[Cross-posted to my movie blog]
As Netflix has just released the second season of Marvel's DAREDEVIL
series; it's probably about time I got around to delivering on my
long-promised review of the first. I'd watched most of it in a fairly
rapid burst shortly after its release but then, as so often happens,
life intruded. I only just got around to seeing the final episode last
My pokiness in finishing it certainly shouldn't
be taken as any indication of my estimation of its merits. DAREDEVIL was
released last spring to almost-universal praise and it earns it. This
is a very good piece of television, one of the best Marvel or
Marvel-based productions to date. It works as an adaptation and stands
up as a very good series in its own right. That isn't to say it's
flawless. One of the pitfalls of seeing this particular series through
the eyes of a very longtime Daredevil fan is that one is acutely aware
of the potential of such a project and of where it fails to live up to
it. On that score, the series sometimes hits and sometimes misses.
DAREDEVIL is the story of Matt Murdock, who, as a child, is involved
in an accident wherein he's struck by some radioactive gunk that takes
his sight but amps up his other senses to superhuman levels. His father,
a broken-down boxer, is later killed by gangsters after refusing to
take a dive during a fight; Matt grows up, becomes a lawyer as his
father wanted but he assumes another identity by night, that of a
costumed crimefighter. Daredevil.
This story was adapted to the screen once before, a creative abortion of a feature film
from 2003 that certainly did the property no favors. Marvel reacquired
the screen rights from 20th Century Fox and produced this series
in-house. It was good to see carried over here a heaping helping of the
noir" aesthetic of the book during all of its finer moments
and this and the overall quality of the series marked a bit of a
comeback for a Marvel Daredevil. At the time it appeared, the comic of
the same name had been a mess for years; Mark Waid, its contracted
scribe, seemed determined to upend, undo and defecate upon everything
that made DD
great and unique and had, for nearly four years, been grinding out an
lighthearted stew of silly, jokey, faux-Silver Agey trash--a "Daredevil"
that was still called Daredevil but was otherwise thoroughly
unrecognizable. The series wisely steers
clear of anything reeking of that particular run. For longtime DD fans,
it was good to finally get the character back in a recognizable form and
being done well.
This DD is set in a recognizable
place as well. When Marvel first announced DAREDEVIL and its other
Netflix series were going to be shooting in New York itself, I was
pretty skeptical of the decision. Shooting Marvel stuff in New York,
where so much of it is set, seems, on the one hand, a dream--something
one wishes could always be done--but New York is an extremely
expensive place to shoot, needlessly expensive, and my filmmaker bone
felt it would probably be better to spend a television budget on
recreating the city somewhere much cheaper. It's impossible to argue
with these results though. From the waterfront to the rooftops to the
view of it all from fancy apartments and expensive restaurants, the city
just looks awesome. DAREDEVIL needed even more of it--more broad
vistas, more stuff from the street, traffic, people to-ing-and-fro-ing,
local color, atmosphere. It isn't enough just to have the characters
talk about the city and what they think of it (and there's plenty of
that); the series needs to show it, and while DAREDEVIL uses the city well, it doesn't use it enough. Hopefully something future seasons will remedy.
has only just started his nocturnal activities here and his
crimefighter persona is still a bit of a work in progress. He's privy to
a lot of the ugly things people do to one another, carrying around a
lot of anger and at the same time seems afraid of that part of himself,
the "devil" in him that makes him want to do very bad things to very bad
people. A Catholic, he goes to confession as the series opens and soon
strikes up relationship with the priest, Father Lantom, who proves to be
an interesting character and counsel as the series moves along.
entire supporting cast is excellent, not a miss in the batch. When it
comes to writing them, the series uses the comic to great advantage.
Instead of looking down upon the book and approaching it with the idea
of "fixing" it, the series' creators are very respectful and closely
port over a lot of what has made the original work for so many years.
The characters are strong, their relationships mostly well-played, a
terribly watchable tableaux of very human and very likable characters.
