Daredevil is one of Marvel Comics’ workhorse superheroes. He is a street-level character who usually deals with criminal realities on the streets rather than having the grandiose adventures of the kind that the Avengers and X-Men, though he has certainly participated in a few shared high-rides in his long history. A little over a decade ago, the character got a major push when we got the 2003 Daredevil live-action movie starring Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Colin Ferrell and Michael Clarke Duncan in the lead roles. While the movie had some potential to it, it unfortunately flopped and the character’s live-action future was binned. That is, until the rights to the titular character and a few other associated heroes and villains reverted back to Marvel Comics almost three years ago.
This reverting then led to Netflix picking up the slate for a shared-universe TV series and last year we saw the first fruits of the same with the first season of Daredevil, with Charlie Cox taking up the torch from Ben Affleck in the titular role as we saw how the Man Without Fear got his start in his fight against crime in the Hell’s Kitchen area of New York, and indeed in the rest of the city as well. Comprising of thirteen spectacular episodes, Daredevil effectively broke new ground in lots of different ways and brought together an amazing cast of actors who gave it their all, cementing Daredevil as a major superhero once again while also shining the spotlight on his various friends and enemies.
Until about three years back, or thereabouts, I didn’t know much about Daredevil aside from what I’d picked up watching the Ben Affleck movie. I got into the comics a little bit around that time, especially when Marvel Comics rebooted the property for its Marvel Now continuity, and I found myself really enjoying the stories and the characters. Matt Murdock was a badass, and so were the villains and the supporting cast. Kudos to Mark Waid for proving to be an excellent writer who pretty much defined Daredevil to me. When news was released that Netflix was going to be producing a brand-new Daredevil series for television, and that it would only be the first in a 4-part shared universe, I got super excited. Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Power Man and the Iron Fist, all getting their own television shows, which would then culminate in a team-up series, Defenders. Sign me up!
As it turned out, the people who brought this brand-spanking-new version of Daredevil to us did a pretty amazing job. The actors, the locations, the storylines, the costumes, everything was on par with what I expected to see and I wasn’t disappointed in the least. Though I will say that when they finally revealed Matt Murdock’s Daredevil suit, I felt they could have done a better job since they went with an out-and-out armored look to his costume rather than what the character has worn in the comics for several years now.
However, we must keep in mind that we are an audience that has “grown up” in the time of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We have seen classic heroes and villains get redesigned, so to speak, in a modern era when we don’t just simply buy what the studios are selling, we expect some real-world authenticity to everything, within the realms of the science-fiction and fantasy that we are experiencing through these movies and shows. And in that respect, I think Daredevil deserves a big thumbs-up, for doing on the small-screen what characters like Thor and Captain America and Black Widow have done on the big screen.
As I said earlier, Charlie Cox is the titular hero, small-time lawyer Matt Murdock by day and vigilante Daredevil by night. The first season is all about how Matt begins his vigilantism journey, about what his values are, what his beliefs are, and how he channels his passion to protect the city of New York and specifically the people of Hell’s Kitchen from the predations of the various gangs, unscrupulous businessmen and corrupt politicians who threaten it. It is also a dark story because unlike ABC’s Agents of SHIELD, Netflix’s Daredevil doesn’t back down from the violent action scenes or other graphic content. The writers fully take you into the dark mind of the hero and villain alike, with Vincent D’Onofrio turning in an amazing performance as the lead baddie, Wilson Fisk aka The Kingpin.
Charlie Cox and Vincent D’Onofrio have a really good chemistry together on the show, though sadly we don’t get to see many scenes between them until towards the final few episodes where all hell breaks lose for the soul of Hell’s Kitchen and the rest of New York. Charlie’s Daredevil is an anguished, self-doubting vigilante who wants to do the right thing for the right reasons but fears his actions will damn him to hell. Vincent’s Fisk is a ruthless, shrewd businessman with grandiose plans to rebuild New York in his own image and with control of all the different gang factions in the city. Some of the more striking episodes are those where we learn the pasts of these two characters, whether it is Matt and his early life as the son of a famed boxer and the incident that blinded him and thus changed his life forever, or whether it is Fisk’s own abusive relationship with his father, which still haunts him to this day and even motivates him to do what he does.
