Having just enjoyed season 1 of the new Daredevil TV series on Netflix, which only recently came out in Australia. I will tiptoe around spoilers, but I can’t promise there mightn’t drop some minor reveal. So if you are sensitive about spoilers, then you probably shouldn’t be Googling random blogs for more information on TV shows anyway.
Daredevil is based on a Marvel Comics superhero character. Some think of him as Marvel’s Batman, in the sense that he is a very dark vigilante character that relies on their incredible training in martial arts fighting against crime to protect their city.
But Daredevil’s alter ego is no billionaire. Both he and his alter ego, Matt Murdoch attorney at law, are blind and live in the part of town that wavers above and below the poverty line. I did collect his comics for some time, but he was not a character I followed closely.
I went in to this series with very low expectations. Like many lacking faith in the upcoming Batfleck, the 2003 adaptation had not lived up to expectations (please let me be wrong on Batfleck). This combined with the promotional pictures of the suit having not set my world on fire, left me hesitant about getting excited for a new adaptation.
But the TV version has done a great job of establishing itself as something very different within its subgenre. This transition in to telling the superhero tale in TV format has been done before in shows like Smallville and Green Arrow. But I think Daredevil manages to be more grounded. A story told on a background that feels closer to reality. Perhaps it is because the format allows more time to really explore the world the hero lives in. The time to develop characters in more detail than a movie are forced to cover in a montage because they only have a couple of hours to get to the finale.
(this clip is an unrelated distraction intended to get the song stuck in your head)
The leading role is played by Charlie Cox. This was my first encounter with the actor. Actually, I did see Stardust, but I wouldn’t have remembered him in that had I not just Googled it. I also would not have known he was English, and would have assumed American given the American role. That’s the best American by a Brit I’ve seen since Hugh Laurie in House. Though probably any American would think, but he sounds so British to me. Well that is how many Brits feel about many of the accents on Game of Thrones.
It took me a while to warm to Murdoch as a character, and he is certainly not my favourite in the series. He seems irrationally stubborn at times, though that could be a deliberate move to differentiate the character from the various Batman incarnations ( Adam West’s was the best imho). Such differentiation being another thing the show achieves despite the similarities in the source material.
Over the season, Cox has developed his character in to a worthy leading character as he is lends the series a flavour that I ultimately enjoyed immensely. I would not hesitate and encourage anyone to check it out, irrespective of whether they have any familiarity with the source material (though aimed at more mature audiences than some fans of the character) . While there are references that link the story to the Marvel Cinematic Universe via the Avengers final battle having destroyed large chunks of New York, a viewer can easily forget that it is supposedly a part of that connected universe simply because the accent or flavour is so much more grounded in reality.
Perhaps that sense of realism comes from the fact that the backdrop for the heroes world is the less prestigious parts of town. Meanwhile in the next scene the villains live in opulence. Of perhaps it is the lack of space aliens. Whatever the cause, the result often is more credible than many shows that dramatise the real world. It does have its moments of comic book, over the top fun during the fight scenes, though. Some well executed and filmed stunts, that pull the viewer back from the sense of gritty reality in what would otherwise be thought of as some of the most brutal scenes of violence on popular television. Cox even positions his head they way a person not used to holding eye contact while conversing with someone often would. A subtlety often missed by performers pretending to be blind.
Lets take a moment to realise we’ve lost the tldr crowd by now. I am going to talk seven most of the recurring cast so if you don’t have time to do this in a sitting, bookmark and come back looking for the intermission.
Matt Murdoch’s closest friend, Foggy Nelson is played by Elden Henson. Some of the supporting ensemble in comic adaptations can feel forced. Kind of a, they are only here because they were in the comic feeling. This is what my first impression of Foggy Nelson was. He is just that bit over the top, at points compensating in the somebody has got to carry the exposition when your leading character is being Mr Broody-pants. But he also has some outstanding highlights. For me, his first speech to a jury in court was perhaps his stand out point in the series. Reminding me of some of the best episodes of Boston Legal without the underlying politics. An aspect in Foggy I hope to see more of.
Karen Page is played by Deborah Ann Woll as a recurring member of the Daredevil good guy team. I enjoyed her in True Blood and had high hopes for her, though I have no memory of her character in the comics. Karen is at times stubborn and frustrating, even more so than women are to me normally. She is presented as someone with essentially no friends and apparent social anxiety as she seems to have no motivation to change that beyond the two non-gay men that she isn’t sleeping with. But at the same time possessing the confidence and forcefulness to actively investigate criminals she met through their proclivity for murdering anyone that knew too much about their dealings. She is important to the team dynamic, but those conflicts make me struggle with her as a realistic personality.
Next, Netflix seem to have picked up on the correlation between the success of comic book superhero adaptations, and the quality of their villains. I am again unfamiliar with this actor’s prior work. But D’Onofrio’s performance in Wilson Fisk is both memorable and a major factor in why this show works. Fisk is to Murdoch what the Joker is to Batman or Lex Luthor is to Superman. The two define each other and D’Onofrio presents us a worthy adversary.
Fisk’s hencham is a man named Wesley. The man who does all the legwork for the man with all the power. Another character I had no memory of from the comics. Toby Leonard Moore executes the role skillfully.
Madame Gao is played by Wai Ching Ho, and is another villain on the bad guy’s team. Often the dialogue between Fisk, Wesley and Gao is in Chinese. I have had the barest of basic lessons, so cannot vouch for their pronunciation. I did find the paced, consistent enunciation was pleasant to listen to and at times even, graceful. Plus, Madame Gao manages to hint delightfully at supernatural tones yet to be explored and perhaps helping to link Daredevil to the announced Iron Fist series.
Tenacious reporter, Ben Ulrich is played by Vondie Curtis-Hall. Ulrich is a character who has changed race since their comic book origins under the banner of improving racial diversity in comic book characters. I sometimes wonder how minorities feel about this. Doesn’t it just create an alternate version of a character that will forever be compared to the original? Well whatever the basis for his casting, Curtis-Hall does a fantastic job with Ulrich and easily claims the tile of the best version anyway. Also the show’s handling of a character who was always a newspaper journalist in the modern era where such journalism is so under pressure from online news sources is well thought through.
Finally, we have Vanessa Marianna as played by Ayelet Zurer. Once again, a character I had no memory of. A compelling performance and creating the third spoke in the heart of the villain’s dynamic in the same way that Matt, Foggy and Karen create theirs for the heroes.
So overall, the show is not without its flaws. No show is. But the result is enjoyable and I look forward to seeing a season 2. Even the 2003 movie recognised that two elements key to any Daredevil story are Bullseye and Elektra. If Fisk is Joker to Daredevil’s Batman, then Bullseye is Bane and Elektra is Catwoman.
And I also hope that the show keeps itself that arms length from the rest of the Marvel MCU. Crossovers are fun and all, but I think Daredevil deserves to stand alone and not rely on such gimmicks to build its fan base.