Our totally spoiler-free season one review of Daredevil
No, Daredevil isn't one of the best television series ever made. Probably. A lot of the hype might give you that impression, but let's curb the hyperbole for a second. Just a second. Daredevil is really good. Does it rank up there with Breaking Bad and Battlestar Galactica? I don't know. While I can't say that it's better than either of them. It's just can't be, really, seeing as it's only a single season long and still has a lot to prove if it wants to match up to those giants. Battlestar is my favorite series of all time and is as near to perfection in a show of its scale and ambition can get and I imagine it will be a very long time before something impresses or moves me more. While Breaking Bad, on the other hand coming in second place for me, took a few episodes to really tug my interest. Daredevil, however, had me from episode one. Do I believe it has the potential to be as good as Breaking Bad—barring genre? You know what? Yes, I do.
Let's throw my previous comparisons aside, and use some more appropriate parallels. This is also probably where a lot of you, if you haven't already, check out of this crazy idiot's review. Battlestar?! This guy can't be serious. Well, Daredevil is a better Batman fiction than the Dark Knight trilogy. OK. Nice having you with us. Thanks for reading up to this point. Daredevil does what too many successful comic adaptations have failed to do in the past. In fact, Matt Murdock, the true identity of our titular hero, does more legitimate detective work in one episode than Bruce Wayne does in the entire Nolan trilogy. He's also a hell of a lot more convincing scary-monster-of-the-shadows than Batman was in the same films, is unquestionably a more adept combatant, and works incognito with the authorities without sounding like he's furious with the entire package of gum he stuffed in his mouth.
Daredevil is also a better Arrow than Arrow is. That's not hard to do considering the cringe worthy acting, and incessant whining they call drama. While I like Gotham and The Flash, neither of these can compare to Daredevil either. I kept thinking, episode after episode, how can I go back to them after I've seen what comic adaptations can turn out like? Daredevil, in one season, has raised the bar pretty darn high for what a comic adaptation should be. It might be unfair, you're thinking, to make all of these comparisons, therefore somehow diminishing the value of Daredevil or the aforementioned series. I think it's as equally unavoidable as it is an important distinction to make because we are in desperate need, I believe, of a new quality standard. Comic adaptations, especially in TV, deserve to be better, do they not? The improvements Drew Goddard, creator (or adaptor) of the series, has made in the genre, I hope will be studied, adopted, and improved upon.
Through the first six episodes, Daredevil burns slowly, but relentlessly. Unlike the nerdgasm, villain-of-the-week silliness that is usually sprayed uncontrollably across these shows, Daredevil gives its characters, actors, and story arc the time they deserve to sink into the audience and grow. The city, the atmosphere, the suspense, the rising friction, is all treated with care. Plot conscious dialogue is frequently put to the forefront, giving the audience something to chew on from scene to scene. There isn't anyone dramatically walking off camera after dropping a contrived one-liner for our leads to brood over. Daredevil isn't afraid to talk and let its characters lay on a thick plot. There are few, if any, shoehorned distractions in the form of tacky romance or forced humor constantly tearing us away from our investment in the world its building.
|"Mmm, girl. Smells like summer's eve."|
Even the awesome combat choreography tells an environmental story. Murdock as Daredevil uses everything around him as a weapon or something to jump through, bounce off of, or flip around in. While I've seen some great action in several other comic films and TV shows, little comes as close to Daredevil in terms of raw hand-to-hand brutality. Sure, The Raid is going to win in almost every category for the rest of my walking, breathing life, but when we're talking strictly comic adaptations, think Winter Soldier's intense Cap and Soldier fight, only several of those per episode, and with a lot more blood. Not all of the skirmishes are going to blow your mind or anything, but to keep an even quality standard for fight choreography this good, and this well shot, for an entire season is pretty darn exemplary work. Like Oldboy (2003), many will be making references to the one-shot hallway scene early in the season as the first time we went "Whoa" during a TV series action sequence. I'd even go so far as to say that's not even the best fight in the season.
