Review by Huw Parry
Let’s not beat around the bush, you want to know if Daredevil is good, don’t you?! Of course you do. Sadly, I can’t tell you that it’s good. I really wish I could. I can’t because it’s not good, it’s excellent! This review will steer well clear of spoilers.
What Marvel has done with Daredevil is very brave, releasing a whole 13 episode series through streaming service Netflix in one go, as opposed to broadcast television. Brave also because show exists in the same space as the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (which is made clear by some cool but subtle references) but has that mature rating. The show tells a ground level story that at times is surprisingly brutal; it’s the grit under the gloss of the rest of the MCU. I’d advise against letting younger kids watch this, there are some scenes that aren’t for the squeamish that’s for sure. I won’t say that it’s gratuitous though as any violence is there because it furthers the story and characters.
The story Daredevil tells us is perfect for the Netflix ‘series dump’ way of things, episodes more often than not pick up where the last left off but they never feel like ending abruptly. We were promised a series that felt like a long movie when Daredevil was announced and that’s what has been presented to us. Part superhero show part crime drama, Daredevil is slick, well shot, with great sound (I highly recommend watching with a 5.1 system if you can) that is used cleverly on more than one occasion, especially when Daredevil is focussing his powers. The acting is brilliant from top to bottom with everyone throwing themselves into their characters with gusto, even the minor characters are played well.
The crew of writers for the show lend themselves perfectly to the situations it presents, with Christos and Ruth Gage (who have worked previously on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) no doubt lending their experience to the legal speak as well as years of experience writing comics. No matter what the characters are speaking about, their words always hit the mark. The many writers on the show also include Drew Goddard (who had 2 episodes in the bag before he departed), Joe Pakaski (Heroes), Marco Ramirez (Sons of Anarchy) Steven S. DeKnight (Smallville, Angel) and newcomer Roger McKenzie, so it’s remarkable to think that the show never feels like it’s written by more than one person, such is the consistency of the tone.
I’m unsure as to whether this happens often with shows, but I was interested to find that Roger McKenzie’s writing on the show was specifically for Ben Urich’s dialogue for two episodes. Maybe this was a contributing factor to the consistency around how the characters feel in the series from episode to episode.
The dialogue is snappy and impactful, no matter what’s happening on screen. We see Matt and Foggy talking as lawyers and you believe every word they say, these are two guys who know the legal system and are incredibly good at what they do. The same goes for when they are talking as friendsand you feel right away that these are two men who are incredibly close and have huge amounts of respect for each other. When you add Karen Page to the mix the back and forth between the trio is natural and flows well. The less friendly scenes have a great punch to them too; Wilson Fisk is downright unsettling and intimidating at times, as well as being pretty unhinged and on the verge of losing his temper at any moment. I always felt pretty tense every time he was on screen!
There are heroics to be had around every corner here from many characters. Matt Murdock, played by Charlie Cox, is incredibly determined to see justice prevail in both of his guises and adding what he calls “the devil inside” which sometimes nearly pushes him past the point of no return adds a really interesting element to him. That side of him isn’t just there for no reason, it is part of who he is and we get to learn that from the very well placed flashback scenes that tell not only Matt’s story, but the story of other principal characters too. We see Daredevil get the crap kicked out of him on many occasions, a few times nearly killed, but his want to make where he lives a better place pushes him to his limits and although there are times when his methods almost cross the line you’re always rooting for him. I really appreciated the subtle way Daredevil’s powers are made apparent, when he’s focusing his ability on hearing something the camera simply blurs out everything other than what his attention is on. It makes what he can do much more believable.
If you’re hoping for great fights scenes from this show, I promise you won’t be disappointed. Impactful and often graceful, they’re very well choreographed and a sight to behold. I would even go as far to say that some scenes are equal to top martial arts movies such as Ip Man, without being as hyper stylized with wire work etc. One fight scene that takes place in a corridor is particularly good; it feels like one long take and reminded me of THAT scene with the hammer in Old Boy. One thing I really appreciated about the show (credit to TC’s own Stephanie Cooke for bringing it to mind) is that when the characters in this show get hurt, they stay hurt. The bruises and cuts take a few episodes to heal and don’t miraculously disappear, the violence in the show takes its toll on them. I have to tip my hat to Cox’s work on the show, to be able to so ably show Matt Murdock as an incredibly intelligent lawyer, with quite a few nuances to him, as well as hold his own with the physicality of playing Daredevil deserves a lot of credit!
I’ve included the corridor scene below, which shows what I said about characters staying hurt perfectly. Daredevil had previously been hurt pretty badly, yet here he is fighting like the hero he is even though he can barely stand. The scene doesn’t include any story spoilers, so don’t worry!
