One of the things I have loved most about the Marvel Cinematic Universe (as opposed to DC’s) is that it knows how to have fun. With the Netflix original series Daredevil, the new MCU has deviated from that original vision – and surprisingly (to me, at least), it actually works. This is dark and gritty while still having a side plate of humour, thanks to Buffy alum and Cabin in the Woods writer/director Drew Goddard.
Daredevil is the first of Marvel’s shows to focus more on the street-level fighters and brutality of a more ‘realistic’ world. A.K.A. Jessica Jones starring Krysten Ritter is due out later this year, all building towards The Defenders series. These tales differ drastically from the clean-cut world of Agents of SHIELD, for instance, where the main characters rarely get seriously hurt and the moral quandaries they find themselves in tend not to be anywhere near as dark and murky.
The character of Daredevil (played by Charlie Cox) immediately differs significantly to the other Marvel superheroes we’ve come to know and love on the silver screen. Murdock’s superpowers are a little weak – there’s the whole super-senses thing, but on the sliding scale of ‘powers’, it hardly rates. He’s a man – a blind man – that has a chip on his shoulder about justice. By day, he works as a struggling defense attorney; by night, he throws on a black mask and beats the shit out of bad people.
Make no mistake, Matt Murdock (aka Daredevil) is not your average superhero – he’s a super antihero. He has no qualms in beating someone to a pulp, throwing them off a roof, and so on. Murdock will stop at nothing to get to his idea of justice. And naturally, he is thoroughly conflicted about his vigilante secret identity, magnified by his Catholic guilt.
For a superhero series, Daredevil shows remarkable – and welcome – restraint when it comes to revealing the extent of Matt’s ‘powers’ as well as keeping them consistent. At his core, he is just a man, albeit an excellent fighter. He gets himself into scrapes and comes out worse for wear on many occasions. The fights Matt starts are rarely easy for him, even with his abilities. When he is found bleeding to death in a dumpster by off-duty nurse Claire (Rosario Dawson), she learns more about him and his capabilities slowly, without ever having an onslaught of exposition – the ultimate example of ‘show don’t tell’.
Though Daredevil is gritty and dark, more in the style of DC’s cinematic efforts, it manages to carve out its own unique personality. Thankfully, Marvel is aware that you can be ‘gritty’ while still being occasionally tongue-in-cheek and self-aware. On top of that, the violence is gruesome and gory. This is not something I am usually on board with and I admit that I’ve pulled many a face while watching the more bloody scenes, but Daredevil actually uses this level of violence for a point. Where other superhero tales stylize the violence or couch it in terms of justice, necessity, self-defense, and/or the greater good, Daredevil is unafraid to show the realities of what being a superhero really entails: a lot of fucking violence.
Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin is built up in grandiose, he-who-must-not-be-named style. When we finally do meet him, he’s strangely understated. It’s not a bad thing, just very unusual. He’s all iceberg; very little of the monster within is present on the surface. Instead, most of his dirty dealings are done through Wesley, well-dressed and manicured Toby Leonard Moore; a genius reinvention of the dedicated super villain lackey. Having learned from the best (aka geek God Joss Whedon), Drew Goddard is clearly aware that the best villains are those with their own personalities, motivations, and humanity. There’s no stereotypical moustache twirling going on here. And when Kingpin is pissed and the monster unleashed, it truly is terrifying for the audience.
I have never read any Daredevil comics so I’m unable to comment on the series compared to the source material – I’ve never even seen the film with Ben Affleck (though I’m told I’m not missing much). What I can say is that taken alone on the series’ merits, Daredevil is excellent. While Charlie Cox makes a dark vigilante both likeable and frightening, the supporting cast rounds out a show filled with great onscreen presence and chemistry. I’ve been a huge fan of Elden Henson since The Mighty Ducks series and it’s great to see him getting bigger and better roles. Deborah Ann Woll, known for her exceptional role in HBO’s True Blood, is no stranger to portraying someone as hero, victim, and predator, and does commendable work as Karen Page.
Verdict: The new Daredevil is definitely worth watching, though beware of the more adult content (especially in relation to violence) when showing to younger viewers. Thank you Marvel for creating yet another brilliant set piece for your universe.