Netflix has grown by leaps and bounds in the last couple of years. It has gone from a streaming movie service to a hotbed of original programming with the likes of House of Cards, Orange is the New Black and it has given old shows such as Arrested Development a new lease on life.
Marvel Studios has been on a tear in the box office with their franchise of films including The Avengers (Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, The Hulk) and the Guardians of the Galaxy and on the TV airwaves with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter. What else could Marvel do at this point? Simple. Marvel has thrown their name in the hat of Netflix original programming.
Which brings me to Daredevil…I know what you’re thinking, that Ben Affleck fiasco? I’ve got some good news. This series does the character justice!
“Maybe if he had an iron suit or a magic hammer, that would explain why you keep getting your asses handed to you”
Daredevil is Marvel’s first foray into darker territory. Hell’s Kitchen is a different neighborhood than the rest of New York. There are no aliens that come out the sky and you won’t see Iron Man or Thor fly around. This is grounded, street-level storytelling. It’s so street-level that bones get broken, blood gets spilled, heads get lopped off.
The show gets off and running in the premiere episode briefly highlighting how Matt had gotten blind and was gifted with heightened senses, he can tell that you’re lying by your heartbeat. Frank Miller’s fingerprints are all over the story and it bleeds into the tone and it’s characters. The 1993 origin story “The Man Without Fear” is a primary influence right down to the pseudo-ninja getup. Visually, there’s a lot of use of shadows and harsh lighting and Matt’s powers are played up very smartly and it gave me a sense of subtlety without going overboard.
The cast is wonderful. Charlie Cox is fantastic as Matt/Daredevil. Thankfully, he doesn’t use a “Batman” voice (looking at you, Christian Bale!) in costume, that made me smile. He really captured the essence of the character. He’s upholding the law by day and more often than not he breaks it. There’s a lot of evil in Hell’s Kitchen, from thugs to drug operations to prostitution.
Sometimes, it’s best to stick with the devil you know.
Elden Henson is hilarious as Foggy, he adds levity to the proceedings (“best damn avocados at law”) Deborah Ann Woll (True Blood) brings a strong, yet enigmatic Karen Page. Rosario Dawson has a vital supporting role as Claire Temple (Night Nurse) who patches up Matt from time to time. Hell’s Kitchen can be rough out there.
The biggest standout is Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk, better known to fans as the Kingpin. Wow. I was blown away by his performance. If Daredevil is about the rise of Matt Murdock, this show is also an origin story for Kingpin. Vincent gives Fisk something that separates him from the likes of Loki and the Winter Soldier: nuance.
Wilson Fisk has quite the dichotomy. He’s a 12-year-old boy in an Armani suit. The real love story here is between him and an art dealer named Vanessa. We get to see a more vulnerable, relatable side to Fisk that avoids all the mob boss tropes. He, like Matt, tries to make his city a better place although his methods aren’t very noble. When you see him lose his temper. Be very afraid.
Another reason why it stands out is the fight sequences. Matt isn’t a billionaire, he isn’t a super-soldier or a demigod, He’s a human being pushed beyond his limits, he takes an ass-whooping but he can damn sure give one. Daredevil has a gripping, unpretentious physicality in it’s action sequences. It doesn’t try to outdo the spectacle which most films in the genre try to do. Music can only get so loud. Daredevil take it’s cues from The Raid, the Bourne trilogy and the Craig-era 007 films. The fight choreography is something to behold. Especially here…you may want to get a paper bag…Go ahead, I’ll wait 😉
Still breathing? Let’s move on…
It’s a stroke of genius that the show is on Netflix. It’s very liberating that the writers took the training wheels off and they can get away with a lot more than any network or film studio around.
However, it does lose a little bit of steam in the last few episodes, granted it gives the acting and narrative room to breathe. The pacing is brilliant, it’s essentially a thirteen-hour film and there’s a strong sense of cohesion between episodes which in turn allows the cast to grow throughout the season. There’s plenty of MCU easter eggs to make comic fans very, very happy. There are references to the films such as the Battle of New York but it’s done without veering into shameless pandering, there’s also the mandatory Stan Lee cameo (Look for it, it’s there). Sadly, there’s no post-credit scene to foreshadow any future events.
“There are no heroes. No villains…just people with different agendas.”
Daredevil is another home run from Marvel Studios. It’s a tale of two men with very different plans to help Hell’s Kitchen. If Iron Man and co. are about saving the world. DD is about saving a neighborhood. It’s in the rarefied air of the first Iron Man and Batman Begins in terms of origin stories. The first season has barely scratched the surface and I personally can’t wait to see where it goes next. I’ve seen this season twice and I’m still in love with it. Easily one of Marvel’s best adaptations right now. Bring on season 2!