Netflix is in it to win it.
When they announced that they would be making several Marvel inspired series, I was a little skeptical. As much as I truly love all of the big-screen Marvel adaptions – I’m am freaking out that I’ll be away when Avengers: Age of Ultron opens – I wasn’t as convinced that these stories would work on the small screen. That’s mostly because of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which I suffered through most of the first season and bailed. It may have gotten better, but during the tenure that I watched the show it was just really boring and the leads felt like they were made out of cardboard. Agent Carter did a lot to turn my thoughts around, but that also dealt with a more tertiary character in the Marvel universe. Taking on Daredevil, Netflix was potentially courting disaster, especially since the 2003film adaptation is widely reviled as a truly awful installment in Marvel’s mostly stellar collection. If they couldn’t get the story and characters right in a multi-million dollar movie, how was Netflix going to be able to pull this off? It was a bold choice to take on a franchise where the fan base already had been burned once.
Honestly, I don’t know how they did do it, but Netflix’s Daredevil is simply fantastic. It’s really, really good and I had to make myself ration the episodes so I wouldn’t burn through them all in one weekend. Daredevil was a show that I wanted to enjoy and take my time with; usually a blaze through a series by binge-watching it, but I knew that as soon as I finished Daredevil I would miss it and I wanted to postpone that feeling as long as possible. I’m not usually so self-controlled with my pop culture consumption, so this gives you a good idea of just how much I enjoyed this series.
For the uninitiated, Daredevil (Boardwalk Empire’s Charlie Cox) is blind lawyer Matt Murdock by day and a masked vigilante by night. He patrols Hell’s Kitchen, where he and his best friend/law partner Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) grew up. A new criminal network is taking root, led by philanthropist/businessman Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) and both Daredevil and Matt Murdock are trying to unravel the conspiracy. As a civilian, Matt is aided by Foggy and their firm’s admin Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), who have no idea of Matt’s dual identity. As Daredevil, he receives help from Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), a nurse who patches Daredevil up when needed.
What I particularly liked about the Daredevil series is how dark and gritty it is. Freed from network constraints, the show can explore these darker corners and has fewer limitation on the violence it shows. The end result is a noir-like Daredevil that most definitely isn’t for kids; this is an adult show that takes place in an adult world, which I am more than happy about. It’s nice to see that in the right vehicle, Disney does not shy away from dark and disturbed. I don’t think Daredevil is necessarily gratuitous in its use of violence, but it is a much more realistic version of what it looks like when people throw down in a no holds barred street fight. Daredevil also realizes that crime lords are not necessarily nice people and are probably going to treat others accordingly. The result is some fantastic fight scenes that have real consequences; I’d argue that Daredevil gets away with more than your average PG-13 movie could. It also helps that the series is beautifully shot – this fight scene in the second episode was the moment that I realized just how great Daredevil was going to be:
There is, however, more to Daredevil than just elaborate and violent fight scenes. This is a show that also takes its time fleshing out its characters and giving them dimensions and depth. It helps that the series is stacked with solid actors that bring a lot to each of their individual roles. Charlie Cox plays Matt Murdock’s guilt and anger really well and creates a hero that it is easy to root for. The series takes its time delving into his backstory and explaining how a bling man is capable of such incredible feats, which I think is wise. Foggy provides some comic relief, but is more than just an one-note character; he and Matt have such a great relationship that when they are at odds, it is actually a little difficult to watch since it’s like a real friendship falling apart. Even the minor characters feel fully developed and are easy to become attached to.
I have to give special kudos to Vincent D’Onofrio and his portrayal of the villain known as Kingpin. D’Onofrio makes many interesting choices with the character and fuses Kingpin with unusual idiosyncrasies that he is instantly a memorable character. Wilson Fisk may not seem like an obvious crime lord when you first meet him, but that’s kind of what makes him so scary. He has no special powers, other than the rage that he can unleash at a moment’s notice. His backstory actually makes you feel a little sorry for the guy, other than the fact that he’s a vicious killer that will do anything to get what he wants. It’s a fascinating performance and it is so grounded and real that it may be one of my favorite Marvel villains of all time – big screen and elsewhere. You just can’t take your eyes off D’Onofrio whenever he’s on screen.
I also enjoy the show’s deliberate pacing; it’s not in any rush to answer all of the questions right away and I appreciated their judicious way of unraveling everyone’s story. Daredevil doesn’t even get christened “Daredevil” until the end of the first season and his trademark suit also doesn’t make an immediate appearance. They let the various tensions build in the series without making it boring; there’s usually one spectacular fight per episode, even while the overarching story is being doled out in a measured way. There are a lot of levels to the conspiracy that Matt and company are investigating, so there is no need to burn through material to make it interesting. It made it very hard to restrain myself with my viewing, since as every episode ended I was dying to see what would happen next.
Some other thoughts:
- I always have to give a shout out when a Wire alumni turns up; Domenick Lombardozzi (Herc) plays Kingpin’s father in a flashback.
- Daredevil takes places within the existing Marvel Universe; one of the reasons that crime lord are raising to power is from all the damage done to the City from the battle that took place at the end of the Avengers. Apparently superheroes do not subscribe to the “you break it, you buy it” philosophy for urban renewal and repair.
- I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Hell’s Kitchen (it’s where both The Daily Show and The Colbert Report studios are) and while there are certainly some areas that are a little sketchier than others, it is much more built up and gentrified than the Hell’s Kitchen depicted in the series. One of the locations that they give for a warehouse hideout is actually the location of Gotham West Market, where I had lunch last time I was in the area. There are far more Lexus dealerships and cool restaurants in the area than Daredevil would lead you to believe. It’s not all thugs and dive bars (no disrespect to dive bars).
- The one thing Daredevil absolutely gets right – the need for there to be a subway line that runs in Hell’s Kitchen. #preach
- The first few episodes I kept waiting for Deborah Ann Woll’s Karen to go full vampire, which says more about my inability to get over actor’s previous roles than any of her choices.
- Full disclosure – I actually didn’t hate the Daredevil film. I actually own it, though I’ve never watched it. I think I’m just too much of an Affleck apologist to see that movie clearly. I don’t remember thinking it was great, but I don’t hold it in the same contempt as most people. I didn’t hate the Hulk movies either, so I’m a real outlier.
With Daredevil, Netflix has further proven to be a major mover and shaker in the world of original content. There are now more series that I watch on Netflix (Daredevil, House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) than I do on CBS, ABC, NBC or Fox. I haven’t stopped thinking about Daredevil since I finished it and there’s a very high likelihood that I’ll go back and watch the entire series again. That’s just how much I enjoyed it. Great cast, awesome choreography of fight sequences and an interesting story line make this a series that was tremendously enjoyable for me. It’s been a while since I’ve been so excited about a new program and this gives me a lot of faith in the remaining Marvel adaptations that Netflix has up its sleeve. Daredevil was executed better than my wildest dreams and I think that those who loathed the Daredevil movie will be happy to see the character resurrected and reclaimed in this program. Just really good stuff.
Daredevil is currently streaming on Netflix.