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Marvel's DAREDEVIL - A Review
This weekend gave comic book fans and watchers of Netflix's continued experimentation with original content a lot to talk about with the release of its much anticipated take on the super-hero Daredevil. So does the show leap right from the pages of the comic? Does it live up to the hype and the massively positive reviews it is getting? As a lifelong fan of superheroes but never much of a Daredevil fan I'm going to break it down.
Murdock has the Devil in Him
Without getting into spoilers the basic plot of Daredevil follows the vigilante activities of a man in a mask named Matt Murdock. Matt is a lawyer by day trying to start a law firm with his best friend Foggy Nelson. Our hero is a New York resident who is fed up with corruption and crime and wants to put a stop to those of wealth and influence infecting the city with the less than savory ways they go about procuring said wealth. More than an ordinary man though Murdock was stricken blind by a chemical accident as a child, an accident that also caused his other senses to be heightened, particularly his hearing. Murdock is the son of a somewhat washed-up boxer whose greatest talent was the ability to take a punch. After the death of his Father he is trained by a fellow blind man who wanted to start a full on take-no-prisoners war against the forces of crime and evil.
One of the strongest things about the show that I can think of is that it took me and made me into a fan of Daredevil. I never thought of Daredevil as much of a compelling character. He seemed to show up on the periphery of bigger and better heroes like Spider-Man. New York is often the epicenter of a lot of happenings in the Marvel Universe and so Daredevil always seemed to me a minor player completely out-staged by the forces around him. In this show however the inverse is true, Murdock is our main character and we are there for his struggles, we see elements of his backstory and how his personality was shaped, from his strained relationship with his mentor to his Catholicism to how he reflects his Father in refusing to give up no matter how many times he has to be stitched back together.
The show piles a lot of troubles on Matthews shoulders throughout its 13 episode first season. Unlike with other Marvel characters like Tony Stark we see a very emotional very real person. While I love Tony Stark he can come off as a caricature and at times be too charming and too plastic for his own good. As he struggles to balance his life as a crime fighter outside the law with his life as a lawyer more and more layers of tragedy and emotion are added. The build up to the events of the final episode is flawless, filled with twists and turns many of which I never even imagined were coming.
Like any other super-hero related endeavor Daredevil has its moments of cliché after all it is torn from the pages of a comic book but Daredevil also has a surprising amount of twists and turns that were not at all expected. Not only are the interpersonal relationships it portrays complex and the characters given time to be explored in depth that a movie couldn't do justice to but the twists and turns of the seedy criminal enterprise going on in Hell's Kitchen New York is equally wrought with intrigue and unpredictability.
There are many strands of the story interwoven beautifully as events spiral out of control for both the titular hero and his enemies. Never once did I feel like I was watching a popcorn movie or feel the desire to shut my brain off, the story is nuanced enough to keep you guessing but delivers plenty of action sequences and big in-your-face plot points to please any super-hero fan.
It also has its elements of mystery. As with other Marvel Cinematic Universe properties Daredevil is connected to the rest of Marvel and there are hints and hidden treasures referencing other pieces of the puzzle that Marvel is building across both the big screen and now our televisions. Daredevil does not rely on tired cliches or well understood nostalgia for other Marvel properties, it finds a happy medium between the super-hero stuff we love to see and telling a good complex story.
Not only is it a great ride with lot's of thrills but it manages to somehow come to an ending that is a complete ending AND a complete cliffhanger that makes you immediately wonder when they'll be making more of these. Such is the bane of the Netflix generation and binge watching that now we must wait.
Those who look down on of the super-hero genre may be surprised by how much dialogue there is in this. It's not a watered down corny story of some guy in pajamas beating up purse snatchers. There are great character moments sprinkled throughout, subtle acting and truly great performances. Particularly great is Vincent D'Onofrio's portrayal of Wilson Fisk, the legendary Kingpin. Kingpin is a character that I have been aware of since my childhood growing up with the Spider-Man animated series of the 90s. Here he is soft-spoken, shy, and there is a sincerity in his tone when he talks about making the city a better place that is chilling.
It is great to see a villain that is not one-sided or played to comic effect. One of my biggest complaints with Thor 2: The Dark World was that it turned Loki into a jokey character (the entire script of that movie felt like they had some comedians do treatments to spruce it up with jokes and kept nearly every joke, good or bad, that was offered) rather than keeping his humor balanced with his menacing and mischievous character. With D'Onofrio's Fisk there is no question who you are dealing with, a psycho, a murderer, a criminal mastermind but also someone with depth. His character has both menace and likeability and while he lacks the humor he reminded me very much of Ledger's Joker.
The Tone and Some Flaws
Daredevil strikes a tone that is completely apart from other Marvel properties thus far. For one thing the violence is far more graphic, blood is often seen but more than that many deaths in the show are intimate or disturbing in other ways. Overall the gritty and darker tone are a good thing but at times the show does fall into tropes that seem more at home in a Nolan Batman film than they do as part of the MCU.
One such technique involves putting our hero in a dark patch of the screen or off-screen entirely and not showing what he is doing to beat up his enemy. Another more common one is having a frightened security guard with eyes darting from ledge to ledge searching for him when suddenly the hero comes out of the shadows and begins attacking only to disappear back into the shadows. In one episode the man our hero is trying to save has his eyes shut and while the camera still is zoomed on his face Daredevil dispatches with nearly a dozen dirty cops who are trying to kill the man. We do not get to see any of what might have been an awesome fight.
When the show does show fighting it does a good job, far better than Nolan's Batman movies at showing hand-to-hand fighting in a somewhat realistic and sometimes brutal way. However as I said in other respects it almost seems as if they are setting up Daredevil as, as a friend of mind put it, “Blind Batman”, with their reliance on shadows, darkness, and guards and crooks being taken off-screen as the hero appears and then vanishes again.
Don't get me wrong the times when we do get extended fights and do get to see everything are amazing, the fights are very well done. I guess I can't expect them to do that for every random henchman but I feel that the show is better than to borrow visual motifs from Batman. And yes I understand there are certain similarities with the characters, maybe even within the comics themselves (I know that Frank Miller has done work for Batman and Daredevil). The fights that bother me are few and far between and don't detract all that much from the show.
The only other bothersome thing was the soundtrack for the show. The main theme of the show that plays during the opening is amazing and totally stuck in my brain but many times during the show I felt as though I was hearing the composer do his best to rip-off Hans Zimmer's soundtrack to Batman Begins and the Dark Knight. Even in the closing moments of the final episode, which was an amazing and incredible episode, we hear what sounds an awful lot like the standard Hans Zimmer soundtrack.
The strength of the writing and the characters alone elevate the material, there is not the need to borrow such a generic soundtrack sound. Hans Zimmer is a fine composer but his style has become so ubiquitous in video games and films that it really grates on my nerves to hear that style and it is immediately noticeable in some of the best parts Daredevil has to offer.
See what I did there, in the show they're lawyers so it's the verdict... never mind.
Overall its an amazing show that lives up to the hype that nerds have been giving it. It has good writing, interesting characters with far more depth than most comic book characters - even those who get their own movies - can hope for and great action sequences that are some of the best Marvel has ever done. I like what they are trying to do with a darker tone and I love that not being trapped behind a PG-13 gives them the ability to do much darker material, use fouler language and just generally not hide behind the idea of being for kids.
Whether you like super-heroes or not Daredevil is a great show and for those who are fans of the rest of Marvel's work like me there are Easter Eggs, connections and setting up a whole new rabbit hole to go down... as they say, the devil is in the details.