Daredevil, Marvel’s latest comic property to get the television treatment, debuted its first season on Netflix today. After soaking up the first four episodes of the show, it’s safe to say that Daredevil opens the door for Marvel to do in television what it has accomplished in the world of cinema.
For those unfamiliar with Daredevil, the show tells the story of Matt Murdock, blinded as a child in a car accident involving toxic chemicals and an act of altruism, giving the young man extremely heightened senses. We join Matt, all grown up, as he and his law partner “Foggy” Nelson attempt to establish their practice on their home turf of Hell’s Kitchen. Daredevil manages to deliver the hero’s origin story over the first two installments, while cleverly dropping subtle actions that give viewers insight into the extent of Matt’s powers.
The most striking thing about Daredevil is its tone. Instead of the more overt, flashy comic book aesthetics we’ve seen in the Marvel films, Daredevil takes a different path, closer resembling a gritty crime drama with a vigilante subplot. Showrunner Steven S. DeKnight (Spartacus) brings a world closer to the Sopranos and Scorsese, which allows the show to cater to an older audience. Daredevil has plenty of heightened violence, language, and occasional glimpse of flesh that never strays into an explicit place, but could turn off parents of children looking for something closer to the whiz-bang Avengers styled offerings.
Daredevil stays true to the comic character’s traits well, which should please long time fans of the book. While this could often be a recipe for the alienation of anyone outside that circle, it’s Daredevil’s attention to the universal themes that makes it accessible and identifiable to any audience. Characters wrestle with their past, their faith, how their choices between good or evil may define them, and, in the case of the two major players, what it means to be a man. ALongside this is the blatant lack of superpowers. Matt Murdock isn’t imbued with super strength, taking just as many hits as he gives, and we see the physical strain this puts on his body. Truly, the lengths gone to establish such a realistic world for the show pays off.
Daredevil is the first cog in a television plan that includes AKA Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and the Defenders. It all still ties into the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe as well, with the events of this season opening in the aftermath of the attack on New York City in the climax of the Avengers. The cleanup of the city, specifically Hell’s Kitchen, is the backdrop for the stories the show is telling right now. As Matt begind to make his mark as a masked vigilante in the neighborhood, he also begins to step on the toes of larger criminal interests seeking to control Hell’s Kitchen. It’s worth noting that these stories are slow burners, and Daredevil proceeds at a slower pace, making up for it in spectacular fight sequences that are among the most eye popping things I’ve seen on television.
Acting wise, Daredevil sports a strong ensemble cast. Charlie Cox (Boardwalk Empire) brings both a fragility and power to Matt/Daredevil that keeps the audience just unsure of where to stand with him. In Deborah Ann Woll’s hands (True Blood), Karen Page is much more than just a legal secretary. She holds her own in a quest for justice. Elden Henson (Mockingjay) is just the right amounts comic relief and devoted friend in Foggy. I’ve only spent two episodes with Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin, who he plays with a quiet menace.
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