Steven S. DeKnight, the showrunner behind Netflix’s recent iteration of the man without fear, mentioned in a recent interview with IndieWire that he doesn’t understand how people could think that “there are too many superhero shows” is a valid criticism, comparing it to people saying things like “there are too many comedies!” or “too many romantic period dramas!” To say I agree with him would be an understatement; I myself have never really understood how anyone who appreciates being entertained could not like supherhero stories. Some have often said “oh I can’t connect with the characters” or “It’s just not my thing.” The latter is alright, as taste is subjective. But the former I have never understood as a legitimate criticism. Are we really so shallow that we need to see ourselves in some of the charaters to appreciate a work of fiction? These aren’t meant to be like dramas where they’re so personal you practically may as well have written it yourself. If anything, I think people’s willingness to tell a theatrical, maybe faf fetched story about a man with a special superpower and test people’s suspension of disbelief has been what’s so amazing about the subgenre, and how people are able to see themselves in these characters without even trying is a testament to its powerful storytelling. If ahything, superhero fiction is entertainment and storytelling in its purest form. And though I could tell you why I love The Avengers or Iron Man, the latest addition to the superhero canon is Daredevil. With how very well executed Daredevil is, I think it stands as a perfect justification of people’s love of superhero fiction, even if it handles it in a different way.
There are a lot of things that made Daredevil click with me as much as it did, but one particular scene that stuck out was in the penultimate episode, titled “The Ones We Leave Behind”, where Matt Murdock uses his enhanced hearing to follow the music in a car carrying an antagonistic figure, managing to put his radar sense to perfect use in the process while doing all sorts of impressive flips and jumps up buildings and walls. After that, he takes out a few guards and stumbles upon a base of blind cocaine sorters, and notices that they too are blind just like him. There’s all sorts of things about this portion of the episode that stick out- Charlie Cox’s amazing acting, tight editing, beautiful cinematography and slick sound editing, but above all else, it’s a scene that sums up why this show is so good: its admiration of the little things. Nowadays, superhero/vigilante-themed shows and movies seem so concerned with making the action big and bold and in your face. But like this scene, this show puts the attention to detail front and center, and it’s a better show for it. And sure, it may be hard to imagine a show like Daredevil being good, especially considering the 2003 adaptation, but within the first few moments of the series, you’ll be hooked.
Daredevil is the first in Marvel’s string of Netflix originals leading up to a mini-series event titled The Defenders. Later this year, we will get A.K.A. Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist. I could dwell on how much of a good thing this is for both sides, but why it works so well for Daredevil in particular can be chalked up to its source material. Showrunner Steven S. DeKnight mentioned in numerous interviews that the show is based largely on Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil, and right from the first fight scene, it’s noticeable. Not only does Daredevil don the black outfit for the fight scene (he does so for 98% of the season), but he’s shows no mercy upon the bad guys. He breaks one of the henchmen’s arms in graphic detail like it’s a twig. Then right before the opening credits, he’s seen unleashing the beast upon the last one. And so with Netflix, Daredevil is allowed the grit and darkness that made him stand out, and also it allows for a more faithful adaptation. While the show is rated TV-MA, it’s not Game of Thrones or Dexter-level- sure, the violence is graphic, but there’s no F-bombs or sex. Does that matter, though? Nope. The brutal heart of the source material is captured, and that’s all that matters.
