The latest offering from Marvel Studios introduces us to their street level heroes and the first Defender.
Daredevil has always had a rough reputation. For a few brief moments in the character’s long history he was considered one of Marvel’s A listers, but he always lapsed back onto the B list eventually, as the character has usually experienced his best writing when falling into more of a crime story then superhero. How a character like this could fit into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which until now has dealt with more traditional superhero fare such as Iron Man and Thor, was a question that many long-time fans had. The new series on Netflix had to face this challenge, and it succeeds in a way superhero films have rarely ever done.
The show delves far away from the style we have grown used to in the Marvel films. This one doesn’t have wild superpowers or high technology. Instead it relies more on the characters being exceptionally skilled and vicious individuals, heroes and villains included. Daredevil has no qualms about torturing a man if it means getting the information needed to save a young boy, The Kingpin is not only larger than life, but also faster than anyone could anticipate. These characters are a representation of what it would take for a normal person to be in this world.
On that note the writers do not shy from showing the very real consequences, both psychologically and physically, of this life. Matt Murdock suffers from horrible injuries taking days and professional aid to heal. He is tortured in his dreams and waking hours by questions of whether or not he is doing the right thing. Numerous references are made to his Catholicism and the torment he feels from not being sure if he is crossing lines.
Where the story could have faltered was in showing the courtroom work of Daredevil as an attorney. Even here the show exceeds expectations. The cases that the firm of Nelson and Murdock take on are compelling because they are dealing with the real ethical issues of a Criminal Defense attorney. In one episode the firm has to help an innocent woman named Karen Paige beat a murder charge. We root for them and we cheer when they manage to clear her name, as we see she is a poor innocent girl who has been framed. In a later episode they represent a mob hit man after he murders a man in a bowling alley. They are as upset as we the audience are when he is acquitted. The stories in the courtroom resonate just as well with us as the stories involving the costumed hero.
The supporting cast is impressive and each one is treated to their own arc and excellent development. Karen Paige going from damsel in distress to intrepid reporter feels natural as she works to expose her former employers and their corruption. Her interactions with veteran reporter Ben Urich are sweet and serve to really flesh out this man who was once a superstar of investigative journalism and is now struggling to find his place in a world that no longer values print media. Foggy Nelson maintains a jolly demeanor for the most part, but at times the weight of the things he has to face each day shine through.
The friendship that this group of characters develops brings through many heartwarming moments, especially Matthew and Foggy referring to themselves as “avocados at law”. You grow to love them so much that your heart breaks to see Matt and Foggy’s relationship crumble due to the secrets Matt has kept. You cry even when Ben Urich is brutally murdered as you remember his poor sick wife and his relentless desire to do good.
On the villain side, Wilson Fisk is truly memorable. He is a man who is in denial of how evil he really is and really believes he is trying to make his city a better place. Even when blowing up buildings and killing innocent people, he justifies himself and feels they are necessary actions. He is brilliant and deceptively dangerous. He is a towering man who people fail to realize is not just strong but extremely fast. A combination of brilliance and physical prowess that is made even more dangerous by his determination.
While Fisk may be the main threat, you can’t help but be intrigued by his own supporting cast. The beautiful Vanessa who falls in love with the Kingpin of Crime, not fearing him, but coddling him like a child and encouraging him as she comes to believe his evils are necessary. The measly Lealand Owsley who constantly whines and gripes about the inconveniences that come with being a criminal. But the ensemble dark horse on the criminal side has to be Wesley, the Kingpin’s best friend and right hand man. Their relationship beautifully mirrors that of Foggy and Matthew with the support and trust these men feel for each other.
If there is a negative to the show, it is the characters of Stick, Madam Gau and Nabu. Stick is Matthew’s mentor who disappeared shortly into his training. Madame Gau is a heroin importer working with Fisk who is implied to be much more. Nabu is the leader of a Chinese gang, and a ninja as his final appearance reveals in one of the series’ most impressive fight scenes. The one negative about all these characters is that we don’t see more of them. It seems very likely that all of them were set up for future story lines, but what I wouldn’t give for more scenes of Stick’s hilariously abusive treatment of Matthew, or a real knock-down, drag-out with Madam Gau, or really finding out more about Nabu’s organization that scared even Fisk.
Overall I cannot express how surprised and excited I am to see this series come along. Not since The Dark Knight and Captain America Winter Soldier has a series dealing with superheroes really transcended the genre into something deeper and more intriguing. If this is the quality we can expect from future Netflix series I believe we will soon be entering a new renaissance of comics to film.
If you enjoy the series, I recommend checking out Frank Miller’s or Ed Burbaker’s run of the Daredevil comics available in Trade or Omnibus. You may also enjoy the limited series Man Without Fear written by Frank Miller.
+Strong emotional impact
-Poor Nabu won’t be coming back
Nicholas Ramirez is The Geekiverse’s Daredevil expert. If you can’t get enough of Daredevil, check out our suggested reading piece here.