My brother Doug suggested I write some movie or TV show reviews, and I just finished the first season of Marvel’s Daredevil, so I thought I would start there.* If you’re looking for a review full of metaphors and symbolism, look elsewhere. If you want to know whether the show is worth watching, read on. WARNING: minor spoilers ahead.
Like Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter, Daredevil takes place within the larger context of the world as it exists in the Marvel movies (The Avengers, Iron Man, Captain America, etc.). Unlike Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (good god, that’s tedious to type) and Agent Carter, Daredevil airs on Netflix rather than ABC. This allows the producers and writers more leeway, free from the Standards & Practices overlords of network television, but I don’t think they went overboard with exercising their freedom. The violence is graphic, but not gory. The language is salty, but not Tarantino levels of f-bombs. And as far as I can remember, there was no nudity (which is refreshing after watching Game of Thrones, which I’m pretty sure invents scenes not in the books just to add more nudity).
Also unlike Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (seriously, who thought that was a good title?) and Agent Carter, Daredevil is a little less obviously part of the Marvel universe. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (I’m going to punch someone) and Agent Carter both frequently mention characters like Iron Man and Captain America, and their story lines have a very supernatural feel to them. In Daredevil, by contrast, the larger Marvel universe is rarely referred to, and when it is, it’s a little jarring—like, “Oh yeah, that happened in this timeline.”
To be honest, I didn’t even want to watch Daredevil. He was never one of my favorite Marvel characters. I saw the Ben Affleck movie and wished I hadn’t. And I was feeling a little Marveled-out because we have seen every Marvel movie and we do watch Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (I just can’t with this) and Agent Carter. But Rhead wanted to watch Daredevil, so watch it we did.
First off, let me say that Charlie Cox is better in the title role than Ben Affleck was. Okay, that’s not exactly a news-flash, but it’s reassuring nonetheless. He plays the character as sincere and caring, and a bit of a reluctant savior of the city. He doesn’t over-act, and he mostly avoids the “Christian Bale Batman growl” that anyone who has seen the Dark Knight trilogy is familiar with.
The villain in Daredevil is a philanthropist/industrialist/sadist—choose your “ist.” As played by Vincent D’Onofrio (admittedly the main reason we wanted to watch the show to begin with), he is understated, methodical, and cold-blooded. He also manages to avoid scenery-chewing and over-acting, which is perhaps more of an accomplishment when playing the villain. If you’re a D’Onofrio fan in general, you should watch Daredevil.
The thing I find most ludicrous about the show is actually the very essence of the character, namely, his ability to fight with all his fancy kung-fu moves, DESPITE BEING BLIND. I know, I know, supposedly all his other senses are super-enhanced, and he’s not *really* *totally* blind—he apparently sees shapes and outlines but everything is distorted. But still. The idea of a blind superhero is just beyond everything for me.
Part of the problem is that in other respects, the show is very realistic. As I mentioned before, there’s very little mention made of the other Marvel superheroes. And unlike Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., there’s only one character on Daredevil that has super powers. Daredevil takes place in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, and the characters have normal jobs: lawyer, reporter, legal assistant, criminal mastermind. Okay, maybe that last one is not so normal in terms of real life, but in today’s television landscape, it’s really not that unusual either. My point is, Daredevil seems to go out of its way to present a very realistic framework, which makes the unrealistic blind superhero even more unbelievable.
That said, I found the show’s narrative to be rather entertaining. D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk and Cox’s Matt Murdock (Daredevil’s real name) both love Hell’s Kitchen and want to see it become more than it is. Murdock pursues his goals by donning a ridiculous outfit and fighting crime on the streets, vigilante-style. Fisk pursues his by bribing, intimidating, murdering, and otherwise terrorizing the neighborhood, but anonymously. The show’s central story line is Murdock’s attempt to bring Fisk into the light.
Murdock has friends and colleagues to help him with this task, even if they don’t know about his dual identity; Fisk has lackeys. The writers attempt to humanize Fisk and earn some viewer sympathy by giving him a love interest. It almost works, until Fisk brutally beats someone to death. When the woman decides that Fisk is enough of a special snowflake to stick by his side, despite his homicidal tendencies, I lost all respect for that character. I was like, “What’s the message here: Even monsters need love? Some women are just that stupid?” The relationship becomes a heavy motivating factor in the last several episodes, so there’s a narrative reason why she had to stick around. But it wasn’t believable to me.
But the bottom line is that the show is really pretty good. The acting is solid, even from the minor players. The story is interesting and the characters mostly well-developed. The writing is never cheesy, which is a blessing. I’ve stopped watching many a show because the writing was just terrible. Some of the fight scenes are drawn out too long—it’s like, alright, enough already—but overall it’s fairly well-paced. It’s a dark show (both figuratively and literally—much of the action takes place at night), so it took us a while to get through the whole season. Sometimes I just want to watch something cheerful, you know? But I’m glad we watched it, even if it did take us almost six months to get through 13 episodes. I look forward to Season 2.
One nice thing about Netflix shows is that they release the entire season at once, so you can watch at your leisure. Also, no commercials. The biggest downside, obviously, is that you need a Netflix streaming subscription to watch. But if you’re considering signing up for Netflix streaming, Daredevil is a solid benefit. (Also, House of Cards, but you probably already knew that.)
*It’s a little unclear whether “Marvel’s” is actually part of the title and should therefore be italicized. Sometimes the show is referred to as Marvel’s Daredevil and sometimes it’s just Daredevil. Marvel’s website refers to all of its shows with “Marvel’s” in front of the title, but given how many times I used the names of all three shows in this post, there was no way I was going to write “Marvel’s” in front of each one.