You Should Watch Daredevil
Being surprised by how good something turns out is one of the greatest pleasures a cynical prick like myself gets in this life. Occasionally I’ll allow myself to become enthralled with the idea of a show only to have the finished product be something so bad that I need to go on a thousand word rant about how to fix it (See Gotham). Other times I’ll be all smug and self-important, laughing at the premise of a show, movie or game only to have that self-satisfied grin wiped off my face and replaced by a smile of actual appreciation and that’s where Daredevil comes in.
Daredevil is a made for Netflix original show that has ties to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) The titular Daredevil is blind lawyer, Matt Murdock who after an accident as a child lost his sight, but thanks to some handy chemicals and years of intense physical and mental training has overcome his disability to become the protector of Hell’s Kitchen in New York. Before watching the show I knew very little about this particular character, I knew he was blind, a lawyer, Kingpin was his nemesis and that Frank Miller basically defined the character in the late 70s (More on Miller later). As such I wasn’t particularly excited when the show was announced last year (Also I saw the Affleck film).
Roll on last week and the show hits Netflix and I hesitantly decide to give it a go, mostly out some weird need to see all the MCU stuff to store in my data banks of useless nerd trivia (And I was bitten by a radioactive nerd as a child). I’d been burnt before with comic book shows, I never got into Smallville, Shield bored me and Gotham was borderline unwatchable from beginning to end. So I came to DD with my expectations low, was this going to be a legal procedural? follow Murdoch and Foggy (His partner) as they took down some bad guy in the courts? or maybe a monster of the week style show where Daredevil fought some random, kinda super powered villain until the big bad guy showed up? Thankfully no, instead we got something a lot better.
The show can best be described as a character-driven conspiracy drama where every so often a blind man (Or Men on one occasion) beats the living shit out of some goons. The 13 episode run is pretty tight with only one or two “Filler” episodes that flesh out backstories but aren’t really that meaningful (You can skip over the Sticks episode). The whole conspiracy is about who is rapidly taking over the New York district of Hell’s Kitchen (You will hear that name said a lot) it’s not really that much of a mystery since the main bad guy is introduced pretty quickly in the form of Wilson Fisk (More on him later) and so the show really becomes a game of cat and mouse between Daredevil and Fisk.
The cast is almost entirely brilliant. Charlie Cox as Murdock/DD was astounding at playing a blind man, he’s so good I actually looked up whether he was blind or not. Cox brings a quiet dignity to the role, never playing the victim even when at his most vulnerable. It’s part of the character of Murdock that he never longs for his sight back and with Cox you really believe he’s doing just fine without it. The supporting cast of Deborah Ann Woll and Elden Henson as Matt’s associates Karen and Foggy are well played. Karen as the eager but traumatised secretary is rarely made a damsel in distress and, in fact, gets some great scenes of her own. Foggy is played more as a comedic sidekick, but he’s a nice tonic to all the depressing stuff going down. But the real standout of the show is Vincent D’Onofrio as Fisk.
Wilson Fisk is the best antagonist that Marvel have put to scene bar none. D’Onofrio owns every scene he’s in with his imposing physical presence and awkward yet threatening charm. What could have been played as a simple mob bad guy is turned into an almost tragic anti-hero who could be seen doing the right thing but going about it in all the wrong way? Fisk is at his most intimidating just before he starts hurting people, at times he seethes with a barely contained rage that could put Bruce Banner to shame and when he does unleash it’s a sight to see (from a safe distance) Perhaps one of the most humanizing parts of Fisk is his relationship to Vanessa. From an awkward first date to a real romance between the two, following their relationship is one of the most enjoyable parts of the show. At times, I did see a flash of the Lady Macbeth in the way Vanessa is played, pushing her man to do ever greater (horrendous) things.
When all that character development is said and done, we’ve still got a show based off a comic book so “hows the action” I hear you scream (why are you screaming?) It’s decent, not great. If you watched the Nolan Batman films you’ll certainly know what to expect from Daredevil. With no super powers and being a ‘mortal’ DD keeps mostly to the shadows, taking out isolated targets. One of the best action scenes is in episode 2, with one long fight sequence in several rooms and a corridor that’s clearly a homage to the hammer fight in Oldboy(Watch Oldboy, the Korean version). So I mentioned Batman again, guess it’s about time to talk about the elephant in the room. Batman and Daredevil are incredibly similar, and most of this comes down to Mr Frank Miller.
Miller is controversial figure in the comics industry thanks to his rather extreme politics and basically making Batman a fascist, he’s been around for almost 40 years and has in that time come to write some pretty decent stuff. His time as the writer for a solo outing for Wolverine helped tie the character to Japan, he wrote two monolithic works for Batman with Batman Year One and Dark Knight Returns and he also was involved with Daredevil. His time with DD basically defined what the character was, explaining his powers, motivations, as well retconning some of his backstories. Miller also helped define the tone of Daredevil, which if you’ve watched any of the show should be rather reminiscent of the recent Nolan Batman films in which Miller was a key influence.
So should you watch Daredevil then? My answer would be yes. If you’re a fan of the MCU you won’t find much in the way of hints or references to the larger goings on in the world save for some newspaper articles in the back of shots and a single joke about magic hammers. What you will find is a damn fine story driven show that should keep you gripped for the 13 episodes on offer. I was unsure about Marvel’s upcoming Tv Defenders project with Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist. But if the guys and girls and Marvel can keep the quality this high then I’m all in for them too.