This week’s Netflix pick: Daredevil brings the grit and darkness to the fantastical Marvel universe
To be honest, I have always been a DC kind of guy. Marvel’s heroes and villains just seem to knock each other around some without doing any real damage, and the impact of their fighting is lost upon me. “Daredevil” strays from the beaten path in this regard, and with the show’s Batman-like darkness and grittiness, it has won me over. Punches are thrown and sometimes land with brutal ferocity, bones are broken with intelligent moves and people die. While Daredevil might not be a masterpiece, the first season definitely gets the show off on the right foot.
Many people were turned off to the idea of Daredevil being a featured superhero after the Ben Affleck film soured the name for some, but Daredevil’s story has always been an enticing one. Matt Murdock – played by Charlie Cox – is blinded as a child, but his other senses allow him to see the world like he never could before. With his incredible senses, in addition to the pain of his father being killed when he was a child and the training of a blind man named Stick with similar sensory gifts – played by Scott Glenn – Murdock becomes a masked vigilante in New York City’s “Hell’s Kitchen” borough.
Hell’s Kitchen has seemingly never been hotter, with the paid-off police forming an insidious type of gang to do the mysterious Wilson Fisk’s – Vincent D’Onofrio – dirty work. The depth of corruption and assembly of ne’er-do-wells leave each situation with a refreshing amount of complexity and intrigue. While the action and the levels of corruption are both incredible, D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk is the least impressive part of it all. Originally, the characters of the show would not speak his name out of a combination of fear and respect, but while he was built up to be this impressive baddy in the dark, his character is very emotionally unhinged. Fisk’s emotional outbursts and lack of control only weakened the character for me, and while he does maintain his power he does not maintain the feared stature he was built up to have.
The performances of the cast vary, but “Daredevil” has an impressive lineup that provides for more depth and competence than most superhero shows. Charlie Cox does a phenomenal job as Matt Murdock, and brings both a refreshingly playful attitude to his daytime job as a lawyer and an admirably dark and tortured soul to his nighttime job as Daredevil. While his partner in law, Foggy Nelson – played by Elden Henson – is not the best actor, the chemistry between he and Karen Page – played by Deborah Ann Woll – is actually adorable. Scott Glenn, who plays Murdock’s trainer Stick, is wonderfully harsh and captures the screen every time he is on it. Maybe I am biased when it comes to Vincent D’Onofrio’s performance as Wilson Fisk, but after sitting through hours of my mother watching “Law and Order: Criminal Intent,” I no longer appreciate his acting as one might if they had not seen him act before.
While the show is featured most heavily around Murdock, the division of screen time between characters can be a little distracting. Following the lies and deception of Wilson Fisk is intriguing, but when the focus is on the comparatively bland agenda of Foggy and Karen, the show gets, well, bland. Their chemistry and Deborah Ann Woll’s acting prowess keep the show enjoyable, but Daredevil clearly loses some steam when the spotlight is taken off of Murdock and Fisk.
When the spotlight is on Murdock, however, the show hits its real stride. When he is masked and battling the underground of Hell’s Kitchen, the combat is fast, but it is well choreographed and impactful. The man is no superhuman, and that is where the show really becomes admirable. Murdock breathes heavily and stumbles with exhaustion as fights wear on, and he is not impervious to the dangers that he faces. The toll that Murdock takes as Daredevil is noticeable, and the fight scene at the end of episode two of the season is perhaps one of the best fight scenes I have seen. The camera focuses down the length of a hallway as Daredevil fights seven or eight criminals coming from rooms on either side of the hallway, and the impact of the fighting is felt as Murdock struggles to keep himself standing as the criminals keep getting back up to fight.
Not every fight scene lives up to the intensity of that one, but the battle between Daredevil and the underground is the show’s true bread and butter. It has been a long time since Marvel has impressed me, but Daredevil is for real. With a thrilling first season with satisfying storylines and impressive action, Netflix has another show for users to binge-watch.