Monday, 18 May 2015

Verdict: Marvel's Daredevil Season 1


They've conquered the multiplex and assaulted network TV - Marvel's highly-successful cinematic universe is seeping into all forms of entertainment from the bombastic Avengers: Age of Ultron currently blasting across the box office and Agents of SHIELD addressing the fallout from that. 

Now, Marvel's next step on the road to world domination is streaming, and the first show to hit Netflix is Daredevil, a more mature and adult take on the leather-clad hero than we've seen before. Here are my thoughts on the first season of Netflix's newest exclusive.

Daredevil is a TV adaptation of the popular Marvel superhero of the same name - it follows Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), a blind lawyer who finds justice in court by day and fights crime on the streets of Hell's Kitchen by night. Armed with a super sensitive sense of hearing and some kickass fighting skills, Murdock is determined to make life difficult to local thugs and gangsters.

One such gangster is Wilson Fisk (Vincent D'Onofrio), a bald hulk of a man whose crime empire has corrupted every avenue of Hell's Kitchen. After Fisk moves to extinguish his various mobster rivals and dominate the streets even further, it's up to Matt as both lawyer and vigilante to stop him.

The first thing to understand about Daredevil is that it is DARK. This isn't Thor: The Dark World where a mystical convergence and dark elves threaten to engulf Greenwich, or Guardians of the Galaxy where a talking raccoon and a space tree save the universe. No, this grim, cold and bloodied take on New York is unlike anything Marvel has done before. Our hero, Matt Murdock, isn't an immortal hammer wielding god - he's just a masked man with an inflated sense of right and wrong and heightened senses. Just like you or I, he bleeds, hurts and breaks when beaten. Daredevil puts this front and centre right from the get-go, just so you're under no impressions that this is more Saturday morning cartoon than gritty HBO drama.

The violence in Daredevil is both impactful and distressing. Across the 13 episodes, Matt and the friends (more on them later) are grown and built upon to the point that it really hits home when he gets hurt. The show doesn't waste time getting into the action either. Even before the opening credits on the first episode ('Into The Ring'), Matt is saving girls from sex traffickers and beating one of them to a bloody pulp. Later, a scene in a police station jail, we're confronted with some pretty graphic strangling and eye gouging.

The fight scenes and choreography are all fantastic, with sequences in Episode 2 ('Cut Man') and Episode 9 ('Speak of the Devil') exemplifying how intense and brilliantly edited these sections are. The directors ensure that they use techniques like long takes, slow motion and tracking shots to convey the speed and fluidity of the fighting, but only when necessary. Things like the slo-mo are never indulgent or overused.

Anyway, that's enough about the action. What about the characters? Well, Charlie Cox is really great as Matt Murdock. He gives a performance that is soft in places, but fierce and fiery in others. We get to see both sides of Matt - the vulnerable blind boy who yearns to find justice and the angry, troubled young man who is determined to achieve it whatever the cost.

Alongside Cox are Deborah Ann Woll and Elden Henson as Karen and Foggy, Matt's friends and coworkers at their super small time law firm, Nelson and Murdock. Woll may look like your typical ditzy blonde on the surface, but Karen is afforded a great deal of depth across the season and the relationship she forges with Foggy was an unexpected highlight. Likewise, Foggy may seem like the jovial comic-relief at first, but Henson brings a deep sincerity to the role that evolves across the series.

However, the real highlight in Daredevil is Vincent D'Onofrio as Wilson Fisk. Superhero films and shows rely upon great villains providing a formidable challenge to our hero, and the Fisk is up there with the best. I'm not kidding, Fisk may even be the best Marvel villain we've seen so far, even greater than Loki or Ultron (although for some very different reasons).

D'Onofrio is terrifying and chilling as he conceals something very sinister beneath the surface - there is a shocking amount of anger and rage waiting to boil over at any moment when it comes to Wilson Fisk, and D'Onofrio captures this quiet anger perfectly. You really don't want to mess with him. What's more, the show affords Fisk an arc that is just brilliant - not only are we treated to an episode that delves into his childhood, we also see Fisk forge a sweet romance with an art museum curator named Vanessa (Ayelet Zurer). Shockingly, we come to care for and sympathise with Fisk as the show goes on. Poor Fisk, we think, he's not all that bad. He's a nice man underneath. He's just misunderstood.

How foolish of us. Mark my words - don't believe it for a second.

Daredevil isn't any CW superhero show with a budget of a underprivileged sixth grader - the production quality in Daredevil is seriously high and it's all there on the screen. Honestly, this is cinema quality television that looks amazing.

That being said, there are some episodes that feel like they're treading water where not a lot happens. Although, to be fair, they do provide some essential backstory and character development for characters like Fisk and Matt. One episode, 'Shadows in the Glass', starts out slow but boy, does it get dark and shocking at the end. Very rarely do I literally hide behind my hands at something but this did it, and you'll know what I'm talking about when you get there. Agents of SHIELD this ain't.

Simply put, Daredevil is easily one of the best things Marvel has ever done, up there with The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I can't wait to see where the second season takes us, and delve back into the gloomy streets of Hell's Kitchen once more.

Best episode(s): Cut Man, In The Blood, Shadows in the Glass, Daredevil

2 comments:

  1. So far I've only seen one episode, but am I the only one who didn't like this show? The first episode seemed to be poorly written at best and that's not even getting into the blatant misogyny. I couldn't help noticing the general lack of female characters which normally I would try to overlook if not for the horrendous way they treated the one major female character who did appear. I mean she had no strengths of her own, she had to spend the entire episode as a victim who required protection from men, and at the end she even literally offered her services as a free maid. It's offensive and it's set back everything Marvel has done with its efforts to create a wide array of strong female characters.

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    1. In fairness, I suggest you watch more than one episode before jumping to conclusions. I think that branding a show as blatantly misogynist after a single episode is a little short-sighted, especially when this show makes the effort to establish several interesting and complex female characters across the entire first season.

      Based on your comment, you're referring to Karen (Deborah Ann Woll). Yes, she starts the show as a damsel in distress. However, her role in the episode 1 isn't a reflection in how her character develops across the season. Karen, along with the other female characters that are introduced such as Vanessa, Claire, Elena and Marci, are all three-dimensional and complex characters who are so much more than you've wrongly assumed.

      Like I said, I suggest going back and watching the entire set of 13 episodes before making rash proclamations of how far back the show has set Marvel. And hey, if you're still not convinced, I'm more than happy to chat about it right here :)

      Plus, the next Marvel show to arrive on Netflix, AKA Jessica Jones, might be more your flavour.

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