Netflix’s ‘Daredevil’ review
By Adam Tatelman, Staff Writer
Fans tend to agree that Ben Affleck’s ultimately passable Daredevil failed to adequately explore the inherent ironies of a street-level, mobster-mangling vigilante who works by day as a blind, penniless attorney with a devout Catholic conscience. Fortunately for fans of the Frank Miller/Klaus Janson comics, the Netflix original series Daredevil resurrects the Man Without Fear in all his morally conflicted glory.
Blinded in a freak accident and violently torn from his washed-up prizefighting father, young Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) discovers his remaining senses have grown to superhuman acuity. Through these new planes of perception he bears witness to the crime and corruption desecrating Hell’s Kitchen, New York. He opens a law firm with his law school pal Frank “Foggy” Nelson (Elden Henson), taking hopeless cases that no one else will touch. Together they defend Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), a woman-with-a-past type, from a false murder charge that’s part of a vast criminal cover-up permeating the highest levels of power.
The setup delivers a seamless stylistic mix of Neo-Noir, courtroom drama, and ‘70s’ martial arts movie savagery, simmered to perfection with tense, intimate scenes that take their time building to their respective emotional climaxes. It’s engrossing from the start, and the chemistry between the actors only improves with time. Everything feels necessary and the tight script deftly avoids the boring, brooding moments that often occur in today’s modern comic book adaptations. This is fortunate since, in a minuscule 13-episode season, the faintest whiff of filler would be a death knell.
Behind it all stands Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio). Presumably the villain, his place as the Kingpin of Crime is something he views as a necessary evil in his mission to change Hell’s Kitchen for the better, and he’s not afraid to rub elbows with the Yakuza, Russian mobsters, and embezzling stock traders to achieve his twisted vision. Despite his power, he is socially childlike and maladjusted. Therefore, the advances of femme fatale Vanessa Marianna (Ayelet Zurer) dovetail with Murdock’s myopic crusade, creating a perfect storm to threaten the stability of his empire.
The thematic strength of Daredevil lies in itsparallels where one scene reflects another. Fisk’s opulence and Murdock’s simple lifestyle clash, and both express their loneliness. Page’s dogged pursuit of those who framed her contrasts veteran reporter Ben Urich’s (Vondie Curtis-Hall) fear for his bedridden wife’s safety—each must decide what they are willing to lose in seeking the truth. This is not a just a superhero show; this is tangible human drama.
Special mention must be made of the stunts and fights, comprised of complex one-shot sequences and practical effects. In an age where Marvel Studios (subsidiary of squeaky-clean Disney Ltd.) wows millions with bloodless, green-screen carnage, it’s shocking to see them produce anything this raw. Thankfully, Netflix’s lack of network television censorship allows not only for mature combat but for complex storytelling worthy of standing alongside modern classics of crime drama like The Wire or Low Winter Sun.
The series is evidently connected to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but does not require viewers to have seen the films to enjoy the show. The Avengers’ Battle of New York is the reason Hell’s Kitchen is at the mercy of profiteering construction companies, but that’s all you need to know. Being the first of several Netflix exclusives planned by Marvel, I hope that Daredevil’s powerful, self-contained narrative isn’t compromised for the sake of fan-pleasing crossovers.
The obvious hinting at a second season makes episode seven feel a little out of place; however, Daredevil was green-lit for another season two weeks after its debut. I’d have preferred a greater focus on Murdock’s revenge against his father’s murderers, which was an important aspect of his character in the comics. That aspect is glossed over in the show to the detriment of his relationship with sardonic senseiStick (Scott Glenn). Given the intermittent flashback structure of the show, it’s possible this will be explored later, maybe with a 26-episode season.