After their bold and successful tactics in the realm of movies, Marvel has now eyed the domain of television, a place where comic book creations of nemesis DC have always ruled the live action side of things through shows like Arrow, The Flash, Gotham and, before that, Smallville. In order to succeed Marvel Television’s effort Daredevil, the first of quite a few shows Marvel has lined up with Netflix, does not only have to be passable or decent; no, it has to be good to really make Marvel a relevant player outside of the Summer blockbusters and Saturday morning cartoons they’ve already proven themselves with. It’s a risky venture: Marvel has never done anything like it, and the name “Daredevil” still makes many superhero, comic and movie fans queezy because it reminds them of the not-so-good 2003 movie. But, maybe unsurprisingly, Marvel Television and Netflix’s Daredevil doesn’t only prove to be a solid start for their TV endeavors, it’s also a fresh and thrilling fresh start for one of Marvel’s most interesting characters.
Right from the word go it’s apparent that Daredevil, ran by showrunner Steven S. DeKnight and created by TV vet Drew Goddard, isn’t as lighthearted as Marvel Studios’ movies. While the show opens with very familiar origin of our hero’s extraordinary powers, there’s a grit and toughness to it that immediately makes it stand out from what we’ve come to know Marvel for. Daredevil‘s universe is grimy, violent and a lot bleaker than the MCU has ever been in the movies. This is established quite elegantly too: while the show is set in the same universe as The Avengers, there’s only a couple of brief mentions of superheroes, and The Avengers‘ Chitauri attack on New York City is simply referred to as “The Incident”, a monicker that’s both practical in acknowledging the fact it has happened, while simultaneously distancing this series from the adventures of a man out of time, a Norse god, a billionaire in a mechanized suit and a big green rage monster. Daredevil isn’t interested in such matters: it’s a superhero show, but just barely – it’s far more invested in developing its characters, their milieu and moral quandaries that pertain to the law, vigilantism and faith.
Boardwalk Empire‘s Charlie Cox leads an impressive ensemble cast and portrays Matthew Murdock, lawyer by day and clad-in-black hero by night. As a young boy Matt rescued a man and, he himself, got doused with chemicals, resulting in the loss of sight but incredible mastery over his other senses. Coupled with an unusual upbringing the show gradually sheds light on, this set Murdock on a path to become a man very much preoccupied with justice and the various means to achieve it. While Cox is charming when he needs to be, and he easily finds the warmth and humor in his character, most of all he is thrilling to watch as he wrestles with his inner demons and his desire to make “his city” a better place. Cox effectively emotes through the use of timbre and body language, a necessity because he’s either wearing opaque glasses or donning ninja-like attire. The conversations Cox’s Matt Murdock has with Peter McRobbie’s priest or Rosario Dawson’s character Claire are among the series’ best moments, masterfully crafted and acted out. Equally impressive is Vincent D’Onofrio: he plays Daredevil’s adversary Wilson Fisk, a man who also wants a brighter future for his city, but via entirely different means. D’Onofrio is mesmerizing while he’s on screen: a giant of a man who exudes both danger and a boyish quality, and talks like he measures every word, struggling to keep his inner rage from spilling out. But, much like Cox, D’Onofrio also gets a lot of chances to show a vulnerable side to his character, especially apparent in his scenes with love interest Vanessa, played by Man Of Steel‘s Ayelet Zurer, and his assistant James Wesley, a stand-out performance by John Wick‘s Toby Leonard Moore.
It’s impressive and worth noting that Marvel Television has crafted a show that’s character-driven above else, a series that takes its time to develop its heroes and villains to perhaps show you lines can’t be as clearly drawn. It’s a testament to the show’s writing and direction that, usually, the conversations and interactions that take place are as memorable and thrilling as the beautifully choreographed and brutal fights, maybe even more so. When Murdock or Fisk are involved, that is: Daredevil comes off as unfocused at times and there are quite a few very drawn-out and soapy proceedings regarding Matt’s partner Foggy and their assistant Karen, portrayed by Elden Hanson and True Blood‘s Deborah Ann Woll respectively. Daredevil‘s other big flaw is that the show’s action climaxes way too early. The most impressive fights take place in the first two episodes of the show, and after that you’re just waiting for the show’s action to get back up to that level. Unfortunately that never happens. That’s not to say the action later on is bad; it’s just a lot more meat-and-potatoes fisticuffs than the exquisite fight scene from episode 2, in which Murdock’s masked vigilante fights off waves of attackers in a corridor. It’s beautifully shot, a single take, and the fight itself is absolutely hardcore: both Matt and his attackers take a lot of punishment and get exhausted as the fight goes on, but Matthew pushes through. It’s a scene both enthralling to watch as an action sequence, as it is to watch it as something that informs the show’s titular character and truly shows what he’s made of.
A couple of missteps aside, Daredevil is a solid superhero show that boasts fine performances, a lot of great writing and some brutal action. It’s unfortunate the show spins its wheels here and there, but this flaw never outweighs the characters and tension it builds up over the course of its 13 episodes. While definitely not perfect, Marvel Television and Netflix’s first collaboration has certainly paid off. 8/10