The Marvel Cinematic has a new addition to its continuity this weekend with the premiere of Daredevil on Netflix. I have seen all but the last episode of the 13 of the first (of hopefully many) season in order to make sure that I don’t give away anything too big in this review of sorts. Chances are that if you are reading this then you have already made up your mind to see it but just case you’re still wondering then let me try to make a diplomacy check to convince you of its awesomeness. Let me preface this by stating that I am weirdly optimistic of a lot of things on tv and do not apologize for being a fanboy of comics and all things that Marvel has been throwing out there since Iron Man 1. Rather than a synopsis or episode guide, I’m going to explain some of the cooler themes and avoid the plot as much as possible. The story is superb in several ways and is best enjoyed with little expectation. But before that, let me give you a glimpse of the past. Here’s the Honest Trailer for Daredevil from over a decade ago. Actually, let me help you forget about it. Cool drinking game idea when watching the show: Take a shot/sip/drink of whatever you want whenever you audibly hear the sounds of bones breaking. With that out of the way let’s start exploring some themes. Daredevil Powers: The show does an amazing job of downplaying and exaggerating Matt Murdock’s supersensorial perception. This isn’t the earthbending tremorsense that Toph exhibits or the weird echolocation sense that the Affleck version of the character has. The portrayal of this power simultaneously blends the believable and the extraordinary as you wonder if all blind people could hear your heartbeat from across the room or smell cologne through CONCRETE walls. Even the more fantastic elements like body armor clothing, having a hint of a healing factor, and the other hardcore characters present are presented in a way that (at least for me) didn’t even give evoke a shrug of huh?!. It’s very Arrowesque in that way but in still done in a way that doesn’t shy away from comics. The Continuity We see first hand that the story is part of the greater Marvel continuity and MCU. The locale of Hell’s Kitchen is part of New York City so we see the effects of the first Avengers movie still shaping how we see the world. No real clue if the series takes place after Captain America Winter Soldier but references galore exist. Still, if you haven’t seen the films you will not be confused at all. The show itself needs to be seen in order for obvious reasons. Episodes feed off each other in true serial fashion. I recommend giving yourself a break of a few minutes in between every two episodes just to absorb everything and really let the story sink in. If you have the patience, give yourself a few hours to do other stuff every 4 episodes or so to emotionally settle the details, try to see where the story is going, and then seeing your conclusions come to fruition/abandonment. Then again I recommend that for every bingeable show so take that with a grain of salt. The Heroes This isn’t Daredevil, this is a guy in a black mask beating people up. We see a character coming into his element as a hero. In a world where everyone knows about Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, and Thor, “The Man Without Fear” is a down to earth force of good who is just trying to save his city. Again, a lot like Arrow but the suit is pretty much home made and without any weapons of note (at least for the first half). However, Matt Murdock is no celebrity billionaire philanthropist. In the microcosm of Hell’s kitchen he has a history as a person and growing street cred but he is very much a small shark in a big ocean of predators. It is very much a coming of age story for Murdock as the Hero’s Journey is traversed where we see mistakes and what we learn from them. The rest of the ensemble is well fleshed out, each one with their own motivations and goals that at times converge and other times conflict with the titular hero’s progress. Also, a guy that you think looks like Billy Bob Thorton shows up and he is BADASS. You have been warned. The Villains The antagonists are also quite entertaining. The Legion of Doom consortium that exists between all the bad guys in play is impressive and goes to show the power of organized crime. The multinational crew is a bit on the stereotypical side, almost to the point that you could expect a similar ensemble appearing in a Grand Theft Auto Game. Still, each one of them has their own particular story arcs as Daredevil realizes just how over his head he really is when trying to clean up the streets. Of particular note comes once the show starts delving into Wilson Fisk. This is just a much a story of Murdock becoming Daredevil as it is about Fisk becoming the eventual Kingpin of New York. There are a lot of parallels in their lives, very reminiscent of Aang and Zuko’s struggles in Avatar the Last Airbender, so much so that their flashbacks have similar distinguishing moments: their father’s involvement with the mafia, the first time they took a drink, a semi mysterious past that must remain hidden, and currently the urge to save the city from itself. What makes Fisk such a complicated character is that he isn’t