Media involving comic books are everywhere. There are movies about them, live-action TV shows, cartoons, video games, and of course, comics themselves, it’s all over the place. The big money market though is via the live-action shows and films. And over the last few years, we’ve had an interesting set of experiences with the Marvel/Netflix collaborations. With Defenders now been out a few weeks, I thought it’d be interesting to look back at the shows and look at what’s gone right, and what’s gone wrong. So first, let’s go positive.
We all have our favorite comic shows, and we can always find reasons to say why it’s good. But when it comes to being bad, it’s usually down to three reasons. 1) It’s bad visually. I.E costumes, SFX, etc. 2) Bad plot. Nothing kills a show more than a story no one cares about. And finally, 3) Bad casting. You can have the first two things on lockdown. But if you don’t have the right cast? It’s going to be bad. The Marvel/Netflix shows don’t always get the casting right, but they come close. In fact, the list below was supposed to be 10 characters long, but it’s 15 because these actors and actresses made me care about these characters. So, let’s get started.
WARNING: Spoilers For Daredevil (both seasons), Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Defenders ahead!
15. Vondie Curtis-Hall as Ben Ulrich
You might be surprised I’m starting here, or going “down” this far to get to Ben Ulrich, but as I rewatched Daredevil Season 01 for the third time (before I watched Defenders) I realize what Ulrich brought to the show. And it’s all thanks to Curtis-Hall.
Ulrich is a recurring part of Daredevil’s life in the comics, and he’s even been in both Daredevil shows (the movie and the Netflix series). But here, we see a man who had literally written it all. He wrote about the Hulk/Abomination fight. He wrote about the “Incident”. He’s been everywhere, and he wants to write meaningful stories…but his editor doesn’t care.
Ulrich is called “obsolete” in the first season a lot, but he fights back hard to prove he’s not. Yet, he also knows his limits, and many times almost bowed out for legitimate reasons. Such as his wife’s health, the story about Kingpin becoming too dangerous, etc. Curtis-Hall showed the drive, conviction, and compassion of Ulrich. And when he died at the hands of Kingpin, it hurt. And he is missed.
14. Rachael Taylor as Trish Walker
Hello, and welcome to Trish Talk. On the surface, Trish Walker seems like a reluctant best friend to Jessica Jones (who will debut later in the list…), but as Rachael Taylor showed, she’s more than that, much more. She’s a former child star who had an abusive mother, and Jessica saved her life, and to that end, she is indebted to her.
But that doesn’t mean Trish is a yutz, she’s actually quite capable. She’s trained herself to fight so that “no one touches me unless I allow it”, and that came in handy when Nuke went crazy and only Trish could fight him. She’s willing to put her life on the line for both Jessica and for others. And she wants the truth. In Defenders, she wanted to know the truth behind the earthquake in episode 01 and went to many lengths to get the answers.
However, she also showed her depth of emotion when Kilgrave tried to kill her multiple times, not something you just get over. Taylor showed the loyalty and strength of Trish, and every scene she has with Jessica is a standout in more ways than one. You can’t do that if there’s no chemistry between the two.
13. Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page
You might not realize it, but Karen Page has some of the best and most character growth of ALL the Marvel/Netflix series. She does. And the reason it sticks is because of Deborah Ann Woll’s depiction of her.
We meet Karen under the worst circumstances. She’s been framed for murder, and the duo of Nelson and Murdock come to save her. And in return for their help, she becomes their secretary at the law firm. But what happens from there in both seasons of Daredevil and in Defenders is the growth of a “damsel in distress” to a true woman of conviction. She wants the truth, she will not back down from those who threaten her and her friends, and what’s more, she’s willing to make sacrifices in order to keep her loved ones safe.
One of the most jaw-dropping moments in Season 01 of Daredevil is when she kills Wesley. And yet, it was Woll’s depiction of both that moment, her reaction, and how she kept herself together that made the moment really work. When she’s sad? You’re sad. When she smiles, you feel good. We’ve seen Karen grow before our eyes, and now she’s a respected writer for The Bulletin (where Ben Ulrich worked), and you love that. And…you still hope she’ll get together with Matt eventually…maybe in Season 03.
12. Elden Henson as Foggy Nelson
What really stood out to me about the “trio” in Daredevil was that they really broke stereotype for Karen and for Foggy. For on the surface, Foggy is the typical best friend to Matt Murdock. He’s the comic relief, the loyal St. Bernard if you well, but as Elden Henson shows, Foggy’s got fire, and he will show it when necessary.
Foggy is a great lawyer, he stood up to his ex-girlfriend turned current girlfriend Marcie, the DA, and even to biker gangs! Foggy is the bomb, and Henson sells every single scene he’s in. Whether it’s the flashback scenes of him and Matt in college, the courtroom scenes where he’s showing his skills, or the epic clashes he and Matt have, you believe everything that Foggy is saying. And you know he means it.