The supporting cast has a few of the most likeable characters you could want to see. Elden Henson’s Foggy Nelson was the best of them for me; I think even my favourite character in the show. Foggy’s funny, smart, endearing and a hero in his own way, he wants nothing more than to see justice done in the courts as he feels it should be. His friendship with Matt is a joy to watch and Foggy often feels like the moral compass of the duo. Henson is incredibly easy to like and at times Foggy really felt like the heart of the show. Matt and Foggy’s secretary Karen Page (who they hire after Daredevil saves her life) plays a huge part in the story and rounds off the trio in offices of Nelson & Murdock incredibly well. Karen goes through the ringer right at the start of the series, but don’t let it fool you into thinking she’s weak! As with Foggy she’s a very likeable character who plays a massive part in driving the story and one who you’ll root for every step of the way. In her own way she’s just as brave as Daredevil and equally as smart as Matt and Foggy. There’s even an occasion where she willingly fools another character into doing something to further her agenda, such is her drive to see Fisk pay for his crimes.
As someone who’s never seen True Blood, I’ve not had any prior knowledge of Deborah Ann Woll’s work. She’s fantastic as Karen Page, another character who demanded to be played with a lot of variation and Woll does the job admirably. Emotionally and physically, Page takes a beating in the show and even though she’s always frightened by the events that are unfolding (as are Matt and Foggy) Karen never stops chasing the information she craves for her to hopefully pin all of Wilson Fisk’s crimes firmly on his door. Karen is helped along with way and becomes close friends with reporter Ben Urich, played by veteran actor Vondie Curtis-Hall (ER, Chicago Hope). Ulrich is a hardened reporter notorious for not shying away from telling stories that may well put his life at risk. He’s about as layered as you could hope for a supporting character to be and his story in the show is told very well. Urich may well be the one character in this show that never shows any fear about what they face; he could be the true man without fear in the show. I have to admit, I didn’t know that Ulrich featured in the show until he appeared on screen and if you know Curtis-Hall’s previous work then you can rest assured the character is in great hands.
The quintet of heroes is rounded off with another superb performance by Rosario Dawson’s character, a nurse named Claire Temple, who gets drawn into the action when she finds a beaten and bloody Daredevil in a dumpster. Claire patches him up and unknowingly brings herself into the firing line of the people Daredevil is trying to stop. It’s just as well Claire is a wonder at stitching up wounds, as she ends up being Daredevil’s on-call medical assistance and gets though plenty of thread closing his wounds. Dawson does a wonderful job with Claire, even adding a subtle romantic element to the show, she’s a warm, kind, giving and incredibly brave woman who despite ending up being drawn into the most terrifying situation imaginable, never backs down or refuses to help. She saves Daredevil’s life, in no uncertain terms!
Wilson Fisk, played with aplomb by Vincent D’Onofrio, is portrayed really well. He may even be the MCU’s first truly great bad guy! I always enjoy seeing a villain when you’re never quite sure what they’re going to do in any situation. There’s more than one occasion in the show where he did something I wasn’t expected, and then later didn’t do something I was. Fisk is trying to take control of Hell’s Kitchen, the events that give him the opportunity to do so add a great twist on what we’ve seen happen in a certain MCU movie. He’s tasked with juggling the demands of other crime families and trying to do so visibly has an impact on his state of mind. He often feels on the verge of paranoia and adds an unexpected feeling of vulnerability to him, but with that being said, his strangle hold over the city and how much control he has makes him pretty much untouchable from outside of the criminal families he deals with. Some of the more graphic scenes in the show come at the hands of Fisk; he can throw down pretty well!
Verdict: I definitely encourage everyone to check this show out, I’ve thought at length to find something that I didn’t like about the show and came up with nothing. We have a great story which is paced very nicely that tells of a group of people trying to save a city that is fighting against them at every turn. There are plenty of comic book style heroics to be had coming from Daredevil, but also ordinary people being brave and wanting nothing more than to do the right thing. Some really cool courtroom scenes are included as well, which I think some were worried might be missing. There’s plenty of heart and a good smattering of humour to lighten the mood and no shortage of likeable characters to get behind and root for. Yes, it is dark and gritty at times, it’ll even make you cringe with how brutal it is on occasion, but I don’t think it is ever unnecessarily so which is an important factor. All in all, it’s a well acted, compelling, very well put together piece of serialised storytelling that could well end up being one of the most popular parts of the MCU.
One thing that I have discovered which is rather disappointing, apparently Netflix do not offer an audio descriptive service. So sadly, whilst Daredevil is a superhero that is blind, this isn’t as superhero show that the blind can enjoy as much as they should be allowed. Come on, Netflix, this should be standard nowadays!
Update: Since this review was written, Netflix have now added an audio descriptive track to Daredevil.