I’ve found it interesting that where Marvel has overwhelmed DC in the film world, the reverse has been true when it comes to TV. Where Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D struggled to be any better than tolerable and Agent Carter struggles to get distribution because oh my GOD she’s a LADY, DC’s been striding ahead with the remarkably solid Arrow and its sunnier, more fun spin-off The Flash, both of which have introduced a slew of DC heroes and villains ready for yet more spin-offs and team-ups.
Daredevil, available on Netflix in one easy to binge set of 13 episodes, is part of Marvel’s strategy to introduce a series of ‘street-level’ heroes with smaller concerns, territories and abilities, following on TV the pattern they established with the Avengers film franchise; Daredevil will be followed by one series each for Jessica Jones, Iron Fist and Luke Cage, with all four teaming up in a fifth show, The Defenders.
Daredevil, then, is a lengthy origin story for both Matt Murdock’s Daredevil and Wilson Fisk’s Kingpin, but also does a hefty bit of world-building by introducing Russian mobsters, a Chinese heroin ring, vague mysticism, a ninja clan and various other characters on both sides of the fight. As world-building goes, it’s not badly done, and opens up possibilities for future shows and seasons without overwhelming this one. That said, with the show’s focus specifically being on Hell’s Kitchen, a Manhattan neighbourhood confined to an area less than one square mile, it can feel like too much is being squashed into one space.
There’s really nothing wrong with Daredevil. It’s polished, the cinematography is interesting, the fight sequences are exhilarating and peppered with subtle character moments — the superbly-done single-shot second-episode brawl is terminated by Murdock, visibly wrecked, taking a moment to catch his breath and remove his mask so as not to intimidate the boy he’s there to rescue — and the characterisation is all spot-on; if anything it seems to borrow a lot from Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal in many regards. Charlie Cox is charismatic and the supporting cast are serviceably strong. Dialogue can be a bit clunky at times, but I’ve heard worse.
Vincent D’Onofrio as Fisk is the most engaging antagonist Marvel’s put on the screen since Loki (though that’s not saying much). D’Onofri turns in a great performance of repressed rage and stuttering speech, carefully forcing words out one at a time until his anger overwhelms him. When he eventually turns violent, it’s awe-inspiring, a near-unstoppable force and terrifyingly brutal. Conversely, when he’s trying to be gentle and caring, he’s almost child-like. Daredevil would be a lot less without D’Onofri’s Fisk, so it remains to be seen if these street-level shows will end up with the same problem the Marvel films have had; in Loki, an antagonist so charismatic and enjoyable to watch, you end up rooting for them.
My only complaint in the end is that it’s a shame that Daredevil is yet another white male vigilante born of daddy issues and childhood tragedy like an Asda-brand Batman; Matt Murdock may lack Bruce Wayne’s deep pockets and fondness for gadgetry but he makes up for it with what amounts to ESP and sundry other ninja skills, and both solve most of their problems with a series of punches and kicks.
The beats the character hits throughout the series are beats you’ve seen over and over; the initial reveal, the meeting his match, the drawing together of companions, the training from the mysterious ninja, the initial defeat at the hands of his major foe, the rebuild, the eventual success, even his costume and name follow a predictable arc. Female characters tend to be victims, black characters tend to be doomed.
So, for all of its classy camera work and charisma, Daredevil falls back on cliché a little too often. The show a great example of its form, but may leave you underwhelmed from overexposure.