“Nelson Vs Murdock” was and still is one of the best episodes of Daredevil because you feel every emotion that Foggy is going through. And then in Defenders, even after he broke up the firm from Matt, he’s still there for him as a friend! He wants Matt to be able to have a life, and Henson shows that caring and love for his “brother” in those scenes. Rock on Foggy Nelson, rock on.
11. Theo Rossi as Shades
Took us a while, but we got to Luke Cage. And trust me when I say, when I started this series, I would NEVER have thought that Shades would be on this list. Why? Well…
HE’S A HENCHMAN!!!! Seriously! He even has the name! He’s SHADES! *puts on shades*. But leave it to the writers and the acting of Theo Rossi to make you think that Shades is one of the most clever and capable men you’ll ever see.
What separates shades from many other castings on the Marvel/Netflix shows is the dedication to who he is. He has one mode, and he plays it very well. He doesn’t yell, he doesn’t lose control, in fact, he’s always in control of his emotions. He’ll get ticked, surprised, he’s even laughed a few times, but it’s ALWAYS done the Shades way.
Rossi beautifully shows this in every scene he’s in, and it’s hard not to smile when he does certain things. Like the “lawyer” scene with the Inspector, or when he kills Zip. Shades is clever, brutal, and a thorn in the side of Luke Cage, and he’s epic because of it. Nicely done Theo, nicely done.
10. Mahershala Ali as Cottonmouth
A common thread through many of the characters on this list is tragedy shaping their lives. But you could argue that Cottonmouth has one of the most tragic pasts. When we meet him, he’s on top of the world. He’s about to close a big deal with an old friend. He has a reputation, he has a club, he has power. But the sad truth of it all is…he never wanted any of what he had, he was forced into this life.
You wouldn’t think of that at first as Mahershala Ali plays the Harlem Kingpin perfectly in the first few episodes. Powerful, intimidating, yet has a way with words. But as we unfold his story, of how he has a great musical talent that he was never allowed to explore. How he was forced to be a gangster and nothing else, you feel bad for him.
And gosh dang it, Ali gives Cottonmouth the perfect laugh. It’s chilling in a way. Sadly, many, including myself, feel that Cottonmouth’s death was the climax of the first season and that the show went downhill without him. Just goes to show how well Ali did as the character. In fact, he was told that Cottonmouth would die before the seasons’ end, and so he worked hard to give the character all he had before he left.
I respect that a lot.
9. Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple
Ok, full disclosure, I could’ve EASILY put Claire in the top 5, or even top 3! I think Rosario Dawson as this character is amazing. But, I let less emotional heads prevail because of certain truths and facts. But still, she’s epic.
Essentially, Claire Temple is the Phil Coulson of the Defenders, as she’s the glue that kind of binds them in a way. Funnily enough, her character is a mix of the character Claire Temple who was born in the Luke Cage comics, and the character Night Nurse, who is a helper to all superheroes. And Dawson totally kills it as this character.
She’s funny, kind, not afraid to fight when the need arises, but also isn’t afraid to call out people for their crap. That’s why it was great to see her in all of these series because we got to see a different version of sorts with all the different characters she interacted with. And most importantly, each series brought her closer and closer to her own destiny of being the Night Nurse. When that’ll actually happen? Who can say, but we’re eager for it!
The only reason she’s not higher is that she’s technically not a key character. She was in all the series, yes, but not all the time. And her role in Defenders wasn’t as great as it could’ve been (why didn’t her and Matt have an emotional reunion exactly???). Still, Dawson is a joy to watch on screen, and you can always count on Claire Temple to step up when the heroes are hurting.
8. David Tennant As Kilgrave
Another full disclosure. I am a Whovian, a proud one. And one time I got Netflix just so I could watch every single episode of Doctor Who from Eccelston to Smith (this was before Capaldi’s run) and so seeing David Tennant as the Doctor was a treat. But then…he became one of the most feared supervillains in the Marvel Universe? Would that work?
Yes, Yes it would!
Jessica Jones, much like Daredevil before it, had to focus on a singular important villain in the first season. And for Jones, that can only be Kilgrave. In the comics, he basically ruined her life (before she truly met Luke Cage), and in the show? It was the same thing. Tennant was chilling as this villain. Bringing his accent and acting chops to bear and making him steal every scene he was in. Even when he didn’t talk, he would show you exactly what Kilgrave was thinking.
And yet, at his core, he was a man in love, and a man who thought that the woman he loved felt the same way. That’s why he went to such lengths to be with her, to try and charm her. To prove that he could be different. Jessica even convinced him to be a hero, and you cheered for that!
But in the end, Tennant showed how bad lust can be. And the madness that Kilgrave had. You knew he had to die, and he did. But…he is coming back for Season 02 in some capacity…that should prove how great Marvel thought he was too.
