Poor Daredevil has not had the best of luck when it comes to making the transition from page to screen.
The first time the man without fear appeared in the flesh was in The Trial of the Incredible Hulk, a TV movie sequel to The Incredible Hulk series starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. It was meant to serve as a back-door pilot for a potential Daredevil series. That did not happen, because The Trial of the Incredible Hulk was bad. Not as bad as The Incredible Hulk Returns, which saw the Hulk team up with a frat brother version of Thor, but it was still pretty bad. The character's next live action appearance was in the 2003 film starring Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner (both massively miscast). You're probably heard of that one. And you've also probably heard that it isn't very good. And you have heard right. The only good thing to come out of that movie was Ben and Jen's marriage (how can two people so adorable together in real life be so wooden on screen?). I will say this for it though, at least it wasn't as bad as Elektra. Everything that movie managed to get wrong, this show gets right. Oh god does it get it right. This is the Daredevil show I have been waiting and hoping for.
From the off it is clear that Daredevil is going to be very different from Marvel's usual output. This series takes us to a less sunny, more violent corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Hell's Kitchen, New York City to be exact. This is a place where young women are abducted and thrown into shipping containers to be sold as sex slaves and threatened with a cattle prod if they don't shut up and accept their horrific fate. This is just the cold open and already Daredevil feels far closer to the world of The Shield than Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. This is the first Marvel to really feel disconnected to the wider MCU and stand on its own two feet. References to the events of the movies and other series are subtle (Matt and Foggy are able to get their offices cheap because Loki's invasion in The Avengers has lowered property values) and don't distract from the story.
What I liked most about this episode is that it didn't try to cram Daredevil's entire origin story into one single episode. We get a brief flashback to the accident that would change Matt Murdoch's life forever, and that seems to be about it for now. We don't learn how his powers work, how he learned to fight or why he became a masked vigilante. The writers of this show, which include Buffy and Angel vets Drew Goddard (who wrote the first two episodes and was originally meant to be showrunner before he was hired to write and direct Sony's Sinister Six movie, which now looks like it is just going to be the Sony/Marvel Spider-Man movie) and Steven S. DeKnight (who created Spartacus, one of the most underrated dramas of recent years), know that we'll be watching this show in large chunks so they are clearly going to take their time telling this story.
Charlie Cox is damn near perfect as Matt Murdock, lawyer by day, vigilante by night. From the very start, the show is asking us to question whether or not Murdock is someone who beats criminals to a bloody pulp because he needs to protect his city or, as he put it to his priest in confession, because he “has to let the devil out”. Despite coming from a Catholic family, I'm not a religious person myself, but I've always been fascinated by the fact that Matt Murdock is. It is rare to see a comic book hero, or really any hero in modern pop culture, who has strong religious beliefs. You don't see James Bond or John McClane worry about what effect their violent actions will have on their immortal soul. This is what has always attracted me to Matt Murdock as a character, and Cox does a terrific job in showing us the conflicted sides of Matt's nature.
Cox also has a great rapport with Elden Henson's Foggy and Deborah Ann Woll's Karen. I was surprised by how quickly I came to love Foggy and Karen. They were always my least favourite characters in the comics. I was slightly worried going into this that Karen would be set up to be some damsel in distress, forever in need of Daredevil to save her. During the scene in the prison cell I was certain Matt was going to inexplicably appear out of nowhere and rescue her. I was so relieved when she managed to fight off her attacker and save herself, and in a way that felt realistic, not to mention gross. Too bad she then had to go back to her apartment alone, despite everyone's warnings, and nearly get herself killed. I hope this will be just a one-off incident. I don't want this show to make the same mistakes with Karen that Arrow and The Flash have been doing with Laurel and Iris.
One character is notable by their absence, but their presence was felt throughout his episode. Again, the decision to hold off and not try to fit everything and everyone into the first episode is something I really appreciate. This was the mistake the movie made, cramming almost all the major events of comics (Matt's backstory, his relationship with Elektra, his feuds with the Kingpin and Bullseye) into the space of two hours, resulting in a very rushed and messy film.
One thing Daredevil has in common with its Marvel TV brethren is great fight choreography. Since this series is on Netflix and not network TV, these fights are bloodier and more brutal that the ones on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or Agent Carter. You feel every punch and every broken bone. Of course you also see every broken bone, too. Word of warning, this is not going to be a series for the squeamish. I really liked how, despite his obvious skill, Matt (it doesn't feel right calling him Daredevil yet) isn't some invincible fighting force. He might have advanced senses (portrayed through sound effects rather than flashy visuals), but he is still very much a human. When he takes a punch, he feels it. He looks exhausted during a fight, not just after. He wakes up in the morning, after a hard night of beating up human traffickers, aching in pain, his well toned body a cluster of cuts and bruises.
This is the first live action Daredevil production to be actually filmed in New York. The others were filmed in Vancouver and Los Angeles, which is just wrong. Daredevil, more than any other Marvel character, is a New York hero. Hell's Kitchen is a such an integral part of the story it is practically a character in its own right. Of course, modern day Hell's Kitchen is a lot different than it was when Miller was writing the comics. This is where the writers do something clever, by saying that all the damage done to the city during The Avengers has caused a lot of neighbourhoods to revert back to a pre-Giuliani state, allowing crime to fester. I loved Owlsley's remark that heroes are actually good for business because of all the property damage they cause, keeping their dodgy construction companies in business.
Notes and Quotes
--The black costume Murdock wears is similar to the one in Miller and John Romita Jr’s Daredevil: The Man Without Fear miniseries, which re-imagined the character's origins. I really like it and actually wish he could keep it indefinitely, because I'm worried that when he dons the famous red suit it will look silly and feel out of place.
--There a real Angel season one vibe to the set up at Nelson and Murdoch, Attorneys at Law. Matt is Angel, Karen is Cordy and Foggy is Doyle.
--While the Kingpin himself remained behind the curtain, we did get to meet the other members of the criminal cabal that is running the city, consisting of Russian mobsters, Triads, Yakuza and, worst of all, bankers.
--Speaking of which, why do villains always seem to conduct their meetings at construction sites? Why not rent a room at the Hilton?
--Foggy mentions Matt having a thing for "stunning women with questionable characters” which is no doubt a reference to the fact he usually dates beautiful female assassins.
--If you've watched the series and are interested in reading some of the comics I strongly recommend Frank Miller's run from the early 80s, including the brilliant 'Born Again' (which I hope will be adapted at some point), Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev's epic run (probably the best comic series Marvel has ever published) and the direct continuation by Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark. Stop there, don't read anything after that. You'll thank me later.
Matt: "I'm not seeking penance for what I've done, Father. I'm asking forgiveness for what I'm about to do."
Karen: "How long have you been practicing law?"
Matt: "What time is it?"
Foggy: "It's 12:22 am."
Matt: "About seven hours."
Three out of four frat brother versions of Thor.
Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011. More Mark Greig.
- Next episode
- Daredevil season 1
- Daredevil home
- Watch this episode or the entire season on Amazon now