I’m probably very late to this particular party, but I’ve finally started to watch Netflix’s new series Daredevil. Full disclosure: I’m familiar with the character and the comic books. In fact, Daredevil is probably one of my favorite characters. What I like about his comic is how grounded and honest his best writers are about his world and his character. So far, the show has done an excellent job capturing that. Daredevil expertly avoids some of the more predictable clichés in the superhero genre, telling some dark stories through excellent direction and great acting from almost all corners.
Taking just a cursory glance at Daredevil’s story, it looks like the run-of-the-mill origin story. Preposterous accident involving radioactive chemicals, a dead dad, and the natural thirst for justice following such a tragedy. Dig a little deeper, and he’s not your typical superhero. His powers, for one, are unique and interesting, in a genre where almost every character has a similarly powered counterpart from another publishing company. He’s blind, but his other senses are enhanced to an incredible degree. Then there’s his Catholicism, made apparent in the second scene of the series. It makes sense that some vigilante would have some religious conviction hiding under their actions, and given how few and far between religious characters are in comics and media generally it’s kind of a breath of fresh air to see one of these heroes in a confession box.
Even the somewhat typical origin story is told in an unusual manner. Although he has a father whose death defines him, like almost every hero out there, the show makes sure to emphasize his dad’s flaws. He is not the beacon of wisdom and geniality that we are used to seeing in the movies. I also think it was brilliant of them to tell the origin story through flashbacks in the first couple issues, as it gives the actual stories in each episode time to breathe. It also makes the protagonist a bit of a mystery. Because Daredevil doesn’t rely on the story beats and techniques we’ve seen over and over again to make the superhero’s motivation completely clear, Matt Murdock is kind of an intriguing enigma. Why is he putting on a mask and fighting sex traffickers? Why is he doing so now? These questions were a little frustrating for me at first, but I’ve grown to think they actually add to the appeal of the character.
The stories themselves are grounded and intriguing, although they sometimes go through elaborate means to involve major characters. Company doing some vaguely corrupt things in the aftermath of The Avengers? Makes sense. Organized crime selling drugs and humans? Scary, but sadly realistic. But if a secretary steals information on a company scheme, why frame her for murder instead of, I don’t know, torturing the information out of her or something? And why exactly did they hire Murdock and Nelson to defend their henchman in the third episode? The reasons given felt a little contrived and unrealistic.
The character work, by both writers and actors, is pretty darn good in the series. Matt Murdock is almost instantly an intriguing, fascinating character, and is played very well by Charlie Cox. And I really loved his interactions with Rosario Dawson’s “Night Nurse” character Claire, an early favorite of mine. I also like the way they’ve provided Karen Page with her own story arc and motivations, making her a much more interesting character than the secretary from the early Stan Lee comics. And while we’ve only gotten to see a little bit of Ben Urich, and even less of big baddie Wilson Fisk, the performances make our brief moments with them memorable.
The major exception to the overall solid character work is Foggy Nelson, at least for me, anyway. He’s a smartass who knows he’s a smartass and tries very hard to be one, and he’s generally pretty annoying when he does. All of his “funny” lines feel really forced to me; in a show that’s mostly grounded and nuanced, his obnoxiousness sticks out like a sore thumb (as does his hair – come on, attorney desperate for clients, get a haircut!) It’s too bad, because the fundamentally decent Foggy Nelson from the comics is probably the best of the “best buddy” characters of the genre.
The biggest highlight of the series (or at least the first three episodes) is the action. Before the first title sequence we got an action sequence between Daredevil and some human traffickers that puts all of Nolan’s action scenes to shame. Then there was the one-on-one fight by the end of the episode, and of course the seemingly-single shot fight at the end of “Cut Man,” where an injured Daredevil slowly but surely beats down several Russian gangsters. I do worry that too many scenes like this in every episode will start to feel repetitive, making each fight less significant…but so far, they’ve remained fresh and fun to watch. The level of gore is usually just right – the fight at the beginning of “Rabbit in a Snowstorm” was brutal, but left most of the bits to the imagination. When one of those fighters pushes his head through a rusty spike, I felt like it was trying a bit too hard to be gritty. Hopefully the show continues to use the gore to enhance the realism, like it largely has in the first three episodes.
The first episode honestly wasn’t a perfect start. It had some slower bits, and some of the dialogue felt forced and unrealistic – like Foggy’s complaining about Matt’s principles to their realtor, or the corny dialogue between Karen, Foggy and Matt when they have dinner at the end. “Cut Man,” though, provided some great interactions between Matt and Claire, some nice scenes between Foggy and Karen when they go drinking together, and that awesome fight scene at the end, making the second episode my favorite by far. “Rabbit in a Snowstorm” provided an fun arc that began and ended within the episode, while providing a great tease for the Kingpin of Crime himself. A solid, and occasionally excellent, start to a series that has the tone and direction of this unique superhero down.
Into the Ring: B
Cut Man: A-
Rabbit in a Snowstorm: B+