First of all, a confession: I actually liked the Ben Affleck “Daredevil” flick. That being said, there was obviously room for improvement, so I was glad to dive into this new Netflix series based on the Marvel comic books. I was impressed right away by the work of Drew Goddard, who wrote the first couple of episodes.
Take the opening, pre-title sequence. First, the origin is dealt with in one quick, intense, in media res scene, showing Jack Murdock (John Patrick Hayden) discovering that his son Matt (Skylar Gaertner) has been in an accident and that it left him blind. Cut to an adult Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) in confession, asking for forgiveness for sins that he’s yet to commit. Finally, we see Daredevil in action, in his initial black costume, beating up criminals in a fast and brutal manner. Then bam! Title sequence.
Three scenes, less than 10 minutes, and we pretty much know all the basics about our hero. Oh, except maybe the fact that this Catholic blind vigilante is a lawyer during the day, which we find out a bit later in the first episode. Much has been said about how these Netflix Marvel shows (others are coming) are more gritty and street-level than the movies and that’s very much the case. I love how it really feels like we’re in New York City, Hell’s Kitchen to be more precise, dealing with crime and corruption instead of aliens, gods and supervillains.
Though there is eventually an iconic villain who shows up in the person of Wilson Fisk, who’s imposingly played by Vincent D’Onofrio as a man we believe could be pulling the strings of the Russian mob, the Chinese triads and the Japanese yakuza, and who could kill someone with his bare hands! He also goes on a few dates with Vanessa (Ayelet Zurer), which add other dimensions to his character.
And while it’s dark and violent, there’s also some humor, much of it courtesy of Murdock’s partner Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson). Also enjoyable is Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page, the series’ charming female lead.
But it’s really all about Cox’ Murdock, who’s quite the badass, but who also gets hurt a whole damn lot, so much that I wondered early on if he would make it through 13 episodes! But as he says at some point, “It’s not how you hit the mat. It’s how you get back up. Which recalls of course “Why do we fall? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.” from “Batman Begins”, an apparent major influence on this series.
Like I said, “Daredevil” is very well written, but it’s also well put together visually, with often stylish cinematography and sharp editing. Something also has to be said about the sound design, which is used to convey how Murdock uses his hearing to analyse his surroundings and the people in it – he can even tell whether a person is lying by listening to their heartbeat.
And what about the fight choreography! The series is filled with fast and brutal action scenes, including a long-take brawl at the end of Episode 2 (directed by Phil Abraham) that seems to be an homage to “Oldboy” and a bloody extended confrontation with a red ninja in Episode 9 (directed by Nelson McCormick). This is pretty much the Frank Miller “Daredevil”, who does martial arts and who’s been trained by Stick (Scott Glenn).
I have a few nitpicks about this first season: not enough of nurse Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), Murdock’s quasi-romantic interest; too much of reporter Ben Urich (Vondie Curtis-Hall), whose scenes often seem like filler.
But overall, this is a really solid show, with lots action, humor and emotion. Marvel and Netflix have really cracked the code. Bring on “Jessica Jones”!