By: Anthony Zangrillo
Edited by: E.R. Pulgar
Marvel has been afraid to indulge in darkness. Their films have all had the same sort of tone, it preferred to be Whedon-esque, witty, and overall have a tendency toward lighter affairs. There’s nothing wrong with this approach, but if you see this sort of tone all the time, I argue that you will grow sick and tired of it.
It was high time Marvel went to the streets, to focus on the heroes that only seek to help the little guy. It was high time they got down and dirty and that they weren’t afraid to do so. It only made sense to enlist the Man Without Fear to aid the company in its new Netflix venture.
Set in the immediate aftermath of The Avengers, Marvel’s Daredevil is set in a New York riddled by crime and corruption. “The Incident,” as the fighting in that film is referred to as, has left a power vacuum allowing crime syndicates to rush in and reassert their authority. Hell’s Kitchen, gentrified in reality, has regressed into a lawless neighborhood where only the Devil himself would want to live in. It is here we find blind attorney Matt Murdock who, with law partner Foggy Nelson, sets out to make his city a better place. At night, however, he becomes a masked vigilante, armed with enhanced senses obtained from the accident that stole his sight, to rid Hell’s Kitchen of its evil.
The first season of Daredevil functions similarly to both a comic book storyline and a 13-plus hour movie. Daredevil is very much Marvel’s answer to Batman Begins, an origin story for its two lead characters. We don’t see either Kingpin or Daredevil truly come into their own until the final episode. These men earn their identities and we watch them struggle, stumble, and fall as they strive to make New York a better place, albeit taking different routes to do so.
Charlie Cox firmly establishes Matt Murdock as a multifaceted character the minute he appears onscreen. You are instantly captivated by the drive, the determination, and Catholic guilt that plague him. He’s made endearing by the fact that he isn’t an entirely brooding hero; he can be witty, smile, and shine a beacon into the dark world the show finds itself in. But there is a demon inside of the man, itching and waiting to burst out to deal out punishment when the legal system won’t allow it.
As Daredevil, Murdock pulls no punches. He leaps, punches, spins, and kicks his way through all manner of neer-do-wells in nothing more then a thrown together black costume. The fight choreography on display in Daredevil is the pinnacle of what Marvel began in the Captain America movies: brutal, visceral, and unafraid to get bloody when need be. A standout sequence is the one shot final fight in the second episode, “Cut Man,” evocative of the memorable fight sequences in Old Boy and The Raid.
Another worthy standout performance is that of Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk. Like Matt Murdock, Fisk is a multifaceted villain, not a pure criminal mastermind or mustache-twirling villain. He truly believes that his actions, though horrific, are in the service of the good of the city. Fisk’s whirlwind romance of Vanessa Marianna adds more depth to the character, showing him stuttering, affectionate, and nervous around her as he attempts to win her heart. That isn’t to say that there isn’t a bloodlust in his body: anger, threaten, or do harm to Wilson or his loved ones and you die. Even uttering his name, an attempt to stick to the shadows of the underworld, spells the end of a man’s life.
The supporting cast is also star-caliber. Elden Henson provides both needed comic relief and surprising character drama as Foggy Nelson, while Deborah Ann Woll is a fiery and determined Karen Page, secretary to the Nelson and Murdock Law Firm. The chemistry between Murdock, Page, and Nelson provides both Marvel-trademarked wit with the required dramatic tension needed for a serious story such as this. Rosario Dawson has a minor, but memorable, role as Claire Temple, a nurse who assists Daredevil with much-needed medical attention.
Though the series takes place in the so-called Marvel Cinematic universe, Daredevil truly exists as its own stand-alone. The comparison to a thirteen-hour film returns here: this isn’t a run-of-the-mill episode of Agents of SHIELD.
Marvel’s Daredevil firmly establishes itself as the best Marvel television series currently in production. If Marvel Studios continues to produce more smartly written, beautifully acted and directed shows like Daredevil, I pray for the souls of the men and women working on The Flash and Arrow. The Devil’s in Murdock, and it’s enticing to watch him release the demon.