Netflix‘ Daredevil

My last blog post was about a Comic Book TV adaptation (Arrow) and this one is no different. I’ve been binge-watching Netflix’ own Daredevil with my sister and if you care to read on you’ll see how it managed to enthrall or appall me. Well, there’d be no binge-watching if it wasn’t worth it so that line was a waste of time. Anyway…

Going into the show, like with Arrow, I have had no idea about the universe Daredevil takes place in and what to expect of it. If it hadn’t been for the Marvel intro before every episode, I wouldn’t even have known to whom the IP belongs. I also hadn’t seen the Ben Affleck movie and from what I’ve heard on numerous podcast shows, it ain’t worth the while. All I knew was that there’s a blind lawyer that fights crime as a superhero by night. It’s only logical, right?

The funny thing is, the main premise of the first season is ultimately a copy of that of Arrow (or vice versa, who knows). Some arrogant rich dude made one hell of a terrible, life shaping experience at some point in his life – in this case as a boy – and now tries to make the city a better place. So far a noble goal. On the flip side though, he is doing quite the shady business. Drug dealing, human trafficking, colluding with the Russian and Chinese Mafia, paying off cops and, of course, murdering people along the way because they know things or he doesn’t like them – which is when he turns into a human rage machine and goes all nuclear because the guy has a bit of a temper. All in his finest suits, of course, because, you know, when you kill people one needs to look classy. For future reference, that guy’s name is Wilson Fisk.

On the other side of the fence there are two attorneys (I’m sorry, Avocados, as we learn mid-season), Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson. Matt was “blinded” in an accident as a kid where he tried to (and did) save another man’s life. Blinded is in quotes because, as is revealed a few episodes into the series, Matt is not 100% blind. He can’t see like normal people do, but he’s got a very clear picture of the world and his surroundings. The episode is titled “World on Fire” and refers to how he sees things. From his point of view, everything appears in red, like it was on fire, at least that’s how they showed it. Basically a form of black and white only in deep crimson red. What didn’t become clear to me at that point was whether this was purely his eye sight or a combination of all of his other heightened senses forming a picture in his head. Anyway, this at least logically explained how he manages to jump from roof to roof, climb ladders and do all the awesome fighting.

Foggy on the other hand is his best buddy and they both studied together and shared a dorm room. Although they had a pretty good outlook on a well-paid job in a big firm, they decided not to be mere pawns of a giant corporation but instead try to help the people. Thus they teamed up and opened up their own practice in Hell’s Kitchen, one of the poorer areas of the city, but an area that is dear to them because that’s where they grew up.

With a little bit of fantasy, you might be able to put one and one together and figure out that exactly this part of the city is the thorn in Wilson Fisk’s side. The Kryptonite to Superman’s powers. The Dr. Octopus to Spiderman. As with any good writing, the big picture isn’t revealed at once but slowly throughout the season. It all starts off innocent, introducing the main characters and then leaking more and more information as the story continues. Now in hindsight, it was never really made clear how Fisk planned to “improve” the city. He bought properties and forced people out of their homes, big multi-story buildings, but the ultimate endgame was never really mentioned. But as explained earlier, that guy was knee deep into corruption and other kinds of criminal activities. Whatever his endgame was, he was a powerful and worthy villain nonetheless.

But back to the beginning. In the first few episodes the creators show how Matt uses his other senses to his advantage, either in fights or simply as a lawyer. By focusing on a specific sound, like a heartbeat for example, he can tell if people are lying or telling the truth. He can even make out cars in city traffic in order to follow them, or eavesdrop on conversations that would otherwise be impossible for a normal person to hear. The same goes for scent. I think the way this was presented was very smart and most of the times sound was used because, unlike scent (which is a good thing), this can be conveyed through TV. In situations where the focus was solely on Matt listening, they made it sound like he was basically hearing everything, more pronounced than in “normal mode”, but then they toned it all down except of what he was focusing on. Combined with slow motion to exaggerate the effect it really worked for me. In fighting scenes (which are totally awesome by the way) this effect was used to show how Matt “senses” the way he’s being attacked, like hearing how the opponent draws a knife or picks up a metal pipe to use as a weapon. However, once we know that he can see good enough to perform mildly dangerous jumps from rooftop to rooftop, from container to container or evade a hail of bullets, the focus on his senses in fights loses a bit of the appeal.

