Daredevil Review

Billy clubs all other TV superheroes into submission.

Marvel has managed to completely reinvigorate the superhero movie in a massive way. It all began with 2008's Iron Man and then spread out to the rest of Earth€™s Mightiest Heroes, culminating in the release of 2012€™s The Avengers. But since then, Marvel hasn€™t been content to just focus on the big league superheroes. Rather, with Phase Two, they€™ve started to branch out a little bit more. Not only have there been wild card characters like the Guardians of the Galaxy but Marvel even expanded out into television with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Now comes the release of Daredevil, a Marvel-produced series airing exclusively on Netflix: a new move that promises to revolutionize the superhero genre yet again. Daredevil is just the first of four planned series Marvel is making for Netflix, and will be followed by AKA Jessica Jones, then Luke Cage and finally Iron Fist before all four combine for a four-eight episode Defenders mini-series. The freedom offered by a platform like Netflix has really expanded the potential of TV superheroes. Although DC€™s Arrow and The Flash have shown that TV can be a viable platform for superheroes, Daredevil has taken that baton and used it as a billy club to beat back the competition, elevating it to a whole new level and opening the door to expanded possibilities. The story of Daredevil focuses on Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), who was blinded by radioactive material as a child. Although deprived of his sight, Matt€™s other senses have been enhanced to superhuman levels. The son of washed-up boxer Battlin€™ Jack Murdock (John Patrick Hayden), Matt is warned by his father not to become like him, but instead to study hard and make something of his life. And it€™s a life that is cut short after Murdock fails to throw a fight and is killed by a mobster named Rigoletto. As an adult, Matt has just opened a law practice with his college roommate, Franklin €œFoggy€ Nelson (Elden Henson). Their first case brings them into contact with Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), a secretary for a construction company who has been framed for murder. But by night, Matt uses his enhanced senses and fighting skills as a masked vigilante. The series chronicles not only Matt€™s journey from a simple masked vigilante into Daredevil, but also the rise of Wilson Fisk (Vincent D€™Onofrio), the Kingpin of Crime. Daredevil is very much an origin story, but no longer restricted by the two-hour film format, it€™s an origin story that fans haven€™t really seen before. Fortunately, the producers of Daredevil have decided to go a different route to the two previous screen versions of Daredevil. Elektra never appears in the show, and aside from a brief mention of a Greek girl Matt dated in college, she€™s never even discussed. Bullseye, one of the Kingpin€™s oft-hired assassins, also never turns up in the show (although there may some debate as to that). Instead, the heart of this show are the relationships of the inner circles of the different factions. Foggy and Karen both have roles in this series that are far more elevated than they got in the film. Cox has wonderful chemistry with Henson, who provides some nice levity at moments, while still pulling off the role of an accomplished and intelligent lawyer. Woll€™s Karen Page has the brightness that she brings to Matt€™s world and the interactions between Woll and Cox hint both to the romance that Matt and Karen shared in the comics, while Woll€™s portrayal also hints at a darker edge to Karen, something that also came to cause Matt a lot of pain and suffering in the famous €œBorn Again€ story-arc. Matt also befriends a nurse, Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), a character who in the comics not only dated Luke Cage but was also married to Bill Foster/Black Goliath. The producers have combined Claire with another character, the Night Nurse who patches up street heroes when they need medical attention. Claire is one of the few who knows of Matt€™s double-life and she tries to steer him onto a more righteous path. Nelson & Murdock are also assisted by Ben Urich (Vondie Curtis-Hall), a reporter once responsible for uncovering massive scandals but now struggles to get his stories published. On the other side, Wilson Fisk is surrounded by people who are looking to exploit him at the first opportunity. Gao (Wai Ching Ho) is an elderly Chinese woman who runs the heroin trade. And though at first she may not seem like much of a threat, she grows throughout the series into someone that will likely be seen again. Nobu (Peter Shinkoda) is another threat, a Japanese businessman who is actually a member of a secret order of ninja assassins called the Hand. And Leland Owlsley (Bob Gunton), who handles the money. The Ranshakov Brothers (Nikolai Nikoleaff, Gideon Emery) are also involved with Fisk€™s enterprise, but not for long. The only person Fisk can trust is James Wesley (Toby Leonard Moore), his right-hand man. And he begins a romance with Vanessa Marianna (Ayelet Zurer), an art gallery employee. These two become the closest thing Fisk has to a family in his world. The acting is great all around, but Cox and D€™Onofrio are really the standouts. There are very significant parallels between Murdock and Fisk throughout the series, from their upbringing in Hell€™s Kitchen to the moves they make in the present day. Cox does a great job of showcasing Matt€™s conflict between trying to follow the path of justice and righteousness while also dealing with his inability to affect true change without possibly compromising his morality. D€™Onofrio similarly humanizes Fisk in a great way and when he tells Vanessa on their date about his plans for Hell€™s Kitchen, it is entirely unquestionable that he comes from a place of true desire to help. Special mention also has to be given to special guest star Scott Glenn, who appears in episode seven as Stick, the man who trained Matt how to fight. Glenn looks like he stepped right off the pages of the comics and his personality is dead-on. He€™s a joy to watch and the only downside to his appearance is that he didn€™t have a larger role. But given Stick€™s connection to the Hand, you have to suspect he'll be back. The action in Daredevil is simply magnificent to watch: there€™s a fight scene in the second episode that has to be seen to be believed. The show is brutal and visceral, easily the darkest thing we€™ve seen yet not only in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but in superhero television. And despite its nature, Daredevil is set firmly within the world of The Avengers. The Chitauri invasion from The Avengers is only referred to as €œThe Incident€ in this series, but it forms the foundation on which the show is based. Fisk€™s rise to power only happens because of the destruction suffered by New York during the invasion. There are also numerous little hints to the wider Marvel Universe€”Wesley jokes at one time that unless Daredevil has a magic hammer or a suit of armor he shouldn€™t be a threat. On the wall in Urich€™s office, there are clippings from the Battle of New York and Hulk€™s rampage in Harlem. Numerous other hints of the Marvel Universe appear in the series: from the hints of Melvin Potter (Matt Gerald) becoming Marvel villain turned hero Gladiator, to Gao€™s heroin being named Steel Serpent, the name of an Iron Fist villain. There are many more €œblink and you€™ll miss €˜em€ Easter eggs scattered throughout the episodes. With Daredevil, Marvel has proven that it can adopt the appropriate tone for each of their properties. The movies up until now have largely been a bit more light, which is fitting given the nature of the characters those films have focused on. But Daredevil is a darker, grittier hero and Marvel has taken the right approach. Marvel understands that a one-tone-fits-all approach won€™t work with these characters. And like the comics, they€™re approaching each one in a different way. Not every superhero needs a big-budget summer blockbuster. In fact, street-level heroes like Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and many more would be far better served in television. The serialized nature of television is far closer to the comics and is a better fit for characters like this. Save the world-destroying threats the Avengers face for the movies and give the smaller, street characters their due in TV.
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Percival Constantine is the author of several novels and short stories, including the Vanguard superhero series, and regularly writes and comments on movies, comics, and other pop culture. More information can be found at his website, PercivalConstantine.com