Rarely at Graffiti With Punctuation to we review television, but every so often something comes along that demands a wordy, frothy analysis. That show is Daredevil. It’s the first of the Marvel and Netflix ‘Avengers assemble’ team-up where they will give us a handful of series’ from some of the lesser known heroes in the universe: Daredevil (obvi), AKA Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and The Defenders mini-series which will bring all of these characters together. Perhaps the toughest sell – and the one with the biggest hurdle to parkour over – was the first cab off the rank, Daredevil. Sure, he’s better known than the other super friends listed, but unlike Iron Fist or Jessica Jones the public didn’t already have a strong opinion thanks to a widely panned movie starring Ben Affleck. Let us not speak of it again. Yet what the Marvel/Netflix series manages to do is incredibly similar to what Christopher Nolan did to Batman following Joel Schumacher’s run: it wipes the slate clean in a bold and jaw-dropping way so that you forget everything that has come before and are only possessed by the brilliance of what’s currently in front of you.
Having read Daredevil comics with gusto since the age of 13, this reviewer – like many of the viewers – was super familiar with the character’s in and outs, rogues gallery and origin story of Matt Murdock, who is blinded by chemicals as a kid but develops extraordinarily heightened senses which allow him to fight crime as an adult. Unlike Arrow or The Flash, Daredevil doesn’t fall into the trap of trying to explain every single power, ability quirk and element of the back story within the first episode: like a generous lover it takes its time. It knows you’re here to binge-watch the full 13 episode season so it doesn’t need to cram 80 years of comic book backstory into the first episode. Instead Matt Murdock’s arc is teased out beautifully over the entire season with the audience learning about his past, his skills and his friendships in increments. The writers remain very faithful to the comics, while updating the origins story to fit more cohesively within the current Marvel Universe and referencing the events of Avengers in the same way an event as impactful as 9/11 is still casually referenced in conversation by New Yorkers today. It feels natural, it feels normal and it most definitely doesn’t feel like someone elbowing the audience in the ribs saying ‘Pssst don’t forget we’re all part of the same continuity kid’.
It’s important to gloss over the finer details of the plot so as not to ruin the fun of experiencing the show in all its glory for the first time, but it’s fair to say Daredevil has taken the concept of superhero television to the next level. It’s not as kitsch or as – dare we say it – ‘CW’ as Arrow or The Flash, which are both enjoyable in their own way. It also doesn’t have the budget of either of those shows or the level of sci-fi ridiculousness of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D which is a show that’s fist-banging good as often as it infuriatingly stupid. Daredevil isn’t about a billionaire playboy, it isn’t about hi-tech gadgets and a lab of friendly, helpful scientists. It’s a contained story that feels the most human out of any superhero story we’ve experienced in this modern renaissance of the genre. The fight choreography is not only brutal, but hella realistic thanks to the audience being able to watch the fighters – both good and bad – get sloppy and slow down as they tire and the fight progresses. You see the mix of boxer brawler mentality of Matt Murdock’s past and the aerobic ninja shit of his more recent training and you see it all thanks to cleverly crafted camera work. Yet what sets it off is the showrunners dedicate just as much time to dialogue and character development as they do action, which is an amazing and important precedent.
The performances are bananas and essentially come down to a trio of wow: Charlie Cox (Matt Mardock/Daredevil), Elden Henson (Foggy Nelson) and Vincent D’Onofrio (Wilson Fisk/Kingpin). Cox so perfectly embodies both Matt Murdock – softly-spoken but intelligent attorney at law and lady killer – and Daredevil – ruthless and cunning vigilante – that it’s going to be hard to see him as anything else, much as it’s difficult to disassociate Michael Keaton as Batman or Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man. He’s that freakin’ good. Also, bonus points to #datass as Cox’s derriere is probably the best supporting character amiright ladies can I get a hell yeah? *coughs* Henson is someone who has been hacking away at Hollywood earnestly for-freakin-ever and it’s great to see him rewarded with a part like this: something he completely owns and conquers. He might be the baby-faced member of the Nelson and Murdock bromance, but he’s super smart and super refreshing in a world that can be depressingly rough at times. Foggy is the shinning light, the guy who smiles and helps the old lady across the street but is simultaneously the one making at least two to three blind jokes per episode in a playful yet never insensitive manner (“I hate it when you don’t answer my calls man: I always fear you’ve fallen down an open manhole or something.”). No romance in the Darevdevil world – and we know he has plenty – will ever be able to hold a candle to the chemistry Cox and Henson create in the 13 episode run. It’s more than a bromance: they’re hetero life-partners who cry and care and crack jokes about each other in a friendship so few of us get to genuinely experience. It’s a beautiful thing to watch. As for D’Onofrio, it’s Law And Order: Emotive Villains Unit. Physically he has embraced the stature of Kingpin and is essentially a walking phallus in a bowtie for a lot of the series. What’s genius is that he and the showrunners understand that the only thing scarier than a monster is a human monster and that’s what they set out creating gradually throughout the first season arc. D’Onofrio understands Kingpin is the Joker to Daredevil’s Batman and crafts a character that’s never truly evil: he’s menacing, he’s murderous, he’s malevolent, but he’s also a traumatised and emotive and relatable villain.
— Maria Lewis (@moviemazz) April 11, 2015
The weak points in Daredevil are just two: in a world full of femme fatales the lack of female characters and the underdevelopment of those present is difficult to stomach There’s a vague reference to Matt dating Elektra in college in episode 10, but no more of the lady BAMFs are present. Even Rosario Dawson as Night Nurse is barely visible and – for a woman of her talents – completely underused. The beacon of stability and strength for the fellas, Karen Page, is played nicely by Deborah Ann Woll but again, is never really elevated from breathing prop for most of the series excluding one moment when you shout at the screen “FUCK YEAH KAREN TAKE CONTROL OF YOU LIFE GURRL!” She again feels weirdly wasted, excluding the possibility that they’re laying the groundwork for further seasons. There’s also the argument that Daredevil could have been a tight 10 episodes instead of 13. There are a lot of dialogue scenes and even the odd action sequence that could have been trimmed or removed completely without taking anything away from the storytelling. Supporting characters are given a lot of room and space to develop, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we need to see 10 scenes of them talking about sepia toned memories with their spouses. The 13 episodes work, make no mistake, but it could have been an insanely tight and impactful 10.
Overall though, there truly isn’t much to frown at. Between the violence, the swearing, the themes and the theology it feels like the first truly adult superhero show (not to mention the Hannibal-esque opening credits). The violence is gritty and rough and as cringe-worthy as something you’d see in any mob show or Sons Of Anarchy. There’s swearing and cussing and dark, twisty topics that analyse the difference between doing what is right and doing what is good. Gold stars for not glossing over Murdock’s Catholicism (unlike poor Huntress in Arrow): they don’t skip past it but they examine and challenge it in a way that was beautiful to watch. The ideal of faith in a world of aliens and superheroes is an interesting one and not something you could ever see being examined in Marvel’s cinematic fare. The one-on-one scenes between Murdock and his priest become some of the most memorable of the show.
In a billion dollar industry where the toys and costumes that can be sold to kids around the world are as important as the opening weekend box-office numbers, Marvel have made something unashamedly for adults. Daredevil is the superhero genre’s answer to The Wire.
All the stars. And then some.