Going into the show, I was very unsure of how Vincent particularly would pan out, since I believe that Michael Clarke Duncan left some big shoes to fill when he portrayed Wilson Fisk in the 2005 Daredevil movie, but I think that Vincent managed to supersede that. He went beyond Duncan’s own portrayal, thanks to the expanded room of 13 television episodes, and he created his own niche with it. Two fine actors portraying one of the more classic of all Marvel villains.
Any discussion of the shows’ actors certainly isn’t complete without talking about the fantastic supporting actors as well. Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page, Elden Henson as Foggy Nelson, Ayelet Zurer as Vanessa Mariana, Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple, Toby Leonard Moore as James Wesley and others. In particular, I would single out Woll and Henson because with Cox, they form the heart of the show. Woll’s Page is the first client for Nelson & Murdock, and later becomes their secretary as well, and the chemistry between the three heroes is pretty-much perfect. I couldn’t have asked for a better team of heroes on the show, and their relationships as they develop on the show are definitely a highlight. Woll has had a previous high-profile outing as a young vampire on True Blood, and she impresses again on Daredevil. The material is different, but she certainly takes it and runs away with it. Ayelet’s Vanessa is perhaps a key part of the show, even more so than the others, because her character is essentially the window to Wilson Fisk’s soul. From the moment that she enters the show, she has a huge impact and exposes the man behind the mask of the Kingpin, for it is through her that we learn some of Fisk’s deepest fears and even his aspirations. I loved that angle.
And where, Foggy Nelson is concerned, well, damn. Elden Henson and the writers absolutely nail the character. He is Matt’s best friend, his confidant, his sounding board, his conscience, his everything. This is one friendship that I absolutely love on the show, and we are the better for it. Imagine the dynamic of Bucky Barnes and Steve Rogers brought to life on the small screen. This is how it would be. Sure, the context is very much different, but the underlying chemistry of the characters, and the tensions between them, they are all very much the same. Henson’s portrayal might not be the most accurate, but it certainly fits, and as with all the other actors of the show, he is a defining presence. Toby as James Wesley was also an inspired choice; he is an actor with a wide-range but he hasn’t really gotten many big roles to his credit yet, though he is currently knocking it out of the court on the show Billions right now. What’s really important about his character is that he fulfills a similar role to that of Foggy Nelson to Matt Murdoch, he is the Kingpin’s sounding board and his eyes and ears, but in a very different way. Foggy and Matt are equals; Fisk and Wesley are employer and employee. Charming personalities all around.
I mentioned before that the show is very brutal and violent in some respects, and that is certainly very true. Blood and gore, the exploration of the dark psyche of the Daredevil and the Kingpin, Russian mobsters, Chinese mobsters, Japanese mobsters, gangwars, messy shootings, characters getting beaten up black-and-blue. It is all there. The fight choreography on the show is insane. If you were to compare it to something current, like say CW’s Arrow, then imagine some really brutal fight scenes where blood and bones are everywhere. It helps ground the series in strict realism and that is certainly that I can appreciate very much. The show doesn’t tiptoe around these things but embraces them head-on because just a part of how the in-show universe functions, and so that we are able to relate to all of it on a much more visceral level than we would otherwise.
One thing about the show that I will mention that I consider to be a negative is that there is absolutely no connection between this and the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There is an occasional mention of the “incident” i.e. the invasion of New York from Avengers, but that’s really it. New York is still spick-and-span as it was before. Getting to see some bombed-out ruins, some destroyed buildings would have gone a long way to help the show connect with the movies and everything, but that doesn’t happen. Almost as if Netflix’s production is in a completely different universe of its own. And that’s just unacceptable I think. I wasn’t looking for any out-and-out references to the MCU, but something subtle like I mentioned would have worked just as well. The writers and showrunners went into the extreme end of subtle and that just broke the overall immersion of the story.
Still, when all is said and done, Daredevil’s first season proved to be surprisingly awesome. There was a good buildup to the final battle between Kingpin and Daredevil in the finale episode, something that felt really rewarding and cool, and I was super-stoked for it. The battle between the two characters in the movie had been just as epic, and this one felt like a neat callback that did its own thing but evoked something of the old. If you are completely new to the Marvel universe, then this might not be the right place for you given how subdued things generally are, and there are no particular flashy superheroes around either. But if you are looking for a thoughtful and introspective take on one of Marvel’s classic street heroes, then Daredevil season one should definitely be a major stopping point for you. I certainly recommend the show.
More Marvel: Jessica Jones Season 1.