Daredevil Season 1 Review: Does Marvel Finally Grab TV By the Horns?

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Marvel goes dark in its first Netflix series, which features the Man Without Fear in a serious (sometimes overly so) adaptation that proves more cohesive and independent than the studio’s other TV efforts.

(Warning: this review will feature some small spoilers. There will be some points at the bottom that go further into spoiler territory, but the main review is intended to keeps things a secret for those who haven’t finished the series yet.)

You have Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which relies heavily on the events of the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and you have Daredevil, which uses the Battle of New York from The Avengers as a loose set up for a smaller story that has little to do with the rest of the continuity.

Smartly, when we first meet Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), he’s already Daredevil. Not the red horned hero we know from a comics, but an early version dressed like a ninja. If Daredevil borrows from any comic book movie out there, it switches to the DC side to take notes from Batman Begins. The tone is dark and the world is based in reality. For the most part, this works, especially since Daredevil’s mission isn’t to save the world from aliens, but to rid the streets of his neighborhood of corruption.

Cox is further proof that Marvel seriously knows what its doing when it comes to casting their heroes. He’s immediately captivating as Matt Murdock, playing every facet of his character, demons and all, to the fullest throughout the entire season. His supporting players are up to the task as well, particularly Rosario Dawson as the underused Claire Temple, a nurse who stitches Matt up after his vigilante outings. Elden Henson and Deborah Ann Woll take a little longer to settle into their roles as Foggy Nelson and Karen Page, but it’s only a few episodes before they’re as watchable is the others.

Then there’s Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk, who, in a departure from the source material, is a more troubled foe than we’re used to from Marvel. The character is written very well, but D’Onofrio’s performance is wildly uneven. In some scenes, he’s as scary as the Winter Soldier and as captivating as Loki. In others, he’s little more than the more melodramatic villains that come out of Arrow.

Fisk is where the show takes itself too seriously. It’s a shame that when D’Onofrio doesn’t quite cut it, the whole facade of a superhero series as cinematic as House of Cards comes crumbling down. It’s also a shame that over all 13 episodes, he’s really the only villain. It becomes a pacing issue late in the season, as it just takes too long for Fisk and Daredevil to finally confront each other. Some side villains for Daredevil to tango with would have certainly been welcome.

But still, once the season picks up again for its final three episodes, there’s no denying that Daredevil is every bit a rival to Arrow and The Flash. It may be troubling that Marvel clearly thinks its doing so much better than DC here, but the results definitely give those CW shows a run for their money.

Had the show added a little more pizazz (these are superheroes after all) or trimmed the fat (10 episodes would have probably been perfect), Daredevil would unquestionably be something to marvel at. It’s clear that the studio is desperate to bring its television game closer to the success they’ve had on the big screen. This is a step in the right direction, a much larger step than Agent Carter was a few months ago. But it’s still not quite there yet. Grade: B+

 

Some More Spoilery Thought Bubbles:

– The second episode, “Cut Man,” may be the single greatest episode of superhero television ever made. It manages to make the typical childhood tragedy we’ve seen in every origin story ever actually feel emotionally deteriorating. Daredevil sets the standard for superhero origins in the visual medium. Plus, that single-shot hallway fight to save the kidnapped child was one of the most intense and artful scenes Marvel has ever done.

– Scott Glenn made for a great Stick, even if that subplot never really went anywhere. In true Marvel fashion, the scene where he met with that mysterious figure may have been better placed before the credits started rolling in the finale. This seems to indicate that The Hand will work into these Netflix shows at some point. With a reference to a Greek friend Matt and Foggy had in college, it seems inevitable that Elektra will be brought on in the future. Considering the show desperately needed more characters to break up the different subplots that were overdone in the middle of the season, the more the merrier!

– Single greatest Kingpin moment: his Biblical monologue in the finale when he’s detained in the back of the police truck and his men start a shootout in the middle of the street as he calmly walks to freedom. Wilson Fisk at his most pure.

– Single worst Kingpin moment: the car door. This was a moment where Marvel seemed like it had to prove it could be dark and R-rated. All it really did was set D’Onofrio on a path of over-acting and an uncharismatic demeanor.

– The promotional material made the red costume look awkward, but it actually looks great in action.

– So where does Daredevil stand? Well, it’s certainly better than the 2003 film based on the character. It’s a better adaptation than MCU movies with “Thor” in the title. Still, Arrow edges it out and remains the best superhero show on TV (The Flash will likely join it once it ends and we can compare its full season to Daredevil‘s). What that comes down to is that Arrow knows what it is and Daredevil does not. Daredevil‘s failings are immediately more apparent when watching because it’s trying so hard to be better, whether it be through writing or general aesthetic. With some tweaks, it could certainly take down Arrow with a knockout second season featuring Elektra and The Hand.

 

By Matt Dougherty

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