Netflix and Marvel unleashed the newest member of the Marvel Universe on the live action world this past weekend when the first series of Daredevil was made available for streaming. What does this have to do with beer? Nothing. But when I started this blog I had it in my mind that I was going to write about a little bit more than just beer, so let’s take a look (mild spoilers ahead).
The show is part of a new paradigm of entertainment in which all 13 episodes of the series were made available immediately, allowing subscribers to binge watch or at least catch the whole series over a weekend or week, which is how a lot of people I know are watching series now a days.
The series is the first in a new united sub-universe in the Marvel world. Following Daredevil, Netflix will be releasing four other series based on similar characters based in NYC; Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and a team up series bringing them all together called The Defenders. But before all that happens, we start with the hero dubbed, “The Man Without Fear”.
The series (comic book etc) relays the story of Matt Murdock (portrayed admirably by Boardwalk Empire actor Charlie Cox), a newly practiced lawyer in the Hell’s Kitchen section of NYC who became blind after an accident resulted in his eyes being exposed to toxic waste. And much to the credit of Daredevil, that’s about as long as the series takes to set up the character’s premise.
In a world where many comic book movies spend an inordinate amount of time telling the character’s origin story (cough, Spiderman, cough – more than once), Daredevil gets right into it. Oh sure, there are flashbacks throughout the series to flesh out Matt’s back-story, his absent mother, his down on his luck boxing father, and even an elderly blind mentor named Stick (Scott Glenn doing what Scott Glenn does best). But for the most part, Daredevil seems to understand that although those are all key elements to the character, that’s not the story it’s here to tell.
After a brief scene depicting the accident (in which a young Matt saves an elderly man) we meet the current Matt Murdock in a church confessional asking forgiveness for, well, what he’s about to do. And cue the action. How?
Although left blind, the accident heightened Matt’s other senses giving him abilities such as being able to recognize people by their smell, hear conversations from great distances and tell if people are lying by listening to their heartbeat (in the comics Daredevil discovers that Peter Park is Spiderman when he realizes that they both have the same heartbeat).
In the comic, all of these abilities come together to give our hero a perception of what is around him (almost like echolocation) that is better than those who have sight. This aspect was used heavily in the 2003 Ben Affleck movie, but here, the creators behind Daredevil don’t use fancy effects like a crutch.
While they do allude to Matt being able to “see” everything around him, they don’t over explore the ability, instead (on a couple of occasions) presenting the thing or person that Matt is concentrating on as being in focus while everything else around appears blurred. This lack of fancy fixings allows the show not to rely on them and in fact, not to shoe horn them into action scenes that don’t need them as Matt begins going out at night to fighting crime as the “Devil of Hells Kitchen”.
But of course it wouldn’t be much of a compelling story if our hero spent all of his time subduing jay walkers and purse snatchers, so eventually his actions, in the form of both representing (Matt) and rescuing (Daredevil) a young woman accused of murder (Trueblood baby vamp Deborah Ann Woll, who still has the ability to distract me from everything else that is going on in any scene she’s in) puts him in the path of a cartel of evil doers who want to rebuild Hells Kitchen in the wake of the destruction left behind from the movie The Avengers (If you’re one of the few people who haven’t helped The Avengers become a 1.5 billion dollar movie here’s the quick – evil alien influence = bull #1, The Avengers = bull #2, and NYC = china shop). Of course that rebuilding includes hero annoying activities such as high level bribery, drugs, murder and human trafficking.
One of these evil doers is Wilson Fisk. The bullied, obese son of a domineering father, Fisk has risen to a high rank in the NYC crime world, but is literally unknown to anyone else in the city. In the comics, Fisk was known as The Kingpin, a title that Daredevil doesn’t use, but does elude to throughout the series. As an adversary of both Spiderman, and Daredevil (and to a lesser extent Punisher) in the comics, Fisk is probably one of the most well know villains in the Marvel Comics world.
…and to this regard Daredevil delivers, casting Vincent D’Onofrio (Full Metal Jacket, Law & Order: Criminal Intent) who brings a quiet reserve to Fisk.
So if you’re going to bring the big guy to the screen, you need a great actor to pull it off (probably one of the few things I totally enjoyed about the a fore mentioned movie, Wilson Fisk was portrayed by the late Michael Clarke Duncan), and to this regard Daredevil delivers, casting Vincent D’Onofrio (Full Metal Jacket, Law & Order: Criminal Intent) who brings a quiet reserve to Fisk, a man who can comfortably strangle a man in one scene, while coming off as almost awkwardly uncomfortable on a date with his would be love interest, Venessa (Ayelet Zurer – Man of Steel, Angels and Demons) in another.
