A Marvel’s Daredevil, Season 1 Review – Street-Level Grit and Superhero Tropes

Daredevil-Character-Poster-Matt-MurdockTITLE: Marvel’s Daredevil, Season 1
STARRING: Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson, Vincent D’Onofrio, Toby Leonard Moore
CREATOR: Drew Goddard
RATING:
TV-MA
NETWORK: Netflix
SERIES PREMIERE DATE: April 10, 2015

By Levi Sweeney
Staff Writer, Grand X

I was beyond excited when I the trailers for Marvel’s Daredevil first came out. Subsequently, I was beyond awed at just how immensely intelligent and incredibly produced this series is. I plowed through all 13 episodes in three days. It was better than I could ever have imagined.

Marvel has delivered what is quite possibly their best executed, best made superhero property since Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Of course, it may not be entirely fair to compare the two, since Daredevil is an experimental internet television series and Winter Soldier is the second big screen solo outing of an established superhero. However, they share one common trait: They both raised the bar for not just Marvel movies, but superhero movies everywhere. But only Daredevil broke entirely new ground for what can be accomplished in internet-based entertainment.

Marvel's Daredevil, Matt Murdock, Charlie CoxMarvel’s Daredevil follows Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), a lawyer blinded as a child but blessed with enhanced senses which allow him to “see” better than a normal person. By day, he works with his law partner Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) and his secretary and former client Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll). By night, however, he patrols the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, fighting bad guys and saving innocents. And by “fighting,” I mean beating the bloody tar out of anyone he sees doing dirty deeds. But he slowly begins to come across loose pieces of evidence, things that don’t add up. Someone’s trying to unite all of the rival crime outfits under one banner. And that someone has a name.

(Here’s a hint: He’s played by Vincent D’Onofrio.)

I’ve heard this series called everything from “Batman Begins meets The Wire” to “dark and gritty done right.” It’s both, actually. But it’s also so much more. Daredevil explores a corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe we haven’t seen since 2008’s The Incredible Hulk: The grimy, broken down corner where the less-than-glamorous people make their home, where no amount of superhero bling and bang will change the real problems. Of course, this translates to a TV show about a blind ninja fighting a fat mobster whose big secret plan basically amounts to an evil gentrification scheme.

Marvel's Daredevil, Netflix, black costumeBut like Batman Begins before it, victory is in the execution. Unlike Batman Begins, however, Daredevil knows when to be smart and when to be comic-bookish. Probably the most comic-bookish sequence in the entire series is when Matt fights somebody who’s dressed in red-and-black ninja garb. It’s awesome. Then again, the sheer amount of blood and gore on this show probably offsets it quite a bit. But there’s a lot more to this show than any of that.

What makes Daredevil unique boils down to two things: The first is that it addresses real world problems in an intelligent and thought provoking way. Take Wilson Fisk’s evil gentrification plan, for example. In the real world, many reformers are concerned about the possibility of gentrification displacing poor people. While this fear may or may not be misplaced, I’ll grant you this series was intelligent and bold enough to take such a prickly issue and make it the focal point of the plot, and to great success. As a result, Daredevil has been catapulted into the upper echelons of TV entertainment.

Marvel's Daredevil, Netflix, fightThe second key to the series’ uniqueness is how it explores common superhero tropes and plot lines. How did Matt procure his costume? How does he function with all the injuries he sustains while fighting bad guys? What moral justification does Matt, a lawyer sworn to abide by the law, have to engage in violent vigilante justice? As Matt’s priest, Father Lantom (eagle-eyed comic book readers will recognize the character from Brian K. Vaughan’s The Runaways) says, “Another man’s evil does not make you good.” This last issue is brought to the forefront most excellently in the episode “Nelson vs. Murdock,” a particularly enjoyable installment. The show doesn’t always bother to answer the deep questions it raises, but like BBC’s Sherlock, it stands out as one of those rare TV shows that forces you to think.

Wilson Fisk, while never actually called “The Kingpin” as he is in the comics, is more than a match for our hero. Vincent D’Onofrio gives us a definitive version of Wilson Fisk. Depicted as a psychopathic murderer and cunning gangster with the mind of a child, D’Onofrio portrays a very human Fisk. Fisk here is a man who, like Matt, is haunted by a traumatic childhood. When Fisk and Matt collide, it only gets better. Fisk’s lady love, Vanessa, is a classy, wise woman who plays a pivotal role in shaping his development in the second half of the series. (Incidentally, Vanessa is played by Ayelet Zurer, who also portrayed Lara Lor-Van, Superman’s mom, in Man of Steel.)

