The Internet has exploded recently with the manifestation of this series and Netflix as Marvel open their promising partnership to a run of b-list heroes. Irony is not lost as Netflix begin their long sighted project with the blind hero Daredevil taking the first leg of the Marvel marathon, a personal favourite of mine from the printed pages. Having read a fair crop of the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen’s exploits I was dubious about his agile leap to the small screen, with two of Joss Whedon’s friends at the helm though its chances were good and expectations high. So how are the results?
As you probably known Daredevil is the story of Matt Murdock a Catholic lawyer who was blinded at an early age by a chemical which enhances his other senses to a super human level. As a pious human being Matt wisely steps into the virtue filled world of law and when he becomes frustrated by its reach he takes it upon himself to do the sensible thing and fight crime in a bright red suit and using a billy club. I suppose common sense isn’t covered in a law degree…
Obviously the first thing we find out about is the casting but until we see them in action it’s hard to speculate although my goodness will the Internet try to! As it turns out Charlie Cox might as well just change his name now as he is exactly the Matt Murdock I read about, his mannerisms and speech are like his actions, assertive yet reserved and his time spent studying under a blind tutor pays off dividends. Cox states that it was important to feel but not fumble and he strikes the perfect balance of veteran ballerina sat on a sturdy seat with his measured but experienced movements and focus of his eyes during dialogue. Deborah Ann Woll sheds her fragile, frantic character in True Blood for the well loved and endearing figure of Karen Page and manages to be complex and integral without ever being unwanted or annoying. Rosario Dawson is of course fantastic and as a go a ride geek has paid her weight in Gold giving passionate interviews on the marketing tour that are worthy of Oscars themselves and had fanboys setting up shrines of her in their rooms…or expanding the shrines to her they already had. “They”, not me of course…
Elden Henson looks and strikes the part as Foggy Nelson and it’s refreshing that they keep his character as just that, a character and not just a cliche comic relief, too often rounded only in frame and not in narrative. This is all great until Henson is called upon to act anything other than comedy where sadly he tries too hard and ruins the effect of a compelling friendship. The theoretically heartbreaking encounter in Matt’s flat with Foggy became a cringe fest for me personally especially when Henson tearfully still quips his way through emotions and the effect becomes as confusing as creepy Nelson’s surprisingly successful love life. Henson has the heart and plays Nelson’s wisecracking team player very well but when he emotes it pours, and the scenes aims are often drowned in his over acting. Vincent D’Onofrio of Full Metal fame is a slow burning joy as twitchy and haunted ‘Kingpin’ Wilson Fisk, every moment of screen time is measured and ominous.
The show itself caught me off guard like a billy club to the face as I had hoped for a more noir style approach akin the Brubaker run of comics and after initial posters which seemed to point in this direction, after this initial disappointment wore of though the pure enjoyment set in. Daredevil himself is fascinating character and his Catholocism is bravely stood upon never mind touched upon and his faith is often his greatest strength and also weakness. Despite his blindness leading to metaphors of blind justice or faith it’s never been in bad taste during the animated or televised runs. Matt Murdock clings to the law and faith yet every night he knowingly and violently tramples upon the fragile foundation of who he is. In this real, accessible and constant turmoil Matt Murdock becomes one of the most flawed, lovable and human human heroes of all. Cox’s Murdock is as faithful to the core material as if we’re the holy scripture itself, with high temper and reserved character yet quietly charismatic and drawing all to the smouldering embers of his mystery….especially females. The Murdock hareem grows faster and stronger than the last, well tended plant in the Garden of Eden! After sitting to watch the series in only a couple of sittings it was nice to see the show anchored in its rich and criminally overlooked lore and heritage. The series captures all the above aspects with more finesse than Murdock’s expertly shot rooftop chase and with more confidence than a criminal with a crooked jury courtesy of Kingpin.
The show is written well with the script popping without falling into usual traps of being cheesier than a fondue or wittier than Joss Whedon best man speech. Characters are flawed especially Karen and fans will see telltale signs of hear achingly inevitable flaws to come, but they cling to each other with genuine warmth whether it be the Murdock mystery machine team huddled around legal facts or Fisk and Vanessa sharing wine and dark plots. From the script to the action it’s still crisp and striking, Daredevils awkward and acrobatic style in its infancy as he often takes a beating or hits the ground from his own kick and walk plant. The fight scene in the second episode is a work of art and bears a resemblance to side scrolling corridor of Oldboy, the combat is gritty and claustrophobic and the front on unyielding view shows the end doorway as the continual goal he strives toward. The door to the room containing the young boy in shot along with every punch Daredevil takes and every time he refuses to stay down, the fighting as raw as the emotion which drives him. The pace is solid with little wasted times and even potential filler episodes like ‘Sticks’ weighing in with enough importance and relevance to stand up and land a Battlin Jack Haymaker.
