Tryng to fit in a self-contained, minimalist story within Marvel Studios’ grandiose, medium-spanning cinematic universe must be no small task. With the recent release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, it’s become clear that the universe is expanding into progressively larger territory. Marvel has taken us to far-away places, including areas in the cosmic plane. So making a serialized show on Netflix about a pretty straight-forward hero from Hell’s Kitchen seems quite out there amidst the pantheon of heroes and villains with world-defying powers that we’re used to. I’d like to take some time and unpack this, and explain my thoughts about Daredevil, and if the show is anything special amongst what Marvel has to offer.
WARNING: As with any of my posts, I can’t guarantee that there won’t be spoilers littered throughout this whole damn thing. So, if you are one of the few people who HASN’T seen Daredevil, scroll down to my “Final thoughts” section at the bottom to see my ultimate verdict on the series.
I’m going to begin by saying that I’ve never really been a fan of Daredevil as a character. Among such legendary company, Matt Murdock has always been a guy that was just kind of there and hanging around in the Marvel Universe. His origin and abilities aren’t that much different than some of the other characters who can get the job done better (Spider-Man, for instance), so when I heard that they were developing a limited Netflix series for the Defenders, I was more excited to see characters like Iron Fist or Luke Cage. We already had a movie adaptation of this character (which I’ve avoided seeing like the plague), so I was more interested to see how the other characters would be portrayed on the small screen.
Marvel did a really unique thing with this show. They made me give a shit about Daredevil. Matt Murdock’s story isn’t wholly original. He loses his father, becomes an avatar of justice, fights against corruption to defend his hometown, yadda yadda yadda…It’s a very common story trope, but still very effective. There is palpable corruption in this world, and Hell’s Kitchen exemplifies this to great extent on the show. Cops stabbing other cops in the throat, hired hitmen bludgeoning mafiosos in the mouth with bowling balls, the sky’s the limit! I think there is a small part in everybody that longs for justice, so when a talented young man, with fairly modest abilities compared to other Marvel heroes stands up for what’s right, it makes for some compelling television.
The episodic structure of a television show just works for comic book characters. Comics already follow an episodic structure on their own, and making Daredevil a TV show allowed us a lot more time to explore the character that we just plain don’t get with the Marvel movies.
Hell’s Kitchen is dark, gritty and oppressive, when compared to the colorful and bright visuals of your typical Marvel production. The showrunners took a much more noir-like approach, designing the world and the character more closely with what Frank Miller had in mind in the early 80s. As a designer, or someone who has to do plenty of color correcting of images on a fairly regular basis, I felt that the color yellow was a little overused for my taste (that’s just my own neuroticism), but in this particular case it makes sense. Where the show takes place is kind of made second seat to the ensemble cast, which is fine. I just found it interesting that any of the characters have any motivations for staying in this PARTICULAR city, because it just seems like a crap hole.
The biggest aspect of this story relies on it’s characters. Daredevil may be the titular character, but the show isn’t solely isn’t solely about his tale. There are some episodes that even rarely show Daredevil at all, and I don’t think that it suffers for this.
Mighty Ducks alum Elden Henson plays Foggy Nelson, Murdock’s best friend, wingman, and partner in fighting crime….er, in the legal sense. They’re lawyers. I’ve always liked Elden Henson. His role as Pnub in Idle Hands was probably my favorite, so it’s good to see him getting work. His casting in this wasn’t what I would normally expect of him. Foggy comes off as confident, outspoken, and charming. I think choosing Henson turned out great, considering it felt more natural than getting your typical CW, copy and paste wiseguy to do the job. Some of his lines are a little too exaggerated and pseudo-comical, but I feel like he really helps keep the show grounded when it’s often balls-deep in some pretty dark subject matter.
Deborah Ann Woll plays your run-of the-mill bewildered damsel in distress turned supporting female character, Karen Page. Most of the time, you’ll see her being frightened, or joking around with the guys. However, there’s things the audience doesn’t know about Karen’s past that has been hinted at a couple of times that I think will pop up in a later season.It was definitely notable when she threatened, “Do you think is the first time I’ve ever pointed a gun at a person?” This makes me hopeful, because her story arc was one I probably cared about the least, and it doesn’t have to be that way.
Vondie Curtis-Hall portrays a cool, and collected journalist who’s “too old for this shit,” similar to Murtaugh from Lethal Weapon…except a journalist version. Like Murtaugh, he still is thrilled by the chase, whether he’d like to admit it or not. A lot of his motivations are staying relevant in an increasingly digital media landscape, finding enough money to provide for his invalid wife, and helping Karen Page bring down the corrupt conglomerate that tried to kill her. He does the part well, and I was really drawn into his character. Even more so than some of the others.
