This review covers the first four episodes of Netflix’s new, original series Daredevil.
As the first of four shows in the Netflix and Marvel partnership, Daredevil has a lot of pressure riding on its shoulders. Not only does it have to wash the taste of 2003 film out of audience’s mouths,* it is also needs to succeed without the grandeur of Marvel’s other properties while tying itself in to the ever-expanding shared universe. Thankfully, the series succeeds by embracing the grounded, street level heroism that defines its character, which allows viewers to enjoy it as an urban crime drama just as much as they do for its super heroics.
Set in aftermath of The Avengers, Daredevil concerns itself with the consequences and cleanup the man-on-the street confronts when Gods, super soldiers, Hulks and aliens level entire city blocks in their efforts to either save or destroy the world. One of the roughest sections of New York City, known as “Hell’s Kitchen,” was hit hard, and as it tries to rebuild, corporate construction interests have set their sites on reshaping the area to benefit the one percenters at the expense of the down and outers that make up the area. It’s this street level view that makes up the most compelling aspect of Daredevil. While the Marvel films have raked in a fortune by providing audiences with a sense of grandeur and light heartedness that had gone missing from superhero films for far too long. Daredevil strips the sense of the fantastic away and operates much more on the ground level. In doing so, it becomes the first of its kind to examine how these epic battles effect those struggling to eke out an existence. At one point a corrupt executive reminds a congregation of white collar villains that every time one of the super humans punch another through a wall “our margins go up by three percent.” With a focus on crime syndicates and bureaucratic corruption, Daredevil shares more in common with The Wire than Iron Man.
At the center of Daredevil is Charlie Cox as Matt Murdoch, the blind lawyer whose heightened senses and years of training have him taking on the role of vigilante trying to clean up the streets of Hell’s Kitchen. Cox plays Murdoch as an lower-on-the-income bracket Bruce Wayne, a man whose charm and clearheadedness mask the rage bubbling just underneath his skin. Both the show and Cox’s take on the character owe a heavy debt to Frank Miller’s historic run on the comic book in the early 80s. Cox brings an edge to Murdoch that can’t be found anywhere else in the MCU. The series wisely sidesteps the standard origin story by setting itself at the start of Daredevil’s career, while providing brief flashbacks to the events that led him to donning the mask. The series kicks off with “Battlin'” Jack Murdoch (John Patrick Hayden), a midcard pugilist who can take a punch as good as he can give it, cradling Matt in his arms after a toxic chemical spill blinds the boy. This moment and the one’s that follow demonstrate the bond between the father and son and shine a spotlight on the lessons of toughness, honor and responsibility the elder passed down to Matt.
Part of the beauty of having Daredevil spread out of 13 fifty minute episodes rather than a two hour film is it allows the show to flesh out a stellar supporting cast. True Blood‘s Deborah Ann Woll brings toughness, smarts and resourcefulness to her role as Karen Page. Murdoch and Page meet the woman after she’s framed for the murder of a coworker and Murdoch takes her case. Page is about to blow the cover on a billion dollar pension scheme run by her employers and its only through luck and cleverness that she manages to avoid being killed in the pilot. Rosario Dawson turns up as Clare, a nurse living in Hell’s Kitchen who patches Murdoch’s broken bones and bruises after his brawls. Elden Henson brings a bit too much of a dudebro persona to his role of Foggy Nelson, Murdoch’s partner and best friend, but Vincent D’Onofrio is a revelation as the shadowy antagonist WilsonFisk, aka The Kingpin. Sticking mostly to the shadows for the first few episodes, D’Onofrio plays the part with a blend of delicate sensitivity and intense rage. Fisk speaks in a raspy whisper that forces you to listen in order to hear him, and it’s not until one of his underlings anger him by threatening to expose his operation that the anger just under his surface come exploding out in brutal, precise fashion.
Speaking of brutality, Daredevil contains some of the best fight choreography this side of The Raid. Most of the fighting takes place in close quarters and consists of hard strikes, punches and sweeping kicks with an eye towards disabling one’s opponent by as efficient means possible. The second episode, Cut Man, climaxes with an extended single take shot where Daredevil has to taken on six baddies at once, and it’s every bit as breathtaking a bit of fighting that one would see on a massive scale cinematic production.
Any fears that a movie to the small screen of Netflix would hamper the high standards of the MCU fans have come to expect should be set at ease by the end of the first episode. Daredevil is an addicting show, one that manages to blend crisp action with high stakes drama. Those looking for the next, great binge watching experience should look no further than this show.