In March 2014, I went with some friends of mine to take in what would eventually become one of my favourite movies of the year, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Like the rest of the world, I loved it, but I was kind of surprised by just how dark that movie was. Fools were getting assassinated, people’s necks were getting broken, others were getting shot in the face, and a post-9/11 allegory was violently drilling its way into the audience’s skull.
Being a bloodthirsty sociopath, I was a fan, but some of the parents who brought younger kids expecting a bright, colourful Avengers-style movie probably weren’t as enthusiastic about the grittiness as I was. Hell, I heard some kids break out in tears. In a movie where the protagonist wears an American flag, no less. After that experience, I was pretty sure the Marvel Cinematic Universe would get much darker.
Boy was I completely and utterly wrong.
Created by: Drew Goddard
Directed by: Phil Abraham, Adam Kane, Ken Girotti, Farren Blackburn, Guy Ferland, Brad Turner, Stephen Surjik, Nelson McCormick, Nick Gomez, Euros Lyn, Steven S. DeKnight
Producer: Kati Johnson
Written by: Drew Goddard, Marco Ramirez, Joe Pokaski, Luke Kalteux, Douglas Petrie, Steven S. DeKnight, Christos Gage, Ruth Fletcher Gage
Based on: Daredevil by Stan Lee and Bill Everett
Genres: Superhero, crime drama
Starring: Charlie Cox, Vincent D’Onofrio, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson, Toby Leonard Moore, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Bob Gunton, Ayelet Zurer, Rosario Dawson, Scott Glenn
Music by: John Paesano
Plot: After the events of The Avengers, much of the real estate in the unfortunately named Hell’s Kitchen district of New York City was crushed by alien invaders (Which nobody seems to be dwelling on. Weird.). Already a fairly decrepit, crime-ridden neighbourhood, Hell’s Kitchen is now even more of a crap hole.
Have no fear though, because Matthew Murdock & Foggy Nelson, attorneys at law, are on the scene! Well, actually, maybe have a little bit of fear, because they’re pretty small-time, having turned down a well-paying corporate job since, y’know, they have souls.
Interestingly enough, Matt (Charlie Cox), along with being a kick-ass lawyer, is also completely blind… Mostly.
See, when Matt was but a wee boy, he was walking down the streets of Hell’s Kitchen when he saw a man about to get creamed by a truck. Being the upstanding citizen that he is, little Matt pushed the old man out of harm’s way, taking the hit for hi. While Matt survived, the truck’s cargo, some kind of chemical something-or-other got into his eyes, blinding him.
However, when he lost his sight, his other senses were enhanced to superhuman levels to make up for his lack of sight.
Bullshit, I know. But it’s cool, so whatever.
Matt doesn’t sit idly by with his, uh, we’ll call it a gift, I suppose. A lawyer by day, he dons a kickass all-black outfit at night and goes out to beat the shit out of those who would prey on the innocent as a vigilante known as… Nothing.
Y’know, because that would be silly.
Matt is only human though, and he struggles to reconcile his secret life with his job and his relationship with his friends, Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) and Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll). It doesn’t exactly help matters that a new criminal element has taken over every nook and cranny of Hell’s Kitchen, uniting the Bratva, Triads, Yakuza, and the shithead warden from The Shawshank Redemption into a dangerous cabal, led by the enigmatic Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio).
It helps matters even less when you consider that Fisk is goddamn terrifying.
Daredevil is a well-respected Marvel property, but he hasn’t ever been done justice in movies or TV. While a fairly major character in the comics, he’s hardly an A-lister, though he was an Avenger for like, 3 seconds. He finally got a movie in 2003, but, long story short, that movie’s the reason why some people were so pissy about Ben Affleck being cast as Batman, even though they had no real call to be that way.
While that movie had a dark, brooding atmosphere in the vein of the comics, it was pretty inconsistent (See: Murdock fighting Elektra in the middle of a fucking playground. During DAYTIME). This show, on the other hand, feels completely justified in it’s dark environments and bleakness. You FEEL the specter of doom and gloom looming over this version of Hell’s Kitchen rearing it’s ugly head, ready to swallow every and anybody in its way. It actually feels a lot like Batman Begin‘s Gotham City, which makes sense considering the two protagonists are so similar.
