It’s like we’re just jamming keywords together these days.
Marvel’s Daredevil, the entire first season of which is now streaming on Netflix.
As a kid, Matt Murdock lost his vision – but had his other senses ultra-enhanced – in a chemical accident. Now all grown up, and a justice-over-money lawyer to boot, he puts his superpowers to use trying to clean up Hell’s Kitchen1 via a healthy heaping of vigilante pummeling. His parallel crusades for the downtrodden bring him into direct conflict with Wilson Fisk’s, aka Kingpin, plans to pave over Hell and put up some very expensive condos.
It’s both more violent and more touching than that probably made it sound.
The series is drawn2 straight from the Marvel comics’ character and books of the same name, and neatly sidesteps the not-very-successfully film adaptation from a decade ago. It’s the first of an announced quartet of Marvel-Netflix collaborations featuring stories from a grittier, somewhat less well-known corner of Marvel’s character warehouse.
Charlie Cox (Boardwalk Empire) plays Murdock/Daredevil, with Rosario Dawson in a key supporting role as a somewhat-willing ally, and Vincent D’Onofrio as Fisk. Drew Goddard (Lost, Alias, The Cabin in the Woods) is the main off-camera name of note.
Who is Daredevil For?
While the Avengers films are clearly crafted for a wide audience, this is a genre piece drawing from a known history. It’s paced like a trade paperback collection of comic issues, draws on a plotline and setting that’s recognizable but fundamentally most interesting to existing fans, and has a style that looks more like the CW’s current superhero stable than the Marvel blockbusters you see at the cinema. It’s not solely for those who’ve read the comics backwards and forwards, but Daredevil does gain a lot if you already like the characters and/or actors.
It’s also a beachhead of sorts. The upcoming series (Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Iron Fist) have less obvious appeal to the casual viewer. I say less obvious rather than less, though – the interwoven stories of these four characters3 in particular can be quite interesting, and very human.
Short-series streaming releases are the perfect way to tell these tales, and Marvel’s done a pretty good job here of taking advantage of the medium.4 Daredevil doesn’t feel constrained by budget or spread too thin trying to introduce an entire universe. It’s telling a smaller scale story, and doing so quite well.
They’ve skipped the sonar-visualization weirdness of the movie version and just show Murdock using his powers. There’s a pretty neat fight scene (that just… keeps… going) at the end of episode 2 that illustrates this very well.
Most of the actors are spot on – Dawson and Cox in particular do a great job of taking a potentially eyebrow-raising concept, and some comic book dialogue, and making it feel appropriately real. Vonde Curtis-Hall’s journalist character is always a delight to hear; really, he’s one of those actors I could just listen to all day.
What Doesn’t Work
Some of the actors are off the spot. Elden Henson, playing the comic relief, is settling down as things progress. A few of the villains have taken the stage direction ‘Loom menacingly’ and applied it to their lines as well. I’ve only watched the first four episodes so far, so I can’t yet comment on others’ complaints that D’Onofrio falls flat. I did like his tentative moments on a date with an attractive art gallery employee. I wasn’t as keen on the jarringly different scene of ultraviolence he unleashed soon after; Daredevil hasn’t quite found its aesthetic.
For a show about a guy with awesome hearing, some of the dialogue is too whispery. But that’s a complaint I’ve had about many shows, and it’s a small issue here.
Does This Pass the Bechdel Test?5
No. Daredevil still exists in the man’s world portion of comic-book-dom. I don’t think two named female characters have shared the screen in the first four episodes.
If you’ve had no interest in the Marvel movies, you can skip Daredevil as well. It’s different in tone and scale, but ultimately cut from the same cloth (usually spandex). For everyone else – watch the first two episodes and see if the pacing and plotting are your cup of tea. It’s going to be an interesting next year or two with the tales Marvel will be telling, but not everyone will be interested.
- Not the Gordon Ramsey show. ↵
- Har. ↵
- If you thought The Avengers knit a lot of stuff together wait ’till you see the rest of the Marvel universe… ↵
- I’m looking at you, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Actually, no, I stopped looking four episodes into season 2. ↵
- 1. Two named female characters 2. have a conversation 3. about something other than a man. ↵