself will be portrayed by Boardwalk Empire alum Charlie Cox.
Cox earned his wings as the leading man in the Neil Gaiman adaptation Stardust, which became a minor success thanks to strong overseas ticket sales. Elsewhere, he played a small part in the pilot episode of Downton Abbey, and scored a two-season run on Boardwalk Empire.
So, Charlie Cox comes with TV-production experience and some action chops, but not much else. I would err on the side of charity if I called him "a rising star" at this point.
For Cox, Daredevil could become a defining role. But he'd have to take his smoldering Stardust performance to the next level in order to pull this superhero role off. And, like D'Onofrio, Cox surely comes with a reasonable price tag for the production crew.
Who's running this show?
Marvel first appointed World War Z and Lost writer Drew Goddard as Daredevil 's showrunner and executive producer. Goddard scripted the pilot episode before dropping out to focus on a Spider-Man spinoff project for Marvel and Sony. His replacement, Stephen DeKnight, cut his teeth on writing for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He then moved on to write and produce the award-winning gladiator series Spartacus for Starz.
Keeping Goddard would have been the safer choice. DeKnight has several seasons of high-budget TV series work under his belt, but nowhere near the wealth of proven success of Goddard.
Netflix and Marvel/Disney have made some risky choices for this series, especially when you consider that Daredevil is the launch platform for at least four related series. If this show falls flat, despite the marketing value of the Daredevil name, it's kind of game over for Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Iron Fist -- not to mention the team-up between these series that will cap this multi-year Marvel and Netflix collaboration.
In keeping with the low-cost Star Wars spin-off movies, Disney is taking the small-budget approach to the Daredevil project. As a shareholder of both Disney and Netflix, I kind of wish this series would have received a bigger budget, with more room for bankable stars.
The direct financial risk of going this low-cost route may be low, but there's so much riding on the success of this series that I'd be happier with more established names in the key roles here. No disrespect to D'Onofrio or Cox, or to DeKnight for that matter, but maybe Disney should have reached for one of those Brad Pitt types for once.
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