Marvel is just on a roll lately. The movies are unstoppable, both Agent Carter and Agents of SHIELD were successes this year, and now Daredevil marks their first foray into Netflix-exclusive television shows. This is the first of five that are planned for the next few years so there’s a lot riding on this initial show’s success.
The gist. We open the show by meeting Matthew Murdock (Charlie Cox), a blind lawyer who is working to better the New York neighborhood called Hell’s Kitchen. He has a friend and partner named Foggy (Elden Henson), though they’ve yet to really get any clients for their new law firm. What no one knows is that when Murdock was blinded as a child, he was also given an incredible ability to see the world through his other senses, such as hearing and smell. He uses these skills to help protect Hell’s Kitchen by night, donning a black suit and acting as a vigilante. When the show begins, a new power is starting to take over Hell’s Kitchen, a powerful and rich man by the name of Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio). Both Fisk and Murdock want to make the city better but they have polar opposite ways to do that. Throughout the series, we also get to know a nurse who helps patch Murdock up after some scuffles (Rosario Dawson) and a client of theirs who becomes invested in helping them to clean up the city (Karen Page).
You don’t need to know anything about the previous Marvel shows or movies to enjoy this, as it’s completely standalone.
There are 13 episodes, all streaming now on Netflix.
Right off the bat, you’ll notice a darker tone than anything Marvel has done so far. It’s rated MA, so there’s plenty of violence and profanity, adding to the gritty realism of New York. This works though because Murdock is much more of a physical hero. In The Avengers, they all punch someone and that person falls down. There’s not a sense of danger or impact. Here, Murdock has to beat someone for minutes to keep them down. And he gets beaten pretty severely as well. Only with an MA rating would they be able to really capture Daredevil’s ability to get beaten and still get up. It’s his determination and persistence that makes him such a powerful hero.
With that, this show relies on hand-to-hand combat (or occasional staffs/sticks/etc) and it’s amazing. The choreography is impressive, even if you assumed that Murdock was able to see. They managed to create incredible fight scenes but also weave in moments where Murdock had to utilize his extrasensory perception to outwit his opponent. I appreciate a few scenes that most notably had really long cuts, so you can see the effort and care put in by the stunt actors and talent involved. The choreography is great and the mature rating allows us to see the true consequences of these battles, as Murdock is constantly getting more and more bruised and battered. If you have a hard time with physical violence, like people getting punched and beaten, this might be a difficult show for you at times.
Now all of this wouldn’t matter if the talent wasn’t able to pull off the quieter moments, the scenes that build up to these epic fights. Luckily, Charlie Cox is the next big thing to come out of Marvel, managing to embody Matthew Murdock in a way that makes him a complete badass and yet realistic and human. He is the perfect Daredevil, especially in the moments when he’s about to go off on some mission and you can see that he knows he may not make it back. Daredevil’s tagline in the comics is “the man without fear” and that comes across perfectly here.
But every good hero needs a good villain and they struck gold here with Vincent D’Onofrio. Wilson Fisk, or the Kingpin, is one of the most intimidating and imposing villains in the Marvel landscape. He is untouchable and virtually unstoppable. But instead of relying on brute force, the writers have expertly crafted a story that showcases his human side as well, with his story even including a romantic interest. It’s complicated, as you’ll see Fisk do something horrible, and then become a stuttering child while trying to impress a girl. He has definite vulnerabilities but he is terrifying when he doesn’t get what he wants. And D’Onofrio plays it perfectly. Fisk and Murdock only share a few scenes together but those moments are incredible and electrifying.
That leads to something this show really had going for it: tension. They knew exactly how to build up the conflict and what sort of payoff people wanted. You don’t even see Fisk until episode 3 or 4, so you have a few episodes of just murmurs. So when it builds to Fisk and Murdock actually in the same place at the same time, you won’t be able to take your eyes off the screen. At only 13 episodes, there’s not a lot of filler (there is some, though) and they manage to create a giant arc for most of our characters involved. This was the benefit of doing a television show as opposed to a movie. In a movie, a side character like Foggy wouldn’t get any sort of attention but might be relegated to comedic relief. Here, there are huge leaps and bounds for Foggy. I’m glad that the landscape of television now is able to capture series like this and that Marvel is smart enough to tap into it.
What doesn’t work?
Right now, I don’t have much. Daredevil is absolutely fantastic and might be one of the best things to come out of Marvel’s live-action entertainment division, movies included.
Whether you’re a fan of anything Marvel or not, Daredevil is worth your time. Even if you’ve never seen a comic book movie, this show will grab you and not let go. It has deep and complicated characters, brought to life by some incredible acting talent. The fight scenes are intense and visceral and had me literally on the edge of my seat. Daredevil is not only one of the best things Marvel has ever made, but might be a contender for one of Netflix’s best exclusive television shows as well. I can’t wait to see what’s next.