Minor Spoilers Ahead
We are currently living in a golden age of superhero television. DC already has their own shared universe on The CW comprised of The Flash and Arrow and will soon launch Supergirl on CBS. ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter are also major players, being a part of Marvel’s larger Cinematic Universe. Now, Netflix has joined the game with Daredevil, their first entry in what will be their own shared Marvel Universe. With all these superhero TV shows to choose from, it takes a lot for a superhero property to stand out amongst the bunch, but Daredevil has done that very thing. The series’ first season has been out since April, but now that a few months have passed and people who don’t like to binge have had time to see its entirety, I thought I would look back on this groundbreaking series and discuss why it’s so different from all the other superhero movies and shows we’ve seen recently.
First off, let me just say how happy I am that Marvel decided to turn Daredevil into a TV series and not a blockbuster film. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good superhero film as much as anyone else, but you can clearly see the difference in quality between both mediums here. Let’s also not forget that Daredevil already got a movie treatment in 2004, with Ben Affleck playing the lead role. Although it was OK for its time, the film hasn’t aged well and this new TV show has only further distanced the movie from our minds. Instead of being forced to abide by the traditional three act structure of most superhero movies, Daredevil takes it’s time to develop its characters and story in an organic and interesting way. The fact that the show also has a much lower budget than a movie forces the creators to focus less on big action set pieces and more on dialogue and character interactions.
With 13 one hour long episodes to play with, the show is able to have some quiet moments where you can just take in the great character development and atmosphere. Simple scenes like seeing a young Matt clean his boxer father’s wounds and take his first sip of alcohol, or the flashbacks to Matt and Foggy hanging out in college are among the show’s better moments and really build your emotional connection to these characters. We are able to see the many aspects of Matt’s life that all come together to make him the man, and hero, that he is. Murdock’s catholic upbringing makes him a very morally conflicted person. He refuses to take a life, but realises that that’s the only way to put a permanent end to Fisk and his cohorts. The whole refusal to take a life angle is something we have seen in a lot of superhero stories, but the religious angle here is what makes it different. The conversations Murdock has with his priest on the nature of evil and how to fight it make this one of the better and more intriguing portrayals of religion I have seen. Murdock’s relationship with his priest is contrasted by the one he had with his childhood mentor, Stick, who taught Matt how to fight and maintained that killing is sometimes the only way to achieve your goal. These two diverging ideologies come to a head in Episode 7, entitled “Stick”, in which Matt’s mentor returns to Hell’s Kitchen and the two argue about their differing crime fighting methodologies.
Though the show is called Daredevil, it can be argued that Wilson Fisk is as much of a main character as Matt Murdock is. Fisk is exactly the kind of villain I love to see, someone who has good intentions, but goes about accomplishing them in a bad way. You can see that he does truly love his city and wants to make it a better place. He wants to be seen as a hero, but he’s completely blind to the fact that he’s just causing more harm than good in the short run. Fisk’s friendship with his right-hand man Wesley and romance with art gallery manager Vanessa also do a fantastic job of humanising him. I was really sad when Wesley got killed off because his interactions with Fisk were so interesting. I hope we get to see him in some flashbacks in season 2, because I’m interested in seeing how the two came together and why Wesley was so loyal to him. The stand out episode of the season for me was the Kingpin-centric “Shadows in the Glass”, in which we get a glimpse at Fisk’s troubled childhood and how that turned him into the hardened and deeply troubled man we see in the present day. Fisk also gets some of the best dialogue in the show like his Good Samaritan speech in the final. D’Onofrio is clearly having a blast with the role and brings a lot of depth and layering to the character. It also helps that he is able to bring the physical presence required of the Kingpin of Crime.
What really sets Daredevil apart from most other superhero shows and movies is the intensity and realism of the fight choreography. Instead of using editing and close up camera shots to mask the stunt doubles, Daredevil uses the cover of darkness and dim lighting to give the fight scenes a more fluid look. The best example of this is that amazing fight scene at the end of episode two, “Cut Man”, where we see one long uninterrupted shot of Daredevil taking out multiple henchmen in a hallway. It’s also in this scene that we see the realism Daredevil strives for. During the fight, we can see both Daredevil and the henchmen get exhausted as they fight. By the time our hero only has one adversary left to fight; both men can barely stay standing. I was tired just looking at them. Because the show is on Netflix and not a PG-13 movie, it’s able to get away with more violence than we’re used to seeing in a superhero property. Bones break with cringe-worthy sound effects and people die in bloody, gruesome ways like Fisk killing a guy by crushing his head with a car door or a henchman impaling his head on a spike after ratting on his boss. The show is also not afraid to tackle mature crimes like human trafficking and drug distribution. All of this serves to accentuate the dark tone the show is going for, clearly separating it from Marvel’s much lighter movies.
If I had any complaints about the first season, it’s that I would have liked to have seen a bit more courtroom scenes. Matt and Foggy are lawyers after all, and there really are only two scenes where we see them actually practicing their craft. I also wasn’t a big fan of Ben Ulrich (Vondie Curtis-Hall), the reporter who helps Karen uncover Fisk’s plans. He just seems like a means for characters other than Matt to be involved with the crime stuff. Some people have complained about Daredevil’s suit, seen in the climax of the season finale, but I think it does an excellent job of looking like the comic version of the suit, while also being practical and realistic, functioning like a kind of urban body armor. All in all, these complaints are so minor that they’re barely worth mentioning.
Watching each episode of Daredevil was an absolute treat. The show proves once and for all that television is the superior mode of storytelling we have today. Once I finished the season, I was inspired to run out and buy some Daredevil comics, just to get more of the character. This was a great start to Netflix’s planned superhero universe which will continue with their next show AKA Jessica Jones, followed by shows about Luke Cage and Iron Fist and concluding with a team up series in which all four heroes will come together to form The Defenders. Netflix has already given the show a second season order and the recent news that Jon Bernthal (The Walking Daed) will be playing The Punisher and the rumors of Jason Statham playing the iconic Daredevil villain Bullseye makes me wish the second season was available for streaming now. The show was clearly made by people who love and respect the character, and the end result is unlike anything I have seen on TV before.
Final Grade: 9.5/10