When it first came to my attention that a Daredevil series was being developed for television, I have to admit my concerns were multifarious. Marvel’s track record (for me, at least) in the realm of TV up until that point had been relatively stained. I didn’t feel that “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” had the same bite of its cinematic counterparts, and because the blind vigilante is inherently darker and more graphically violent than most superheroes, I just couldn’t come to terms with the fear that the show would probably have to settle for PG-13-mentality. But then the news came that Netflix had picked up the rights for the series, with “Cabin In The Woods”-director Drew Goddard set to serve as the writer and creator of the show – an announcement that made me jump up from my seat in excitement. Because not only had the popular streaming service produced some of the smartest, funniest and most beloved shows around at the time. It also was a unique opportunity to give the devil of Hell’s Kitchen a nearly limitless platform for him to unfold his grotesquely delirious potential. Fast forward to spring of 2015, and we now have one of the greatest, most riveting comic book adaptations of the 21st century.
For those unfamiliar with the blood-red beast, his real name is Matthew Murdock; the son of professional boxer Jack Murdock. He was blinded by an accident involving dangerous chemical liquids as a kid, and quickly learned to see the world in different ways. More specifically, his other senses heightened significantly, allowing him to smell, hear, taste and feel his surroundings like no ordinary man The series picks up as Matthew and his partner, Foggy Nelson, are establishing their own independent law firm, hoping to help the city they grew up in through the means of the legal system. But at night, Murdock moonlights as a masked vigilante, doing whatever he can to serve justice for those who can’t be saved by the law.
Daredevil is multifaceted in the sense that it doesn’t just work as a successful translation of the comics’ gritty atmosphere and sinister universe. It also is a show for those who are not fans of superhero fiction. Because if you take away the costume, the mask and the name, you still have an equally impeccable and well-constructed crime thriller. It doesn’t solely rely on its source material to carry it through, but it does use it effectively to raise the dramatic tension whenever the story calls for it. You see, unlike other TV franchises such as “The Following”, this series has the benefit of already having a rich mythology to build itself around, and so all throughout this first season the creative team never loses sight of what’s ahead of them. They know this character from top to bottom, whether it be the way he fights like a traditional boxer, or the subtle allusions to his troubled past. Everything is tight from the get-go, oozing with stylistic confidence and a clear vision, and that is what makes it seem to effortless in its narrative.
The pilot brings you right into the story without too much of a backdrop for anything, meaning that we have to grow along with the characters as they evolve throughout the show. The journey of Matt Murdock is a fascinating one, although very tragic. He is a mysterious figure, and at first we know very little about him. His motivations are sort of unclear, and his exceptional fighting skills aren’t fully explained until later in the season. He is a big question mark floating above our heads for the first couple of episodes, until the answers start to gradually reveal themselves in form of flashbacks and guest appearances. It is a slow burn for that reason, but because the writing is so strong and poignant, the action and the payoffs are so much more impactful. Had the writers chosen to lift the veil and expose all details about our hero right from the beginning, none of the following revelations would have been as powerful as they are. At its core, this is a dialog-driven show, depending upon its characters rather than the plot itself. We need to care about them, and we do. Why? Because by the end of it all, they are not the same people as they were when they started out. They have acquired new skills, grown wiser, become more efficient at what they all do – all because the developers took the time to really let us sink our teeth into them, not as contrived characters but as relatable human beings. They feel, they think. They are 3-dimensional, and seem unbound by the conventions of the genre in which they navigate. The show doesn’t control them, they control it.
The fight-sequences themselves are also quite impresssive, and the framing of it feels very cinematic. There is a nerve-wracking sense of realism to the physical confrontations. Everybody is vulnerable, particularly Daredevil himself. His technique is rough around the edges, and when someone lands a punch on him, he both bleeds and gasps for air. He easily gets exhausted just like anybody would, and although his martial art training makes him a dangerous entity, there still is no guarantee that he will survive any of the battles he sets himself up for. He quite literally could die any day, and it scares us as an audience. The choreography is so intense and up-close, you cannot help but get all they way out on the egde of your seat, and that is a compliment I rarely give out – not even to most big-scale Hollywood blockbusters. It has so much weight to it, both because the storytelling is so gripping that it seeps into the bloody action, and because the action comes along as a natural extension of emotions brought on by the storytelling. Both are necessities in order to drive the narrative forward. They don’t exist seperately, but as a whole, creating a lasting impression that lingers with you long after you have reached the end. This also has to do with the fact that the finale doesn’t leave you hanging. It closes out the season without a huge cliffhanger, making it stand completely on its own, should they decide not to go on with the story. That won’t happen, but it says a lot nevertheless.