Creator(s): Stan Lee, Drew Goddard, Bill Everett
Starring: Charlie Cox, Vincent D’Onofrio, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson
“Make it darker!” – something that I found myself uttering more than a few times whilst watching the various additions to the Marvel canon over the years. Any semblance of darkness and grit that one would find from ‘Blade’, ‘The Crow’ or ‘Watchmen’ seem to be a distant memory for comic book fans, replaced instead by The Avengers and co. to fill our screens with PG13 japes of light peril and censor-acceptable violence. Although a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I found myself yearning for gothic darkness and tales with a more adult edge from my favorite comics to appear on screen. Like a red-suited blind angel, in stepped ‘Daredevil’; a thirteen part Netflix TV show equipped with a killer script and the kind of violence that would make ‘Old Boy’ Oh Dae-su flinch and throw away his claw hammer in fear.
Set in the aftermath of ‘Avengers Assemble’ and the destructive encounter with the Chitauri alien race, we are plunged into Hell’s Kitchen, a poverty stricken district of New York dealing with the results of the super-battle. The streets are rain soaked and as black as onyx, seeping with crime and corruption. Enter, Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) and his alias, Daredevil. Blinded by a childhood accident, Murdock is a lawyer by day and a black-masked vigilante by night (his trademark red suit is not worn until the closing episodes), using his heightened senses to fight crime, all the while white-sticking to a strict moral code. Simple, right? Nope. Matt is very much a human in the real world and although he is well-trained in martial arts and has extreme senses, he is vulnerable both physically and emotionally; each bout of combat taking its toll, wearing him down, threatening our very mortal hero. One particularly violent encounter leads him into meeting Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple, an accident and emergency nurse with a kind heart and say-what-she-thinks attitude. Claire helps Matt when he is at his worst, something we only see hinted at in the big budget superhero movies of the cinema. With thirteen episodes to build character and plot we see so much more than just the hero; we see the good Samaritan struggling with an inner conflict of self-belief and uncertain moral compass, as well as the damaged, battle-torn martyr.
Matt’s key allies come in the form of his law partner and best friend, Franklin “Foggy” Nelson (comic relief in the form of Elden Henson), along with former ‘True Blood’ alumni Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page, giving us a fantastic developing character that starts all damsel-in-distress, but grows into something entirely different. These individuals do much more than just fill plot strands and provide exposition, they add weight to the story and flesh out Matt as a multi-dimensional character.
Something missing from Marvels repertoire of late is the addition of a good villain. The magnum opus for ‘Daredevil’ is just that, in the incarnation of Wilson Fisk, aka Kingpin. Acted beautifully by an impeccably cast Vincent D’Onofrio who, although not introduced fully until episode four, steals the show for me. He is a compelling and intricate antagonist, who you can’t help but empathise with. Every scene of Kingpin’s psychotic rage is twinned with one of a broken and damaged man that gives the character an ambiguity rarely seen in any movie or TV offering, let alone one forged from the pages of comics.
Initially, I did not look too kindly on the decision to cast Charlie Cox as Daredevil. I found his performance in ‘Stardust’ to be lackluster and mildly irritating, and I felt he was wildly miscast. I am happy to say I could not feel more differently about his portrayal of Daredevil, which demonstrates just how to match an actor to the source material. A character wracked with guilt, both morally and religiously (Matt’s Catholic routes are explored in his meetings with a priest), Cox is likeable, but more importantly believable.
The fight choreography and stunt coordination deserve a special mention. It is bone-crunchingly realistic, with every punch, kick and impaled head filmed without a flinch from the camera, and it is clear how far creator Drew Goddard is willing to go to distinguish this as a darker, adult piece. One thing is for certain, the authenticity of the violence on offer here is a million miles away from the laughable antics of the last on-screen ‘Daredevil’ (you’re still not fully forgiven Affleck).
As with ‘Jessica Jones’ (also a quite fantastic Marvel series on Netflix) and newly released mega hit ‘Deadpool’, it seems audiences are keen to have the option of a more “grown up” experience when watching our beloved characters, both on home viewing platforms and at the multiplex. Yes, mid-way through, the series slows a little too much, with the inevitable back-story, and the whole thing becomes a little bogged-down in sentiment. But, this is a show that epitomises our binge-watch culture. It’s full of cliff-hangers and wonderfully constructed, little plot devices that have you on the edge, demanding more.
Oh, it’s more you’re after? Perfect, because Netflix and Marvel team up to bring us series 2 of ‘Daredevil’ as of the 18th March. This time, our protagonist comes up against one of the all-time greatest anti-heroes – The Punisher (played by John Bernthal). So, if you haven’t already, I highly recommend you binge-watch series 1 and move on to series 2 as soon as possible. The man without fear says so!