Daredevil is sort-of an origin story, but thankfully, all the backstory you need is limited to scattered flashbacks. The show’s main story arc starts with Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) and Foggy Nelson (Elden Hanson) setting up their law firm. They receive their first client within seven hours- Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), a Union Allied worker who wakes up with her co-worker’s gory corpse in front of her, and she’s been framed for his murder. Within minutes, Matt’s enhanced senses are well-established: his ability to tell if people are telling the truth based on their heartbeats is the particular focus here. The show then proceeds to cover Karen’s working for the firm, Matt’s visits to nurse Claire (Rosario Dawson), whose neighbour finds him bruised and bloody in a dumpster, his relationship with Foggy, and additionally, the main villain: Fisk, AKA Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio). Throughout the 13 episodes, the show mainly focuses on Matt Murdock and Kingpin and his goons. We don’t get introduced to Kingpin until episode 3, but from there on, his presence is more apparent. Throughout the show, we get flashbacks to Matt’s childhood, from his relationship with his boxer father Jack, to his training from Stick and college days with Foggy, and even his struggles with his Catholic faith. Worth noting as well is that the red suit comes in in the last episode, and is used in the final fight scene as well- one of the most thrilling scenes in the series.
It’s hard to define exactly the best thing about Daredevil since it’s not only extremely well written but also well-crafted. For one, the pacing. Obviously, because this is darker and more street-grounded territory for the MCU, the show won’t be as fast-paced as any of the MCU films. But that’s not to accuse this show of being slow either. Instead, a more appropriate word to describe its pacing would be “leisurely”. The show takes its time with the pacing, opting for a gritty crime drama rather than in-your-face action. The show’s slower pace allows for you to feel like you’re immersed in Hell’s Kitchen of the MCU. It takes its time and lets you get to know the characters for yourself, and really get to know them too. The story is also developed by showing you what’s so corrupt about Hell’s Kitchen rather than having some narration explain it all for you, which killed the 2003 movie. In addition, the way the violence is executed too is a huge plus. These aren’t super-stylized fight scenes. They’re rough, brutal, violent and sluggish fights. Bones are broken. Blood sprays are gleefuly shown. People are picked off easily and shown to be expendable. When Daredevil gets into fights, he is shown to take a beating every bit as much as he gives them. If you were let down by how the 2003 film depicted him, as someone who can run at breakneck speed and be a perfect soldier, then the rough and brutal fight scenes here will truly please you.
It also goes without saying, the performances here are absolutely incredible. Charlie Cox not only excels as Matt Murdock, but makes the role his own. He oozes charm with every second he is on screen. Whether it be a close-up of his face with his eyes covered by shades and his constant smirk, or his sheer forcefulness during the fight scenes, to even the scenes where Claire tends his wounds, Charlie Cox is a force to be reckoned with and his performance is a breakout rarely seen on TV- it’s safe to say he’s found his place in the MCU and is visibly comfortable. Eldon Hanson depicts Foggy’s geekiness down to a T, and is aggressively charming, making it almost seem like he was ripped from the comic’s pages. Deborah Ann Woll is also charming as Karen, and it’s clear she has read the comics too. But the best performances come from Vincent D’Onofrio and Scott Glenn– the former giving one of the most human villain portrayals. He is everything you could want in a portrayal of Kingpin. Kingpin is written as someone who is evil when necessary and is not evil for the sake of it, and his expressions of emotion and terrifying violent outbursts are simply beautiful. Glenn is also remarkable as Stick, Murdock’s mentor. Not only does he nail blind body language, but his hardness is well established, to the point where watching his scenes with young Matt Murdock a thrill. He also does action well at his age, having done his own stunts and, even though he only appears for one episode, his performance is guaranteed to be one of the things you’re guaranteed to be talking about for ages.
If there’s one drawback to the show, it’s that there’s a few too many scenes between Foggy and Karen, but thankfully that’s just a small hiccup in 13 hours of brilliance. From the show’s intimate direction and well choreographed action scenes, to its amazingly executed drama and exquisite performances. Daredevil is guaranteed to be one of the best shows you will see all year. It’s proof that adults can enjoy their own superhero show too, and also proof that a show about a masked vigilante can work as a compelling drama. In short, there’s really no excuse for missing this show. Even if you don’t like Marvel, you will love it.
With compelling drama, mesmerizing performances and gritty action abounds, Daredevil is one hell of a start for a new era in the MCU, and works as both a superhero story and a solid drama that stands well enough on its own.