Marvel’s Daredevil on Netflix is great!
Grimier and grittier than wet gravel beneath your shoe, this show is a barroom brawl in the back of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The series is a slow burn, building with every episode, adding familiar characters from the comic book in an original storyline for this Netflix series.
Veering from the traditional origin story route, the show dives right into the action, trusting the intelligence of the audience to carry through as information is revealed. Key flashbacks are sprinkled throughout providing background on the characters and emphasizing individual episode themes as the series establishes its formula: a “case of the week” connected to a larger overarching storyline, but it’s in the character work where the show truly shines.
The unspoken, yet most prominent character on the show, and the one that provides the strongest connective tissue to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is Hell’s Kitchen New York in the aftermath of the alien invasion that occurred in The Avengers movie. Hell’s Kitchen has been devastated by the attack, becoming a breeding ground for the criminal element which provides a dark underbelly for the MCU. This is an entirely new playground for the thus far largely shiny and bright MCU.
In addition to Charlie Cox’s Matt Murdock a.k.a. Daredevil, Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) and Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) are the first characters to show up from the comic book world, leaving Daredevil staples Ben Urich (Vondie Curtis Hall) and the villainous Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) to be revealed in later episodes. Even minor recurring characters like Turk Barrett and Josey of Josey’s Bar, make the leap from the comic page to the digital stream.
Karen is the catalyst for the events that unfold throughout the series with actress Deborah Ann Woll clearly buoyed by portraying a female character that is never presented as “fiercely independent firecracker” trope nor as a hapless damsel existing only to be rescued by the hero. Karen becomes a vital part of the dynamic of the Murdock & Nelson law firm as well as receiving a nice storyline and character arc of her own. Foggy Nelson is nicely presented as more than just the comedic foil for Murdock, he is a loyal friend, confidante, and formidable attorney in his own right. While the show skirts the edge of a Foggy/Karen romance, they never tread into the typical love triangle territory which is one of several healthy departures the show makes.
The greatest departure being in its portrayal of Wilson Fisk, the criminal mastermind behind the troubles plaguing the denizens of Hell’s Kitchen. Nuanced may not be a strong enough word to describe the richness Vincent D’Onofrio brings to his performance. Fisk’s story is not the expected story of a criminal cementing his place as the Kingpin of crime, it is a love story about a criminal who is undermined by love. Fisk’s love for Vanessa (Aylet Zurer)serves to create rifts with his criminal associates as he begins losing sight of his master plan. The master plan being largely an ambiguous attempt to gentrify Hell’s Kitchen by force … or something. That is the one element that is never really made clear. Perhaps during repeated viewing something will crystallize on this front.
Daredevil’s powers are laid out decently although without any particular visual flourish, which I believe is a missed opportunity. Nothing too elaborate or extreme was needed, however, for my taste a subtle nod to Daredevil’s special abilities would have been a nice touch. The bone crunching action scenes are repeated punches to the gut, providing the most visceral fights in the MCU since Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
What will stand out the most about the fight scenes is the pain. The excruciatingly brutal fights take their toll on Daredevil and the audience is privy to the recovery process that occurs after every battle. The show respects the audience, it never provides a quick fix. When Daredevil is sliced open or has his nose bloodied, he has to deal with the pain of the injuries, have them repaired, and rest. Even mid-fight Daedevil will slump against a wall or a dumpster in order to get a breather before diving back into battle. Thankfully, the lovely Rosario Dawson is on hand as Claire, a nurse with her own reasons for assisting the vigilante that is the devil of Hell’s Kitchen.
The series ramps up with episode by episode, allowing the layers of the story to unfold at a nice pace. The thirteen episode run helps keep things streamlined, however, there is somewhat of a lag around episodes nine through eleven as the show attempts to move all of the pieces into place for the grand finale – and it is truly a grand finale and worthy pay-off for all of the events leading into it.
Marvel’s Daredevil will be looked back upon as being as pivotal for Marvel characters on television as Iron Man was for Marvel characters on the big screen. This show has changed the game regarding what the super-hero genre is capable of on television.