55 min. per episode
“I just want to make my city a better place” is the constant refrain from lawyer turned masked vigilante Matt Murdock in Netlix’s latest binge-worthy television series Daredevil. The thing is, he’s not the only citizen of Hell’s Kitchen conforming to this creed, and it just so happens that this other individual has a drastically different approach to cleaning up the crime-riddled streets of their Manhattan neighbourhood.
It’s hard to imagine that fans of The Man Without Fear, who was created all the way back in 1964 by Stan Lee and artist Bill Everett, are just now getting a proper adaptation of their beloved blind crime-fighter when we have been living in the world of big-budget superhero blockbusters for well over a decade now. But then again, I guess the powers at be never really knew how to faithfully adapt a character so distinctly different from his fellow Marvel Comics heroes. Enter Netflix and the creative minds of Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods) and Steven S. DeKnight (Spartacus).
As a life-long comics fans and someone who has seen many of his favorite characters get the short-shrift when it comes to their page-to-screen adaptations, I have to say that Marvel’s Daredevil series is one of the best adaptations I’ve ever seen. Distinctly different in mood and tone from the other properties in the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, the strength of the series not only lies in its faithfulness to the Daredevil comics, but also in its pitch-perfect casting and inventive fight sequences. The first season moves by at a confident pace, avoids the formulaic tendencies of its other small-screen comic book counterparts and winds up telling a story as emotionally affecting as any superhero story told thus far in a visual medium.
- The Performances – It’s safe to say Marvel has a pretty damn good track record when it comes to choosing actors to fill the shoes of their comic book roles, but in my opinion they’ve never had a cast as pitch-perfect as the one they’ve amassed for Daredevil. Charlie Cox infuses his Matt Murdock with an emotional vulnerability and hard-edged physicality that may have seemed at odds with each other on the big-screen, but in a serialized television series provide his character with much-needed depth as he goes through ups and downs in his search for justice. As for Murdock’s best pal and other half of their newly formed law firm, it’s hard to imagine a more perfect choice for Foggy Nelson than actor Elden Henson. He gives the show much-needed comedic relief, but lest you think that’s all he is, also provides a lot of heart and wisdom, particularly in his scenes with Cox and their newly hired secretary Karen Page, played by strong-willed Deborah Ann Woll. Woll shines as Page, a driven yet damaged young woman who seeks the truth no matter how much she may be tortured along the way. Then there’s classic comic book character Ben Urich, a trusted newspaper reporter who has fallen on hard times, played with compassion and tenacity by Vondie Curtis-Hall. Despite not even being the main focus of the series, his character’s arc is as well-developed as any around him. And then we come to the big bad, Wilson Fisk, played with hypnotic glee by Vincent D’Onofrio. There have been suggestions from some critics that he could be in line for an Emmy push, and trust me, I’m on that train as well. Those are the main players, but I could on and on about some of the supporting players as well. Top to bottom, a truly impressive ensemble.
- The Fight Sequences – Chances are if you’re constantly on the internet, you’ve heard about the ambitious one-take hallway fight sequence that takes place early on in Daredevil‘s run, and you’ll have to trust me when I say the praise is justified. But, that sequence is also just the beginning. Owing a huge debt to Frank Miller’s classic run on the Daredevil comic, the series embraces Murdock’s background in martial arts and ends up pitting him against foes also trained in the arts. One particular sequence in the second half of the season, where the Devil faces off against Japanese criminal Nobu, is both brutal and breathtaking. It’s obvious throughout that the creative team put so much care into every second of each fight sequence, and that just makes them all the more thrilling.
- The Tone – In addition to the fight sequences, another aspect that truly sets Daredevil apart from its Marvel big-screen counterparts is its unique mood and tone. Its dark and does not shy away from the brutal nature of criminal violence. Not only do you feel every punch in each fight, but you’re also exposed to a good amount of blood, lengths Marvel Studios has not really been willing to go to in their other projects. I’d argue however, that it really isn’t necessary in most of their other creative endeavours, while here it fits perfectly with the hero and the world he inhabits. Some have drawn comparisons from this interpretation of Daredevil to the modern incarnations of DC’s Batman, but what they fail to realize is that while Batman has been a popular character for a long time, a lot of his most popular modern characteristics come from the work of writer Frank Miller, who actually worked on the Daredevil comic before he entered Gotham and took on the Dark Knight.
- The Emotion – The single strongest aspect of Daredevil as a series is without question the writing of its characters and the emotional depth each of them are given. This is not just a plot-based adventure story where the hero kicks ass, takes names, gets the girl and lives a happy life. Matt Murdock is not only complicated, he’s tortured and torn between what’s right and what actually is going to make Hell’s Kitchen a better place. One of the more intriguing wrinkles to our hero is that they bring his religion into play, and the scenes between Murdock and his longtime Catholic priest are true standouts whenever they pop up. They let us take a look into the mind of Murdock and let us know that this is a deeply complicated human being with many different emotions. Then there’s Wilson Fisk, brilliantly inhabited by Vincent D’Onofrio. He may be the “villain” of this story, but he’s just as complicated as our hero, and certainly complete with as many emotions, although his are even more conflicted. We see Fisk’s tender side with his new-found love Vanessa, we see his loyal side in his friendship with his trusted counterpart Wesley, and we see his brutal side in his quest to make Hell’s Kitchen “a better place”. And Murdock and Fisk don’t just share their affinity for Hell’s Kitchen, they also both share troubled pasts and secrets that they have to keep in order to truly have the impact on their world that they so desire. The writing of every character, not just Murdock and Fisk, is so strong that even with a mediocre cast its possible this series could have been successful, but add in a perfect cast like the one on display here, and you’ve got something truly special.
- I’m still thinking…
The powers at be at Netflix and Marvel recently came together and announced that, due to the overwhelming critical acclaim and success the first season of Daredevil has already experienced, the series has been renewed for a second season that is expected to hit the streaming service sometime in 2016. With series already planned for fellow Marvel heroes Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist, in addition to team-up series The Defenders, the Marvel Cinematic Universe now has a television counterpart that, if the reaction to Daredevil is any indication, could lead to Marvel’s ultimate stranglehold on both visual mediums.
Now, I love independent films, art house films and prestige pictures like most obsessed film geeks do, but I’m also not one of these pretentious types who thumbs my nose at blockbusters or big-budget superhero stories like many do. Why? Well, because of projects like Daredevil. It tells its story exceedingly well, with well-developed characters, exciting action sequences and genuine human emotion.
Good is good. Marvel’s Daredevil is great.