Spoiler Free Overview
Marvel has taken a character who was blindsided by the emergence of ‘realistic’ superhero films in the early 2000’s and reinvented them. Although the character remains Daredevil throughout, its the portrayal of Matt Murdock by Charlie Cox that transcends this series beyond everything currently available and places it near the Nolan Batman films, while still remaining firmly grounded in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Even if some parts feel very episodic throughout the series, the continuing narrative and evolution of the characters from start to finish only show that Marvel doesn’t constantly need to be light hearted and full of jokes to also be fun. The word ‘gritty’ doesn’t apply here, Daredevil is the most human of the Marvel cinematic products and sets a bar for it’s fellow shows that we can only hope they live up to, if not surpass entirely. This is Marvel’s Daredevil, in the end, it truly belongs to all of us as we welcome him with open arms into the stable full of metal suits, magical hammers, and war relics who continue to save their world.
The Detailed Analysis (still kinda spoiler free)
Marvel’s Daredevil was always going to be a risk. Starting in the Trial of the Incredible Hulk TV movie, and from the bad taste left in the 2003 version starring Ben Affleck, our experience with Matt Murdock and his alter ego have always left something to be desired. Now that we’re here, less than a week since the show has been released on Netflix, we’re starting to see that Marvel isn’t a one trick pony, but an entity that knows its characters and the visual medium inside and out.
To start, lets talk about casting choices. Charlie Cox (Stardust) was kind of an unknown actor prior to his turn as the masked vigilante and from this, ironically, he will become something people desire to see more of. Had we received an older, more experienced Matt Murdock, we wouldn’t have been able to see the young, brash, cocksure lawyer side of the character. Even throughout his nights as the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen, Cox easily convinced me that he is a turmoiled man who struggles with these battles of street justice. Also, I would like to applaud his turn as a blind person. It wasn’t quite as derpy or noticeable as the Affleck version we were subjected to over a decade ago. It didn’t feel like a parody of the vision impaired.
Foggy Nelson and Karen Page really stepped up their game in this series as well. From Elden Henson (a bash brother from Might Ducks, btw) and Deborah Ann Woll (True Blood), they weren’t ancillary characters who interacted with Matt to give him a sense of friendship, but true characters to the Daredevil series itself. There were times we don’t even see the titular character, but strong performances by Henson and Woll really sold the show as being more than just about Daredevil’s rise to defender.
Wilson Fisk and his entourage were equally as developed and fascinating. With Vicent D’Onofrio being the Kingpin (although never referred to by that name), you could feel his size and eventual brutality in the character. His calm, collected rituals help build up what was once a troubled boy into a troublesome man. Hell, I thoroughly enjoyed every second Wesley was on screen, as he was a fun character to watch and unpredictable at best. And Vanessa, her journey as well felt natural and perfect, even though you felt at any minute she could be disposed of without notice.
Marvel’s version of Daredevil doesn’t waste time with a long exposited backstory of how the masked man came to exist, but gets right into it. A blinded youth who was saving an elderly man sets the stage for the next 13 hours. If you want more history of the character, it arrives over the season precisely when it means to. Letting us know the fate of Battlin’ Jack Murdock and the college years of Nelson and Murdock, avocados at law. We learn the stories of characters as they intertwine and get a rich history that serves as the baseline of Daredevil’s story.
However, at times, the series felt more episodic and wasteful of the great resources at hand. The early introduction of Claire Temple, the night nurse, soon gave way to her removed from the series, only returning much later for a few minutes. Even the episode which tells us how Matt came about to his fighting style and senses used Stick up in that short time span and then threw him away (possibly returning in the Iron Fist series). It was a shame to see some characters come and go quickly, as every death in the show made you want to follow more of their story.
From these minor flaws, the story of Daredevil and the Kingpin parallel each other beyond anything I imagined for either character. They start off relatively obscure, only whispers in the night, then through the introduction of love interests, start to lose everything around them, all under the claim of a betterment for Hell’s Kitchen. Everyone around them is slowly removed from the picture or alienated along the journey. This all culminates in a battle of good and evil, as both men are brought into the spotlight for various reasons. However, it is Daredevil’s ability to do what is good in the right way which makes him a character to root for, although at times you wish the malicious Fisk caught a break or two.
Visually, this series is beautiful and hypnotic and downright a treat to watch. From the fluorescent greens and blues, to the contrasting neon red lights that bathe the city and characters, there are times the cinematic quality of this show shines through, transcending it beyond anything on television. At times, Matt’s glasses look as if they were taken from the images of a comic book and placed on his face. Even the brief glimpse of Daredevil’s mental view is memorable and unique at the same time. You experience this show as you watch it.
Something to be mentioned is the humanity of Daredevil. He gets winded, his punches don’t knock people out in one go, and he gets hurts. A lot. We’ve grown so accustomed to our characters getting ‘hurt’ but not really, that we don’t see those consequences throughout the movies or shows, but in Daredevil, Marvel has really focused on how human and mortal he is. Watch the fight scene at the end of the second episode, you’ll know when and why.
In the end, the journey is exciting from the start to the finish. Two things I feel that could have served the show better is ending before the initial steam was lost, which happens about 9 hours into the show, and giving us the history of Wilson Fisk in between his childhood and then apparent rise to criminal overlord. In season 2, I’m sure Marvel will fix these minor missteps that occurred, but even with them, Daredevil is a much stronger start to the Defenders series than we could have ever imagined.