Faith D’Isa ‘17 / Emertainment Monthly Executive Marketing Officer
After an incredible guerrilla marketing campaign that had fans asking questions and getting involved at every turn, the expectations were at an all-time high for the first of Netflix’s four planned Marvel series, Daredevil. The bar was set for fans, especially as more and more details were revealed, like the mature ratings, the transforming costumes, tie-ins to the other potential Netflix series, and the reviewers claiming Daredevil was one of the best superhero themed programs they’ve seen.
This reviewer has to agree whole-heartedly.
Granted, this reviewer has been a longtime reader of Daredevil comics and came into this program knowing that anything could be better than the early 2000’s film starring Ben Affleck. But that aside, Daredevil stands in a league of its own, not only establishing a strong future for Marvel’s other upcoming Netflix projects, but also creating a firm place for Marvel in the superhero television show standings, which recently DC has been dominating with Flash and Arrow. (Heavy spoilers for the entire first season of Daredevil follow).
The story of Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) is fairly straightforward at first glance. As a child, Matt saves a man from getting hit by a truck, but in the process, gets blinded by a batch of chemicals that spill on his eyes. Unbeknownst to everyone else, the chemicals also managed to heighten the rest of his senses. Matt is raised by his boxer father, “Battlin’” Jack Murdock (John Patrick Hayden), and the dynamic between young Matt (Skylar Gaertner) and Hayden’s Jack is simultaneously hilarious and heartwarming.
Gaertner shines in his ability to convey the intelligence, optimism and humor of a young Matt Murdock while flawlessly working it into his tough side; a child who’s been blinded, who has to learn everything over, who loses his father, and goes to an orphanage. Gaertner’s also shines in his work with Scott Glenn, who plays Stick, an old blind man who is brought in to help the overwhelmed-by-his-senses Matt and teaches him to fight. Glenn’s Stick, when brought into the present-day life of Matt, is an incredible, morally grey character who creates an incredible change in Cox’s Matt; the three actors all portray the changing relationship with ease.
After his time in the orphanage, Matt Murdock does move on to bigger and better things as a part of his heroic origin story- specifically, law school, where he meets the awkwardly charming Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson). Hanson manages to portray Foggy as if he’d stepped off of a comic book page without appearing as a caricature. Hanson’s Foggy manages to be smooth and charming with his best friend Matt. The two play off of each other and make us feel as if they’ve been best friends their entire lives. They’re also charming with ladies like Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) without seeming fake or scummy. You want to like Foggy, and you want other people to like Foggy, and they do. He’s also kind at his core and cares about Matt to a fault. The incredible work between Cox and Hanson in terms of guiding Matt around (as Foggy constantly does, physically and verbally) is incredibly done. He never treats Matt delicately because he’s blind; he accommodates his disability but does not tiptoe around it. In fact, many of Foggy’s best moments are those where he verbalizes both his own thoughts and the world around him to Matt.
But his personality isn’t limited to the humor; Foggy is a hero in his own right. After all, he and Matt became friends studying law, and the start of the series sees them opening their own Defense Practice (Nelson and Murdock, lovingly joked about the “best damn avocados”, one of many fantastic quotes that came out of the first season). Foggy is shown again and again being the every-man’s hero, protecting those who need his help legally, and, sometimes, physically, when the opportunity presents itself.
One evening when he’s out, he comes across the “masked vigilante” who’s been going around Hell’s Kitchen, bloodied on the street. The public isn’t sure if this man is a hero or villain–but Foggy goes up to see if he’s alright either way. The last thing he expects is to find his old friend Matt under the black mask. He’s angry and sad and hurt and Hanson’s performance opposite Charlie Cox when he awakens is possibly one of the best acted portions of the show. Matt convinces Foggy to keep his secret, but the relationship is damaged (of course not permanently, but things were far too happy to keep going on perfectly in this dark show); certainly not the first or last casualty of the persona Matt has taken up.
Being a hero is tough; and with fight choreography like that seen in Daredevil, the bar is raised- particularly through a one-shot fight in the second episode, praised by its cast and crew before the season was released as one of their favorite parts of the program. It’s rougher and more violent than any other Marvel production, which sometimes sets it in its own world. But its brought back by the finite references to the Marvel Cinematic Universe; tiny things for intense fans to get but nothing that will make a casual viewer lost.
