Daredevil does a Batman voice, and other secrets from The Defenders
The ensemble cast of 'The Defenders', Netflix's ambitious and rather uneven Marvel show, is just as ambitious and just as uneven
Daredevil does a good Batman voice.
I’m sitting across from the British actor Charlie Cox on a muggy afternoon in New York, talking about Daredevil—the Marvel superhero he plays, a blind lawyer who fights crime—and we’re discussing how best to emote with just the lower side of the mouth, given that his costume involves a snug red cowl wrapped around the top half of his head. “I sometimes wonder if I should be thinking more about that," says Cox. I ask if he has his own version of the guttural “Batman voice", the infamous growl belonging to the most iconic half-masked hero. “Funnily enough, the Batman voice is an interesting one because when people tend to write superheroes in costume demanding information, writers tend to write three-syllable sentences," he laughs. “There’s really only one way to deliver those sentences, and you’re trying to be aggressive and threatening because you want information and you want it fast. And what you discover is that the Batman voice is very tempting. You sometimes find yourself slipping into that."
“What is the Batman voice?" Krysten Ritter, who plays fan-favourite badass Jessica Jones, is a shrill interrupter with a ringing laugh, and here she is being a goofball with Cox, her co-superhero in The Defenders, which released on Netflix last week. Cox, like any fanboy, immediately belts out a string of exaggeratedly gravelly syllables—“GIMME THE MONEY! WHERE’S THE GUY"—that Batman writer Frank Miller and Batman actor Christian Bale would approve of. “You’re welcome, by the way," Ritter grins broadly, knowing she has tricked him into mimicking a DC character. It would be heresy, but then the first man who played Daredevil—Ben Affleck—is the current on-screen Batman (maybe all Daredevils are simply Batmen in training.)
The Defenders is a slippery Netflix property, one built on the promise shown by the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist are all individual shows created in order to pave the way for The Defenders, a series about a cut-rate and grimy set of superheroes operating around Harlem alleys, unlike their galaxy-guarding and planet-avenging big-screen counterparts. It is a tough ask, considering just how drastically the aesthetic needle swings between the shadowy coldness of the first season of Daredevil and the swaggering, soundtrack-powered thumps of Luke Cage. And the less said about the lacklustre Iron Fist the better, obviously.
I met the principal actors—The Defenders themselves, if you will—in early August as part of a story I’m doing for Man’s World magazine and they seemed aware that this show, one that saw them step away from their shows and their distinct sensibilities, is a tough call. “You have to find your own feet a little bit," Cox admits. “It’s not like going back into another season of your own show. Tonally, that takes a bit of getting used to." They naturally profess to being as optimistic as possible, and Cox used a lovely phrase about how they’re all comfortable with their individual characters—“because we’ve been playing them for a number of hours"—which really says a lot about the long-form nature of serialized storytelling today.
The all-star show—despite being lighter in tone than the preceding shows, and with only eight episodes as opposed to the bloated 13-episode runs for each individual series—is a missed opportunity. These actors are all talented and interesting to watch, with varied personalities and fighting styles, but the show goes through the motions a fair bit till they all catch up—in episode 4, which is a bit of fun—but then, they can’t handle the screen-conquering coolness of the villain.
Alexandra, the baddie of the piece—and the best thing about The Defenders—is a bona-fide legend. How do you, I ask our heroes, match up to Sigourney Weaver? “We don’t!" all four say with honest immediacy, with Finn Jones (who plays Iron Fist) raving about the Alien movies and Mike Colter (who plays Luke Cage) shaking his head and smiling at the thought. “My impression about her, walking away from it, is that she’s one of the least disappointing American icons," says Cox, as silver-tongued as a man playing a lawyer should be. “She’s as brilliant and kind as you want her to be."
Playing roulette with the Marvel universe, I ask the actors which characters from that enormous library they would like to see their characters riff off. Cox votes for Iron Man because of his respect for the impact Robert Downey Jr had on the character, while Colter says the same, because Cage could be a good bodyguard for Tony Stark. “Tony has a lot of money, and Luke needs the work, you know? When Tony doesn’t have the suit on, he’s pretty vulnerable," Colter smiles. “Maybe he could use someone walking around with bulletproof skin."
“I’d like Iron Fist to team up with Thanos," Jones says, launching into a meticulous spiel. “I’d like Iron Fist to go dark side (which may or may not be a sly Darkseid pun) and kill all the other superheroes, and they can rule the world. But secretly, Fist is undercover, and then he kills Thanos and he’s the new ruler. And he rules with peace and love." A nutty idea, certainly, but then these are bright young actors having loads of fun, with genuine camaraderie and a sprightly energy. Spending a brief while with them over interviews and at the show’s premiere made me wish Netflix would make a series about the making of The Defenders instead of, you know, The Defenders.
At the very least, they should let Ritter into the writer’s room. “I think Jessica Jones should have one 15-minute scene with The Punisher. If you know what I mean," she winks.
There’s your cue, Netflix.
Streaming tip of the week
In the mood for a tougher man than Luke Cage? Pete McCormack’s stirring Facing Ali, now on Amazon Prime, is pieced together from conversations with ten Mohammed Ali rivals, from George Foreman to Joe Frazier. Who could have a better view of the black superman in action?
Stream of Stories is a column on what to watch online.