Warning: Minor Spoilers Ahead!
With the success of AGENTS OF SHIELD, it comes as little surprise that Marvel wants to expand its presence on the small screen, but there are only so many primetime time slots and they come with some heavy handed content restriction rules so it’s not as easy as it sounds. Thankfully we now have Netflix, which has had an ever increasing success rate with original content, and is the perfect place to launch DAREDEVIL, the dark new addition to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. The show centers around Matt Murdock, a Hell’s Kitchen native who was blinded by toxic chemicals when he was a boy. While he lost his sight, those chemicals somehow enhanced his remaining senses to a super human level, allowing him to perform incredible feats of agility and “see” the world in ways no other person can. So by day Matt runs a struggling start-up law firm with his long time friend Foggy Nelson, and by night he prowls around the Kitchen dispatching justice that he feels can not be achieved through the legal system.
The storytelling in DAREDEVIL is remarkable. While the main protagonists, Matt Murdock, Foggy Nelson, and Karen Page, are introduced in the first episode, the show spends the rest of the season gradually revealing more and more about each of them. A similar trope is used for the antagonists, we learn who they are and what immediately motivates them, but we only occasionally get some back story or allusions to their past sins and future machinations. While all this seems like basic storytelling, the craft with which it is doled out is superb. From the start of the show it is clear that Matt Murdock’s masked alter ego is on a collision course with the crime lords who are trying to destroy the neighborhood he has sworn to protect, and despite all the various reveals, looming questions, and unsolved mysteries that pop up throughout the season, it never loses direction. This results in one of the most satisfying inaugural seasons of any TV show I’ve ever seen, while at the same time setting up plenty of options for future seasons, and doing so in a way that isn’t predictable and boring as is all too often the case with episodic stories.
It’s always a little difficult talking about story and production on a TV series because there are so many hands involved that it’s difficult to give credit to the right person, however, I think in this case we should tip our hats to Steven S. DeKnight for delivering a show that not only boasts great storytelling, but also has outstanding production values. While DeKnight is only credited with directing one episode and writing on three, he operated as showrunner for the series after Drew Goddard backed out to go direct the upcoming SINISTER SIX film. DeKnight is no stranger to television, having created the hit series SPARTACUS for Starz, and his experience and steady hand are clearly visible in the new Marvel show. Daredevil has a long history of being one of the darker heroes of the Marvel Universe, often willing to go to extremes other heroes won’t and usually paying the consequences for those actions, when you combine that with his dedication to a particular neighborhood, you have someone who is not so much a modern super hero but rather a modern folk hero, someone who is trying to do his best while not always succeeding at it. The production clearly reflects this, with the show often draped in shadow and low light that underscores the dubious and duplicitous nature of Matt’s, and many other characters, lives. In addition to this wonderful cinematography, the show constantly has an inventive directorial direction. Daredevil isn’t supposed to be a wide known and lauded superhero, rather he is the guardian of his little slice of Manhattan, so rather than fill the show with the grand sweeping shots and the wide angles that usually make up a comic adaptation, the directors stick to tight shots and closer angles, giving the show a far more personal and real feel.
As a longtime fan of the comic, I had some trepidation when I first saw the casting for DAREDEVIL, thankfully my fears have been put to rest. Charlie Cox (TV’s BOARDWALK EMPIRE) tackles the role of Matt Murdock, and he does a great job with it. I’ve long been fan of Cox’s acting, ever since I saw him in STARDUST, but I was nervous about how he’d do playing an American and a New Yorker, thankfully his accent is flawless and his performance isn’t far behind. Cox’s portrayal of Murdock is impressive, easily shifting from blind man to vigilante and back again, and making both look incredibly real and convincing. The most surprising and impressive performance comes from Elden Henson (THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART 1) who takes on the role of Foggy Nelson. Henson is the perfect embodiment of Nelson, a little bumbling, a little brilliant, and a lot of heart, Nelson has always been the glue that holds Daredevil together, and Henson does such an amazing job with the role that it’s hard to believe he isn’t actually that man. Deborah Ann Woll (TV’s TRUE BLOOD) is a greatly under appreciated actor, and while I was a bit guarded when I first saw her as Karen Page, as the series progressed she quickly won me over. Page’s introduction to the series is violent and chaotic, so it comes as little surprise that it’s not easy to make a quick call on Woll’s performance. However, after watching the whole season it’s clear that Woll understands Page on a deep level, subtly portraying the inner conflicts and fiery passions that have haunted the character throughout her existence, it’s a remarkable performance and one I look forward to seeing more of. In my experience, if you know who Vincent D’Onofrio (TV’s LAW AND ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT) is, then you probably know him from a specific role and have trouble visualizing him outside of it, and I’m not sure if that is a very good or a very bad thing. However, what I am sure about is that D’Onofrio is wonderful as Wilson Fisk, crime lord and chief antagonist of the series. D’Onofrio brings a different take to Fisk than I expected, but one I find far more humanizing that previous portrayals. He makes Fisk terrifyingly real, creating a man who is full of flaws and seems almost laughably awkward, that is until he beats a man to death for embarrassing him. This embodiment of Fisk is exactly what you want in a villain, powerful, ruthless, clever, but still very much a person that can be related to, D’Onofrio does a fantastic job of drilling down to the heart of Wilson Fisk and putting it on display, while still being a blood soaked manic hiding behind a mask of virtue, very impressive.
DAREDEVIL takes the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a darker direction , bringing the good fight to the neighborhoods and back alleys of Manhattan instead of the skyscrapers. Combining an outstanding cast, great storytelling, and stunning production values, this may be the best show on Netflix to date. If you love anything Marvel has done, or just want an addicting show with plenty of action, than give it a watch, you’ll be glad you did.
Final Score: 9.5 out of 10