So begins the Marvel Street-Level hero series on Netflix. Already I have to say that Daredevil is radically different to the grander scale we’ve become accustomed to in the films, it’s lower, dirtier, more personal, no toppling skyscrapers, no threat to country or planet, just two men fighting for a small corner of the city they love, and disagreeing wildly on how to do so. No one is here to save the world, but they’ll fight just as hard to save Seniora Cardenas and her tenement building.
So let us begin by weighing up our combatants:
In the red corner – Matt “The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen” Murdock
What do you get when you deduct Iron man from Batman?
Matt Murdock is the son of a boxer, blinded in the process of a good deed. The effect is a dramatic increase in the sensitivity of his other senses, an incredibly rare gift that he uses in a quest for justice for the city that took his father’s life. I enjoyed the method by which the ‘symbol’ is born – not the cheesy double-‘D’ but the iconic look. Where Wayne and Stark choose to make themselves icons of their mission because their billionaire ego gets the better of them, Murdock starts out as just a black-clad street fighter on a mission, until his purpose is distorted in the media, and he creates a symbol to combat the way he is torn down.
Daredevil is shown to be incredibly human. Despite his preternatural ability to process his surroundings, every blow leaves him injured, at times mortally. He can’t fall four stories unscathed, he can’t shrug off a blow to the head, knives do real damage that need real stitches. While his extra training allows him to heal a little faster, his vulnerability makes him more relatable, combined with some excellent writing and a controlled-yet-emotional performance from Charlie Cox.
That said, it does make his “Superman” moment more awesome. When Clark Kent rips off his shirt and takes to the sky you find yourself thinking, “and off he goes again”. When Murdock throws down his cane and takes to the rooftops, there’s something far more dynamic and urgent about that moment.
In the white corner – Wilson “Definitely not the Kingpin” Fisk
I have a soft spot for villains. To me – a child of the late 80’s early 90’s who grew up on the New Adventures of Spider-man – Kingpin has always been this ‘organiser’ character, using less clever but more powerful villains to get what he wants out of life. Big, strong, clever, certainly no-one you want to get into a fight with, but still human. How my opinion has been changed…
Vincent D’Onofrio is a favourite actor of mine, and I was really excited to watch his Fisk made real. The character began as he should, mysterious background puppetmaster, someone who’s name people are afraid to even whisper, fronted by a clipped man in glasses and a suit. Eventually the wizard steps from behind the curtain as a somewhat demure man who speaks in hushed tones, rising into a terrifying rage when provoked. Unlike most villains, he reveals himself to be a most sympathetic character. We are made to understand so much about him that his inevitable downfall seems almost tragic, and his final scene oddly hopeful for a future return to power.
He delivers a monologue in the classic clichéd style of villains everywhere that precedes a very obvious “twist”, but a good quality monologue can make a scene, and make a memorable villain. There’s no arrogance, it almost sounds defeated to begin with, but rising to a crescendo almost musically. In short, this is a Kingpin deserving of the name that he never actually receives.
And the rest
I have to say that the rest of the cast are pretty remarkable. That is to say that every character is in some way deserving of remark. “Foggy” Nelson is somewhat clownish but no less human for it; Karen Page could so easily have been “just the secretary” but ends up on a journey that leaves her radically changed by the end of the thirteen episodes. No voice is wasted, no scene is unnecessary (or at least will bear some long-term importance).
I loved the inclusion of Vanessa Fisk! It lent a lot of depth to his character, but also gave her chance to truly shine. She shows a streak of cunning and wickedness from minute one, that only grows as her love for Wilson deepens. [Spoilers] The fact that she gets away with his engagement ring on her finger only makes me more hopeful for their future in the MCU [Spoilers over, you can come back now]
So how will it all fit in? Hell’s Kitchen is being rebuilt on the back of the Battle of New York in the Avengers, and talk of the Avengers themselves is seen to have entered conversation like the weather, it’s a fantastic display of how superheroes have an impact on the world, alongside the smaller scale heroism of Daredevil that I hope to see across Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Jessica Jones.
There’s a brief hint that a darker superpower is likely to rear its’ head during these series. There is the brief appearance of the mysterious “weapon” the Black Sky being brought into New York by agents of the Hand (basically ninja criminals), which I look forward to seeing more of. One character, the Chinese mob-leader Madame Gao, hints that she comes from a place far further away than China. With Iron Fist coming up, this could be a hint at K’un-Lun, the extra-dimensional city and one of many fictional locales woven into the real world by Marvel.
Ok, one complaint. We can all joke that the lack of eyeholes in Daredevil’s costume is a dead give-away, I mean there are plenty of blind people in the New York, but it really does narrow the field of possibilities. When the final outfit is made, the man who makes it – Melvin Potter – makes it without eyeholes. Two minor flaws:
The first is that the guy is kind of dim, a hell of an armourer, but not all that bright. No one figured out that Daredevil was blind, and he’s surrounded by a lot of very smart people, so no way in hell Potter cottoned on.
Second, and if there were any doubt about the fact that Potter isn’t smart enough to spot Daredevil’s blindness, he says aloud “Black parts will give most protection, red might deflect a knife, depending on the angle”. What? He made a suit without eyeholes… and then describes it by colour… What?
I’ve just sat and watched the 2003 Daredevil film. I did it for you! You see the things I put myself through for my craft?
I’ll address how awful that was on Thursday, for now let me finish by saying that Daredevil is fantastic. Not exactly compulsive viewing, but it brings a lot to the MCU that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and even Agent Carter really struggle to do without being a bit… stereotypical. I’d recommend giving it a watch if you have a taste for things like Breaking Bad,or the Following.
Actually I’d recommend it to most people. Certainly if you’ve read this far I recommend it to you.