There’s blood and bones and bruises galore; though Matt Murdock, as a part of his story as a hero, does not kill. It’s his enemies who do the killing. After all, every hero needs a good villain. Note that “old-fashioned” is not attached to that phrase. While it would be very easy to call the idea of Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) “old-fashioned”, the “kingpin of crime” who controls every other person in Hell’s Kitchen from crime lords to drug dealers, thugs and police officers, the writing and D’Onofrio’s performance make Fisk anything but. To start, we’re introduced to him for the first time in a museum, where he’s working on courting Vanessa (Ayelet Zurer), who starts as a seemingly innocent character who develops into an incredible villain in her own right as she gets more involved with Fisk.
But that’s just the thing; she gets involved with him. The villain has a love story, one that’s constantly threatened by other characters, one that drives his plot forward. His entire story is not about destroying our hero; in fact, Wilson Fisk has more enemies in his own ranks and among possible allies like the Russians or the often perplexing Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho). Among Fisk’s men is also the shining James Wesley (Toby Leonard Moore), possibly the single person besides his mother and Vanessa that Fisk will defend with violence, not seeing him as a disposable soldier. Wesley is cunning and cool when Fisk cannot be, and Moore’s steely outlook balances very nicely with the odd friendship that Wesley and Fisk have. Despite his violent ways and his being an antagonist, there are times admittedly where you want to root for Wilson Fisk.
Fisk isn’t the only one with strong bonds; Matt slowly but surely gains his own team of allies. When he and Foggy first open up their practice, they take up the case of Karen Page, a woman who was practically caught red-handed in the murder of her co-worker who swears she didn’t do it. Matt, through his heightened senses, is able to determine that she’s telling the truth. They prove she’s being not only framed, but a target herself as a result of information she’s seen. One night, Matt saves her from a man trying to kill her as the vigilante. From that point on, despite all the misgivings about the vigilante the public might have (as a result of him being framed for crimes Fisk organized), she always seems to stand by him, still not knowing it’s Matt.
But this does not make Karen Page a damsel in distress; she’s constantly talking about how she’s capable of saving herself, and shows it on several occasions. One particular shining moment is a confrontation between herself and Wesley. Deborah Ann Woll’s expression of absolute fear and determination as she holds her own before killing Wesley is an incredible moment of progression for her character. Yes, Karen has held the role of damsel in distress before, but this scene is her departure from that into possibly the eventual Karen Page of the comics who works side-by-side with Daredevil. Karen Page proves that a woman can be a romantic interest (initially for Foggy, though that ends, smoothly avoiding a love triangle in the future with Matt as she is his longest running love interest in the comics) and still be her own woman.
Women being able to not only hold their own but protect the men around them is a common theme in Daredevil. We also meet the wise Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), who is known as the Night Nurse, constantly patching back up superheroes in New York. She’s the first to discover Matt’s identity, patching him up after a particularly rough fight (as many on the show are). He goes by a fake name with her, and it becomes something of a routine for them; until, eventually, honesty comes into play and they bloom into a casual romance. The chemistry between Cox and Dawson is lovely but obviously meant to be short lived; it’s clear that Claire Temple is a woman of her own making, and she ends whatever was between them as a result of Matt’s recklessness. They leave on a good note, though, hopefully allowing for more returns of Claire into the Marvel universe.
The season progresses through Matt’s attempts to protect Hell’s Kitchen from Fisk in the wake of the Battle of New York from the first Avengers film. Daredevil has a growing cast of amazing characters, not shying away from casualties of the physical and emotional kind. A dark show with plenty of humor, the episodes can be taken Netflix-style (all at once), or if preferred, at your own pace. The episodes will warrant re-watches, constantly including tiny references or clues to the future, making it extremely likable for any sort of watcher. Netflix has done everything right with Daredevil, including the timing of introducing Matt’s signature red suit, which was a concern of many fans before the start of the show. He constantly jokes that his black vigilante suit is a work in progress, and, in the final episode, ends up in the red suit, finishing his battle with Fisk and being dubbed by the newspapers, Daredevil.
In Daredevil, Netflix has created an origin story not only worth watching for the incredible cinematography, writing and performances, but worth re-watching in preparation for the other Marvel Netflix series to come. Marvel took a risk going into the world of Netflix blind; but its a risk that certainly paid off.
Overall Grade: A