Toby Leonard Moore plays James Wesley, the Kingpin’s friend and trusted advisor. Many people I’ve talked to have argued that Moore’s performance was the best of the villains and that in a lot of ways, he felt like the true Kingpin. He does do well, so it’s kind of hard to protest that. He has a smooth and subtle way about him, and always appears ready for most situations. Except for that ONE time…
Rosario Dawson appears on the show out of the blue as E.R. nurse and a brief love interest to Daredevil named Claire Temple. I liked her character, and having her added some more perspective of what Matt is like when his alter ego is revealed to someone. Aside from that, she doesn’t really bring too much to the table. The show could have been great with or without her, but I’m sure she’ll have more of a part to play later on in the show, and perhaps even in the other Defenders shows.
Aside from the other interesting plot-pushing side characters, and a show-stealing guest appearance by Scott Glenn as Matt’s brutal instructor Stick, those are the characters round out the major supporting cast. Each actor brings an interesting quirk to the table, something that is kind of lost on other superhero shows.
Then we have Wilson Fisk (The Kingpin), taken from a different approach by Vincent D’Onofrio. D’Onofrio’s performance is by far the most polarizing among fans, from what I’ve read. Some people love his dialed down, and insecure version of the character, and others just hate him, saying that he just sounds weird. I can see both sides. There is something strange about the way Fisk talks. Almost like he is uncomfortable in his own skin. This sort of harkened back to his performance as Edgar in Men in Black, so a lot of people made him out to be more silly than he was intended. I think he does a great job of adding depth to one of the more mediocre villains in the Marvel universe. In the comics, Kingpin is usually portrayed as arrogant, cocksure and prudish. Daredevil’s Fisk is a different sort of monster, born from a troubled past filled of lack of self esteem, and parents who didn’t provide him with the best ideals. Fisk has an air about him that he is constantly to pretend to be somebody he’s not to maintain his position of power. People do this every day, and I think he pulls it off.
There are only two things that I wasn’t sold on with Wilson’s character. Firstly, I felt that his relationship with art dealer Vanessa (Ayelet Zurer) was forced and a little unbelievable. What sensible woman would continue in a relationship with this man, especially after seeing he was willing to blow up a bunch of people, regardless of how unsavory said people were. I just didn’t see what her motivation was. Secondly, and this feels mainly like an issue from the writing perspective, was the story (or lack there of) behind Fisk’s financial stability. The show doesn’t touch upon how he went from the overly sensitive boy to the man who is tied to many criminal organizations. It is pointed out that he has a lot of money, so much so that he can pay off the police force to do his bidding, but it is never explained why or how he obtained his fortune. It’s like his past doesn’t match up well with his present. It’s pretty likely they will develop him further down the road, but I think it would have been a good time to elaborate on who this man was in the introductory season when it would have made sense.
Then there is the titular character. The man without fear is played by Charlie Cox, and he does an excellent job. As a guy from London, he pulls off a really convincing American accent. His voice is reassuring and calm, a good trait for a superhero. His emotional scenes are handled well and aren’t overly ham-handed. Best of all, he doesn’t pull of a Christian Bale and oversells the growly tough guy voice like he did in the Dark Knight Trilogy. I don’t have much else to say about his performance, other than the fact that he is by far one of my favorite Marvel superhero castings, and I essentially had no idea who he was when I first heard that he would be playing Daredevil.
The storyline is fairly rudimentary, which isn’t all that disappointing. It is a Marvel production, after all. You don’t necessarily expect Oscar worthy screenwriting. Still, the story is pretty simple and straightforward, with very little in the realm of surprise, but it is good. It kept me interested and entertained, and I was greatly encouraged to binge my way all of the way through it. I’m more interested to see what is done in the next season, because I am usually weary of the typical superhero origin story anymore. Generally, superhero origins are all the same. Still, it’s a tried and true approach.
Where Daredevil ultimately succeeds is in its tone. In a lot of ways, the show is more a noir-style crime drama than a superhero show. I much prefer this style much more than the CW’s Arrow. The style, the way this show is shot, is just visually interesting.
There are a few scenes that stand out. There is an excellent scene right in the second episode that nods to Oldboy as an influence. It’s a big fight in an open hallway where we see an already seriously injured Matt Murdock kicking the shit out of a group of child kidnappers. The scene is much more visceral and realistic, given the fact that the whole choreographed fight was filmed in one extended shot. Right from that point, I was sold. Then there was the whole midseason episode Stick, which focuses solely on where Matt Murdock became who he was. I was also a real fan of Fisk’s backstory, because it only helped to confirm my rationale about D’Onofrio’s performance.
Marvel’s Daredevil is easily one of my favorite forays into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Providing the format of a serialized television show provided the showrunners with a great outlet for telling a simple, yet meaningful story about one of the (personally) lesser loved of Marvel’s heroes. Don’t go in expecting a ton of action, because this is much more a character drama before anything else. The combat that it does have, however, is sensationally brutal and truly a sight to behold. If you’re a die-hard fan, there’s plenty of easter eggs and nods to the comics to whet your appetites. This very worth your time, even if you may not even be interested in superhero stories. Daredevil may not be perfect, but it definitely keeps you invested throughout the season, and leaves you excited and eager for more.
Similar to: Law & Order (surprisingly), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Arrow
Suggested substitution(s): The Dark Knight, Super, True Detective, Kick-Ass