So that’s that. Marvel’s The Punisher and Jessica Jones have been axed by Netflix. Jon Bernthal’s gun-slinging vigilante Frank Castle will never brawl on the streets of New York again, while Krysten Ritter’s alcoholic superhero will return for one last season later this year. And they’re just the latest Marvel casualties: Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and The Defenders have already been cancelled, thus bringing the curtain down on all of Netflix’s Marvel shows.
What went wrong? The answer is surely twofold, a matter of both competition between streaming services, and of poor creative decision making.
Disney produce the Marvel shows, and their alliance with Netflix, which began promisingly only four years ago, has produced some serious hits, Daredevil and Jessica Jones chief among them. But Netflix and Disney – who produce the Marvel shows – have now fallen out, reportedly over the latter launching a rival streaming service later this year. Disney+ will feature its own exclusive Marvel creations, so perhaps it’s no surprise that Netflix wants to drop a franchise that will become strongly associated with a competitor.
But the Netflix and Marvel marriage had hit a rocky patch in more recent years anyway, with several shows getting mauled by critics or fans due to dodgy casting choices, poor political timing, and underwhelming characters and storylines.
It’s a shame, because it all began so well. Netflix and Marvel’s collaborations once offered superhero fans an alternative to the quip-tastic, child-friendly punch-ups seen on the big screen – an alternative that was, for a time, better than its cinematic counterparts.
First, there was Daredevil in 2015. Borrowing liberally from the noirish sensibilities of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, the series set a solid template for the first batch of Marvel’s Netflix series to come: 13 blood-soaked episodes following a brooding superhero’s battle against a complex, multilayered villain.
The superhero, in this instance, was Charlie Cox’s eponymous blind superhero (Ben Affleck’s version in the 2003 film now a long-forgotten fever dream). And the villain? Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin. Arguably the scariest Marvel villain, he was relentless in his ambition to rule New York City with the love of his life, Vanessa, by his side. That it also felt so believable made it all the more chilling. Their thrilling battle for the city finally gave Marvel fans the Batman-Joker-style rivalry they had long pined for.