I'm a big Daredevil fan. I've got almost every issue of Daredevil Vol. 1, which ran for 380 issues and started in 1964. Much of my youth was spent searching through back issue boxes in old comic book stores, filling up the holes in my collection. Once a year I used to re-read the entire run from issue one on. So, big fan.
I tried not to get excited when I heard that Netflix and Marvel would be doing a Daredevil series. I've already lived through two other live-action Daredevil adaptations, and I wasn't eager to see another bad attempt at a character I love. Marvel has a pretty great track record, though, so...again...trying not to get too excited. I didn't pay too much attention to the casting, I'd wondered what the costume was going to look like, and once they revealed the black Frank Miller/John Romita suit I just kind of shrugged. Visions of the Daredevil that appeared in The Trial of the Incredible Hulk flooded my mind. I shuddered and went on with my day.
I'd heard that Vincent D'Onofrio was cast as The Kingpin, and I thought that was pretty good casting. But I also thought that Michael Clark Duncan was good casting for the big-screen version of Daredevil. Starring Ben Affleck. You guys discovering Daredevil through this Netflix series have got it made, for a long time Ben Affleck was my Daredevil. It sucked. Though, the director's cut of the movie--while still a massive turd--had a much smoother through-line. Matt and Elektra don't sleep together in the director's cut, instead he goes off to fight a crime. If only he could have fought the crime against cinema that was that awful playground dance exhibition. Or whatever it was. But, Alas, true heroes are dead and that was my Daredevil adaptation.
I still had the comics of course, which were great consolation at that time, with Daredevil becoming much more of a crime noir comic than a superhero book. He was entangled with the FBI and his secret identity was being released, and he was suing newspapers who printed that Matt Murdock was Daredevil. It was great. The DD comic series has consistent peaks and valleys where sometimes amazing innovative storytelling is taking place, but other times he's being possessed by demons or doing Bart Simpson and Ren and Stimpy parodies. It gets weird.
So, finally the internet rumbled and whispered to me that the Daredevil series was done, and that I could watch it soon. Watch ALL of it. Soon. I got excited. I started seeing the subway ads, and got excited. On my subway commute each morning an almost holographic Matt Murdock would smirk at me and adjust his tie, his knuckles bloody and torn. You know those video screens in the subway? Well, Daredevil was running on a loop on a few of them. I didn't care about the black suit just then. I didn't care about bad casting, or Ben Affleck, or would we even see the red suit this season. I just wanted to see it as a Daredevil fan. I wanted to see another interpretation of the character in a medium that I rarely get to see it in. I was psyched. But quiet about it.
Until the week it was going to release. The day before the release I got it into my head that the series was going to post at midnight.
I was up until 11:30 when I realized that I had not corroborated that information even slightly before making the decision to stay up. I checked and learned that the series was due to post at 12:01 PST, and at 3:01 am Eastern. So 3:01 am my time. Daredevil was turning me into a child.
So, of course, I got up early to start watching it while getting ready for work. I didn't see much, but what I saw I *really* liked. The very first fight scene clinched it for me and I was officially into it. With reservations, though. I didn't love that the first three victims the show threw at us were young women, it felt lazy, but there was enough smart and funny writing going on around those scenes to keep me interested.
It was Friday so I went to work, met my wife at The Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the Warriors and Mother's exhibit and then we grabbed dinner. We had a great time, but in the back of my head a little crimson man was running from rooftop to rooftop.
When we got home, we settled down onto the couch and I turned on what would then consume thirteen near consecutive hours of my life. I legitimately spent a weekend watching Daredevil. I took breaks to clean, went out for drinks with friends. But I always ended up back on that couch watching Daredevil.
So what did I think? Any reservations I had going into this series dissipated very quickly. It's readily apparent that the creators and crew of this series had a lot of respect for the source material, from tossing in tiny Easter eggs (Mike Murdock), to setting up storylines to come (Karen Page's dark past), this show knows that it's a Daredevil show and much like the Devil of Hell's Kitchen, pulls no punches.
Charlie Cox doesn't look like the Matt Murdock I've got in my head. He's a little goofy, a little flawed, and that haircut looks terrible, but, he's the absolute perfect Daredevil. I jokingly wondered if they cast him for the lower-half of his face. That's not fair though, because while he doesn't quite physically match the Matt Murdock from the comics, he certainly has that driven and emotional Matt Murdock presence that makes me love the character so much. I found myself comparing him to another one of my favorite TV characters: Fox Mulder. They're both on impossible quests, are men with unique skills, and are driven by emotion as much as they are logic.
Elden Henson both looks and fits the part of Franklin "Foggy" Nelson. Live for the moment, never take anything seriously until you absolutely have to, Foggy Nelson. The chemistry between Cox and Henson was perfect and it was absolutely thrilling to watch this decades old friendship that I've watch grow and transform in the comics take on a new life through these two actors.
Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page rounds out the hat-trick of amazing casting. I loved seeing this Karen Page imbued with some of the darkness that the character would later come to embrace in the comic--in her original comics debut she was pretty much just a dizzy secretary who was in love with Daredevil. It was also great to see some of those original themes freshened up and played before us in this series, specifically Karen and Foggy becoming fast friends. I loved pretty much every scene with the two of them together, goofing around, getting hammered, trying to get Matt to hang out with them, helping people who need it.
Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple/Night Nurse was fun as well and each scene left me wanting more. It was also great seeing a normal person get dragged into the life of a vigilante.
I don't think I need to say anything about Vincent D'Onofrio's portrayal of Wilson Fisk. It's just utterly fantastic.
