Monday, April 20, 2015

Daredevil: Season 1

So I just finished watching the entire first season of Netflix and Marvel’s first team-up – Daredevil. It took me just over one week to marathon it in its entirety and I find that I have a lot to say about it…

You’ve seen 2004’s Daredevil, right? I’m pretty sure you have if you’re reading this blog since you’re my target audience. Love it or hate it, you honestly have to admit that it wasn’t the best interpretation of the beloved comic book character (but I will admit that the Director’s Cut was better). Not that I really care since I usually separate myself from my affinity for the source material when it comes to a film or television adaptation. Regardless, I had high hopes for that film when it was released back in the day and I wasn’t too impressed. So when I started hearing rumblings of a television series based off this character coming to Netflix I had very low expectations regardless of the streaming service’s high level of quality programming.

When I say that this series is better than most of the top tier superhero movies that have come out within the past few years, Marvel’s films included, you had better stand at attention and listen to what I have to say to justify that opinion. Here we go…
The series follows blind Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), lawyer by day and masked vigilante at night. He uses his remaining honed senses to fight the crime syndicates in Hell’s Kitchen that are run by the dangerous businessman/gangster Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio).

10 minutes into the first episode I had completely forgotten about the 2004 misfire. Not only is this series written extremely well for what most people would consider an advertisement for the feature films, but virtually every aspect of it is exceptional in its execution.

Series creator Drew Goddard, who stepped away from the show to focus on the now abandoned Sinister Six film, handed the reigns over to Spartacus showrunner Steven S. DeKnight. Some might consider this passing of the torch a death knell since the two have a very different style of storytelling; one through dark comedy and the other through sheer brutality. Thankfully this is one of the few projects that have gone through this process that comes out aces in the end. The sensibilities of these two filmmakers combine extremely well with this material and I was happy to see that the comic book’s gothic and somber tones were not abandoned for out of place humor. Not that there isn’t comedy. There is, but it’s woven organically into the stories via the characters and it’s never overbearing or cheesy. It just comes off as natural as it should be. It combines the best of both, especially in the violence department. Damn if some of the events that take place aren’t fucked up in the extreme!
I was worried that the casting of Charlie Cox (Stardust) as Daredevil would be a huge misstep, but fortunately he rose to the task and completely won me over as this character. He’s fucked up beyond recognition both psychologically and physically, but has special abilities that circumvent the physical ones. In many ways he’s the Marvel universe’s Batman in that his insane quest to avenge his father’s death at the hands of mobsters has left him with no choice but to don a mask to dole out violent vigilante justice. Cox pulls this aspect of the character off flawlessly. And even throughout all the nasty business he participates in he remains likable and heroic. Not an easy task. He also has the blind act down pat which sells the character even more for me.

Deborah Ann Woll (True Blood) gets to show off her range here quite a bit as Karen Page, taking her character from a weepy victim into some real dark territory. It was nice not seeing her constantly being utilized as someone needing to be rescued (Mary Jane in the original Spider-Man films anyone?) and being as much of a hero as the title character in some respects. Elden Henson (The Mighty Ducks), while being the comic relief as Foggy Nelson, is much more than that. His role is basically the heart of the main trio of leads, and he really gets to show his acting chops in episode 10, “Nelson vs. Murdock”. You can throw as much action at me as you like, but seeing two well written characters going at it verbally is much more rewarding and I was absolutely riveted during those scenes he shared with Charlie Cox.
When it comes to the supporting characters things are just as rad. Vondie Curtis-Hall (director of one of my fave 90s time capsule films – Gridlock’d) comes out of nowhere and nails it as reporter Ben Urich, Toby Leonard Moore (John Wick) plays the creepily understated Wesley for all its worth, Ayelet Zurer (Man of Steel) is as beautiful as she is fascinating as Fisk’s love interest Vanessa and goddamn if Rosario Dawson (Trance) didn’t rock my shit as Claire, Matt’s confidante and romantic interest. Sass + moxie = a winning combination.

However, I can’t heap the same amount of praise upon the most well known of the actors cast in a major role – Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk. While he certainly looks the part of Kingpin his dialogue deliveries and facial expressions are somewhat suspect. He has an annoying tendency to “Christian Bale-ify” his voice when he gets loud, and more than once I thought I heard his classic villain from Men in Black. His character is supposed to come off as scary and unstable, but most of the time his expressions make him look like a confused puppy or a lost child. He just didn’t work for me.
Even though I wasn’t a fan of D’Onofrio’s performance as Fisk, I admired the backstory given to make his character surprisingly sympathetic. Most of the episodes are written in the Lost style, where we get the main storyline in the present and a parallel one that follows one or more of the characters in the past. It works well and by episode 4 you have a fully developed roster that are likeable in the extreme. Most network shows aren’t to that point by episode 15, so kudos to the massive writing staff.

I also have to give a shout out to the fight choreographer and cinematographer. Most television shows that are action heavy tend to skimp on the fisticuffs or shoot them in such a way that you can’t see what’s going on to cover up the lack of budget/talent. Not here. Everything is filmed from a distance to allow the viewers to see every well timed kick, elbow and headbutt. Episode 2, “Cut Man”, is a prime example of what I’m talking about. The final scene is a 5 minute unbroken shot that follows Daredevil as he takes on a group of Russian kidnappers in a cramped hallway. Doors are ripped off the hinges, televisions are thrown, bones are broken and best of all – we get to see how exhausting a real fight can be.
As I’ve said countless times before I don’t bring fanboy baggage to the party when watching an adaptation such as this. I adore the comic books. Especially the Marvel Knights run that started with Kevin Smith’s take on the character that went full blown noir as it went on. But I can separate myself from that since I just want the series to be good based on its own merits. When it actually DOES pay homage to the comics and delivers on my inner geek’s hopes and dreams it’s a definite plus. From the Frank Miller inspired ninja outfit the title character wears for the majority of the series to small hints about the possible future appearance of Elektra, I was grinning ear to ear for all 13 episodes.

After I finished the series I immediately wanted more. I hope we do get it because there are so many places left to take these characters. But it does leave me hope that the other three (possibly four) Netflix exclusives will rock just as hard (AKA Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and a possible team-up of all four for a The Defenders series). I hope they all don’t go as dark and brooding as Daredevil, but if this initial testing ground for Marvel’s televised shows is any indication of how cool these characters can be if done right I think I’ll be one supremely satisfied geek for years to come.

4.5 out of 5 

P.S. Where does Agents of SHIELD fit into the grand scheme of things?

#Daredevil #Marvel #Comics 

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