After starting my Netlfix Daredevil binge yesterday I’m now six episodes in and on the whole, it’s very possibly the best superhero TV series bar The Flash around at the moment. These are my comments on those six episodes so obviously massive spoilers ahead.
Daredevil isn’t without some issues but it’s effectively managed to draw together a good solid elongated origin story for not just Daredevil, but the Kingpin/Wilson Fisk while at the same time touching on issues like gentrification and the insanely fucked up American healthcare system. And there’s one of the problems with the script. It’s flagging issues up in such a way that it’s the equivalent of Stan Lee running around every time it happens to quip about Marvel’s social responsibility. It sometimes works, it sometimes gets in the way of the narrative.
As for the story the first episode kicks off with young Matt Murdock losing his eyesight in a road accident that sees him saving an old man, but thanks to some mysterious toxic waste, he’s made blind but also develops super senses and a sort of ‘radar sense’ that’s never called ‘radar sense’ so far, even though in a later episode it’s quite wonderfully described as Matt seeing everything as an ‘impressionistic painting’. After this opening we see Matt as Daredevil breaking up a human trafficking gang in New York in what is possibly his first time out fighting crime in order to clean up Hell’s Kitchen and New York generally.
We’re also introduced to Foggy Nelson, Matt’s partner in the legal firm they’ve opened up in Hell’s Kitchen to fight for the people that fall through the cracks. This sets up Matt as a person fighting for what’s right by day and by night. It sets Matt up as a moral and just man, and in the hands of a lesser actor than Charlie Cox this could have easily be played in the most cliched manner possible but Cox does a fantastic job in these episodes as someone coming to terms that he’s dropped himself into something he can’t actually grasp because it’s far too big. this becomes clear as Matt and Foggy take their first case in the shape of Karen Page, a young woman seemingly bang to rights for the murder of one of her work colleagues but after some questioning from Matt and Foggy, they realise there’s more to the case. It turns out that Karen has stolen something from her employer and that her employer works for someone far bigger further up the food chain. After some work from Matt and Foggy, not to mention with help from Daredevil, Karen is found innocent and she offers to help the pair’s new legal practice as their secretary.
The first episode doesn’t mention at all who the villain is. His name isn’t mentioned in this first episode, and he’s not seen for a few episodes later when we first get introduced to Wilson Fisk he’s portrayed as a man of wealth and taste at an art exhibition. Comic readers know that Fisk is The Kingpin, the crime lord of New York, but this story has Fisk setting his career up as he helps rebuild New York after the battle in The Avengers, an event often brought up as a major plot point often, It’s a smart use of Marvel’s cinematic continuity to drive the plot of this series that connects this to the larger Marvel Universe rather than have say, Iron Man fly past in one episode and everyone going ”oooOOoooo” and thinking no more about it.
From the second episode on things ramp up. We find out that Japanese, Russian and American mobs are all in alliance with Fisk’s organisation, and that the Russians especially are being hammered by Daredevil’s activities. At this point it’s worth mentioning that Daredevil crosses the streams with Arrow and Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, except they all draw from the same source material, Batman: Year One and Frank Miller’s Daredevil stories. They all do different things with them, so Nolan started with a gritty street level Batman, and Arrow started off as a vigilante trying to clean up his city (and at times Daredevil even hits some of the same beats as the first series of Arrow) but in all three cases the execution is different. Arrow is vaguely campy melodrama, Nolan’s Batman films went from gritty crime drama to pompous shite while Daredevil (so far) has maintained the same tone in the six episodes I’ve watched so far. The DNA however is pure Frank Miller, with a little bit of Wally Wood and Gene Colan in the heavy use of black, not to mention sodium streetlights in the palate used to light the programme.It is basically, it’s own beast. Showrunner Dean Goddard does an impressive job holding it all together and making it look cinematic most of the time, though it does at times look like and feel like a TV programme in lots of shots of two people sitting/standing around spouting exposition to each other.
Where Daredevil does work perfectly it’s in its fight scenes. There’s a brilliant fight scene at the end of the second episode that uses almost Kubrickian zero point perspective perfectly as a battered and beaten Daredevil fights a load of Russian mobsters in a long corridor to rescue a young boy kidnapped to trap Daredevil and to be sold to human traffickers. There’s also a great scene in the fourth episode as Daredevil rescues his ally and friend Claire (played by Rosiario Dawson and better known in comics as the character Night Nurse) from the Russian mob in a darkened garage.
But where Daredevil does step out from all of Marvel’s cinematic and TV output is the violence. Yes, they use terms like ‘shit’ and nearly say ‘fuck’ but the violence is at times extraordinarily brutal. No so more than a scene where after having Fisk built up as a crime lord, but one that likes fine women, art and adopts good taste on advice of his assistant Wesley, finally shows the monster he really is by killing one of the Russian brothers running their gang by beating him to a pulp and smashing his head off by a car door. It’s brutal and is up with that scene in Irreversible in terms of turning one’s stomach and I’m saying this as someone that likes my gore.This is much nastier but it’s essential to reveal Fisk’s true nature.
By the end of the sixth episode Matt realises that there’s large swathes of the police, the New York legal system and the political class in the pocket of Fisk, and that he’s quite possibly out of his depth completely. It’s also worth mentioning that his costume (a black top, trousers, and a mask) is hardly providing him protection but Matt describes it as a’work in progress’ not to mention Claire does a little bit of foreshadowing by saying he should wear armour. At some point in the second half of the series we know Daredevil starts wearing the traditional red suit, so it’s being signposted from nearly the start that Daredevil is going to look very different by the end of the series.
Daredevil so far is an excellent series. There’s some great attempts to build character in nearly everyone (though the Russians are just too cliche for words) with extra effort put into Matt/Daredevil and Fisk/The Kingpin. Everyone operates in a grey moral world, but that’s not stopping the baddies being really bad, and the goodies being really good because after all, this is based upon a comic where superheroes are just moral tales of good versus evil.
Right then, time for the next seven episodes….