Stewart here…and slight spoilers ahead…
Being a longtime comics reader, I have a certain affinity for Daredevil, the blind hero of Hell’s Kitchen. I would drop in and out of the book in the last twenty plus odd years, but the most consistent I’ve been with Daredevil is during an insanely great run in the 00’s from writer Brian Michael Bendis, and subsequently writer Ed Brubaker. In that run, lawyer Matt Murdock and his crime-fighting alter ego went through an insane ringer of stuff, like his identity being made public, basically taking over Hell’s Kitchen, getting sent to prison, getting married, going crazy, and ending up running the lethal clan of assassins known as The Hand (I could mention what happened after that where he was possessed by a demon and tried to take over New York, but I rather not). In recent years, he’s gotten a better break in things, moving to San Francisco of all places, but clearly that’s not where this Netflix based Marvel TV show is placing itself. Like the eponymous movie of the same name (and for a better word on that than mine, check out the How Did This Get Made podcast episode on that), we’re staying in New York for this new take on Ol’ Hornhead.
The results? Pretty good.
The Whedon camp talents of Drew Goddard (who developed the series) and Steven DeKnight (who runs it) clearly pull from the grittier Daredevil of the Bendis run. Although there are pulls from other Daredevil incarnations as well, like the outfit he wears throughout 99% of this season is almost verbatim from the Frank Miller written Man Without Fear. What is more surprising about Daredevil is how more grounded it is than say the relatively safer network based Agents of SHIELD is in relation to Marvel shows. That’s both a plus and minus in many cases throughout the season, but more on that later.
While the first episode moves more like a pilot episode than say a lot of Netflix based shows have in the past, things ease off once we get to know almost all the players in this run of episodes. We don’t go full on crime drama luckily, thanks to some really good action sequences (like the thrilling hallway fight that closes the second episode) and some nicely placed cliffhangers. It also helps we are given little glimpses into Matt’s past to figure out the broad strokes of how a blinded boy became a tough vigilante, but enough details are left open to keep him enigmatic. In fact, the closest we get to truly comic book-y is in the final episode when we get our hero in his titular duds.
As for the cast, I quite enjoyed Charlie Cox as Matt (although he does get dangerously close to Christian Bale Batman voice as Daredevil) and the other actors laced throughout this, like Rosario Dawson and Scott Glenn, to name a few. And Matt’s friends, like Foggy (Elden Henson) and Karen (Deborah Ann Woll) get chances to shine in all the chaos. But the MVP of this is Vincent D’Onfrio as Wilson Fisk, the “Kingpin”, who is one of the more layered Marvel baddies since Loki. He clearly is a measured character, but once Daredevil and a new love enters his life, the insecurities and monstrosities that he holds under explode in truly gruesome ways.
And here’s where we get into MAJOR SPOILERS:
It’s a surprising turn to see reporter Ben Urich (a staple in the comics even now) get murdered by Fisk in the penultimate episode, although from his build-up in that episode, it was hard to see an outcome where he did survive. I understand the need to ramp up the stakes in the last few episodes, but considering what has happened because of Fisk, I debate whether that last turn was needed. What impressed me was how minimal supporting characters in this episode turned out to be more influential in the plot, like Owsley’s plan to cut loose of Fisk (which only backfired because he forgot Fisk is an impulsive sociopath) and Foggy’s lawyer friend providing a key piece of information that brought down Fisk. Which brings me to the Daredevil costume…sigh.
Considering the Daredevil costume in the 2003 movie (and that Daredevil in that TV movie The Trial of the Incredible Hulk), I suppose this is a step-up in Daredevil costumes, but its barely a step. I hope if the show returns (before or after the big Marvel/Netflix miniseries that unites these shows comes out) they refine the costume because its serviceable, but not quite there. To the credit of the show, the movie rarely gets too splashy in terms of villains, save the fight with the Japanese gangster late in the season. On the downside, his villains are limited to gangsters, as opposed to other types of baddies (once again, another thing I hope gets balanced better in another run of episodes).
I actually like where we get left in this by the end of the season, with Fisk in prison and Daredevil finally getting a name. And there’s also some fun little threads to pick up on for another season, like Vanessa, Karen killing Wesley, and Stick’s mission to prepare Matt for some coming event. I would like to think this will lead to the Hand in the future, and dare I say it, Elektra? But this is all speculation because it hasn’t been confirmed Daredevil will come back for a second round on his own yet.
I had my own ambivalence about this line of Netflix/Marvel shows, but Daredevil managed to give me hope for the future shows involving Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. Just fix the suit and I might be even way more amped for a second season!