Sunday, April 12, 2015

Daredevil is the comic book show I've been waiting for

*Don't worry, there's no big spoilers in here.*

Marvel and Netflix's first limited series, Daredevil, is finally here and man, it was so worth the wait. Before I get into why I think it's all kinds of terrific, I want to make one thing crystal clear: this article isn't a jab at the other comic book shows. I'm absolutely loving The Flash; Arrow's quality jumps around yet it still has my attention; The Walking Dead's latest season showed a lot of promise; Constantine was solid; Nick's TMNT is a total joy. I hear Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has made significant improvements, but I'm way too behind and don't see myself catching up with it in the near future. Sorry, S.H.I.E.L.D. fans. "But Gregg, what about Gotham, Powers, and iZombie?" Hey, random reader, I'm trying to get to why I really enjoyed Daredevil, but sure, I'll quickly answer that. Gotham: wasn't a fan, sorry. Powers: has potential, but rarely leaves me hooked. So, I'm left feeling down the middle. iZombie: sorry, haven't checked it out yet. Now, let's get to why Daredevil made such a strong impression, okay?
Daredevil wasn't kidding when he said Hell's Kitchen is his city.
There were a lot of concerns about Daredevil's tone and I'd say understandably so. The Marvel Cinematic Universe can sometimes be a pretty lighthearted place -- Marvel Studios obviously aims to make sure its projects can be enjoyed by a wide variety of viewers. Even when stories take serious or more compelling turns, the minds behind these films try to make sure you have a good amount of fun throughout the adventure. Sometimes the emphasis on comedy can be a little too much, but for the most part, the trips into the Marvel Cinematic Universe have been a pretty good time. However, seeing as this is on Netflix and going for a more "street level" approach, there were understandable concerns this limited series would be overly dark and gritty just because it now has the freedom to bring more mature content. Thankfully, that wasn't the case and I think the minds behind this series did an excellent job delivering a tone that's serious and gripping while also having just the right amount of darkness and levity.

The show is not too dramatic and the occasional bits of comedy most definitely don't get in the way of the more serious story and it doesn't ever feel out of place, either. (Unless you dislike Foggy, but that doesn't apply to me.) What's really great is this show doesn't let loose simply because it can. It shows a lot of restraint with its graphic content, making those especially savage moments even more effective when they do drop. Just because they can curse or show gruesome violence doesn't mean they're constantly throwing it in our faces and I think that's to be commended. We get a proper look at just how ugly the situation in Hell's Kitchen has become (the very first episode includes human trafficking, after all) and we feel the weight behind these situations, yet surprisingly gory displays of violence aren't common and when characters do curse, it feels natural instead of just some attempt to be edgier. They aren't saying "shit" every other sentence just because they can and when they do have disturbing elements, they're handled appropriately instead of aiming just for shock value. When there's a very unsettling story about a twisted father, it's used to enhance Matt Murdock's story; it's not there just to stun. The show has plenty of darker elements, a ton of drama, and a whole lot of violence, yet it's not a depressing experience that feels like it's taking itself way too seriously. It brings the kind of content you'd never see in one of Marvel Studios' movies, yet it doesn't feel like it's a different world, either. We're just exploring a whole new part of the one we already know pretty well. Avengers Tower may be right around the corner, but this show is exploring conflicts that are simply under the powerful team's radar.

Photo by Barry Wetcher.
Daredevil's overall story has plenty of familiar elements. The hero trying to save his city; he questions whether he should kill his enemies and whether he should reveal his secret to the ones closest to him; the media and authorities think he's a problem; there's the power hungry villain; so on and so on. Despite this, the show doesn't feel uninspired or repetitive because it focuses on humanizing and building its characters. Foggy isn't just there for laughs. Murdock's moral dilemmas aren't handled in a way that make me go, "Yeah, Arrow already covered this, man." Karen Page isn't just a potential love interest. Ben Urich isn't just in the story to give us exposition. This may be Daredevil's story, but the show did a mighty fine job making me feel emotionally connected to each of these characters and that's what truly matters. Sure, this is a show about a superhero and it ends in a very standard way, but what helps it standout is just how character-driven each and every episode is. Best of all? The relationship elements aren't cringeworthy! They could have had a seriously annoying and predictable love triangle or dragged out some of the relationships, yet they were able to dance around this and handled these stories in a reasonable way. You kind of go into these shows expecting some frustrating romance drama and thankfully, Daredevil didn't give us that. These storylines are still present, but they aren't front and center and they sure aren't cheesy, either. This show got me invested in these characters and the fact it's so well-acted certainly doesn't hurt.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is full of interesting heroes, but overall, the villains haven't exactly been one of the universe's biggest strengths. Luckily for us, that isn't the case in Daredevil. They could have gone with cliche crime lords and one-dimensional baddies, but instead of being lazy with its antagonists and focusing mostly on the good guys, the show gave its foes a great amount of insight. Some may not enjoy the show's take on Wilson Fisk, a.k.a. Kingpin, but I view it as the big guy's origin story. Instead of him just acting like a tough guy and enjoying a cigar, we're given a far more complex and fleshed out foe. The actor, Vincent D'Onofrio, does an awesome job handling the surprisingly awkward character's mannerisms. This isn't the Kingpin you'd expect, but he's still able to command respect and absolutely reminds us he's a brutal, brutal man. The other villains don't receive as much insight -- which is to be expected -- but they still get more than enough of the spotlight at one point or another. After watching the first episode, I was concerned the handling of the villains would be really generic. Well, this is me happily eating my words.