I am *so* happy that this show didn't ignore or gloss over the fact that first and foremost, Daredevil is a fighter. Sure he's a smart guy, he's a lawyer, he can probably argue his way out of pretty much any situation. As Matt Murdock he promised his father that he would be a man of the mind, not one of the fists--but as Daredevil all bets are off. He can use the senses gifted to him by a freak accident to a devastating effect in a fight. This is the first street level superhero we're really getting a taste of in the mass media, and they captured that perfectly in the fight choreography. Daredevil's powers afford him a great edge against normal human combatants, but he needs to be completely focused to stay aware of what's going on around him. In the chaos of a fistfight, that focus can easily be confused, and as a result, DD tends to get pretty roughed up. I loved that they integrated boxing into his martial arts style, and that they kept his acrobatic athleticism as well--and not in an overblown and showy way.
There are a few truly memorable fight scenes throughout the series, but the two that immediately spring to mind are the Hallway fight, and the fight between Matt and his old teacher, Stick. Another scene that I'd also like to note, because it paid off a fun street-level vigilante trope, is the scene in the taxi depot where Matt is taking out goons from the shadows. One by one they're pulled into the darkness and dispatched.
A World on Fire
It's easy to forget that Daredevil has superpowers because they serve to don't make him stronger, they don't make him invulnerable, he can't fly, and he's not super strong. He may be a little faster, and maybe a little tougher because of his powers, but most other heroes vastly outmatch him in speed or strength. His powers give him an incredible edge in other ways though; he can hear heartbeats, he can sense even the slightest change in temperature or air pressure, he can can smell--well, who knows what he can smell! His abilities are intimate. He's almost inside everyone he meets, feeling their heartbeat, tasting their sweat on his tongue, their scent in his nose. It's no wonder he needs to temper this terrible intimacy with violence. This series really put that into perspective for me. I also really loved that they never lingered on his "radar" sense. It was one of the very few things the 2003 Daredevil movie did well, so it was nice that the series didn't even attempt to compete--except for one very short, but extremely effective scene.
The Black Suit: I mentioned before that when I first saw images of the black costume I just shrugged. It didn't look dynamic, or interesting. There didn't seem to be any real texture to it, and it didn't look too far removed from the costume in The Trial of the Incredible Hulk. However, seeing it in action is much different than seeing a still image of it. It makes sense, and it worked amazingly well. So well in fact that toward the middle of the series I wasn't so keen to see him in the red suit anymore. I loved the tight black spandex top, the face mask tied behind his head, and the cargo pants. I loved how it got torn up, I loved the image of Matt fighting in that hallway, white ropes wrapped around his fists--it made for a very striking silhouette.
The Red Suit: As much as I was enjoying watching Matt adventure in his street-level costume, I was really itching for a taste of the superhero. Once they started sowing the seeds that would lead to his costume, I got more and more antsy to see it. I'd seen preview images (so great was my desire to see anything Daredevil that I couldn't help myself), and I liked the general concept, but I wanted to see it in motion. I got excited as each bit of the costume took shape--from Matt realizing that Fisk was wearing lightweight body armor and that he should do the same, to when Matt sneaks into Melvin Potter's workshop to see what was possible. From Potter's shop on I was on the edge of my seat waiting to see Matt in that red costume. I'm happy that the series made me wait, because they built the suit into the story. It wasn't an arbitrary decision for Matt to just decide to put on a real costume to do what he's been doing. There was an evolution and a progression to it--so when he finally does show up in it, it makes sense to the story. He needed protection, and he also lives in a world where symbols matter and just as Fisk--a man of ill intent--made himself a symbol of righteousness, Matt took that concept of evil--the devil--and made it into a symbol of justice.
In that moment he becomes more than just a man fighting alone in the shadows, he becomes a hero.
I can't wait to see how certain things that were introduced in Daredevil pay off not only in season two, but also in the other Marvel/Netflix series'. There were some definite Daredevil cannon story-threads carefully placed: Foggy & Karen, Melvin Potter (The Gladiator), The Owl (maybe?), Karen Page's dark side, Stick and The Chaste, and more. But there were also what I took to be wider Marvel plot threads woven in: The Black Sky and Madam Gao spring immediately to mind. Doing a series like this in the Netflix model means that the writers can treat the story much more like a novel, or even more like a comic book series. Each issue or episode represents a chapter in the ongoing saga of the titular hero, but not every episode needs to slavishly repeat and reacquaint the audience to the overall themes. The story is allowed to meander and unfold as it pleases. This is a huge plus for something like Daredevil, and why they were able to do an entire episode as a court-room drama.
I obviously loved the series, and I can't wait to see how this character grows and expands into the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. It would be amazing to see this Daredevil fighting back to back with Black Widow, or standing side by side with Captain America in the upcoming Civil War movie. Will it happen? I don't know, but it's possible. There were a few things that missed the mark for me, none of them being notable enough to mention here, save for one choice the series made that I hated. The killing of Ben Urich. This grated on me for a number of reasons 1) I really like the character of Ben Urich, and Vondie Curtis-Hall was perfectly cast. 2) It's a troublesome trend in TV/Movies to cast actors of color only after the main, white cast has been selected--troublesome because those characters are generally disposable--and Daredevil is no exception to that trope. 3) It was such an obvious stab at a Game of Thrones style shock-death that it just felt gross and manipulative.
There were plenty of other ways the show could have portrayed Fisk's ruthlessness without killing off Ben Urich, but the series took the easy road and that choice dulled the impact of the last episode for me. I really wanted this show to be the anti-Game of Thrones, I wanted it to be a world where heroes exist, and those heroes don't have to be men dressed as devils. They can be anyone who stands up for what is right, they can be newspaper reporters, or legal secretaries, or old women. It was a theme that the show constantly toyed with--using The Devil of Hell's Kitchen as the narrative focus. What happens when one person stands up against injustice? Others rise as well, and just as Ben Urich rose to the challenge, he was snuffed out by manipulative storytelling.