DAREDEVIL Season One Review
When Christopher Nolan released Batman Begins he changed the game. Gone were the days of brightly coloured heroes and anything resembling a sense of humour. It was the time of “Reality”. I put that word in quotes there because those films were in no way realistic, they were just darker. This approach worked for Nolan (The Dark Knight is great) but didn’t work as well with the rest of the genre (looking at you Man of Steel). Then Marvel Studios came along and brought back the colours and the costumes and the fun. From then on there has been the DC way of doing things (Influenced by Nolan’s Bat trilogy) and Marvel’s way of doing things. And never the twain shall meet.
The first season of Daredevil feels like Marvel’s attempt at merging the two styles to create something a little edgier than their usual house style, but not so different that it doesn’t belong. For the most part Marvel has succeeded.
For those that don’t know, when Matt Murdock was a child he was hit by a truck that was carrying a strange radioactive chemical. The chemical got into Matt’s eyes and robbed him of his sight. But it also heightened his other senses to a superhuman degree. As an adult he makes use of these powers in a number of interesting ways to fight crime as the masked superhero Daredevil. The show has this same origin but strangely downplays Matt’s abilities. Other than being able to hear heartbeats we don’t really get a sense of what Daredevil’s powers allow him to do, which is a shame as his powers are among the most interesting in all of comics. The show doesn’t even mention his radar sense, instead opting to give him a weird sort of semi-sight that seems in no way useful.
This is indicative of the way the show operates throughout. It downplays Matt’s powers to the point where most of the time he seems to be nothing more than a dude that can take a beating. Daredevil’s costume doesn’t appear until the end (although to be fair, his black pirate-esque costume looks much better in motion than it did in the publicity stills), and the hero and villain names are either never used at all (Kingpin) or laughed at when first coined. This all feels like it’s a little embarrassed of the source material. Much like DC’s Arrow did back in the early days. You may roll your eyes at how the villains get named in The Flash but at least it’s their actual names and not just The Man in the Mask, which is what Daredevil is called throughout.
But those are mainly surface level details. When it comes down to the characters themselves and the world in which they live, the tone is spot on. It is serious enough to give the street level crime that Daredevil deals with weight but heightened enough that it won’t feel out of place when the costumed villains inevitably come calling. Charlie Cox is great as Matt Murdock. He’s intelligent, cool, constantly struggling with his inner devils, and charming without being a cocky wise-cracker. As Matt he convinces as an excellent lawyer and a guilt ridden practicing catholic, and as Daredevil he convinces as a hero with purpose, willing to put his body through hell to save his city and his soul. But the real revelation is Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk.
Like most people I figured we’d see the Kingpin of crime busting heads and taking names. And we do. But there is so much more to this version of the character that I didn’t expect. He is a large, imposing figure, but a soft spoken awkward man. Much of his screen time focuses on him trying to woo an attractive art dealer. This is a stroke of genius as it allows us to see past the bullish, ruthless crime boss he presents himself as, to find the introverted, wistfully romantic and fiercely loyal man he is in private. Fisk is both sympathetic and terrifying. He’s the show’s most compelling character, thanks to both the writing and D’Onofrio’s unusual performance and strange, mannered delivery.
The rest of the supporting cast don’t fare as well. Foggy Nelson is the other half of Matt Murdock’s law firm: Nelson and Murdock. Matt has always been a ladies man and in the comics has gone from hottie to hottie, but it is Foggy who has been his rock. He is his best friend, his business partner, and his conscience when Matt veers too close to the dark side (which is often). In the show Foggy is more of a hanger on, riding on Matt’s coattails. He’s not the heart, but the (too broad) comic relief. He’s not awful but is probably the weakest link in the show. It doesn’t help that most of what he is given to do is inconsequential. Karen Page is the secretary (and first client) at Nelson and Murdock and has a bit more of an arc. She is cast as the victim a bit too much but overall she is a warm presence that rounds out the central threesome nicely. Although given the amount of space the season gives them I would have hoped for both characters to be better realised and developed by the end.
This is above all an action show and on this front the show delivers. Many of the fights are top notch, the most notable being an extended fight in a hallway that is very reminiscent of the excellent brawl from Oldboy. The fight is long and brutal (the show is surprisingly violent and not really appropriate viewing for young children) and really sells the punishment Matt is putting himself through to help the people of Hell’s Kitchen. Occasionally some of the choreography appears a little weightless which robs some of the action of impact but for the most part it’s on point.
Matt Murdock doesn’t only fight in the streets, but often takes the battle into the courtroom. These scenes (of which there were too few in my opinion) are just as enthralling as the fistfights. One of my favourite things about Matt as a character (Daredevil is actually my favourite superhero which might be why I’m being a little harsher on this show than most) is the way both his secret identity and his alter-ego fight crime and the ways in which those methods overlap and contradict. There is a scene where Matt gives his closing argument to a jury when he is defending a clearly guilty client and his monologue is filled with subtle double meanings. Charlie Cox absolutely kills it in that scene.
Overall Marvel and Netflix’s first collaboration is a success. It’s got an interesting layered central character and a villain who sits alongside Loki as the best in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Hopefully the second season is plotted a little tighter as this one lags a bit in the third quarter, and is a little looser with its comic book elements. Get some costumes in there. Bring on Bullseye.
Daredevil manages to walk up to the Nolan style without ever falling completely in. It’s a little darker than Marvel’s usual fare, but then Murdock always was closer to the edge than most of the heroes. The show has created a part of the MCU that feels uniquely its own but not so far away that it would fall apart if Iron Man flew overhead.