Photo by Barry Wetcher
The show obviously has a few reminders that this takes place within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (the big battle in The Avengers is discussed a handful of times and there's a joke about the iconic heroes' abilities), but the show also did a pretty satisfying job building up the hype for future Netflix shows. I didn't spot any Luke Cage or Jessica Jones easter eggs, but there's a few really neat ones for Iron Fist's world. There's a whole lot of love given to Daredevil's mythos, too. From a potential nod to Elektra to even something little like Gladiator's symbol, there's a whole lot of fan service in here. I mean, they even have a freaking Stilt-Man easter egg. How awesome is that?

I can be a pretty big snob when it comes to action. For example, I was told by many that Captain America: The Winter Soldier had brilliant and stunning action sequences. I saw it the day after I watched The Raid 2 and I couldn't help but feel like the action was just pretty good. Certainly the best choreography we've seen from a Marvel Studios movie, but it wasn't as intense as it was built up to be. So, you can bet I was feeling a little skeptical about how Daredevil's agility and hand-to-hand encounters would be handled. Thankfully, a majority of it is solid and there's more than a few moments that were legitimate jaw-droppers. There's an extended and astonishing shot that'll remind you of Oldboy and they frequently manage to use slow motion at just the right moments. Okay, sometimes you can tell when there's a stunt double or you may question why someone is such a terrible shot, but overall, the action sequences are massively entertaining and oh-so-visceral. Daredevil isn't as agile as you may expect him to be, but they remind us every now and again that the dude is a brawler and nimble. He endures some crazy stuff and there's dozens upon dozens of harsh punches. And when the show does unleash some stronger displays of violence, they're definitely memorable.
From left to right: Dr. Evil, the latest voice of Wonder Woman, Cyclops, Gwen Stacy, Fulton Reed. 
Daredevil offered basically everything I wanted from it. It had an excellent focus on character, cool and sometimes even creative action sequences, and it did a great job balancing comedy and a grittier tone. The cast certainly delivered with their performances and the story even manages to avoid all of the cliche relationship drama that seems to be a mandatory ingredient in some shows! Now, it's obviously not flawless. You'd want to give up attempting to count the amount of times anyone says "city," some story elements drag a bit, and I was left wanting more from the ending. But if you put my complaints on one scale and my praise on another one, it's pretty clear I think this is a damn good show. Daredevil's emotional, gripping, and brings just the right amount of fun. We're talking about a comic book show that embraces the source material, offers thrilling action, and has a smart script and solid performances. What more could you want? My expectations are raised for the next four Netflix shows.

Oh, and now that we know they're cool with making the action more brutal and occasionally even over-the-top, Gareth Evans needs to direct the Iron Fist show. Make that happen, Netflix and Marvel!

2 comments:

  1. I don't know what I can add to your review, Gregg. You covered it all. Actually, there was something I really appreciated from the show in perhaps a female perspective, and that was the lack of gratuitous nude shots. Maybe the first episode had me a little worried in one specific scene but it was sensible and fit perfectly with it, which is all I ever want.

    I need to state that I am a huge Daredevil fan and I watched this all in one go with constant (chronic?) squealing, haha. Did you know there actually was a Stan Lee cameo/easter egg? Just incredibly evil and very cleverly placed.

    I loved the reference to Elektra and there is no doubt in my mind there will be another series. Considering I am a huge ALIAS fan as well, Jessica and Luke's story is going to be another well spent weekend in the near future for me.

    And yes, Iron Fist, please. The sooner, the better.

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  2. Thanks for reading all of it! Yeah, I really enjoyed how they handled the romantic elements. And I DIDN'T spot the Stan Lee easter egg while watching it but I saw the screenshots online.

    Yeah, fingers crossed Elektra receives her own series in "Netflix Phase 2." Also rooting for Moon Knight, Blade, and Punisher.

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