Due to my work on producing the Simplistic Reviews Podcast, I've been limited to only doing written reviews for films or shows that I truly have something to say. Whether that be for good or for bad. I'm sure Ultron and friends will get me talking soon along with that Mad guy in the desert. But honestly my excitement for the show I'm reviewing today actually rivaled my excitement for both of those films combined. I'm talking about the show about The Man Without Fear...Marvel's Daredevil Netflix series. A show that delivers on practically every optimistic hope I had for it and more. A show that is going to usher in a whole heap more properties from the dark alleys of the MCU. A show that can be used as a blueprint to make those shows enjoyable without compromising their grit and verve. A show that takes its material seriously in a dramatic way...not a depressing one. Daredevil is the show without fear that ironically is scary good.
To really get into why I like Daredevil so much and why I think it's one of the smartest moves Marvel has ever done, I think we need to talk about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. first. Yes, Marvel fans...I know it has gotten better. Just hear me out. When S.H.I.E.L.D. was announced after The Avengers, fans of the MCU rejoiced from the assumption that the TV universe was going to be the perfect petri dish for the more fringe Marvel characters. A minor league, if you will, for testing out heroes and villains for their inevitable jump to the film universe. Fleshing out characters on the show, thus circumventing tedious origins stories in the films. But that wasn't what we got. We got a show treading water in order to hide the secrets of Captain America: The Winter Soldier with characters Marvel never intended and still don't seem to intend on calling up to the majors. All the steam and residual love from The Avengers film was squandered before that show righted the ship. And then Marvel made the deal with Netflix. An outlet not handcuffed by the restrictions of the Disney home network. An outlet that gives you the freedom and time to tell your story and flesh out more adult themed but popular characters. Netflix had given Marvel the avenue to do what we wanted S.H.I.E.L.D. to do in its inception. Flesh out a character...a great character by the way...who has the realistic possibility to be called up to the majors. (Hello Civil War) To be fair to S.H.I.E.L.D., they seem to be doing this method of public introduction of soon-to-be minted characters with the Inhumans storyline. However, their work and those characters are not going to be as impactful in the long run as a character like Daredevil can be.
Those of you who don't know or care about this comic book inside stuff and just want to know what the show is about...let me take off my nerd hat and tell you. Matt Murdock, the son of a down on his luck boxer, is blinded as a child by some toxic chemicals. The accident causes his other senses to get heightened astronomically. (Hearing heartbeats, smelling people from long distances, etc.) Murdock grows up and becomes a lawyer in the gritty New York borough of Hell's Kitchen, using his abilities to get to the truth out of cases. But at night...Matt goes out and fights crime as the vigilante known as Daredevil. Things to take note of for those rolling their eyes thinking, "Not another cliched comic book show."
1. Yes, this is connected to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But all allusions and references to The Avengers films are inserted more deftly and are there for the story...not just fan service. (You hear that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. & Gotham?)
2. Yes, this is a Marvel superhero, but don't think that he just walks all over his enemies unscathed. Daredevil takes more punishment than any hero you've ever seen. And the damage he takes makes the fights he has have a stronger sense of peril than Thor on the back of a Chitauri Leviathan swooping down Broadway.
3. You don't have to know anything about any Marvel film to understand what's going on.
Props to showrunner Steven DeKnight for weaving this tale and all the MCU elements together as tightly as he does. He was someone I initially was hesitant about helming this show, mainly due to my disappointment from the loss of the man he replaced, Drew Goddard. I was wrong to worry. DeKnight's love for the character of Matt Murdock is present in every frame of this series. He knows what he's doing and utilizes every freedom that Netflix allows him.
The acting is something you're not getting on S.H.I.E.L.D., or Arrow, or Flash. It is high quality actors taking the material seriously and really using their talents to ground their characters in a believable and enjoyable way. Charlie Cox was also someone I was hesitant of initially. I knew he could act from seeing his performances on Boardwalk Empire and the recent Theory Of Everything. I just wasn't sure he could really nail the charm and stubbornly virtuous nature of Matt Murdock. He does. I mean seriously, you like him right away. His likeability and wit and toughness makes you want to follow him on his seemingly impossible mission to clean up his city.
When DeKnight said he wanted the show to take cues from the HBO show The Wire, I got really excited. Mainly because I knew what that meant for Wilson Fisk. Instead of a mustache twirling villain, they were going to fill out the Kingpin of crime as a character. And they started by making the best casting decision of the show by hiring Vincent D'onofrio. His Kingpin reminds me a lot of Idris Elba's Stringer Bell on the aforementioned show The Wire. He's a devious man but he is still a man. A man that you will find yourself sometimes rooting for. D'onofrio spits in the face of critics who chirp on about Marvel not having good villains. D'onofrio's Kingpin as well as Cox's Daredevil equally deserve a call up to the film universe in the future. (You hear that Spidey?) Their dynamic here is the heartbeat of the show and that heartbeat is strong.
I am all in on Daredevil because I'm a comic book geek who has been reading his books for years and love how gritty and close to that source material it is while still being original. But all geekiness aside, Daredevil is a show that is executed very well with great performances and a really compelling story. People have asked me what is the comic book property I would recommend to wean their non comic book spouses or significant others into the genre. Daredevil is easily at the top of that discussion. It's a great comic book show...but it's a great show in general first. Hopefully, his Netflix follow ups Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist hit the mark as accurately and hard as this. Wrap your fists, get up off that mat, have your blind attorney present, watch it, then tell me I'm wrong.