Daredevil: Into the Ring

"Be careful of the Murdock boys, they got the devil in ‘em."

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.


sunbunny said...

Great review! Totally agree. Awesome series, great cast, and I love that they're taking their time, mixing backstory in small doses instead of making us sit through a series of training montages right off the bat.

I'm really impressed with the way that they used the Battle of New York to revert New York, or at least that part of it, to what it was when the Daredevil comics were originally written.

Patrick said...

I think it's an excellent point that because this show is on Netflix, they can afford to space out the backstory reveals over multiple episodes, they can work on the assumption that viewers are more likely to be watching the whole season, and at the very least don't have to worry about being cancelled before they can finish their season.
I'm glad they didn't shy away from Matt's Catholicism, and treated it respectfully. I don't want to get ahead of the reviews, but Matt's conversations with the priest are some of my favorite moments in the series.
The casting on this show is brilliant. Charlie Cox makes a fantastic Murdock, Elden Henson is great fun as Foggy, and Deborah Ann Woll is showing as much vulnerability and range in this as she did in True Blood.
I also have to say something about the opening credits for this show. Seriously, how AWESOME is that sequence?

Just a quick note about the Affleck/Garner Daredevil movie. I agree that it had its flaws, but I think it gets a bad rap. If anyone who has seen it hasn't watched the Director's Cut, I highly recommend it. There are substantive changes to the movie, not just minor extensions to scenes here & there, and it's a significant improvement over the version released in theaters.

Mark, I agree that Bendis' run on Daredevil was fantastic, though I think Brubaker's first arc after it was even better. There was one particular moment that almost made my eyes pop out when I read it. :)

Josie Kafka said...

[Blogger ate my comment. Stupid blogger. Let's try again.]

Mark, excellent review! I am so happy you are covering this show.

I marathoned the whole thing this weekend. I'm completely blown away, in no small part because, as you say:

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.

Yes. A thousand times yes. I've never seen anything on screen with this level of awareness of how religion (well, I can only really speak to the Catholic perspective) works for believers: as a narrative structure for understanding their lived and moral lives. It actually gets talked about, respectfully and in an interesting way, in later episodes. (That's not too much of a spoiler, is it?)

Korlis said...

I'm hesitant to post too much as I've already binged the series over the launch weekend, but I wanted to hop on and say a) great review and b) I love this show, and this first episode in particular.

Jess Lynde said...

Apparently, I'm the only one here not binging the series, but I thank all of you for trying not to be spoilery with the comments. :) It's much appreciated.

I enjoyed your take on the pilot, Mark, and the wider comics and movie perspective you bring. Having only seen this first episode, I thought it was a really strong start for a series. Definitely a lot darker than our other "televised" Marvel fare, but a nice way to spin consequences out of the typically consequence-free mass destruction shown in the movies. They did a great job of setting the stage, and giving us a compelling central character. The scene in the confessional transitioning into Matt letting the devil out was a great way to kick things off. I also rather liked the montage of criminality and horror to close. Looking forward to more!

Patrick said...

Jess, you bring up another issue that arises from binge-watching, though it may be particular to shows like this. I've seen all 13 episodes, and as I look back, I have trouble remembering what happened in which episode, they all sort of blend together. I think there are two reasons for that. One, the first time I watched them was in a marathon, so for me I never watched each episode as its own unique entity, I just watched "Season 1 of Daredevil"(I say Season 1 because if we don't get a Season 2 then there is no justice in this world). Two, because Marvel knew that they would be releasing the full 13-episode run all at once, and that many people would be watching them in rapid succession like I did, as such the episodes were more serialized than many network shows.

ChrisB said...

Color me surprised! I only watched this pilot because everyone is talking about it. I can't tell you how many people I have talked to in the past few days who have already seen all thirteen episodes and are waiting impatiently for the second season.

