When Netflix and Marvel announced last year that they would be partnering to release 5 new series, I was skeptical. How would they integrate these series into the ever expanding MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) while keeping the integrity of the series intact AND make them compelling/binewatchable? Then I noticed the proposed shows; Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and the combined series The Defenders; I knew we’d be ok. These are all smaller characters who have histories with each other and operate under a less grand banner than The Avengers (even though all of them have been Avengers in the past.) Netflix choosing to begin this process with Daredevil, a pop-culturally much-maligned character, was also a smart move as it gave people a jumping off point in this new world of superhero stories.
It should first be noted that these series are vastly different than the ABC series under the same branding (Agent Carter and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) While they are all Marvel properties and therefore exist in the same reality (Ostensibly. All of the series so far seem to be bending over backwards to only refer to each other and the films obliquely if at all), they are tonally immensely different. The ABC series are for families, by and large, and even though they can be action-packed, they are never too over the top — they’re on broadcast television after all. On Netflix though, all bets are off.
Daredevil tells the story of Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) who is blinded as a child and grows up to be a lawyer and a masked vigilante in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen (the setting for all of the Netflix shows). Murdock’s story is one of doing the right thing, standing up for the little guy and intense and unflinching violence.
Cox spends the bulk of the series bleeding, wincing, bruising, and suffering. Unlike many superhero stories, the hero in this case is shown getting his ass handed to him through most of the series. Episode 2 for example is spent mostly on his back healing from a broken rib. And, as the whole run of the first season takes place over maybe a month, he never really heals. And, the cause of his various injuries is shown in bone-crunching detail and the violence is shown as a reality of his world.
Cox’s opponents throughout the series are cartels, assassins, gangs, and thugs. But, the big bad as it were is Wilson Fisk/Kingpin (Vincent D’onofrio). Kingpin and Daredevil are shown in the series as 2 sides of the same coin — both single-mindedly focused and willing to do whatever it takes to achieve their goals. In fact, the portrayal of the villain perspective as much as the hero’s paints both characters as a lot more morally gray than would be initially expected. While Kingpin is unquestionably the villain- and presented as such — much is done to make his villainy sympathetic.
The series as a whole is a little all over the place. While the early episodes are well done and layer well into the overall arc of the series (eventually), they do feel a little disjointed when looking at the series as a whole. It feels like the writers weren’t sure which direction they were ultimately going in and it takes a few episodes for their vision to really crystallize. For example, a lot of groundwork is laid on who everyone is and why, but then plot threads are dropped in favor of further exploring the main story. The Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) character seems particularly effected by this as her back story is murky at best, which perhaps they were trying to leave a path for next season but it feels here like it was a midstream course correction.
The series as a whole is dark and gritty. Not in a Batman way which feels like the grittiness is put on to justify the character. Here the tone and mood are very much an aspect of the environment that feels totally organic and necessary. Matt quite literally lives in the dark and his environment reflects that. Matt’s blindness though is never taken as a disability, it simply is. The fact that he has a superpower (Daredevil’s Radar Sense which allows him to “see” somewhat) isn’t even directly addressed until late in the series.
Daredevil also introduces the character that will serve as the linking character for all the series, Clare Temple/Night Nurse (Rosario Dawson) who spends the bulk of the series patching Matt up and trying to get him to not do what he does. Temple’s character is slated to appear on all of the Netflix series as the constant for the audience. Dawson is brilliant as the no-nonsense ER nurse who gets sucked into this world kicking and screaming (literally) and the fact that she will be able to explore her relationship to the superhero world throughout this subuniverse will be one of the more exciting aspects of this connected world.
Daredevil is far from a perfect show. But, it has strong characters and stories. Once it gets is format down it really picks up and becomes incredibly addicting (around episode 7 for me). Because of the format of the show, it plays as a 13-hour move rather than individual episodes — which can get a little oppressive as the show is so very very dark. But, if you’re a fan of the genre, or think that you’re going to watch the other shows — which feature characters you are probably only vaguely familiar with if at all — I highly recommend this series as a jumping off point. If you’re not big on superheroes, or if you’re still stinging from that Ben Affleck film about this character, you should still check it out as the series since it’s really a great watch. B+