What’s more, out of every villain on this list, Kilgrave is the one you fear the most. Because the others? They’ll just kill you if you get in their way? Kilgrave? He’ll go much darker in your…punishment…
7. Simone Missick as Misty Knight
The beautiful thing about the Marvel/Netflix crossovers is that there’s potential to bring more “second string” characters to life. And if Luke Cage did anything right (it did a lot right for the record, I’m just saying) it’s that it made Misty Knight a name no one will forget. And you can thank Simone Missick for that.
Misty is arguably one of the most normal people you’ll meet in all the series, as she’s a cop trying to do her job. Which, in the case of Season 01 of Luke Cage is to bring down Cottonmouth and Mariah Dillard. But, when things start going wrong for them, and by extension for Harlem, Misty is there to try and serve justice. Pure justice.
Missick showed that Misty isn’t just a cop, she’s a passionate person when it comes to stopping crime and taking bad people off the street. Yet, she’s also a Harlem native and knows how to get things done by talking to certain people, including schooling some kids in basketball when the time comes for it. She’s a darn good cop, and multiple people say it in the season, and Missick shows that’s accurate.
Yes, Misty does get some things wrong, but she always bounces back. And seeing her emotional breakdown after the Diamondback confrontation was very powerful. Add to that when she unintentionally got a key witness killed, you felt bad for Misty. But, Misty got back up, and you know she won’t stop until her city is safe…
…even if that means getting her arm chopped off and getting a bionic one like she has in the comics…for instance. Regardless, it’s always fun to see Missick on screen.
6. Jon Bernthal as The Punisher
Daredevil Season 01 really set the tone for what all the Marvel/Netflix series should be. But with Season 02 came a new question, “how do you top it?” Well, for the first half or so, it was about bringing Frank Castle into the mix. That’s right, the Punisher. Now, Punisher has had MANY attempts to be brought to live actions, and…it was mixed results at best. But with Jon Berthal as Frank? That all changed.
It’s easy to think of Frank Castle as just a killing machine, but he’s a lot more than that. He’s a man driven by both justice and revenge. His family was killed by gang violence, yet he lived, and he became determined to make sure that no criminal would get away with their crimes. And that meant putting them six feet under.
What made the Punisher storyline so powerful though wasn’t just Bernthal’s performance (which was great), but how his character affected everyone. Even going so far as to wonder whether his way of doing things was right. That’s good stuff.
But what really got Bernthal this high onto the list was his smaller scenes, the more personal scenes. His monologue to Daredevil in the graveyard was Emmy-worthy in my mind. Add to that his reciting of his daughters’ favorite nursery rhyme to remember why he was doing what he was doing, and even the diner scene with Karen where he talked about what love really is, that was so good.
And EVERYONE agreed. Why? Because he’s getting his own Marvel/Netflix series, and that wasn’t planned at first.
5. Vincent D’Onofrio As Wilson Fisk
The Kingpin of crime is a fascinating character. In fact, he’s so popular he’s associated with two major New York superheroes, Daredevil, and Spider-Man. So much so that people don’t know at times which he appeared for first (answer: Spider-Man). Regardless, we had an interpretation of him in the Daredevil movie by Michael Clarke Duncan (rest in peace). But when it came to the Netflix series, they went to the classic version and brought in Vincent D’Onofrio, and the rest is history.
For some, this version of the Kingpin is so good, that it tops all the other villains we see not only in the Netflix series but in the ENTIRE MCU. And yes, that includes Loki. Which just goes to show how powerful D’Onofrio’s interpretation of Wilson Fisk is.
There’s a lot of ways to break down this character, but I think the best way is to show what he wasn’t in the series. Complete. Yes, he had the plan, he had allies, he had goals, yet as a man, he wasn’t complete. His past haunted him, he fell in love and wanted to keep that and his dreams of “rebuilding” the Kitchen alive, but things just refused to go right for him. D’Onofrio portrayed beautifully not only the calculating nature of Kingpin, but also the sadness, and the rage. When he goes into a rage he becomes a monster, a terrifying one, and yet, you were captivated by every moment.
Plus, in Season 02 of Daredevil, we got to see him truly start to be the Kingpin of crime we know him for. And he might just come back for Season 03. We KNOW he’s going to be a big threat when he does, and fans can’t wait for that return.
4. Mike Colter As Luke Cage
Of the Defenders themselves, there were two characters that Marvel had to get right for the Netflix series casting wise. Daredevil was one (because of the movie), and the other was Luke Cage. Especially in this day and age, they need to portray Luke Cage as a competent yet compelling character, and through the acting of Mike Colter, they did just that.
