Tuesday, June 9, 2015
DAREDEVIL Season 1 Review
It was a major surprise when Marvel Studios announced they would be doing some Netflix-exclusive shows set in what is known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For many it was an interesting move. (Or unfortunate if one did not have the streaming service.) The main reason was of course the characters announced. It's always exciting when we find out the company has the rights to a character they didn't have for awhile. In this case, Daredevil's movie rights were owned by Fox. He had one film 12 years ago, and a spin-off...and then that was it. Now to be fair, the 2003 movie was actually pretty good. It successfully captured what the character was all about. But, as Marvel has demonstrated with the Hulk, they just know how to make better stories for their characters. Instead of a film this time however, they decided to do a series. Here we have 13 episodes for the first season. Since it's actually the highest rated show on Netflix currently, it doesn't even have to go without saying it's good, right? But just how good is it? My friend, if the first season is any indication we might have what is the best live-action comic book show.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the series in comparison to the Marvel movies is that it's a lot darker. While in almost every Marvel film where much of the dialogue is used to make the viewer laugh, here the writing is more focused on getting the story told. While the films are rather family friendly, the TV-MA rating here is quite the opposite. Considering the gritty world the Daredevil comics reside in, it wouldn't have made sense to have a tone similar to The Avengers. This shows that Marvel can do serious stories. It's much like back in the day with the Marvel Knights line. The mainstream comics were more for all ages, but the Marvel Knights told darker stories. So, I have to give credit for Marvel for actually doing something dark in their cinematic line. It's a refreshing change of pace, and showrunner Steven S. DeKnight delivers with every episode.
What separates Daredevil from shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Gotham is that those two in particular are very TV-centered. What I mean by that is they're built heavily on cliffhangers and dialogue/things to shock the viewers. Many of the characters in Gotham for example are very interestingly written...in a bad way. For example, in one of the later episodes a character spoons out her eyeball. This scene, even considering the context, doesn't make sense. It's literally just there to shock the viewer without considering the lunacy. Agents of Shield is built heavily on keeping the viewer glued with cliffhangers, many different plots, and charisma from the actors/actresses. There's nothing wrong with these things, but when you run into Daredevil, it's just on another level of storytelling.
How does Season 1's story pace? With just 13 episodes, there's no dragging on. Every episode gets to the point. There are some great flashbacks, such as with Matt and Stick, and later with the former and Foggy. These backstories nicely deepen the relationships in the modern day. The main conflict is of course against Wilson Fisk, whom there is definitely a lot to say about. But first, it's important to give praise to Charlie Cox for an absolutely stellar depiction of the title character. Marvel is usually great with casting, and I'm inclined to say this might be their best yet. He has a level of seriousness of classic Daredevil and humor from the more modern comics. He's perfectly developed as the episodes go on. An ongoing plot point is that he constantly wrestles with whether or not it's right to kill Fisk. He brings this up to his Catholic priest, which invites some great dialogue. These scenes were very good, and it was greatly disappointing that there was nothing in the final episode with it. It felt like it was missing.
It took a bit for Eldon Henson's Foggy Nelson to grow on me. For about the first half of the season he was easily the most overacted character, but by the final episode it's hard to not want him around. Despite being only 13 episodes, somehow the friendship between him and Matt is greatly established. That's why you can feel Foggy's anger when he discovers Matt had been basically lying to him all that time. Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page was solid throughout. The three of them share a great amount of chemistry. If there's one thing to be said perhaps in a negative light it's the romance. First, there's a romance slowly blossoming between Foggy and Karen. Then in the final few episodes that's pushed to the side as Foggy suddenly goes back with his ex. If this had been a few more episodes, maybe this could have handled better. Still, it won't stop the positive score.
The romance established between Wilson Fisk and Vanessa happens rather quickly. I don't think two people can get so close like that in such a short amount of time, but it works for the most part without feeling too rushed. Now, for the Kingpin. This guy has been Daredevil's primary nemesis for years in the comics. He was also in the 2003 film, and Michael Clark Duncan delivered a great portrayal there. Unlike the film's version though, the show's adaption gives him more humanity. Like Norman Osborn in the Dark Reign comic saga, you actually do feel like sometimes he actually wants to make a difference for New York. When a writer can make a villain who decapitates someone with a car door sympathetic, you know we have good writing present. Part of the reason is also the fantastic flashback to when he was younger. It's dark, frighteningly realistic, and adds even more dimension to the character. He could have been just a corrupt businessman who wants to rule, but Vincent D'Onofrio gives us the most engaging portrayal of the Kingpin yet.
Arguably the most important dynamic in a story is the conflict between the hero and villain. While Matt and Fisk don't have too much interaction, when they do it's great. The final battle in Episode 13 was easily the best scene in the show. With Fisk shouting, "I wanted to make this city something better. You took that away from me! You took everything!" the viewer can feel his hatred for "the Man in the Mask." The fight scenes in general are some of the best from Marvel. Considering there are no super powers, the company can let loose with the street-level type of combat. Every single fight scene is amazingly choreographed. From Daredevil's battle with Nobu to the final conflict, they deserve praise. When a show has fantastic writing and incredible battles, you know we have a winner.
In just 13 episodes, the series introduces quite a few notable side characters. Arguably the most important is Ben Urich. After a few episodes, the viewer really begins to like him as we see he is truly a man of integrity and conviction. Vondi Curtis-Hall delivered a fantastic portrayal. It is surprising that the show decided to kill him off, considering he's a bit of a major character in the Daredevil & Spider-Man universes. Still, it was effective in getting the viewer to feel genuinely sad. The other notable character is Claire, (Rosario Dawson) whom is the first to learn of Daredevil's secret origin. She's a nice character and has solid chemistry with Matt, but later she disappears. I assume she'll be brought back in the second season, but it would have been nice if she appeared in the final episode.
Besides Fisk, there are other notable villains. Gao is interesting since we don't see many "grandmother" type of antagonists in comic book shows. Leland was perhaps the most fun with his constant sarcasm. Some might find him annoying but he often gave me a good chuckle. Wesley as Fisk's right hand man was great. Unlike in a lot of media with right hand men, you can really feel the bond these two have, which is another thing furthering the human aspect of Wilson. Stick was interesting, and he'll most certainly be back for Season 2. There are quite a few unresolved plot points, but since Season 2 is already confirmed there's no reason to go into them.
Daredevil's costume is very good. It's somehow different than what we've seen before while also being similar. At first I was dismayed that the iconic "DD" wasn't on it, but it hit me afterward the costume was made before the newspaper dubbed him "Daredevil." So while disappointing, it makes sense and hopefully in the second season it'll be added. The soundtrack is solid throughout. Each theme matches its corresponding scene. The intro theme is very good and nicely sets the mood for every episode.
Overall, Season 1 of Daredevil is the definition of a perfect Marvel comic book come to life on the small screen. Matt Murdock and his war on the Wilson Fisk's reign in New York is amazingly done in just 13 episodes. We have writing which surpasses the quality of anything seen in the Marvel movies. The fights are choreographed to perfection, and the major character relationships are fun to watch. If "The Avengers" revolutionized comic book movies, I think Season 1 of Daredevil should revolutionize comic book shows going forward.