Fewer things delight me more than when something pleasantly amazes me with a spot on portrayal of a beloved franchise. Such is the case with Daredevil, a new TV series created by Marvel Studios for Netflix. Here is my spoiler free review.
The first Daredevil comic was published in 1964 by Marvel Comics. Created by Stan Lee and Bill Everett, Matthew Murdock, also known as Daredevil, is unique from the majority of superhero comics protagonists on the basis that he has a disability: blindness. Due to an accident as a young child, where he saved a man from being hit by truck full of toxic chemicals only to have those chemicals spill on to the young boy’s face, Matt lost his eyesight. Trained shortly afterwards by the blind sensei Stick, Matt Murdock eventually becomes the hero Daredevil, a blind warrior with heightened radar super senses that allowed him to, for lack of a better word, “see.” Aren’t comics neato?
As a comic book reader from back in the day, I had very specific expectations for what a Daredevil movie or TV series should be. Here’s the list
- Matt Murdock (the main character/hero) should be a conflicted soul, always at odds with trying to balance his personal life, professional life, vigilante life and his fractured Catholicism. It’s a delicate balance. Although he has all of that going on his life, he also has a confidence to him, and is hugely charismatic, which draw people to him.
- The supporting cast should not be one note. Example: Foggy is an amazing friend and business partner for Matt with their fledgling law firm “Nelson & Murdock”, but at the same time he has goals, desires and a very real concern that he is not as good at anything as his blind friend. Foggy is a much more grounded character, and as such he sees many aspects of the world that Matt doesn’t, and it helps to round out their dynamic.
- Wilson Fisk, often referred to in the comics as the Kingpin of crime, needs to be a complex and calculating villain. One that hides in the shadows running a size able organization. Wilson should appear human with wants and desires, but should be quick to act with lethal force to make his point. He is decisive and ruthless.
- Finally, the story has to be on a very harsh street level. It needs to feel like the underbelly of New York, the entire story takes place in “Hell’s Kitchen” for goodness sakes! As such, there should be palpable amounts of fear, brutality, despair, crime and corruption. Just make it a winding conspiracy tale with a lone vigilante versus a complex criminal organization, and you should be fine.
Good news! The new Netflix series, Daredevil, accomplishes all of my expectations and perhaps exceeds them. It is a wonderfully dark story, with plenty of drama, crime, intrigue and suspense. The world created for the series is portrayed in shadowy dark hues which gives the whole show an authentic underworld feel. No one feels safe, simply because no one is safe in Hell’s Kitchen.
The cast has been selected with great care and the performances they give feel natural and relatable. Charlie Cox plays Matt Murdock with charm and confidence, yet leaves room for all of the demons that are haunting him to add to the rage and the resolve of his character. Elden Henson plays an affable and fun loving Foggy Nelson, who wants to keep spirits high, but deep down he worries a lot about the success of their business and whether or not he will make the right decisions in tough times. Deborah Ann Woll puts in a strong performance as Karen Page, a young lady with a troubled past who gets obsessed with solving the main riddle of the criminal plot. She becomes a secretary for Nelson and Murdock and comes to find in them a strong bond, such as one might find in a family. Rounding out the main cast is Vincent D’Onofrio, who plays a superb rendition of Wilson Fisk. His Fisk is always striding towards a very specific goal, moving his chess pieces into place and sacrificing pieces as necessary. Wilson is akin to the Dons of classic mafia films, he gives respect and he honors his promises, but he is also critical of failure and fatally executes those who are not loyal to him. The rest of the cast is excellent as well, with stand out performances by Rosario Dawson, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Bob Gunton, and Toby Leonard Moore.
The plot clips along at an excellent pace, giving each character an opportunity for growth and development. Time is not wasted on useless elements and there is no major unnecessary deviations from the core story. A few flashbacks are included to give a fuller picture of some of the characters’ ideology and motivation. The series is tied to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, but don’t expect any cameos and thankfully they don’t try to beat you over the head with pointless references to the Avengers or other Marvel properties. All in all, it is a tight and well focused plot that gives a satisfactory conclusion.
Bottom line: if you enjoy expertly acted gritty crime dramas, with plenty of twists and turns, that just happens to have a masked vigilante causing heck for the bad guys, then Daredevil is going to be a real treat for you. If you prefer your superhero tales to be a bit more light hearted, you may want to stick with Marvel’s movie offerings. I will close with this, I went into this series with neutral expectations, and came out immensely impressed with how much care was put into making this a faithful adaption of a classic comic book character. It is well worth your time.