Last time we saw Daredevil it was on the big screen, starring Ben Affleck, in a very cheesy, ridiculous, and decidedly average early 2000’s film. Flash forward to 2015. Marvel has become a superhero juggernaut, paving the way for a more serious, story-oriented approach to tackling comic book properties. After many successful, interconnected films (including Avengers: Age of Ultron, now in cinemas), they tried their hand at Agents of Shield, which is an entertaining but ultimately flawed ordeal.
But now we get a new iteration of Daredevil, done exclusively for Netflix (if you don’t have Netflix, then you’re weird). And it’s a radical, and very welcome shift from our pals at Marvel. This is a completely different Daredevil than the aforementioned film, and it’s without a doubt one of the best things Marvel has ever released. Marvel is certainly growing up.
Matt Murdock (expertly played by Brit Charlie Cox – check out our roundtable interview with him here) suffers an accident as a child that leaves him blind, but also with heightened senses. This allows him to be very good at checking his surroundings, and since his dad is a boxer, it makes him a very skilled fighter as well. Why would he need to fight? You see, Matt is a lawyer, and one with a very strict moral compass: he only defends the righteous. And when the law isn’t up to the task, he puts on a mask, goes out at night and takes the law into his own hands.
One of the stars of the show isn’t a character, but the city, or, more accurately, the part of New York where the story takes place. Hell’s Kitchen isn’t a happy place. It’s grim, dark, and it just doesn’t feel “safe”. There seems to be corruption everywhere, and gang fights between russians, chinese mobsters, and, at the head of it all, Wilson Fisk, played marvelously by Vincent D’Onofrio.
So what’s Matt’s mission? Make Hell’s Kitchen, his hometown, a better place. But what’s most interesting is, that’s also Mr. Fisk’s mission. They just follow different approaches to it. Matt fights the bad guys, and Fisk uses the bad guys to fight and corrupt everything in order to build a better place. It’s this fact that gives the show its biggest appeal – even though we know that Matt is, in fact, the good guy, it’s not so crystal clear, as he does some pretty nasty stuff in order to make Hell’s Kitchen a safer place.
Also of importance, are the fight scenes which are on a class of their own, with nothing else like it on TV. They have a kinetic sense to them, and they are brutal. The fighters bleed, break bones, and get tired, which makes us believe that Matt might not succeed in his plight every time he puts on his mask. Having said that, you shouldn’t be fooled by the Marvel brand: this is not a show for kids. It will make you cringe more than once, with torture, decapitations and everything you would expect from an adult show with no specific censorship (courtesy of the show being on Netflix, of course).
Aided by a cast of great supporting characters, from Matt’s best friend and law firm colleague Foggy (played by Elden Henson), to Matt’s “always there when he needs her” nurse and love interest Claire (played by the always excellent Rosario Dawson), this series rises above what we would expect from comic book based television, giving us a rich storytelling about people with actual, real problems. Yes, Matt technically does have superpowers, but they are so grounded in reality that, if you were not told, you wouldn’t be able to tell this is a Marvel show to begin with.
So, no matter how you feel about Marvel, give this show a try. It’s less superhero spandex (even if Matt does end up in a weird costume eventually) and more real life crime fighting. It’s gripping, tense, action packed, and remarkably entertaining. And if you don’t believe me, the show has already been confirmed to come back for a second season, so I’ll stop writing now while I go wait a year to see if Matt Murdock can continue to take a beating next year.