Marvel's Daredevil, Netflix, Wilson Fisk, Vincent D'OnofrioD’Onofrio may be the definite stand out, but the rest of the cast also know how to pull their weight. Cox brings a strong degree of realism and emotion to his portrayal of Matt Murdock, making us wonder if he’s fighting for good for goodness sake, or because it’s how he gets his kicks. Charlie Cox even worked with actual blind people in order to learn tics and habits characteristic of the blind. Elden Henson is a great Foggy Nelson. He provides good comic relief, but also has an excellent capacity for a wide range of emotions. He’ll go down in the history books with Carlos Valdes’ Cisco from The Flash and Kat Dennings’ Darcy from the Thor movies as one of the great comic relief characters in superhero cinema. And what appraisal of acting talent would be complete without mentioning Vondie Curtis-Hall as Ben Urich and Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple? Both are exceptionally acted, interesting, and well-written characters. I can’t wait to see Dawson again when she comes back to reprise her role for the Luke Cage series.

This show is also great from a purely technical sense. The lighting on this show is beautiful. I mean, look at it! Most of it comes from street lamps, car headlights, police sirens, etc., enhancing the show’s gritty, street-level feel. The sheer innovation behind such effects is staggering. And then there’s the production design. Not a single set in this show looks cheap or reused, even the sets that are used repeatedly. Every time an old set reappears on the screen, I feel like I’m seeing something new in it. The look of the show matches the tone of the story, and that’s an element that works wonders when pulled off right.

Netflix's Daredevil, Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann WollThe only thing that really bugged me about this show is Karen Page. She’s portrayed as a bit more than your average damsel-in-distress. She’s knows her way around a gun, and gets a chance to kick some butt. But she really didn’t hit home for me as a character. She’s not superfluous or anything. She’s important to the plot and gets a lot done with Ben Urich, but I just have difficultly connecting with her as a character. I don’t immediately like Karen Page the way I like Matt or Foggy or Claire. I just don’t get Karen.

Two final things I’d like to highlight are the action sequences and the show’s portrayal of organized crime. Much praise has been heaped upon Daredevil’s realistic yet cool-looking fight scenes. The fight scenes here are choreographed very differently than from what you might find in Winter Soldier or The Avengers. The TV-MA-earning blood and gore aside, the fights scenes here have Matt and his enemies stopping to get back up off the ground and take on the other guy before he’s finished recovering from the last brutal attack. Matt takes more punishment than he dishes out half the time. But man, does he know how to fight! These scenes are structured in a way that casts the combatants as breakable humans, not titanic, superhuman bulldozers.

Marvel's Daredevl, Netflix, costumeBeing a crime buff, I loved the way they portrayed the organized crime entities in this show. They even give us a decent explanation of why the traditional Italian mob is nowhere to be seen. You’ve got the Russians, there’s the Yakuza, and the local chapter of the Chinese Triads. We also see a couple of characters pulled right from the comics: Leland Owlsley (Bob Gunton), a money launderer, and Turk Barrett (Rob Morgan), a two-bit thug with lousy luck. They’re all portrayed fairly accurately, with the foreigners speaking in their native tongues when English-speakers are not present, and each having their own individual quirks. They all have their respective motivations and agendas independent of Fisk. They’re all testaments to the show’s devotion to good characterization.

On the whole, Marvel’s Daredevil is an amazing show. It has great acting, great writing, great everything. I was psyched to hear that it has been renewed for a second season, to be released in 2016. I look forward to re-watching the first season and absorbing all the threads and grooves that made it so enjoyable the first time. Mind you though, this is definitely TV-MA. Make sure the kids don’t find this on your Netflix account. Save it for later. Much later. Trust me, they’ll love you for that when the time comes, because this series is otherwise incredible.

RATING: 10/10

Image 5 from nypost.com. All other images from rottentomatoes.com.

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One thought on “A Marvel’s Daredevil, Season 1 Review – Street-Level Grit and Superhero Tropes

  1. Pingback: A Review of The Flash, Season 1 – Don’t Be Afraid to Smile | Primary Ignition

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