Speaking of the protagonist, Charlie Cox plays Daredevil very, very well, and the character of Matt Murdock is handled ably by Cox and the writers (Who, I should mention, also provide the best justification for a no-kill policy that I’ve ever heard. From a religious perspective too. I didn’t expect that.). While the movie Daredevil just came off as a smarmy jackass (Insert outdated Ben Affleck joke here), Cox comes off as a little more grounded and disturbed. Sure, he’s witty and intelligent (Par for the course for Marvel heroes, admittedly), but he also has a dark side that refuses to go away even though he fights on the side of the angels. He frequently contemplates murder, he’s an extremely brutal, even possibly sadistic, fighter, he’s emotionally unavailable to his friends and he’s kind of a masochist.
The supporting characters are well-written and performed, if probably too much of a focus at some points of the season. Foggy starts off kind of grating, but he gets to be a necessity, nicely contrasting the show’s relentless cruelty with his offbeat sense of humour. Karen Page, while not terribly interesting, is a fine character as well. The only supporting hero that I feel was wasted is Ben Urich (Vondie Curtis-Hall), who, although portrayed super well, doesn’t appear all that much, and the scenes where he teams up with Karen are kind of the weak point of the season. Not that they’re bad, they’re just the scenes that made me miss Daredevil smashing the shit out of the Russian mob.
The other villains are fine as well, but the standout is Wilson Fisk’s faithful attendant, Wesley (Toby Leonard Moore), who is already the frontrunner for “Most punchable character of 2015”.
No Bullseye, though. Thank god for season 2, I guess.
“But Kenny, nobody gives a shit about these people! What about Kingpin!? WHAT ABOUT KINGPIN?!?!?!”
Alright, let’s talk about Wilson Fisk.
As enjoyable as the MCU continues to be, its villains have been surprisingly weak. Aside from Loki, Red Skull, Winter Soldier and almost certainly Ultron, we’ve mostly been stuck with mediocrity like Whiplash, Malekith and Ronan. Unlike these guys though, Fisk is more grounded a bad guy than the other schmucks, being neither an alien nor a superhero. Just a socially awkward behemoth with a god complex.
I fucking love him. You can keep Loki, this is the best MCU villain to date.
In the comics (As well as the 90’s Spider-Man cartoon that was/is my life) Kingpin was a very tall, corpulent man who was highly intelligent, manipulative and collected. However, the backstory and portrayal of Fisk in Daredevil paint a much more deep, disturbing picture of a truly fucked-up, shy child trapped inside the imposing body of a very threatening man. Yes, he’s intelligent, manipulative and collected, but he’s liable to let his unstable emotions get the better of him, and he won’t think twice about beating you to death if you step out of line. D’Onofrio plays him perfectly (Albeit oddly) and I can’t take my eyes off the screen whenever he’s doing his thing.
It also bears mentioning that Ayelet Zurer is terrific as Wilson Fisk’s love interest, Vanessa. Yeah, you heard me right, a fully developed romantic story arc for the villain (And not the hero!), you don’t see that very often, do you?
As you might expect (Because I straight-up told you), Daredevil is much darker than the other MCU stuff, which makes sense, considering the source material is very dark (In fact, grit-meister Frank Miller wrote the comic for a while, and also wrote some great, dark Batman stories as well as some cartoonishly bad dark Batman stories).
In terms of dark visuals, this show can’t be beat. It’s fucking beautiful. Not since Tim Burton’s Batman movies has there been a stylistically dark superhero story this, I dunno, appealingly flashy, if that makes any sense whatsoever. I dunno, just watch the damn show, you’ll see what I mean.
If you’re a fan of good action (Aren’t we all?), this show’s for you, being both well-shot and really, REALLY brutal, with folks getting heads crushed, impaled and/or otherwise maimed throughout the duration. This is the first MCU property to really say “screw the kids.” It’s beautiful, really.
The only real problem that I have with the show is that it can get kind of slow at times throughout the middle of the season, leading me to believe that it would’ve worked better with a couple less episodes. A minor complaint, but my only one.
Overall: Dark, ultraviolent, stylish and well-acted, Daredevil ranks among the better projects from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That’s not exactly faint praise.