“Marvel’s Daredevil’ Review
Is it bad that even a show about crime this dark seems like sunshine and lollipops compared to reality?
So, ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ is but days away from us. With the hype train at full steam, Marvel decided to sate our hunger for content with the first in a line of Netflix original series’. Anyone can tell you that ‘Daredevil’ has been met with nearly universal acclaim since it’s release, but what exactly is it that makes this one so appealing? And why am I of all people hesitant to jump on the bandwagon.
Two years after Loki and his alien army managed to wreck a good portion of New York in ‘The Avengers’, Matt Murdock and Franklin “Foggy” Nelson are among the many citizens of “Hell’s Kitchen” feeling the aftereffects, as the media’s attention on big name heroes has made it easier for organized crime to take over the recovering city.
The “King” of the operation is one Wilson Fisk, who seems to covertly have the entire city in his pocket in some way. Thankfully, Mr. Murdock doesn’t just form a defense attorney duo with Foggy, but also secretly masquerades as the crime-busting Daredevil.
Except for, you know, the part where he never gets called that until the end of the series.
Given that synopsis, the idea of a masked man in black going up against organized crime for the heart of his city might ring a few bells. Indeed, comparisons to Batman are difficult to avoid, and it DOES feel distractingly similar to ‘Gotham’ or the Nolan Trilogy at times. I’ve never read the ‘Daredevil’ comics myself, but this might just be a necessity of adaptation as “B-Grade Batman” is the vibe the character’s always given me in the first place.
It’s not just a matter of concept, though. In a way very similar to the Nolan films, I think the dialogue can’t a bit too “monologue-y” too often for its own good. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big dialogue guy, and the dialogue here I’d primarily good, but sometimes scenes can belabor the point and feel dragged out when they could’ve conveyed it much more quickly. This might just be attributable to the rather lax pace the series has, which could be a good or bad depending on how you like this type of plot move along.
On a more positive note, it’s great to finally have a Marvel hero who’s dealing with crime of the everyday variety. ‘Daredevil’ is really the first time since it’s inception that we’ve gotten an in-depth look at the repercussions of the MCU on the ground level. We’ve gotten lip-service multiple times to the idea that the world has been inexorably changed thanks to the events of the films’, but this is the first time we see that up close. We aren’t following a rich tech genius, a group of super-spies or even a soldier. We’re following a group of lawyers, one of whom just happens to be a good fighter. Fantastical things like an alien invasion don’t just pave the way for fantastical dangers, but mundane ones, and the focus on the common man gives the larger Cinematic Universe more stakes. Every time a big city-destroying action sequence rakes place in one of these films, there’s a chance something like the events of this series will be the fallout.
And what a fallout it is. This show is brutal. It effectively sucks the glamour out of this universe, by far the grittiest and darkest of its kin, and that’s not just as a result of the violence. Even in the most lighthearted scenes, there’s an underlying sense of danger throughout the whole series.
Thematically, it makes an interesting departure from the Marvel norm, but my personal tastes have me questioning just how much I’ll be able to take such a dark atmosphere in future series’.
MCU heroes like Black Widow or any number of characters from ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D’, despite not having anything in the way of explicit superpowers, still run the risk of seeming invincible in a fight, but ‘Daredevil’ goes out of its way to remind you, especially with the choreography, that Murdock is not invincible. He can take out nearly a dozen guys in a fight, yeah, but it will take him a while and he will get damn haggard doing it. It adds a brand of realism and tension in fight scenes that I don’t think Marvel’s ever really had.
If there’s one thing that really separates Matt from someone like Bruce Wayne, beyond his disability, it’s his struggle with his vigilantism. Not only is Matt a lawyer but he also comes from a line of staunch Catholics, and this leads to an almost season-long crisis of faith as he tries to reconcile that part of himself with the part that wants not only justice but particularly violent revenge.
The MCU is somewhat notorious for having lackluster villains, and while there are some I enjoy many of them can blend together at a glance. Here, with no super-powers or visual gimmicks to make them an interesting spectacle, the villains have to be a bit more fleshed out. There’s an assortment of bad guys, one of whom is played by a Power Ranger. Because that show just won’t leave me alone. But of course, the biggest mention goes to the Kingpin himself, Wilson Fisk.
It feels a bit odd saying this, but Wilson, though definitely antagonistic, feels less like a “villain” then he does just another character who’s trying to make their way through the story. That’s definitely a point in his favor, and makes him unique amongst the Marvel screen rogues who even at their most interesting are painted with a pretty black brush.
Matt and Fisk make decent foils to each other, but the one thing I regret regarding the two is that they didn’t interact more. I understand why this was from a structural standpoint, but I like a story where the villain and the hero really get some moments to bounce off each other, and this is a relationship that feels incredibly formal. Add to that the fact that it gets laid on a bit thick how they’re mirror images of each other, and I guess what I’m asking for is “more show, less tell” in regards to their dynamic.
In terms of supporting cast, it’s pretty well rounded. Foggy, as well as he and Matt’s secretary Karen, start out as what I like to call harmless distractions, with some questionable acting moments, but they both really get a chance to shine as the series goes on. Likewise, Fisk’s circle of confidants are all intriguing characters in their own right, from the loyal and suave Wesley to the mysterious and ultra-confident Madame Gao. Vondie Curtis-Hall makes a great turn as altruistic reporter Ben Urich, and Bob Gunton is particularly entertaining as villainous accountant Leland Owlsley.
In terms of appearance, this series is unique amongst the other MCU properties. It deliberately doesn’t look quite as smooth and colorful. The way I’d describe it, particularly during action scenes, would be “low budget, but in a good way” if that makes any sense.
There are quite a few stylish directing choices which I feel help set the tone, particularly in the final episode.
The one aspect of the technicals that bothers me is the almost constant shaky-cam. The camera is always jittering around, even in non-action scenes, and I’ve always found that annoying (even if it is almost imperceptible to people who wouldn’t care about that kind of thing). It honestly feels like the cameraman has a bad case of tremors in places. It’s not enough to ruin good shots, but it is enough to nearly hurt my eyes.
Musically, it’s all understated, atmosphere building stuff. There’s nothing that really stands out, except the moderately catchy theme song.
Overall, this was a very enjoyable watch, and I am looking forward to Marvel’s next Netflix outing, ‘AKA Jessica Jones’. With that said, I don’t think it quite lives up to the hype and there is room for improvement. Here’s hoping said improvement comes with the recently announced second season.