Marvel Comics has really left its mark on the entertainment world in the last few years, mainly with the success of its Cinematic Universe series of films, from Iron Man to The Avengers and so on. But it hasn’t kept its talent only for the silver screen. We’ve also gotten some excellent TV programming as a result, like Agent Carter.
And as if they couldn’t be smart enough, now the folks at Marvel are reaching into the growing market of Web-only audiences through a Netflix series called Daredevil, based on the popular comic book series.
By day, Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) is a blind attorney who recently started up his practice with Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) in New York City; despite their ideals, they struggle to find high-paying clients whose innocence needs proving in court. By night, Murdock has another job: a masked vigilante who fights crime on the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, taking down the gangs one at a time. As both Murdock and Daredevil, he uses his superhuman senses and fighting prowess to work his way up the food chain and bring down the true ringleader of crime in the city, the elusive Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio).
So what does the first season of Daredevil have to offer?
Charlie Cox’s performance.
One thing that many superhero stories have is that underlying tension between their civilian identity and their masked persona, like the difference between Bruce Wayne and Batman. Charlie Cox manages to pull off a fantastic performance as Matt Murdock and Daredevil, switching from a blind but friendly attorney in one scene to a grim and acrobatic crimefighter in the next. And from one to the other, he never loses that earnest sense of right and wrong that defines the whole character, whether he’s cracking skulls or defending a client to the police.
It’s been well established in comic book lore that Matt Murdock is Catholic and that he’s still practicing his faith even as a costumed vigilante. What I love about this show is that they actually put his faith front and center through questions of morality (can he still be good if he kills Wilson Fisk?) and frequent, meaningful conversations with Father Lantom, his parish priest. It’s easy for the Church to be villified or brushed aside in modern media, so seeing Matt and his priest have a genuine theological discussion was a huge breath of fresh air for me.
Amazing color and cinematography.
After a few episodes, you’ll really start to appreciate the recurring motifs of fight scenes silhouetted in long green hallways and against giant windows with yellow light pouring through them. The people who film this show really know what they’re doing and are bringing their A-game. I’m also blown away with some of the shots and styles they use. In Episode 2, I’m almost positive they did a homage to the hallway fight scene from Oldboy with Daredevil taking on a house full of Russian gangsters—one beautiful, barely broken tracking shot of fistfights and knockouts.
A sympathetic cast of villains.
For me, a good sign of a show’s depth is how well it treats its villains. Anyone can write up a two-dimensional thug or psychopath, but it takes some skill and courage to make us, the audience, care about them a little. The showrunners do a fine job of that, from the sensitive but powerful Wilson Fisk (through Vincent D’Onofrio’s subtle body language) to the vicious Russian gangsters Vladimir and Anatoly Ranskahov, whose bond and tragic past come out the more we see them onscreen. Even with all the great fight scenes and dramatic tension, some of the best moments were quiet pauses in the action, where these characters would stop and reflect on the paths they’ve chosen.
Fast fight scenes in a noir atmosphere.
It feels much like watching Marvel’s answer to The Dark Knight, complete with a masked vigilante in black beating up gangsters with loud, sickening punches. There’s more shots of Hell’s Kitchen at night, which makes it feel like something out of a comic book. However, there’s enough detail and depth that make this show feel less like a Christopher Nolan-inspired film and more like another installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Even the light nods to the attack on New York from the first Avengers movie go a long way toward putting Matt Murdock’s gritty story in the MCU’s colorful comic book world.
Even with all I’ve written so far, I’m struggling to think of the words to describe my love for this show right now. It’s captured my attention in a way that other dramas like the current seasons of House of Cards and Orphan Black haven’t. And not only is Daredevil one more success for Marvel Entertainment, but it’s also another good Netflix-based series. I can only hope that we continue to get more shows like this on Web-streaming platforms, rather than on time-specific cable and network TV.
The first season of Marvel’s Daredevil is available for viewing on Netflix.
Bibliography: Marvel’s Daredevil (TV show). Created by Drew Goddard. Based on the comic by Stan Lee and Bill Everett. Perf. Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson, Toby Leonard Moore, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Bob Gunton, Ayelet Zurer, Rosario Dawson, and Vincent D’Onofrio. DeKnight Prods., Goddard Textiles, ABC Studios, Marvel Television. Netflix (channel). Original run: April 10, 2015 – present.