Maybe it was that one can still remember the god-awful, Gigli-era Ben Affleck version that was an affront to all that is good. Maybe it was a feeling of complete disinterest after watching the first 5 episodes or so or Marvel’s heretofore flagship television show, Agents of Shield. Or perhaps the feeling that most of the big budget Marvel movies (with the exception of Guardians of the Galaxy) are diverging into a tired plot structure of villain mad, city go boom, #Sacrifice, good guys win. Whatever it was, I can tell you that my expectations for the new Daredevil on Netflix were fairly low. Luckily for us, though, this new show (at least the first 4 episodes) is incredible television.
Being one of Marvel’s second tier of characters, you may or may not know too much about Daredevil. It’s based on a comic by, who else, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Bill Everett, and is the story of young boy named Matt Murdock. After being blinded in an accident as a kid, Matt grows up to be a lawyer as well as a badass, night-stalking, vigilante who’s honed his other senses to a razor sharp point. With this canvas to paint on, the show-runners use a number of exciting elements to keep this show fast-paced and fresh.
One of these is that, so far, it has dedicated about the same amount of time to his origin story as I just did. While some franchises (See: Spiderman, The) have seen it necessary to continually rehash and belabor the origin, the writers for Daredevil cover his childhood and his accident in extremely succinct flashbacks. It’s a very refreshing change and one that allows the story to move at a faster pace. The characters also feel much more fleshed out from the get-go, a common trait for good shows that start in the middle, not at the beginning, of the action.
Probably due to the fact that Daredevil is not the most well-known character, as well as its home on Netflix, the show also seems willing to take chances other (i.e. network) shows won’t. You can see this in the pacing; they didn’t rush out the villain, but rather built up to his appearance slowly. Ditto for Matt Murdock’s training and complete lack of a love-interest, things that would happen in the first third of a feature and are commonly set-up in the first two episodes of a series. It also definitely takes chances with the action scenes in the show. The fighting so far has been brutal and dirty, akin to movies like The Bourne Identity and Oldboy, none of the A A Left B Down choreography that other shows exhibit. It’s also full of the kind of I-can’t-even-look-at-this gore that you’d never get away with on one of the big four networks.
Beyond that, the best part of the show so far is its smallness. The show is set in the same universe as the Marvel films (the vaunted MCU), as shown by a number of small allusions to other titles, but the scale here is so much smaller. The Hell’s Kitchen of Daredevil is part of the debris left over from the first Avengers movie. It’s part of the story of what happens to the little people who have to live in the destruction wrought by gods (figuratively and literally!), and never having been shown this part of the world before, it’s both refreshing and fascinating.
Who would get the rebuilding contracts after a city block was destroyed by a giant alien bug? Who’s affected by all of the preparation or repair for superhumans fighting in the skies above your tiny slice of reality? Those are the people who populate this show. Matt Murdock doesn’t get super powers when he’s bathed in a toxic chemical, he just goes blind and has to teach himself how to live in this world. Not on a grand, planetary or galactic scale; but in his tenement building, on his block, in his neighborhood.
Obviously none of this would work without some great writing and great acting and the central cast of Charlie Cox (Matt Murdock/Daredevil), Elden Henson (Foggy Nelson, law partner/friend), Vincent D’Onofrio (Wilson Fisk/Kingpin), and others. D’Onofrio especially does some very interesting work as Fisk in his first appearance, a single data point in a hopefully positive trend. Cox also does equally well in courtroom, action, or other scenes making for a very interesting lead–of course he’s British too (it’s the TV British as American Invasion!).
All of these factors add up to make Daredevil a compelling and eminently watchable show, and the best entry into the Marvel television universe so far. If it continues to explore this world on a smaller scale and keeps taking care of small details of character, location, and pacing, there’s not a moment of this show that won’t be enjoyable.
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