It really helped that we saw Luke in Jessica Jones beforehand, and then he got into his own series. Both times though, we got to see what makes Luke Cage special. Mainly, he’s a softspoken hero. He’s a big proponent of the “speak softly and carry a big stick” philosophy, and if you watch Season 01 of his series, you’ll see he doesn’t yell or scream too much.
The other thing that Colter did right as Cage was shown how conflicted he was in his life. He went to Harlem to try and get away from his past, but trouble soon rose up to find him, and he had to choose whether to run or move forward…always. The struggle was real, and Colter made that clear. You pitied Luke when numerous reveals came to light that threatened to ruin his life. And you cheered when he stood up and became the hero that Harlem needed. And even after all of it, he didn’t want fame, he didn’t want glory, he just wanted to know he did the right thing.
And Marvel did the right thing by putting Colter in this role.
3. Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the past couple decades of superhero films and TV shows, it’s you don’t judge a show or film by its casting. Because if I did, I wouldn’t have watched Jessica Jones. I only knew Krysten Ritter from one show, called “The B—- In Apartment 23”, and it was pretty stupid in my mind. And now that girl (who was the “B—-“) was going to be Jessica Jones? Really? Really???
Yeah, really, and it worked! Very, very well.
You could argue that of the Defenders, Jessica was the most tragic. Yes, even more than Luke Cage. Because though Cage was framed for a crime, put in jail, and experimented on, he still had his mind during all of that, and he knew he was innocent. For Jessica? When Kilgrave got a hold of her, he didn’t let go until he almost died.
Jessica has PTSD, and Krysten Ritter showed that wonderfully. She was afraid of him, even when he was “dead”. She could hear his voice, feel his touch, it haunted her! And Ritter convinced you of that fear. But, as a true “don’t use the H word…” does, she rose up and tried to finish off what she started so that no one would have to feel her pain.
But just as compelling was her time in Defenders. Where Kilgrave was finally gone, and she could have her life back..but she didn’t take it. She still wanted to be alone, she was still afraid, and you became said because she couldn’t move on. And you cheered when she returned to the Royal Dragon to help her soon-to-be friends.
Jessica is snarky, witty, funny, blunt and brutal, and we wouldn’t have her any other way.
2. Scott Glenn as Stick
I know, I know! I said that Claire Temple couldn’t be in the top 5 because she wasn’t a “main” character. So how can I have Stick in the top 2? Well…because it’s Stick!!!
Stick is the trainer and the mentor to Daredevil, and Elektra in this series. He’s part of the Chaste, who are the sworn enemies of the Hand. He’s easily the toughest old man you’ll even meet. Rude, mean-spirited, insulting, and yet able to back up his lip, Stick is freaking awesome. His dedication to his mission of stopping the hand makes him stand out, even amongst the heroes and villains we met.
Because for him? This IS his life, he lived for years fighting the war, and in the end…he died for it. But to be fair, he wouldn’t have wanted to die any other way.
Scott Glenn just brought the perfect amount of sass and bluntness to Stick, making him someone you hoped you saw more of. And again, this guy is a master fighter, he’s fought and beaten both Daredevil and Elektra (depending on how you look at it) and has killed numerous Hand followers.
Heck, he cut off HIS OWN HAND to make sure they didn’t get what they wanted. Stick is the best, and I will miss him so.
1. Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock
Daredevil has been a fan-favorite Marvel character for some time. And though the movie with Ben Affleck got a mixed reception, there are those who think that Affleck did a decent job as Matt Murdock. But the Marvel/Netflix series went far deeper into the character than the movie did, and the fate of the whole mini-universe relied on the acting skills of Charlie Cox. And they put their chips on the right man.
Matt Murdock is a very complicated character and one that has many different facets to his life. He’s a Catholic, he’s a lawyer, and he’s a masked vigilante. Yet, Cox perfectly portrays all of those sides of Murdock with great skill and passion. He knows when to play him as charming, when to be authoritative, when to lay down the law, and even when to be menacing when the time calls for it. It’s a tough job, but he does it masterfully.
And most of all, he shows the struggle that Matt Murdock goes through in both of his solo seasons as well as in Defenders. He struggles with the desire to kill, he struggles to not go off the deep end, to embrace the “darkness” that he feels is in him, he struggles to try and live a good life after the loss of Elektra, it’s compelling every single time. And it’s all because of Cox.
A great example of this is when after the death of Ben Ulrich he was asked by the Father how he was doing, and he responded, “Like a good Catholic Boy”. It was a joke of sorts, yet Cox showed that he was angry and bitter when he said it, giving it much more meaning. Add that to his confession scenes, the numerous scenes with Foggy, Karen, Stick, and even Kingpin, and you’ve got a powerful character brought to life. And EVERYONE is looking forward to Daredevil Season three.
So, that’s my list, who are your favorite castings in the Marvel/Netflix series? Let us know in the comments!