I went into it expecting to give it fifteen minutes. Imagine my surprise when I realized that not only had the pilot episode ended, but I had actually put down what I was working on to watch it exclusively.

I thought the way the story was set up was excellent. I got a real sense of the various relationships, of who Matt is, and I want to see more.

Plus, the fight scenes are stunning. The choreography is a thing of beauty.

Great review, Mark.

migmit said...


Very boring.

Not a single interesting character. Not one!

I have to say — I've never read those comics. That doesn't stop me from enjoying "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D" and "Agent Carter" — or "Arrow", for that matter. But this — no. Everybody seems to be made of cardboard. And villains look really ridiculous. And plot is beyond predictable.

The only highlight was that one of these russian guys called the man who beat them up "mudak", which is a russian equivalent of "motherf***er".

Korlis said...

I'm glad other people are liking the Catholic aspect to Matt's character. I feel like it thoroughly informs who he is and how he approaches things. On the one hand, I almost feel like it's kind of cliché - the sort of Catholic martyr complex character carrying a lot of misplaced guilt - but on the other, it can't help but ring true in the relationships with the Catholics in my life (not that they were street-level superheroes).

Migmit, I couldn't disagree more with your take on the characters, as it's them and their relationships that make me love this series even in the first episode. Particularly the relationship between Matt and Foggy, which immediately sets up their friendship and feels thoroughly genuine. I'm glad you brought up Arrow though because even after watching the rest of the season (and loving it), I can't decide which I like more at this point. To me, there's no question that Daredevil is of a higher quality, but Arrow offers a kind of pulpy fun (along with The Flash) that's hard to beat.

JRS said...

I thought this was a fantastic first episode and a great review!

I think what this show is doing well is establishing New York as a city in need of help. Arrow put Starling City in trouble - but New York here is already in trouble. There's a real thing a real gang to be saved from.

I'm still weirded out by their not hiring a blind actor - but I guess that's part of life.

Will be following this blog as I watch through the rest of the episodes...

Patrick said...

JRS, I can see the appeal of casting a genuinely blind actor, but I think it was far more important they find the best actor they could to embody the character of Matt Murdock, and in that respect I think they did a great job by casting Charlie Cox.

Marianna said...

I just started watching this show, and I really like it so far. (Yay Drew Goddard!) One thing that bugged me was he seemed to be bleeding profusely during his fight with Karen's attacker, but the next day he didn't have so much as a swollen lip. It reminds me of Batman Begins when Alfred says, "If those are to be the first of many injuries to come, it would be wise to find a suitable excuse. Polo, for instance."

Josie Kafka said...

Josie's Rewatch Comment:

his well toned body a cluster of cuts and bruises. I read a thing somewhere about the training Charlie Cox did for this role. He had, like, five weeks or something to prepare. Can you imagine getting that toned in five weeks? I can barely get laundry done every five weeks.

He might have advanced senses (portrayed through sound effects rather than flashy visuals)... I love the way this show uses sound.

Fun thing I noticed on my rewatch: Karen calls Matt and Foggy "Good Samaritans" when they come to the police station. I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to shout "foreshadowing!" :-)

Cecile said...

I just watch the pilot and I´m totally in love with this series (although not gonna be able to marathon through it, I´m sure I´m going to enjoy watching each episode and reading your reviews Mark. The cast is great (including the city of course!) the pace is excellent and the darkness to it is just perfect. So glad finally somebody did this justice to a great story.

Billie Doux said...

I dropped this show early when it originally aired, but I decided to give it another try because I enjoyed Jessica Jones so much. And I'm still not sure it's for me. Maybe it's the brutality, or the darkness. Or the testosterone. Possibly the Catholicism.

At any rate, I do like the Matt Foggy Karen dynamic. I particularly liked the Matt/Karen scene in his darkened apartment with the rain hitting the windows, as if she had entered his world. I also liked the black hood costume, and am not looking forward to little tiny horns.

Terrific review, Mark.