“Be careful of the Murdock boys. They got the Devil in ‘em.”
Right from the word “Go”, Marvel’s Daredevil wants you to know everything you possibly can about Matt Murdock. He’s your in, and it’s his entire character that makes the story itself work. Now, maybe you’re already familiar with Mr. Murdock, or maybe you’re not. Wherever you stand, by the opening credits you’ll have all the pieces you need to build a clear idea of everything that he’s been through, and how it’s led him to who he is today. Whatever you thought you knew about Matt doesn’t even come close to what Daredevil is ready to show you; and that isn’t just a comic-book superhero come to life. It’s a brutal look at what it means to sacrifice everything in the name of justice.
Well, that was poetic, but it sort of betrays the purpose of the series, which is naturalism. What’s so impressive about the beginning episodes is how organically the plot seems to unfold. Whether it’s through exposition, dialogue, or transition, everything progresses at a steady pace, with each idea and plot-point clearly examined, labeled, and organized. In other words, you can’t get lost. Everything about the first quarter of the series is clear and concise, but it manages to achieve that without sacrificing the inherent intelligence that show about a lawyer should have. Matt and Foggy don’t just act and talk like normal guys who are compelled by the plot to reference the fact that they are lawyers. Instead, no matter what conflict they are faced with in the story, they approach it as lawyers. The conversations aren’t just filled with legal jargon, they are loaded with context clues to keep everything on track. All this is done while still maintaining an entertaining dynamic that reveals a phenomenal chemistry, a comparable intellect, and a playful demeanor between the two. Elden Henson’s Foggy Nelson is charismatic and likable. He’s sarcastic, but also conducts himself professionally when it’s required. Matt is reserved, confident, authoritative, and characteristic in ways that I’ve never seen Charlie Cox project in any of his other roles. There are a million subtle nuances in his performance that serve to betray his character’s true capability and competence. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention how easily Deborah Ann Woll’s Karen Page can switch gears from intense and victimized, to friendly and open. Best of all, the three characters play off each other in natural ways, to create some of the most real sounding dialogue and exposition I’ve ever seen.
People are going to call this “dark and gritty”, and compare it to movies like the Dark Knight and TV shows like Arrow. Daredevil is “dark and gritty”, make no mistake. But this has what Miss Mattie Ross would call “true grit”. There’s an ever present sense of reality in everything that happens. To start, Daredevil’s fights are not your run-of-the-mill stage combat duels. Actually, you don’t typically see fights like this in American movies or TV shows. These encounters are violent, brutal, and damaging to all parties involved (not just the bad guys) A particularly brilliant altercation occurs in episode two as Daredevil makes his way to the hideout of some Russian kidnappers. What follows is a visually stunning battle against seemingly impossible odds, that seems to be taking it’s cues from Chan wook-Park’s now classic single-shot fight scene from Oldboy. While there have been some other amazing fights so far, this has to be the best one I’ve seen yet. It’s incredibly involved and complex with all the characters caught in the middle reacting in realistic ways, the longer it goes on. What makes Daredevil’s fights so interesting isn’t just their visual style, but their sound design as well. In fact, as a whole, Daredevil seems to have put a particularly specific focus on creating the right sounds. Matt’s amazing senses are well conveyed through the clever use of focus storytelling. Whenever a sound, or a character’s words, or an object becomes relevant, it’s highlighted and focused on as it comes in to play. It makes sure that we’re constantly aware of Matt’s particular focus at every given time, making sure we’re all caught up and along for the ride.
Final Word: Daredevil is shaping up to be incredible, thus far. It’s got a distinct visual style that continues to evolve, a dark tone and dark themes but a naturalism and intelligence not often seen by stories like it, and a strong a fully committed cast with a dedication and attention to detail to their roles. Of course there are plenty of side characters to speak of, and while the hero’s story is proving to be complex and intriguing, some weak and polarized characters bring down a potentially great villainous entity. Toby Moore’s actions throughout the episode, as well as the Kingpin’s reveal carry significant amounts of menace, but the character of Leland Owlsley (played by Bob Gunton) is just as single minded and dull as is usual. The high bar set by the series makes this low point sort of glaring in comparison. Despite that, Daredevil is setting a powerful standard of genre works disguised as superhero stories. Despite the super cool ninja Daredevil, and the sweet brutal martial arts, Daredevil works best when it’s unfolding a mystery. Of course I’d love to touch on Vondie Curtis-Hall’s Ben Urich, Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin, and Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple, but this is just one article. These last three episodes have revealed very little about the larger overarching plot, but they have been perfectly suited to steep me in to modern noir world of Hell’s Kitchen. Still, there’s plenty more to come as I review part 2, 3, and the Daredevil finale. Stay tuned to Kastor’s Korner for more on this amazing new series.