Charlie Cox, coming from The Theory of Everything and Stardust to name just a couple of his films, is one of the actors you'd least expect to pull any of this off and that makes him so perfect for the role of Murdock. I liked Daredevil prior to this series. I haven't read a lot of the books, but I wouldn't have considered myself a big fan or anything, so I wasn't following the series like I could have were I rabidly invested in the character's history. I can only imagine the predictable fear in fanboy's hearts when a guy like Cox was cast as the fearless, acrobatic, terrifyingly effective bringer of justice that Daredevil is. The dude simply nails every aspect. Being a blind, chump change lawyer, he is the guy you'd least expect to be the Devil of Hell's Kitchen. Behind either his red sunglasses as Murdock or the black mask of the vigilante, without seeing his eyes, Charlie Cox, through posture, motion, sadness, anger, and plain words, conveys more life than the majority of superhero TV actors and looks damn good kicking ass.
His partners, Karen Page and Foggy Nelson, played by Deborah Ann Woll and Elden Henson respectively, are both integral to Murdock's life and the plot. While early in the season, a little of that awkward CW level cheese factor threatened to infect their dialogue, much of it was ironed out toward the latter half and each character ends up solidifying as essential components to the story. Though she's a pretty face and decent actress, Woll is the weakest link here, some of which I'd like to attribute to careless direction rather than bad acting as she is made to be on the verge of tears in nearly every scene she's in. She's hardly allowed to say a single sentence without trembling through her words and quite frankly it became irritating. Being one of the only major flaws in the entire season, I hope this gets addressed in future episodes.
Vincent D'Onofrio, though. Wow.
It wasn't until D'Onofrio's Wilson Fisk came on screen that we start to see the series take its strongest and darkest turns. For the Fisk fans, you can rest deeply assured on a big fluffy pillow of fan service, because Fisk is as brutal, obsessive, and complex as he's ever been. Vincent D'Onofrio kills it and is no less than mesmerizing to watch. You cling to his every word. Every movement of his lips, head, or eyebrows says a million things and paints a picture of an intense, disturbed man whose actions you will rarely, if ever, be able to predict. D'Onofrio plays Fisk with every emotion swirling through his eyes and words at any moment. One second he may appear on the verge of tears and breaking down from the chaos of his life, but will he? Has he already? A moment later, his eyes burn with ferocity of an angry god, wanting to obliterate the unfaithful. The next moment he is vocally impassioned for the adoration of his city and his loved ones through a gruff, tormented voice. Complex just doesn't seem to do justice to the insane nuance in D'Onofrio's performance. You're never certain what he's thinking or what he's going to do which makes him all the more terrifying considering his size and capability. If Daredevil for some absurd reason doesn't continue on, D'Onofrio's performance in this season alone should go down as one of the greatest comic book villain adaptations in film and TV.
|"Do you love the wine? Or shall I crush your skull?|
If I had to label one other element a flaw, I would say that after episode six, the constant ramping up of the story is put on hold in order to build on some back story and deliberately set up for potential revelations in a second season. While these episodes aren't inherently bad—they certainly are anything but—I couldn't help but feel that the wind was taken out of the sails. I do admit that this ultimately turned out to be necessary in order to tell us more about who these characters are and why.
Other than Woll's questionable performance and what arguably is not a pacing issue at all with the backpedaling of middle episodes, I can't say much bad about this first season unless I get really nitpicky and complain about how uninspired the music in the title sequence is. The last few moments of the finale fell overboard into the seas of cheese with some deliberate superhero pose shots that cheapened how the character was represented, in my opinion. But, as of this writing, comic TV does not get any better than Daredevil and is a reason you should have Netflix if you're one of the last humans on Earth that doesn't yet. Regardless of your history or lack thereof with comic books, Daredevil is a must-watch show. The addictive plot, thick atmosphere, and the enthralling D'Onofrio should be an invitation for any film or TV lover to give this a shot no matter your preconceived notions of superheroes or the saturation of the genre. As far as live-action comic heroes goes, Daredevil is everything I was wanting and more.
- J.G. Barnes