Ben Affleck’s near career suicide from the early aughts have produced more horse-beaten jokes that we care to remember, Daredevil (and Gili) being amongst the worst offenders. However the recent powerhouses of Marvel and Netflix have teamed up to produce not only a mature, adult, television drama that, at times, has you forgetting you’re watching a superhero television show that wrongfully gets lumped in with the likes of The Flash, Arrow and Agents of Shield. That’s not to say those shows don’t have their places or built in audiences, or aren’t good shows (the former more than the latter), however Netflix’s Daredevil does a lot to not only keep my attention, but induce those all to frequent binge watching marathons.
The first thing Daredevil does right is it doesn’t treat the audience like their idiots. Let’s look at Agents of Shield season one. They took the extremis plot from Iron Man 3, extended it a bit and rolled it into Deathlok all while having quotable lines constantly referring back to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It was painful, eyerolling exposition as if to constantly remind us that AofS was just as cool as Iron Man – as the tag line this season reminds us:“It’s all connected.” and desperately tries to hook viewers while at the same time spoiling films like The Winter Soldier or Age of Ultron for those who don’t happen to catch those films opening weekend.
Meanwhile there’s Daredevil. Whose simple references are left up to your imagination. Does it take place in the MCU? Well there is a company at the heart of the story, Union Allied Construction, that is responsible for “fixing up the city” – yet zero references to the Chitauri invasion until an offhanded newspaper cover near the end of the series. So to answer my own question, yes it does. Daredevil stands on its own. It doesn’t rely on talking about Thor or Iron Man and how cool they are as if your nostalgia from seeing the midnight showing of Avengers will somehow make you enjoy a Patton Oswalt cameo. It also respects that there is an adult audience looking for an adult drama with a super hero component.
What makes it special, beyond even the films in the MCU, is that equal time is given to our villain. Guardians of the Galaxy is arguably my favorite Marvel film so far, Ronan the Accuser is still a bit of a generic bad guy – religious fanatic seeks revenge. While that speaks nothing to Lee Pace’s performance, he was fantastic with the material he was given, Wilson Fisk by contrast is the most three dimensional villain so far in any superhero film or TV series. If you look at season one of Daredevil, it’s not just an origin story for our hero Matt Murdock, but for his nemesis The Kingpin. Instead of just cutting to scenes of bad guys doing bad guy things, they really craft whole episodes around Fisk’s point of view. The motivation behind his actions. Are there clichés with these characters at work? Sure there are. Local boy moves home to help out the neighborhood he grew up in is just the first that comes to mind, but it works. And what makes them work is that they took them, expanded and made them better – the way Tarantino does when people accuse him of borrowing ideas. As long as it’s good, as long as you made it better, clichés work. It all comes crashing down when your material is unoriginal and you’re relying on other properties to drive your viewership.
As far as the acting goes, it’s fantastic. Charlie Cox, most recently of Boardwalk Empire fame, shines as Matt Murdock/Daredevil and Vincent D’onofrio is even better as Wilson Fisk. One character who stood out to me though was Fisk’s friend and assistant Wesley, played by Toby Leonard Moore. The only one who felt out of place was Foggy, played by Elden Henson. He’s like an amateur lost in a sea of seasoned actors. In fact this has been the biggest problem to plague the super hero genre on television. While the films land Robert Downy Jr., Jeff Bridges and Glenn Close the TV department is usually filled with twenty year old pretty boys and girls being passed off as thirty year old professionals that usually can’t act. I’m not saying every show needs the realistic casting of Breaking Bad, or the grittiness of The Dark Knight, but it would be nice to remove some of the camp by taking a Paul Giamatti or John Goodman over Big McLargehuge. Don’t convince me that an 18 year old is a Ph.D. candidate while spouting dialogue like “all that science stuff. I’m looking at you CW.
I refuse to tell you much about the story, because I don’t want to ruin any of it for you. I will say this though, if you’re not impressed by the pilot, give it until the second episode and then tell me the single camera action sequence doesn’t blow your mind. Daredevil, once completed, will have you feeling that it’s the true way a Marvel show should be done, and that Agents of Shield is a show for kids.