This weekend saw the first in a collection of five TV series’ based in the Marvel Cinematic Universe uploaded onto the popular streaming service Netflix, in the form of Daredevil. It provided our first real dive into a far dirtier, much grittier side to that universe, by keeping the show on a far more grounded level than we’ve seen in the movies or on television thus far. Many viewers may remember the much maligned Fox movie interpretation of the character starring Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner in 2003. I say ‘may’ because it really was that bad and most of us have wiped it from our memories in the decade+ since. In recent years Fox has let go of the license, meaning that the rights to onscreen adaptions of the ‘man without fear’ have reverted back to Marvel, which they immediately began to utilize in their larger picture for an onscreen universe. So how did Marvel, in association with ABC and Netflix, do? Is Daredevil’s slate finally washed clean? Has the character’s onscreen persona been vindicated at last? While it’s doubtful the character will show up in any of Marvel’s bigscreen adventures alonside the Avengers at any point soon, have no doubt:
These 13 episodes of Daredevil are the greatest thing to happen to the superhero genre since 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises.
There. I’ve said it. And I never thought I’d make that claim over a television series. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has it’s charm, and does an excellent job of cleaning up the messy residue that the bigger Marvel Studios films leave behind, but it still lacks a certain amount of believability due to the series’ comedic, family-friendly (primetime) tone. Arrow and The Flash have been an excellent contribution to the superhero television landscape, for the most part owning it – but its the overblown storylines, incessant flashbacks, and occasionally camp writing that hold them both back from their true potential. Gotham uses the gritty sides of the Batman films and comics to come up with truly excellent origin stories for some of the city’s most notorious villains, but it too falls prey to some odd choices in storytelling and writing, making the mobsters goofy for the sake of a few laughs. What Daredevil does is take the best attributes these series all have, mix ’em up, and get rid of all their issues entirely. The producers want this show to be heartfelt, believable, and for it to take itself seriously. On all accounts they pass with flying colors.
And although it derives much from the paving of previous television series’, the show feels far more impressive than that still. It does its best to make itself a filmic experience, setting an impressively high bar for all other television series, let alone those in the superhero genre. Daredevil technically doesn’t take place in Marvel Studios grand plan for the Phase 2 films, yet it still takes place within the time-period of the Phase 2 films, and as such is one of the most impressive installments therein, easily shouldering up to both the recent Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I hope the critical success of this series not only sets television superhero shows aright, but even nudges the films into a grander future.
Now that I’ve spouted all this praise, what’s all the hubbub about without giving away the dirty deets on the show? Daredevil is a vigilantist hero, blinded at a young age and trained to fight. The gruesome way he became blind somehow altered his genetic makeup, making him ultra-receptive to his other four senses. This means he sees the world in a vastly different light than anyone else. He combines these senses to make a sort of hybrid echo/smell/touch-location for himself. And his being perceived as a crippled lawyer by day helps keep up the mystique about who the man in the mask really is.
The acting on the series is phenominal. In fact, the entire cast nailed their parts. Charlie Cox gets a special mention here, playing Matt Murdock/Daredevil. Some of the best blind acting to date. But, as is the case with The Dark Knight Rises, the acting on the part of the villain takes the cake.
Vincent D’Onofrio’s portrayal of Wilson Fisk, the head mafioso who runs the majority of the Hell’s Kitchen crime scene, is worthy of the highest praise. At times, I almost wanted him to win. He’s a truly tragic character, with arguably the most emotional bent in the entire MCU. I’d go so far as to say that he dethrones Loki as the best villain in the Marvel universe. If I ever choked up on the series, it was for him. In his own twisted way, Fisk actually wants to do what’s best for his beloved city NY, particularly Hell’s Kitchen. As you can imagine, a crime lords best intentions are usually more than a little skewed. Where Daredevil sticks to idealist moralities in the pursuit of justice, its Fisk’s off-kilter ideals and eccentricities that make his story all the more tragic. One interesting decision on behalf of the show’s producers was to never say the character’s villain alias “Kingpin,” but this is thrown in as an easter egg to fans waiting for the name to drop. When a reporter is putting together his pyramid of mafiosos and crime bosses by putting up playing cards on a tack board, theres the guy at the top: the King (of Diamonds) pinned to the board.
As far as connections to the overall Marvel Cinematic Universe go, they’re far and in between. Actually, the majority of the cameos and easter eggs in the series derive right from the Daredevil comics, or other propertiesclosely associated with him. For a comprehensive list of those, I implore you to check out this sight. I was actually slightly disappointed at the lack of greater references. It does service to the series that you can watch it without having ever seen any of Marvel’s other extended properties, but slight mentions wouldn’t have gone amiss. And they do mention Captain America in one episode. But the rest of the Avengers are left out entirely. Not even a mention of the Avengers team, or a screenshot of the Avengers Tower. A brief mention of the Battle of New York along with a plaque of a newpaper article is included for those paying attention (which are the events of The Avengers) and another plaque suggests that Harlem is destroyed (as seen in The Incredible Hulk).
But, the backdrop they threw the series into, post-Avengers, is quite genius. In reality, the Hell’s Kitchen of NY is a lively, up-and-coming neighborhood. But the premise of the show could only work if Hell’s Kitchen were the slums. After the destruction caused by the alien invasion in The Avengers, it’s no stretch to imagine that Hell’s Kitchen was leveled, and in need of repairs. Enter the mobsters to rebuild and launder money. Perfect way to deal with a bad problem.
For much of the season (probably up until episode 10 or 11) I was actually considering giving the show a solid 10.0 score. Of course, I’m not saying each episode was entirely a 10. But as a whole, the series was greater than the sum of its parts. It definitely slowed in pace near the end though, before picking up again, and this was a shame. But that’s the plight of any hero story. You have to fall before you can rise again. Sometimes Daredevil did stick heavily to the formulaic methods most superhero stories follow, yet it worked all the same, and even surpassed many of its contemporaries. Another issue I had was the ramifications of a major character taking another’s life and the perceived ramifications of such an action – or rather, the lack of any ramifications. Perhaps this will be addressed in a future episode.
But that seems like wishful thinking at this stage. Another season of Daredevil, if there ever will be one, won’t arrive for another two to three years. Why? Because Marvel, ABC, and Netflix have a series of shows they need to deliver, before any other series arrive. 13 episodes of A.K.A. Jessica Jones, 13 episodes of Iron Fist, 13 episodes of Luke Cage, and an undisclosed number of episodes for the Netflix team-up series The Defenders (but at least 4). How they plan to connect these to the overall universe down the line… No clue. We’ll find out.
Although the language is surprisingly tame, there is quite a bit of violence. Be wary of that. This isn’t like Thor where they hit you and you go flying. This is a far grittier world. Bones break and blood is spilt. Either way, Daredevil is Marvel’s greatest superhero show, and in my opinion its the greatest ever. If you haven’t watched the show yet, please get on the bandwagon. It’s worth your while.