After revolutionizing the superhero genre on the big screen, Marvel Studios has set its sights on television. And while the ABC series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is in its second season and the first season of Agent Carter has come and gone, the Netflix Original Series Daredevil is truly the game changer that those two series could have been. In short, Daredevil is a supremely well-crafted and entertaining series that finally does live action justice to its long-loved titular character.
Daredevil follows Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), a blind lawyer living in Hell’s Kitchen, NY, who uses his enhanced senses to fight crime as a masked vigilante. While partnered with lawyer Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) and secretary Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), Murdock takes on various cases that all seem to have a criminal connection. Meanwhile, criminal kingpin Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) slowly unveils his plans to remold Hell’s Kitchen and gain control of all crime in the area. With both men embracing their destinies, it’s clear they are on a collision course.
Of important note, Daredevil is rated TV-MA for its mature content. While there is some harsh language, it’s mostly the brutal violence that earns the series its rating. When Murdock jumps into action, he puts his enemies through the ringer. People don’t go down easily and there are plenty of broken bones, snapped wrists, deep cuts, and many more brutal injuries. But it’s the criminals that inflict the worst of the violence, much of it enough to cause gasps and grimaces in audiences. While the show does have restraint in what it will explicitly show, this is by far the most violent entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But this is the atmosphere the show wants, and it handles it superbly.
Thanks to the 13-episode structure of the series and the way Daredevil was written and shot as a whole, rather than piece by piece like a typical television series, the show’s first season is a mix between the episodic and serialized. In fact, the series feels like one giant movie rather than a series. But each of the first six episodes is also well paced and satisfying on their own. Having 13 episodes is a major benefit that can’t be had by a 2-hour film. Every character is able to have time invested into their storylines and exposition isn’t shoved down the throats of audiences. By the end of episode 6, Matt’s powers are not even fully explained, as there isn’t a cliché scene where the hero reveals everything he can do. While some may find the lack of explanation frustrating, it also makes the ideas on display feel more natural.
It’s not just the story, actors, and visuals that have obviously been given time and money. Thankfully, Daredevil is chock full of amazing fight scenes. Sticking solely to the first six episodes, the highlight of the action within these first six episodes is easily the end of Episode 2 – “Cut Man.” Matt’s quest to save a kidnapped young boy from the clutches of human traffickers leads him to a hallway filled with criminals. The entire resulting fight is filmed in one long continuous take that spans six minutes that sees a dozen men get slowly beaten down by the indomitable hero. It’s rough, sloppy, but fantastically choreographed. Of everything brought to life by Marvel Studios on film and television so far, the fights in Daredevil are easily among the best.
As a whole, the casting throughout Daredevil is incredibly well done. Cox as Murdock is a superb choice, as the actor shows all sides of this complex character in wonderful fashion and really draws the audience into his struggle. While Henson’s Foggy and Woll’s Page don’t have much to do in the first six episodes, they still provide strong support as they pursue their own storylines. In addition, Vondie Curtis-Hall is a great choice as the worn-down but tenacious reporter Ben Urich. If Marvel got the casting wrong for Daredevil, it would have been disastrous, as audiences would be stuck with them for 13 hours, not a two hour movie.
Visually, the show strikes a very distinct and consistent tone. A large portion of the series takes place at night, with both the action and dialogue scenes given a shadowy appearance. But that’s not to say they are just drenched in black. Greens, purples, reds, and yellows highlight the appearance of scenes as streetlamps, small lights, and neon signs provide much of the lighting. During the day, greys and greens infuse harsh lighting, lending a bleak but not quite oppressive appearance to proceedings. It’s as if David Fincher’s Seven was the inspiration for much of the look, and that’s not a bad thing.
Now let’s get into the plots and developments of the first six episodes.
“Into the Ring” starts the series off incredibly well and truly sets the tone for the series as a whole. Off all the episodes, this one feels the most like Batman Begins, with a fight amongst shipping containers, the dark aesthetics at play, and the closing shot of the hero perched on a building watching over his city all ringing strongly of the film. However, it still feels like itself and not a carbon copy.
Of the first half of Daredevil, “Cut Man” is the most heavy on flashbacks and backstory. While Matt lays injured and tended to by Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), the episode cuts back frequently to Matt’s childhood and relationship with his father. The episode’s focus on character and the past really help in the emotional strength of the show, as most of the following episodes are plot heavy. Additionally, the brutal torture scene and aforementioned fight really show the series’ tone more clearly than the first episode.
Both “Rabbit in a Snow Storm” and “In the Blood” push the central storyline of the criminal takeover of Hell’s Kitchen. With Fisk introduced at the very end of “Rabbit,” these two are where the story of season 1 comes into focus. However, these two also feature some of the least interesting content of the series so far. While D’Onofrio makes a compelling Fisk, the majority of his story involves the courting of Vanessa Marianna (Ayelet Zurer). While this may set up more story later, it’s far from the most compelling content of the show. However, “In the Blood” does conclude with possibly the series’ most shockingly violent moment that leads to major consequences.
Given the major events at the end of “World on Fire”, it’s clear that this episode and the follow-up “Condemned” make up one long piece that really pushes the narrative of Daredevil into its next stage. For the first time, the man who will be Daredevil and the man who will be The Kingpin collide, even though it’s not in person. While the Russian brother human traffickers and their mob had been big players in the series so far, they are completely moved off the board by the end of “Condemned.” However, it makes sense, as this series is not about them. Having Fisk blow up several buildings in Hell’s Kitchen is quite shocking, but it really ups the stakes. Murdock’s hostage situation and desperate escape throughout “Condemned” makes it one of the best of the series by this point, with a great balance between action, characters, and tension.
As a whole, these six episodes far surpass what much of what Marvel Studios has done so far. By the end of Episode 6, it’s clear that the show will only be going to bigger and more breathtaking places.