anything like the portrayal done by Michael Clarke Duncan in the film. Or as you might better remember him, as one of the main antagonists in the 1990s Spiderman cartoon. You can see his boisterous classic supervillainesque hubris here and yes, you even see him beat up Daredevil from that cool crossover episode. The Fisk in this version is still physically imposing but not a hulking behemoth in any sense of the word. There are a lot of other things in which he is the foil to his animated counterpart but I will let you see those firsthand. The Fights Holy crap the battles in the show are incredible!!! There’s none of the Matrix style CGI or overly showoff moves. What you get is a nice mix of MMA and kung fu, to the point that Murdock throws as many Superman punches as he does a cool flippy kick. Still, it’s done in a way that shows that even the most basic of mooks can be a threat to Daredevil under the right circumstances. And the people with real combat training make for exciting one on one brawls that make you think our hero might not make it one piece. The violence is a bit brutal with some splices of gore but some of the worst aspects are still not shown. All in all, the show is basically PG 13, no f bombs or nudity here, people. The easiest way to explain is by showing you this spectacular fight scene that comes from the second episode. It has a very similar vibe to the hallway fight in Oldboy (original Korean version) in that it is both out of this world but somehow still believable and it’s all done in one glorious take. In Conclusion If you wanted to see a dark and gritty version of a Marvel superhero that blurs the line between human, mutate, and superhero this is the way to go. The episodes often start in medias res of the bigger conflict at hand, which is sometimes confusing but having faith in the program that it will make sense really pays off at the end. The visuals are done with little light in such a way that you see the world almost through Murdock’s perspective of overall darkness. Aspects of light and shadow, good and evil, and other dichotomies of ethics and morality are explored as we are given the lines that separate humanity from monsters blur. It is a struggle against one’s adversaries as much as it as an internal turmoil to discern who one really is when exposed to the truth that everyone wants to keep secret.
Edit/Addendum Once the initial adrenaline from seeing the show I was able to take a bit more of a nuanced look at some aspects and have arrived at some objective points worth mentioning. This show is not for everyone. If you are feeling bad about your law career this series will make you question your life decisions even more so. Several moments feel like a cross between a grim episode of Law and Order and what everyone wanted Gotham to be before they realized that Batman would be 12. The violence is off putting and the squick factor at times borders on the extreme; you will never look at a bowling ball or car door the same way again. I often glorify fight scenes because of their choreography but several moments border on the X-ray attack montages in the most recent Mortal Kombat games. There is a line between wanting to cheer and wanting to look away that zig zags throughout the course of Daredevil and the shifting tones for me show the gritty reality of Hell’s Kitchen (thus adding layers of meaning to watching) but I’m sure other people would easily be off put by the need for five characters at minimum to need urgent medical treatment on average per episode. My biggest concern is that Daredevil will create an ideological shift the same way that 24 did. The latter was also an amazing program that revolutionized storytelling in various facets but ultimately it helped ease the way for a cultural shift towards something more. At best, it helped people see that a black president wouldn’t be the end of the world but at worst it did make so that torture as an interrogation tactic would be commonplace and foolproof. I fear that people will see The Man Without Fear’s adventures and believe that vigilante justice is the way to go. If this were a show about The Punisher who kills pretty much every bad guy he comes across then I would be twice as afraid but luckily the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen follows the no kill rule (even if no one else does). All in all, the series most powerful aspects are also what would drive away many possible viewers. It is a dark view of the world of Marvel. Our hero does not have Tony Stark’s humor, Steve Rodger’s patriotism, Thor’s charm, or Hulk’s almost comical levels of super strength. This is Matt Murdock, a guy who wants to make his neighborhood a better place. Be it through his intelligence as a lawyer or his acrobatic throat punching as a hero trying to find his place, Daredevil’s grit and ability to see a reality made invisible by our sight is what make this character unique in a world where the fantastic is now commonplace. So if you want to see the dark underbelly of what it takes for a man to be a hero then give Daredevil a chance. Also, Foggy (Matt’s best friend and fellow lawyer) is played the guy who was the kid who had the super slapshot power’s in Mighty Ducks so that’s something.