The rest of the cast is more than up to the scripts, including Elden Henson (The Mighty Ducks) as Matt’s long time friend and law partner Franklin “Foggy” (one of the first nicknames I’ve coveted in a long time) Nelson; Vondie Curtis-Hall (Chicago Hope) as journalist Ben Urich; Rosario Dawson (Josie and the Pussycats, Sin City) as Claire Temple nurse and friend to Matt; and Toby Leonard Moore (Dollhouse, John Wick) who does a really good turn as Fisk’s right hand man James Wesley.
While Daredevil did do several stints in superhero teams in the comics (The Defenders, The New Avengers) he is mostly associated with Hell’s Kitchen, and the street crime within, and it’s that gritty, more grounded approach to the comic book hero that Daredevil pulls from.
Instead of epic, city destroying, CGI fights or standard action fair where the hero constantly knocks out bad guys with one punch or kick, most of the fight sequences are filmed close quarters, with the combatants trading punches and doing considerable damage to each other. In fact, Matt’s body tells that tale well as it’s obvious as the series goes on that Mister Cox had to spend more and more time in make-up applying more bruises, scars and sutures to his supposedly battle warn body.
It’s a fairly effective scene, and one that made me think of the single shot fight scene in Old Boy
One of the best examples comes in the second episode when Daredevil attempts to rescue a young boy from men who have kidnapped him. An establishing shot sets the boy in a room at the end of a hallway, men guarding it from two rooms on either side of the hallway. As Daredevil enters the opposite end of the hall he jumps into the first room and a fight breaks out but the camera never leaves the hallway. In fact, what follows is a three minute scene that’s shot and edited such that it looks like one long tracking shot, following the fight up and down the hallway, but never following it into any of rooms that it spills into. It’s a fairly effective scene, and one that made me think of the single shot fight scene in Old Boy (the Park Chan-wook original, not the 2013 US remake which I’ve never seen and refuse too).
That all being said, Daredevil is still a show based on a comic book, and as such it still falls victim to a few of the tropes that are common to the genre. In one episode Matt just happens to fall into the back alley dumpster of Claire ( who of course as a nurse can patch Matt up every time he needs it) the one person in NYC who doesn’t see the need to call the police when they find a bleeding man in a pile of garbage. Then there are the people who figure out who Matt is for no other reason than – PLOT! And of course officer Brett Mahoney, shown to be just about the only good cop in Hell’s Kitchen conveniently showing up every time the cop that shows up needs to be on the side of our hero.
All in all Daredevil is a well conceived and well produced show. The acting is more than up to the task of conveying the writing, which in turn seems more than capable of telling the story. The cinematography and art direction are top notch, which isn’t surprising considering the quality of previous entries into original programming from Netflix – House of Cards and Orange is the New Black. I will admit that I found the end of the series a little slower than the beginning, with the final Fisk/Daredevil showdown (complete with the climatic donning of the traditional red Daredevil costume by Matt) falling a little flat with me.
Also, the episode “Stick” in which Matt’s’ one time mentor returns to NYC to ask a favor from the “Devil of Hell’s Kitchen” revolves around a plot device that’s never really explained in the end, and never revisited in the rest of the season. Still most of this I can forgive given all that I believe Daredevil gets right.
One of which is the realistic use of consequences in the series. Beyond just Matt’s ever growing collection of scars, death is presented as well, death. In other comic medium, death has become little more than a plot device, a construct where people die, and then come back (think Agent Coulsen) but in Daredevil, death has a permanence about it (so far, but I believe I’m safe in saying it will stay that way), as seen when one character who has long, rich history in Marvel Comics meets his untimely end.
Daredevil is part of the world that brought you Marvel’s Cinematic Universe – Iron Man, Thor, Hulk and Captain American; and soon will deliver Ant Man, Black Panther, and Doctor Strange. However, except for a couple of nods throughout the series Daredevil doesn’t dwell on this connection nor in my mind does it need to. Oh sure, there are plenty of references and Easter-eggs for the sharp eyed Marvel fans (such as Matt’s dad fighting Carl “Crusher” Creel who is better know as The Absorbing Man in the Marvel Universe who was recently portrayed on Agents of Shield by Penny’s ex-boyfriend Kurt from The Big Bang Theory) but as far as tie ins to the massive world of hammer slinging Gods, and huge, green rage monsters, Daredevil seems happy for the time being to exist largely outside of that world.
Its street level perspective and more grounded style of comic book story telling is different than what is being brought to the screen in the MCU or Agents of Shield (actually it’s more in line with DC’s Arrow) and I think that’s a good thing. After all, for the most part, that’s what Daredevil is all about.