Sunday, May 3, 2015

Daredevil: Season One review

    I was initially skeptical of the idea of giving Daredevil his own television series. I like Daredevil just fine but part of the problem he has is the same one was the Punisher. Daredevil is a very interesting character but he's not as flashy as other Marvel superheroes. He might wear a bright red costume but most of his opponents are ordinary thugs and the occasional ninja. Ben Affleck attempted to adapt the most famous Daredevil story of all time and it ran into quite a few problems getting audiences invested.

    Netflix's Daredevil, by contrast, devotes itself to establishing the character and his environment long before it gets into the more exotic elements of Matt Murdock's world. We see white slavers, muggers, hitmen, corrupt real-estate developers, and worse long before we see our first ninja. Even the Kingpin, the most recognizable of Daredevil's foes, doesn't make an appearance on camera until a number of episodes in.

It's a shame these two don't have more scenes together.
    The show is also gritty. I don't mean gritty like The Amazing Spiderman is sometimes claimed to be or even the Dark Knight Trilogy. I mean this is closer to The Wire than Agents of Shield. This is gritty grit with a side order of grit and a large-sized grit drink. Daredevil doesn't always succeed in trying to rescue those he's protecting, he suffers innumerable injuries which need medical treatment, and it takes six or seven punches to bring down a single foe.

    The New York City of Daredevil is almost unrecognizable from the gentrified Disneyland it's become today, instead being closer to the 1970s version of the city which was the basis for so many vigilante movies. The justification for this is the Chitauri invasion of New York from The Avengers, which doesn't get mentioned by name but it is a fun treat for Marvel Cinematic Universe fans.

    Charlie Cox presents an enormously conflicted Daredevil who struggles with his desire to cause violence and his desire to help people. In a rare display of the positive elements of faith, Matt Murdock's Catholicism is shown to serve as a tether for him. It ties him to look at his actions objectively rather than through the lens he wants them too.

The black costume is bound to be controversial but I warmed to it quickly.
    Matt Murdock would very much like to kill the scumbags he deals with but he knows it would remove the part of his soul which allows him to judge right from wrong. This version of Matt is emotionally isolated and deeply damaged, which works with only a few superheroes but Daredevil is one of them.

    The supporting cast is also amazing with Deborah Ann Woll giving not only the best version of Karen Page on screen but in any medium, including comics. Her character is given an equality to Matt Murdoch and Foggy Nelson she was rarely given at the legal firm and a sense of justice which is not easily denied.

    Elden Henson is excellent comic relief as Foggy Nelson and manages to convey a real person despite the fact he's a joker. The confrontation between him and Matt toward the end of the first season is one of the highlights of the show. Rosario Dawson plays a slightly-modified version of Night Nurse, a character I never expected to make it to any form of screen.

Vincent D'Onofrio is an amazing Kingpin.
    A hero is only as good as his enemies, though, and the Kingpin is handled in an unusual but interesting manner. Rather than starting him as the smoothe operator we know, the series gives Wilson Fisk a surprising pair of weaknesses.

    This version of the Kingpin remains in the shadows and manipulates New York from behind-the-scenes not because of a desire for wealth (or so he tells himself) or power (again, another lie he tells himself) but because he wants to help New York City's poor become wealthy.

    This, despite the fact he is one of the chief predators on the destitute and impoverished. He is also a socially awkward and emotionally volatile man who doesn't maintain a public persona because he's uncomfortable in the spotlight. I've never seen Wilson Fisk portrayed this way but I think it works well. Some of the best scenes in Season One are his attempts to court his future wife Vanessa, showing a softer side of the man which could have been the hero to the city he imagines himself to be.

Rosario Dawson plays a big role in the series but is still criminally underused.
    The supernatural and superhuman play a role in the series, just on a far more subdued level than you'd normally see in a Marvel series. Concepts like The Immortal Iron Fist's Seven Cities and the Hand play a role in the story but they are hidden behind things like the Triads and Yakuza. The show is established by the time they arrive so that their appearance is neither shocking nor expected.


    My favorite character in the series has to be Karen Page. While it's a crime to have Deborah Ann Woll switch from red hair to blonde, her character has an effective arc throughout the season. She is a character with multiple conflicting emotions about crime, punishment, justice, and vengeance. Going from a murder suspect in the first episode to a legal assistant to someone neck-deep in Hell's Kitchen's politics is done with a deft hand. I also loved her chemistry with Elden Henson and hope we'll see her take on a role as Matt's love interest in season two (even if Elektra is a more famous romantic foil).

    In conclusion, this show is an accomplishment. I will never like Daredevil as much as I like some heroes but this is a show which can be appreciated by both comic book fans as well as fans of gritty urban crime drama--two groups which don't often go together.


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