Some of the more colorful personalities in the Daredevil universe are
brought to life with great gusto. Scott Glenn as Matt's ninja-master
mentor Stick, Rob Morgan as Turk, low-level hod and Daredevil's frequent
informant, Vincent D'Onofrio as archvillain Wilson Fisk, Bob Gunton as
his chief money-man Leland Owlsley, Toby Leonard Moore as his
well-spoken right-hand man James Wesley. The comic version of Karen Page
was a young innocent who worked as secretary for Matt and his law
partner Foggy Nelson then, in later years, saw her life take a dark turn
into drugs and prostitution. The series version, essayed by the
breathtaking Deborah Ann Woll, has her history reversed, her shady
future becoming instead a shady past she's trying to escape. In the
comic, Ben Urich was a reporter for the New York Daily Bugle who figures
out Matt's secret identity then becomes a frequent Daredevil ally; the
series reimagines him as a sort of hybrid of the comic Urich and
Spider-Man newsman Joe Robertson, giving him a promotion, making him
older and changing his race. Vondie Curtis-Hall is rock-solid in the
part but near the end of the run, in what's probably the single biggest
misstep of the entire series, the writers opt to bump him off. Urich
features, often centrally, in a lot of the best stories in the comic--a lot of potential adaptations of great Daredevil lore died with him.
writing breaks down in a few places. Some sharp dialogue is often made
to rub elbows with some significantly less-than-sharp lines. Some
arbitrary drama plays out near the end of the season when Matt's law
partner Foggy learns of his powers and vigilante activities. Up to this,
Matt and Foggy are best pals, thick as thieves going back years, and
Foggy becomes way, way too angry upon learning of the DD
business. It doesn't really affect him in any meaningful way and he
should be as fascinated as he is upset but he treats the matter as if
Matt had sex with his wife--absolutely furious and doesn't even want to
know the guy anymore. Throughout the series, Wilson Fisk's criminal
empire is shown to be massive, pervasive and he's a master of covering
his own tracks but toward the end, when Matt manages to find a key
witness and get the guy talking, this empire unravels far too easily.
What should have been a gradual process taking months or even years and
maybe never touching the man at the top at all is relegated to a brief
montage in the final episode and ends with Fisk being marched away in
cuffs. Should have been done better.
One thing that
probably couldn't have been done any better is the appropriately
visceral way DAREDEVIL handles its violence. Villain Fisk is
a real sadist--nearly beats one of his own men to death in a pointless
rage, kills a Russian gangster by slamming the fellow's head in a car
door until it comes off, doesn't mind having old ladies killed. DD lacks
super strength or speed and doesn't carry around a lot of
anti-personnel gadgets; he puts down his opponents the old fashioned
way, by beating them until they don't get up anymore. In one spectacular
sequence, he shows up to rescue a kidnapped child from a building full
of hoods. In a single shot, he goes down a hallway the thugs have staked
out, passing from room to room, bashing every one of them to a pulp
until he gets to the door at
the end, the room in which the child had been stashed. The fight scenes
in this first season are
excellent, some of the best I've seen in a television production.
series adopts the noir aesthetic so central to the best Daredevil work.
Its darkness is ever-present but not indulged in a silly, juvenile,
aren't-we-kewl-to-be-so-"dark" way like MAN OF STEEL
(and, by most reports, the just-released BATMAN V. SUPERMAN). A few
relatively minor items do, at times, bring it close to that territory.
Matt, in the early episodes, walks around looking unkempt and with
unshaved beard stubble, the way comic Matt sometimes looks when he's at
the depths of a downer. But tv Matt isn't at the depths of a downer at
that point and this definitely smacks of a production trying a bit too
hard to sell the idea of Dark Character. Thankfully, that bushy look
disappears as the series continues. It's also the case that the
characters are way too quick to turn to massive amounts of alcohol to
deal with their troubles, to a point that it becomes rather silly and
feels more like lazy writing. Something to fix in the future. On the
other hand, I would have liked to have seen some of the darker thematic
elements taken much further, with, among other things, much more
Expressionistic cinematography and a more ambiguous wrap-up (as evil
that pervasive is never entirely defeated).
lot to like about DAREDEVIL and despite the fact I would do some things
quite differently if I was behind it, there isn't a lot to dislike. In
an era that so often produces safe, mediocre screen translations of
popular comics, it's definitely a keeper and I'm looking forward to
taking in season 2.
The comic version of Leland Owlsley is also known as the Owl, a mutant
crime-lord. The series mostly ditches the character's comic persona,
carrying over only Owlsley's past as a bigshot Wall Street money man.
Gunton's ever-acerbic Owlsley is--forgive me--a hoot.
In the comic, Foggy learns Matt is Daredevil only after they've been
law partners--and Daredevil had been active and often involved in their
lives--for many years. Karen had known of Matt's dual identity for years
as well and Foggy is initially angry with her, thinking she must have
known Matt was alive when he'd faked his death (a long story). His
anger, which was much more justified, doesn't last beyond that initial
 And better-managed cinematography as
well. At one point, there's a classic noir moment, two people in an
office at night with light coming through the window blinds, but the
characters (Karen and Foggy) are having a warm, friendly discussion.
This set-up would have been better employed for some of the darker
moments that came later but which, paradoxically, often aren't
photographed to reflect the mood.