Creator: Drew Goddard
Stars: Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson, Vincent D’Onofrio
Episode 1: Into the Ring
Marvel’s latest TV venture, and Netflix’s first superhero franchise, is a masterclass in small-screen action and suspense. As a crafty concoction of Law and Order and Dark Angel, Daredevil provides justice the popular comic-book character after that disastrous 2003, Ben Affleck-starring joke. This series, forced to win people over from its opening frame, accomplishes this monstrous task with room to spare. Into the Ring provides an immaculate introduction for newbies and a fun re-introduction for aficionados. I, aching for Daredevil to come into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, got everything I asked for.
Though I was not asking for too much, the show, by the divine powers of onomatopoeia, is the darkest form of TV neo-noir imaginable. This version of Matt Murdock/Daredevil (Charlie Cox) trusts everyone as far as he can throw them. Creator/head writer Drew Goddard, along with Hawkeye-d producer Steven S. DeKnight (see what I did there?), hurls us into a Batman Begins-esque dockside sequence. The criminals are worse than bad and Daredevil is meaner than mean. Thankfully, the all-black costume fits this version of the Daredevil mythology. This universe is nothing anything Iron Man, Thor, or Captain America have contended with thus far. In fact, Tony Stark would not dare step anywhere near this side of Manhattan. Thankfully, Matt’s business partner, Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson), provides enough wit to balance out the dread and destruction.
The opening episode establishes a post-alien invasion version of the Big Apple. After the “incident”, seen in The Avengers, the city’s moguls and mobsters bought up broken apartment blocks from Brooklyn to Harlem and Beyond. Daredevil, facing off against the Chinese, Yakuza, and Russian Mafia, must prove himself as The Man Without Fear. His chance hits head-on after secretary Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) is accused of her co-worker’s brutal murder, the brave blind lawyer comes to her aid. From there, the reveal of a pension embezzlement scheme threatens to tear the underworld to shreds faster than Murdock’s flip-kicks. From the break-neck action to the gruelling, edge-of-your-seat tone, this episode breaks the ice, and bones, with raw, unrelenting power. Despite several ‘trade negotiation’-like sub-plot details, Into the Ring delivers enough blood, sweat, and cheers to rise to the occasion.
Episode 2: Cut Man
Cut Man is as dark, visceral, and confronting as ten Man of Steel and one Mean Streets thrown into a blender. Picking up immediately after the first episode, an innocent boy is kidnapped whilst his father is horrifically beaten by mobsters. They want what New York’s best assassin’s have failed to claim or conquer – the Man in the Mask. Having fought off one of the city’s deadliest killers, Murdock, dying from his wounds in a dumpster, is found by emergency ward nurse Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson). The second episode is a sprawling, touching ode to Daredevil’s comic-book origins. Though this episode never breaks the mould, it proves the core ingredients make all the difference.
From the bright, shiny opening credits, the second episode feels assured as some of the MCU’s best features. Via flashback, Murdock tells the haunting tale of his boxer father’s rise and fall in the underground fighting rings. The story, coinciding with Matt’s accident as a child, compares Daredevil’s Hell’s Kitchen with that of his old man’s. The episode’s emotional arc, though derivative and predictable, is handled with more grace and prestige than recent cinematic origins (Spider-Man, in particular). Grappling with secret identities and trust, the episode’s thematic arc never takes its audience for granted. Nor does it spoon feed the answers. As one of Marvel’s B-grade characters, the Daredevil origin story needed to be told. Thankfully, it never feels like a slog through ‘been there, done that’ territory. Temple’s sarcastic tone and honesty makes her the audience avatar. Indeed, his story and powers do resemble a grab-bag of silly abilities.
Again, Foggy and Karen’s cute dynamic provides enough balance to counteract dreariness or dourness. Their night on the town showcases a fair bond between the supporting cast. Henson and Ann Woll’s chemistry teases what may be an on-again/off-again romance throughout future episodes or seasons. However, I cannot end the review without discussing one of contemporary TV’s most exhilarating sequence. It’s a sequence overpowering the already stirring action sequences seen before. I am, of course, referring to the hallway fist fight. Constructing a more faithful and interesting Oldboy homage than the Oldboy remake, this sequence showcases small-screen prowess without any self-indulgence or gratuity. Each kick, punch, and grapple, heightened by crunches and cracks, pushes the boundaries. More so, the single-take style becomes a more mature form of immersion.
Daredevil is available on Netflix. Tune in for more reviews – Episodes 4 and 5.