Netflix and Marvel’s first joint venture Daredevil is a triumph in nearly every respect. It will knock you on your ass repeatedly and you’ll love every second of it. There are plenty of Easter Eggs to keep fans happy and little seeds of characters and storylines to come, but even if you’re not a superhero fan, chances are you will be bowled over by the sheer amount of awesome that is this show. Not only does it rank as one of Marvel Studios’ finest moments, but I’m gonna go ahead and predict it’ll end up being one of 2015’s best dramas. Believe it.
As you read on, keep in mind that I’ve done my best to keep this review spoiler free. However, if you’d prefer to go into the series completely blind (yes, pun intended), I’d recommend you come back after you’ve seen at least the first five episodes or so. Sound good? Okay, let’s move forward.
Now if your only frame of reference is the disaster that was 2003’s ill-fated adaptation of the Man Without Fear helmed by Mark Steven Johnson and starring Ben Affleck, I can’t blame you for being surprised that this new Daredevil series is any good. I can barely watch that atrocity without wanting to impale myself on the nearest sharp object. Take a gander at the source material, however, and you’ll find one of the most richly developed and complex characters Marvel has to offer. Daredevil has been long overdue for a live action iteration that does him justice and thanks to the creative combo of showrunner Steven S. DeKnight and executive producer Drew Goddard, his moment has finally come.
And what a moment it is.
With Daredevil, Marvel takes their medium spanning enterprise into bold new territory, mixing familiar genres – courtroom drama, crime thriller, character study – into a concoction that feels both refreshing and utterly captivating. Taking a cue from quintessential dramas such as The Wire and Breaking Bad, Daredevil allows itself the time to build its world and characters scene by scene, and that makes a MASSIVE difference. This approach, along with the episodic format, allows for breathing room and subtlety not normally found in this kind of genre. Not that Marvel hasn’t allowed for smaller, character driven moments in their Blockbuster fare – in fact, part of what makes their movies so special is just how focused on character they are. But nothing in their roster has been quite this nuanced, or this intelligent. Some episodes feature little to no action and you won’t even mind because the writing is so strong, the characters are so well-drawn, and the performances are so on-point. Each character is thoroughly examined and developed, making for a rich, immensely satisfying viewing experience.
Of course, what elevates the show to a whole other level is the remarkable cast Marvel has assembled. Leading the pack is Charlie Cox as the titular character. He’s instantly likable, charming, and empathetic. You totally buy him as both a blind man and someone who can beat the crap out of you without a second thought. He is the series’ rock-solid anchor and my new celebrity crush.
The rest of the supporting cast is just as strong. We’ve got Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page, who is not only immensely beautiful, but ridiculously talented. Her performance eschews the romantic interest stereotypes that plague these films and thanks to the top-notch writing team she comes across as a fully-formed, living, breathing bon-a-fide human being. Consider her my other new celebrity crush.
The third part of this trio is Franklin ‘Foggy’ Nelson, Matt Murdock’s law firm partner and best bud. Elden Henson is an absolute joy to watch. He nails this character from top to bottom. He is so funny and so loyal. When he cries, you’ll cry. You know what? Add him to my celebrity crush roster too.
Other cast members fare just as well. Rosario Dawson pops up here and there and it is always a treat when she does. You definitely miss her when she’s not around, and I really hope that come season 2 (fingers crossed it’ll be getting the green light soon) she has a bigger part to play. Likewise, Vondie Curtis-Hall is the perfect Ben Urich. It’s wonderful to see one of my favorite characters in the comics so expertly portrayed – seriously, so good. Toby Leonard Moore is fantastic as Kingpin’s right-hand dude Wesley, and despite only appearing in a single episode, Scott Glen as Stick, Matt Murdock’s childhood mentor, leaves a lasting impression.
Which brings me to the other star of the show: Vincent D’onofrio. I’d call him my celebrity crush, but I’m afraid he’d actually crush me for it. His performance as Wilson Fisk, the big baddie of the series, is nothing short of astonishing. He is absolutely terrifying, speaking slowly, delicately, almost as if he can barely contain the monster within. This is the first time Marvel has presented us with a truly compelling villain. Sure, Loki is fun, but Fisk has layers upon layers upon layers. This first season is just as much his origin story as Daredevil’s and the show takes its time introducing us to the character as well as explaining who he is and why he does what he does. You know, come to think of it, I don’t think we’ve ever seen a superhero villain so well-developed on the big screen or small.