Easter eggs abound and the Internet has enough lists to make Buzzfeed self conscious, they are worth a mention though as the writers commit to comic book clarity without alienating new fans and the casual viewer. Pfft can’t let these normal non comic types ruin it completely for us desperate, geek junkies! Luckily they inject plenty of hints and homages. Josie’s bar is a regular comic book scene and Josie was even hinted as love interest for Matt’s dad in one novel, mentions of Roxxon corporation, Creel from Agents of Shield as a boxing opponent, Leyland Owlsley or ‘The Owl’, drugs boasting the sign of Iron Fist a future Netflix hero and even a hired sniper keeping an ace of spades in his bag. That last one could be wild speculation, or dead on the Bullseye…. Rosario Dawson as a mixture of Temple and Night Nurse, Stick of Stick and Stone from Ninja group Chaste and also Nabu fighting in the Crimson colours of the Hand as well as the Greek girl mentioned at college managing to scream Elektra despite its tongue being firmly wedged in its cheek. The battle of New York is used well even though this series has a darker tone it’s nice to see the working class fallout of the area nearer to where it happened. It reminds you that it’s part of a bigger world too and while the Avengers fly high Daredevil is on the ground floor amongst the dirt. The city could be another character in itself and as it’s such a driving force for our hero and villain it would make sense to give and identity to the audience so we can gain the same connection. This is touched upon with Josie’s and with Fisk’s flashback but it could do with more, the best example by far though is Elena and the tenants who refuse to move as its how’s the beating heart of the city and our heroes with their commitment to keep the lifeblood flowing.
The music is hardly noticeable which is fine and shots are clever with some distorted views well utilised and a great panning and shifting shot of Karen and comic classic Ben Zurich meeting, which convinces you they’re being watched but cleverly to no end. The story is bold and tight like a heroes spandex with child kidnappings, human trafficking and brutal murders. Fisk and Murdock are built up and established in equal measure which is a great investment and the last episode is a dynamic collision of two emerging and opposing forces at their polarising births. Fisk is off putting at first but is so much more interesting than being a cardboard cut-out rich tycoon and his fighting style is burly and satisfying, while Vanessa whispers in his ear like like a once innocent but now creepy Lady Macbeth….so Lady Macbeth. My only problem with him would be that we are asked to accept his intelligence and success without seeing any of his brains and arguably too much brawn, he is constantly outwitted and mocked and leaves a trail of bodies in his wake. His tantrum in the last episode is that of a child and his ravings and outbursts make him less of a Kingpin mastermind and more of a Frankenstein’s monster. Hopefully this is just his moulding though with more cunning scheming to come.
The show after all is like its characters, well meaning and well constructed but still a little flawed. The story of his dad is teased and adequately executed but rushed a little too much for my tastes. The classic Frank Millar Daredevil rookie outfit is a nice homage but the concealment of the eyes always baffled me, surely that draws attention to the fact the guy who’s hitting or saving you can’t see? His eventual outfit has at least hooded eye holes! Potter who is Gladiator from the comics has nice moments even fighting with his textbook buzzsaws and a poster advertising ‘Gladiators’ in the background but his recruitment is flimsy and lightning fast. ” Oh you’ve stopped punching me now? Ok well I’ll spend ages making you this intricate armour if your promise to help me, guy that iv known for two minutes of pure, hellish violence”. The corrupt police angle is great as well with genuine shocking moments but soon a little overplayed to the point where they must run the same background checks and Jack Bauers mole-ridden CTU.
Ultimately though this is a bold, dark, enjoyable and stylish watch that is as invested in its writing, faithfulness and execution as it is in its budget and accessibility to new fans. What’s also respectable is instead of changing the license to fit the perceived genre, they come up with a new and original story that is tailor made to this hero and his world. That in itself is an achievement worthy of praise. In a saturated comic book market this striking show makes a bigger splash than a mafia executed corpse at the docks and is rarely a laboured watch.
The verdict: Making Daredevil a household name with a firm foundation. Even with its few short comings this is a pure, fantastic and affecting watch without compromising and refusing to turn from the darkness or its roots. This series doesn’t patronise or relent in its entertainment for which the fans old and new, are grateful.