At it’s heart a crime story, Marvel’s Daredevil is something of an origin tale for Matt Murdoch (Charlie Cox), about his journey to becoming the man behind the titular Daredevil’s mask. Blinded as a boy in a tragic accident, he develops extraordinary senses that compliment his superior intelligence, allowing him to fight injustice by day as a respected lawyer, and by night as a masked vigilante.
From the opening scene in the first episode, I was intrigued. By the end of the first episode, I was hooked. The creators spun a web of interweaving stories all intricately linked, yet perfectly standalone, that I found myself caring how each one played out. Yes, this is a superhero origin story, but without the pastiche and cliche we have come to expect. The rise of Matt Murdoch from skilled fighter of the night to the symbol of hope in Hell’s Kitchen as Daredevil plays second fiddle to the overarching crime procedural.
The characters in Daredevil, and the actors who play them, are the absolute stand-outs, with an incomparable performance from Charlie Cox as Matt Murdoch. I believed he was blind. I believed he was passionate about fighting tyranny and corruption. I believed his tortured smile, a thinly veiled disguise to hide his Catholic guilt and the mental anguish he is plagued by.
In fact, all of the main characters in the show are multi-dimensional, fully fleshed out, relatable people. For the most part, direct adaptations of their comic book counterparts, there’s best friend and law firm partner, Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson), who at first I thought was going to be there for comic relief, but actually turns out to be the heart of his and Matt’s relationship. When he discovers the nature of Matt’s extra-curricular activities, he’s not impressed that his buddy has superpowers, but hurt he was lied to and confused about Matt’s moral fibre.
Claire Temple, played by the effervescent Rosario Dawson, is the bad-ass nurse who pretty much keeps Matt alive. She has faith in what Matt is doing in Hell’s Kitchen, supporting him to the point it almost gets her killed. She exudes strength, whilst simultaneously being vulnerable. And speaking of strong women, the lead cast is rounded out by Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), who at the start of the season finds herself in a dangerously sticky, life-or-death, situation. But not there just to fulfil the ‘damsel-in-distress’ role, rather she becomes a headstrong force majeure in the take-down of the season’s lead villain.
And what a villain he is! Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) is every bit as daunting in stature as he is in business practice. A ghost in Hell’s Kitchen, on account of not allowing any of his associates to speak his name, he heads up a multi-cultural crime syndicate that wreaks havoc in Manhattan’s dirty slum of Hell’s Kitchen. D’Onofrio plays Fisk as a calm and methodical man with an explosively unpredictable temper, who could easily crush your skull with one hand. In flashbacks, you are almost manipulated into some twisted empathy with his warped perspective. The reason I think he is so menacing, so scary, is because he is so credible.
Ultimately, that is one of the real strengths of the first season of Daredevil – it is grounded in reality. Matt Murdoch doesn’t always win his fights, and at one point even crumbles under the pressure of keeping his secret identity, breaking down to Karen saying he can’t do it alone anymore. No punches are held back when it comes to the violence, which impressively never seems gratuitous. Every crack of a broken bone or splatter of bloodshed is necessary. And not forgetting one of my personal favourite elements, the first costume Murdoch wears.
In a wonderful nod to Frank Miller and John Romita Jr.’s comic book series, ‘Man Without Fear’, Murdoch wears a simple black outfit and black mask to conceal his identity. None of this fancy superhero fanciness. No bells and whistles. No frills. Just what is required to get the job done. (But don’t worry, there is an incredible pay-off in the final episode where we get to see the symbolic ‘red devil’ Daredevil costume!)
Daredevil is set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), as evidenced by a couple of nicely subtle nods (you won’t see Tony Stark or Nick Fury, but keep your eyes peeled for a newspaper clipping or throwaway comment here and there); but whilst the films are glossy and grand, this has it’s own gritty identity. Rooted in the filthy, decrepit location of Hell’s Kitchen, set against the urban backdrop of Manhattan, the characters swear, and drink themselves to oblivion, all whilst drenched under a noir colour palette. Daredevil feels more grown up and more homegrown.
At 13 episodes long, it doesn’t outstay its welcome. By half way through, I found myself watching episode after episode without even realising, eager to get to the epic conclusion the season was building towards. The show has a lot of confidence, which shines through every episode – so perfectly paced and flawless in tone. And to top it all off, it gets wrapped up nicely in the one season. There was no need to engineer viewers into watching a second season with a climactic cliffhanger. I already want to watch more of the ‘avocados at law’ (a very sweet in-joke) by day and Daredevil by night.
THE DEETS Release Date: April 2015 No. of Episodes: 13 Episode Length: 53 mins(ish) Genre: Action, Crime, Drama, Sci-Fi, Thriller Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 98%