The heart of Fisk’s story is his love for Vanessa Marianna (the gorgeous Ayelet Zurer), an art gallery employee and connoisseur. The development of their relationship is one of the show’s finest story arcs and D’onofrio and Zurer play off each other wonderfully, every moment they are on screen is captivating.
As should be clear by now, character is always the priority for Daredevil, but when the show does delve into the action (and don’t worry, it does so very often), you’ll be convinced you’ve rarely seen better fight scenes on television. That’s because you probably haven’t. Daredevil’s stunt team deserves some major kudos and awards. The show’s fight choreography and stunts are unparalleled, taking inspiration from landmark action films like Oldboy and The Raid.
And the best part? It all feels real.
You feel every single punch Matt Murdock takes and you will absolutely feel the pain he inflicts on every criminal he beats into a bloody pulp. These fights are brutal and messy. Bones break, blood is spilled, and our hero never escapes unscathed. The choreography is never clean cut and people get smacked around pretty ferociously at times. You’ll feel like you’ve taken the same beatings as Daredevil, and I mean that in the best way possible. It seems like such a simple gesture, but the fact that Daredevil appears to be mentally and physically exhausted during each physical outing makes such a difference. He feels so human. You really root for him and you really feel his pain when he takes some agonizing blows. Never is this better demonstrated than in episode 2’s extended single shot hallway fight sequence (good God, I’m geeking out just thinking about it). As Daredevil takes down a group of thugs, the level of fatigue he’s experiencing is palpable. He is, after all, a mere mortal; all he has is a slight advantage over his opponents due to his enhanced senses. The fight becomes so drawn out and so exhausting that he actually has to lean against the wall to catch his breath before jumping right back into the scuffle. It’s such a simple, human moment but it really works wonders.
The level of craft on display here is just mind boggling, and not just from the stunt department. I’ve already mentioned the incredible writing, but I want to take a second to give a shoutout to the cinematography and direction. Daredevil embraces its dark comic roots. Every frame is awash with darkness, but when the colors show, they are striking and beautiful. That moment in the first episode when Karen stands in Matt’s apartment and stares out the window at the Blade Runner-esque video billboard across the street is just stunning. It would be impossible to count the amount of times my jaw dropped, just totally in awe of the gorgeous visuals. Marvel’s superheroes have never looked so good.
The overall journey, though unquestionably worth taking, is not without its flaws. The series hits a bit of a stalemate in its final 2 to 3 episodes, slowing the pace down past the point of reason. There’s a lot of sitting around discussing past events and future plans, and, with the exception of one or two big moments, very little actually seems to happen. Until the very end of the finale, that is. The events which lead to the season’s final moments feel uncharacteristically rushed, which is a bit of a shame considering how much time was spent meticulously building this story and the characters. Aside from these minor stumbles as the series nears the finish line, the final episode manages to close things out on a high note and will leave fanboys besides themselves with sheer joy.
Daredevil is yet another notch on Marvel’s World Domination Belt. They have finally made a television show as good as their big screen efforts and in many ways they’ve surpassed even those. There are 3 more shows on the way for Marvel and Netflix: A.K.A. Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, and Luke Cage, all leading up to The Defenders mini-series. If these next shows are anywhere near as good as Daredevil, we will be in for a major treat.
Even with all the territory covered in this first season, Marvel’s Daredevil has only scratched the surface of the character’s potential. There are so many iconic storylines and characters left to see (The Born Again arc; Elektra; Bullseye; practically everything Brian Michael Bendis wrote, etc.). I can only hope a 2nd season is greenlit and soon. I’ve got a fever. And the only prescription…is more Daredevil.
It's hard to imagine anyone being disappointed by this masterful entry in the Marvel canon. Even with its minor stumbles, Daredevil is a rousing success. It not only ranks as one of 2015's best dramas, I'd go so far as to say it is the single best superhero television series I've ever seen. Marvel raises the bar once again.