Stop me if you’ve heard this one before! It’s another superhero story, only this is Marvel’s first venture on the blessed isles of Netflix and they are wasting no time by striking while the iron is hot and Superheroes are in. With gritty and dark shows like Arrow and Gotham doing spectacularly well this was Marvel’s prime opportunity to bring Daredevil, their resident gritty hero, to life. Marvel’s Daredevil is a live action series that follows the journey of attorney Matt Murdock, who in a tragic accident was blinded as a boy but imbued with extraordinary senses. Murdock sets up practice in his old neighbourhood of Hell’s Kitchen, New York, where he now fights against injustice as a respected lawyer by day and masked vigilante at night.
That being said, Valentine’s day 2003 premiered Daredevil, a film that ironically no one loved. Ben Affleck and Julie Garner starred as Daredevil and Electra respectively, with the late Michael Clarke Duncan playing Kingpin - Wilson Fisk and Collin Farrell playing the hitman Bullseye.
The film was not bad, it was relatively good… relatively. It was however incredibly conflicted, a fault to be laid at the feet of the screen writer first, and director second. It was trying to do too many things at once. Dark and gritty constantly swapped with goofy and light. The tone of the movie was lost and confused and, when compared with its source material which is dark and sombre, the movie’s flaws were revealed further in vivid detail. The Daredevil series that premiered on Netflix is not like its predecessor. It knows what it is and it is brilliant and dark.
Charlie Cox, who some may remember from Stardust, Boardwalk Empire and The Theory of Everything, captures the distilled essence of the comic book protagonist with onscreen ease. Many comic book adaptations suffer greatly because their larger-than-life fictional characters fail to translate to the big and little screen in a way that allows us to suspend disbelief. Usually many aspects of the hero are left out, dumbed down or reimagined to be a paler, less delicious version of the scintillating character.
The medium of TV series lends itself to the genre, enabling better explanation and building a rapport with the viewer; you get to know and feel for Matt Murdock, i.e. Daredevil, personally. This isn’t always achievable on the big screen, with most films finishing in under two hours. The 2003 flop that was Daredevil the movie was 103 minutes long. Not long enough for the genre, but this was the early days of superhero movies and producers know better now.
Deborah Ann Woll and Elden Henson play Karen Page and Foggy Nelson respectively. They are promoted from side characters in the movie to front screen regulars in the TV show. Their deep involvement helps us grasp a little more about Matt Murdock as a whole. The two deliver memorable performances; Deborah Ann Woll is believable as a damaged woman with an indefatigable sense of right and wrong. Foggy Nelson is both heart and comic relief, oscillating between tear jerking moments in certain scenes to provoking laughter in others. Onscreen it all comes across smoothly but the effort is extensive. The time we get to spend with these two characters really expands the plot in ways the movie would not allow.
Vondie Curtis Hall brilliantly depicts Ben Urich, a famed investigative journalist; you really feel his plight, his struggles with everyday life - the type we can relate to. This renders him much more tangible and real than any other iteration so far. He is also tied in beautifully with the main plot, pushing to an inevitable endgame. That being said, it is a matter of screen writing at that juncture: the writing throughout the first series has been nothing short of clean, visceral and well-paced, with the type of pay offs that require second and third re-watches.
Ayelet Zurer and Toby Leonard Moore play Vanessa Marianna and James Wesley respectively. Vanessa and Wesley are the windows into the dark soul of Wilson Fisk, played by Vincent D’Onofrio who is nothing short of imposing when on screen - he steals every scene. The whole Daredevil series has been a perfect marriage between a sophisticated script and a captivating cast. Wilson Fisk is eased into the narrative some episodes in and it is fortunate they do so, for fear of overshadowing Charlie Cox’s Matt Murdock. Wilson Fisk’s motivations and genesis are handled with care and paced to perfection. If you want to learn more you have to keep watching, such is the Netflix way, and the script is tailored perfectly to the format.
To not mention how the series is shot would be a sin. It is easy to be consumed by story and cast when the surroundings they are acting in lend to the spectacle and accentuate the experience. The tone of the series is captured well with most of it being filmed under cover of darkness. Alleyways, nooks and crannies, hallways: everything is done to pronounce the type of world these characters are living in. The soundtrack is present but not overpowering, nor is it forceful, cheesy run of the mill ‘stock sample super hero theme tune’. It simply does its part to heighten moments of tension, action, romance and so forth, without distracting.
Kudos goes to Charlie Cox for learning how to behave like a blind man, executing some impressive fight sequences and performing a memorable rooftop chase that was filmed exceptionally well. Throughout the series you really do get a distinct sense that this is a grass roots vigilante, he is no way ‘super’ necessarily, he is very human. His mortality is what makes him so endearing as a character. Rosario Dawson plays Claire Temple, his night nurse; although only present for five episodes, she shines in all of them. She patches him up more than once.
Individuals who have not heard of Marvel (is that still possible?) will find this interesting and will watch just to see the plot unwind to it conclusion. Marvel TV executive Jeph Loeb says of the series: "we've always approached this as a crime drama first, superhero show second." Super hero buffs will not be let down but will be impressed; the series has been reverential of its source material without drowning in its own fan service and it thrives because of this. What is even better and exciting is that the series does not necessarily end here. This show will be connected to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, along with other Netflix series involving Iron Fist (2015), Luke Cage (2016) and A.K.A. Jessica Jones (2015). All aforementioned will get their own series followed by an interconnected series called The Defenders featuring all four, think grass root TV Avengers. If that isn’t pay off, I’m not sure what is. So the only question left to ask is: what do you do until the next series comes out? That is simple binge-watch it all again on Netflix.
Still apprehensive? The following is a YouTube masterclass on all things Daredevil, from his inception to his current iteration. Watch the video to prepare yourself for the series: www.youtube.com/watch?v=BBJ-NmROshk