Charlie Hunnam’s ‘Criminal’ Could Become ‘The Dark Knight’ of the Small Screen

The upcoming Criminal series, starring Charlie Hunnam, might still be under the radar, but this is one show that holds the ability to change the rules and redefine the genre.

Stand back, civilizations – there’s a new comic book-based television show on the horizon. Variety reported that Amazon Prime Video is set to adapt a live-action show of Criminal, with Sons of Anarchy star Charlie Hunnam in the lead role. Right now, those who know, know, while others see this as merely another comic book adaptation in the endless slew of capes and capers. However, Criminal merits a serious case of anticipation because the source material features a special sauce that hits differently. In fact, don’t be surprised if this becomes the comic book television show that transcends the genre – much like The Dark Knight did for cinema in 2008.

What is Criminal about?

Written by Ed Brubaker and drawn by Sean Phillips, Criminal is an interconnected collection of crime stories that feature a number of characters. The first volume in the series is titled Coward, and it’s confirmed to be the focus of at least the first season of the live-action show, since Charlie Hunnam is playing the character Leo Patterson.

In the comics, Leo is a thief who possesses a strong moral code. He prefers to plan his heists to perfection and execute them without any guns or violence – the cleaner, the better for him. Resultantly, this earns him a reputation of being somewhat of a coward (hence the title) among his peers, especially since Leo’s father, Tommy, went to prison for famously murdering the dangerous Teeg Lawless. Even so, no one can dispute Leo’s talents, so he reluctantly accepts a heist proposal involving a police van carrying $5 million in diamonds, but the job goes sideways and violent. Leo manages to escape from the scene of the bloody crime, but now has a target on his back due to the valuable score in his possession, which isn’t really diamonds.

How it’s similar to The Dark Knight

Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight rips a few pages out of the script of Michael Mann’s Heat to create a story that digs deep into the seedy roots of Gotham City’s underworld. This isn’t only about a colorful villain battling Batman; it’s about the structured layers of crime – from the street-level thugs to the corrupt officials sitting and making laws in the courts. It becomes a commentary of the sociopolitical factors that cause different people from all walks of life to become embroiled in various illegal activities – and how looking at these events through the lens of simply black or white misses a lot of the nuance and reasons for why people turn to crime. The rise and fall of Harvey Dent, in particular, merits debate, as it’s tough to define who failed who here.

Criminal explores similar themes, as it showcases Leo’s controversial history and how his life isn’t something he can just walk away from when he feels like it. Like any crime story worth its weight, the narrative shifts away from debating good and bad, right and wrong – focusing on the complex characters living in a complex world that doesn’t always play by the same rules it forces others to follow. Leo’s story poke holes in moral superiority as it asks the pertinent question: What would you do in my shoes? The answer isn’t as easy as some may think it is.

Why fans should be excited about

In 2007, Criminal received an Eisner Award for Best New Series and remains the gold standard for other crime comics to strive toward. It isn’t just another comic book – it’s a good one at that which so happens to be entirely creator-owned and free from the shackles of corporate overlords. This is a major cause for celebration, as it means less (wannabe) cooks in the kitchen to destroy the final creation.

Equally important, Criminal writer Ed Brubaker – who will serve as the co-showrunner of the show – is becoming highly sought out in film and television. He co-created the highly underrated neo-noir series Too Old to Die Young with Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn, and also formed part of the writers room of Westworld. No one gets crime fiction quite like he does nowadays, and he’s the right person to be guiding the creative ship of this noir-esque series.

And finally, Amazon Prime Video looks to be the perfect home for Criminal. Judging by The Boys and Invincible, the streaming platform commits to darker and more R-rated comic book properties and stories. Case in point: Every season of The Boys gets wilder and edgier than before, and it’s tough to see other streaming services giving the same amount of freedom to go balls to the wall. 

A live-action adaptation of Criminal can’t be safe or corporately sanitized to appeal to the whole family; it needs grit and grime covering every wall as it tells sinister stories about the darker side of human nature. Fortunately, the signs point to the latter becoming the reality here. If all the right gears click in place, expect for Criminal to not only be remembered as a fantastic comic book series, but also a genre-defining show when all is said and done. 

About the author

Sergio Pereira

Sergio is an entertainment journalist who has written about movies, television, video games, and comic books for over a decade and a half. Outside of journalism, he is an award-winning copywriter, screenwriter, and novelist. He holds a degree in media studies and psychology.