Which brings me to the fighting, now that I’m on the topic. Have I mentioned that fights are awesome? No? Fights are awesome! You know why? Because it’s not just stupid flik-flaks and pirouettes for the sake of jumping and spinning around (I’m looking at you, Arrow). These are well executed fist fights, like the old Asian Kung-Fu movies without the vintage Kung-Fu and instead a more modern boxer style, choreographed and shot so nicely that you can feel the tension, the pain and the exhaustion, especially of Matt. Unlike other superhero movies or shows this feels just right, realistic. Quarrels usually take quite long because, even though Daredevil is seen as a superhero, he fights like a human and it takes more than a roundhouse kick and a knock to the head to put someone down. As a result, Matt is at times also on the receiving end of one hell of a beating. And his excuse on the next day in the office? He’s blind and fell. Nice touch.

The only thing that made me look twice was his use of… well… basically two short sticks (I really don’t know how to call them) as a projectile. Nothing wrong about that until you get to the point where he bounces them off any kind of surface, just like CapM does with his shield, to hit his enemies. I can at least imagine how that could work with a round shield, but come on, sticks? But that can be forgiven. It certainly conjured up some excited “wow’s” nonetheless and relieved a bit of the tension.

Which is a good thing because overall Daredevil is a pretty dark TV show. I mentioned the intense fights, I also mentioned that Fisk has some anger management issues and likes to beat on people – sometimes with the door of his SUV. There is a lot of plain conversation, sometimes a bit too much for my taste, where people’s character traits are outlined, where they reflect on the situation and how to deal with it, personal conflicts. In retrospect, I think there were only very few scenes with background music that is usually used to support the tone of what is currently shown. Most of the time it was just the actors playing it out. As if you’re really there. In real life there’s no music either. But as I just wrote, sometimes the show goes a bit too far in regard to conversations. At times they felt rather boring, too long-winded. But it was certainly consistent from start to finish, so they didn’t experiment from episode to episode.

They also stuck very long with Matt’s makeshift superhero costume. In fact, it wasn’t a costume at all. Unlike other heroes he basically ran around in cargo jeans, a long-sleeved shirt and something like a ski mask that didn’t cover the mouth but his eyes instead. All in black. It actually took to the very last episode for him to get his very own costume. And that was only after an incident that he barely escaped alive – probably the most brutal and excruciating fight in all of the episodes. It was then when he realized that his shirt doesn’t provide much protection against sharp objects. He kind of was quite prone to getting cut, you know. As much as I liked the down-to-earth outfit, his Daredevil uniform is a bit of an eye-catcher, colored in the same red as he sees the world. I don’t know if this is by accident or actually intentional, but I like it.

Let me finish this up by commenting on the actors. The most noteworthy is Vincent D’Onofrio, who plays Wilson Fisk (also known from Criminal Intent or Full Metal Jacket). To me, he totally stood out from all the rest. Not that Charlie Cox (Matt Murdock), Deborah Ann Woll (Karen Page), Eden Henson (Foggy Nelson) or all the others are bad actors, they did a great a job, but Vincent D’Onofrio was just amazing. He is one huge guy and he has such a perfect voice for that character. It’s so dark, so strong, so rough, so menacing. If he were to play Batman, he wouldn’t need sound effects for his voice. He’d just shout a few discouraging words and everybody would fall to their knees, curl up and cry like a baby. The way he talked, the little pauses in between sentences and thoughts, very deliberate. The power and strength when he raised his voice. He totally sold the role of the mad villain. I also liked Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page a lot. I think of the three main good protagonists she had the most difficult role with all the emotional rollercoaster her character had to go through. Eden Henson and Charlie Cox got away easier I’d say. Speaking of Charlie Cox, he was a good choice too, but not so much because of his acting (no complaints by the way!) but rather his physical appearance. They could have gone for a bigger and stronger guy, Daredevil seems to be a close-combat superhero after all, but instead they decided to cast a still fit and well trained but not “over trained” actor. He doesn’t look like a superhero, he’s believable as a lawyer – try that with Chris Evans – and still fits the role of a light-weight boxer / martial artist. As for all the other actors I don’t mention by name: I have absolutely nothing to complain about. It was a great cast.

Long story short: totally worth watching.

While looking up the crew on IMDB I just saw that there’s a second season already. I’m very excited to watch that too.

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