Vivek already reviewed the first six episodes of Daredevil, so you can refer to that here.
Hell’s Kitchen is a dark, dark corner of the MCU but still feela tangentally connected, heroes as casually mentioned in conversation, basically as pop culture references and the destruction caused by the Battle of New York serving as a foundation for less than savory people to practise their shady business, making money through supposedly altruistic fronts.
Daredevil certainly lives in the moral shades of grey or, more appropriately, red. In the season’s back-half, the show gives off a feeling similar to Game of Thrones; we have characters who are doing the right things for the wrong reasons and wrong things for the right reasons, or going about them in morally dubious ways. The lines between good and evil are to some extent quite blurred, perhaps best characterized in Murdock himself, who is a catholic and takes on the role of both sides of the law and order line. And there’s also an omnipresent sense of dread that anyone could at any moment be killed off, as Murdock and co. close in on the Kingpin and his group, all the while they close in on them. Before it’s all over people on both sides are dead that will have the viewer quite upset, seeing as how you’ll like charcters on both sides of the conflict. The scale of the show also feels right, the intrapersonal stakes are firmly in place and you feel the effect that they have on the world around them. In the end, the fact that the final confrontation takes place in a dark alley just feels appropriate.
Given this darker edge the series is also volumes more violent, brutal, and bloody than any other Marvel property prior. Nary an epsiode goes by without a compound fracture and copious amounts of blood. In short: Limbs are not treated well on this show. Sometimes it borders on unnecessary amounts, but they definitely tone it down towards the end, at least in the visible bone break department. Eitherway it’s a viscerally affecting show, and definitely not one for kids, the TV-MA rating is there for a damn good reason.
I will fully admit that the general glut of MCU villains haven’t been the most deeply portrayed bunch (I will however contend that it isn’t as much of a problem as many make it out to be), which makes it more fun and exciting that Daredevil‘s is as much of a main character as the titular hero. Wilson Fisk (a.k.a. The Kingpin) is layered complex, and human; a marriage of the writing teams script work, the direction, and Vincent D’Onofrio’s nuanced performance, giving us a villian that you can both hate and root for, often times simultaneously. We get more insight into what makes him tick than any Marvel villain before, there is almost as much of his backstory as there is Murdock’s. Fisk comes off as somewhat socially challenged and perhaps even somewhere on the spectrum, it’s a bold creative choice and one that comes off perfectly. I am also pretty sure that he’s the only Marvel villain, perhaps even character at large, that we’ve seen cook breakfast, a delicious looking omelette in this case.
The latter half also sees the improvement of some characters. I felt that Foggy was quite shaky im the first few episodes, particularly the pilot where none of his dialog felt right, but over the course of the series Elden Henson seems to grow in to the role and finds his footing, particularly in an episode centered around Foggy and Matt’s relationship where we see flashbacks of them. It also deals with the implications of what being the friend of someone who can always tell if you’re lying, and pretty much everything else about you, is like. Both the series and actor handle it well. Deborah Ann Woll’s Karen, a potentially problematic character, also experiences postive growth on her journey from victim to crusader for justice. I suspect that she’s the character Vivek (in his review of the first half, which I liked more than he did) felt the show focused too much on and I have to say I disagree with the sentiment, having throughly enjoyed her arc throughout. Minor shout out to Toby Leonard Moore, who plays Wesley, Fisk’s assistant and confidant, who manages to be both an intensely slimey dirtbag and hugely likable.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Charlie Cox, who handles both the charming blind lawyer of Matt Murdock and the Man Without Fear with confidence and verve. Even though it can’t possibly be him in all those stunts you still believe that it’s him throwing every punch, taking every blow, stab and, dumpster slam and doing all those flip kicks.
Daredevil also sees Marvel branching out in other creative ways, namely the cinematic technique used to capture the action. The show looks unlike any Marvel film, with dark shadowy compositions and an almost complete adherence to practical sets and effects (there can’t be more than a handful of obviously CG shots in the entire series), it’s closer to Breaking Bad in look and feel than Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. The real star is the cinematography, which is effective, technically accomplised and frequently jawdropping. Several times per episode I catch myself impressed by the artistic composition of a short or marveling, pun not intended, at long takes, be it of spectacular action scenes or moody tense sequences and more often than not it’s what’s off screen that’s just as important as what’s on, sometimes for comedic effect or sometimes for the exact opposite. Simply put: Daredevil has the most artistically accomplished filmmaking in the MCU. The hand-to-hand combat choreography matches that of the Russo’s exemplary work in The Winter Soldier but has more of a grounded and gritty feel to it. Daredevil isn’t invisible, as he spends as much time recovering from bloody battles as he does partaking in them.
Marvel seems to be expanding their universe so as to offer a little something for everyone. Want a giant blockbuster action film? Avengers. Like fantasy adventure? Watch Thor: The Dark World. Political spy thrillers? Captain America: The Winter Soldier it is. 80s style buddy cop action comedy? Iron Man 3. Star Wars-esque space opera with more spice? Guardians of the Galaxy. Period serials? Agent Carter. And now, if you want a gritty crime drama with characters of complex morals, look no further than Daredevil. It sets the tone for the other Defenders series, carving out its own corner of the MCU, as well as setting a high bar to clear. It’s the best superhero show I’ve seen at least, and an extremely strong first season by any metric. Steven DeKnight and Drew Goddard, you’re work is a resounding success.
Oh, and I like the suit, even though I think they could do some slight design tweaks for his next outing.
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Check out the title credits, created by the same team that did the ones for True Detective: