I am six episodes into Drew Goddard and Steven DeKnight’s territory expansion for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Netflix superhero sensation. The sixth episode feels like a good breaking point for a review. Sverrir will take the second half starting with Episode 7.
The most impressive thing about Daredevil thus far is that it manages to be an origin without running through the motions of the superhero origin story. When we first meet Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) as an adult, he is fully formed. He has his law degree, his fighting skills, his amateur costume, and what seems like at least a couple of bouts worth of vigilante experience behind him.
When we see Murdock as a child, the focus is on his relationship with his middleweight boxer of a father. Their story doesn’t resort to any “great power/great responsibility” lessons or any essential gimmick that is necessary to explain something he knows how to do as an adult, nor is there a singular event from his childhood that follows into his adult story in some roundabout way. It’s just the highlights of the ‘60s origin story used to pad out the first two episodes and skip time between points of the real story. And it’s just enough so that it doesn’t feel like it’s taking away from what’s important.
The first two episodes are awesome. Together they make for a better movie than the 2003 flop that must not be named. But they’re the pilot and more of an origin story for Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll). The real story begins with the third episode, with the villain taking the lead.
This “real story” is still working itself out by this point, but it mostly entails the hero using his keen senses as his own police scanner and getting in over his head while Wilson Fisk (whose name his employees are forbidden from uttering) schemes to gentrify Hell’s Kitchen and uses many of the criminals our hero hunts to do it. But Murdock isn’t really trying to hunt the bad guy by going through his minions one broken bone and coma-inducing splatter at a time. Thus far, the story concerning Fisk has spent more time getting to know his romantic side. It’s clear that he has a mix of autism and Asperger syndrome, but his imposing figure and sophistication keep those quirks in check. Vincent D’Onofrio is an underrated actor, and he’s really good at playing this character who, for the sake of his line of work, bottles up what irritates him and cuts loose only at key moments of spectacular violence.
The action scenes are brutal, far and away the most violent the Marvel Cinematic Universe has ever gotten, and they’re terrific. Daredevil is the closest thing to a hybrid between Batman and Spider-Man, but at this stage he’s more of the former. But the show does the Batman action better than every live action Batman film in existence, using his adrenaline-fueled senses to do all the work that the in-action thought bubbles do in Batman comics. He even gets the Batman voice right. There have been at least two action scenes thus far that show just what this character and this show is capable of, and I suspect that they’re only going to get better.
But action is only half the story; the other half is the Nelson & Murdock law firm trying to get itself off the ground. Even the professional lives of Murdock and his partner/best friend Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) are tormented by the cost of their conscience. But the show is at this point more interested in (1) how Murdock uses his cover of legitimacy as a lawyer to get information for his nightly hunts, and (2) establishing an inevitably complicated romance between various characters. You’ve heard this all before, but it’s TV!
I will say that thus far, the writing isn’t the best. The story is mapped out long term and the characters are better defined by their actions, but as far as scene-by-scene story procedure goes, it’s a little heavy-handed. Dial it back a bit, and the show’s golden. And there’s one character who gets established in a remarkable amount of screen time, but doesn’t have a clear purpose yet.
Charlie Cox brings depth and earnestness to Murdock, and he pulls the blind act well. All in all, the story thus far is engaging enough to earn a continued watch, and that’s more than I can say for a lot of shows after six episodes.