Sure, colorfully outfitted superheroes soaring to great heights, wielding magic hammers, wearing iron suits and engaging in fisticuffs of the innocuous, blood-free comic-book sort are great fun to see on the big screen, hence the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and its box-office blockbusters like The Avengers, Captain America, et al. But once in a while, as comics fans know, it’s also fascinating to get down to street level, and all the grittiness and life-or-death battles down there. Covering those more (sometimes brutally) real adventures is the goal of a batch of Marvel Netflix series based on those more down-and-dirty heroes, the first of which is Daredevil, released today. It ties in with the Marvel Cinematic Universe that you see on the big screen, and also immediately creates its own world.
That world is Hell’s Kitchen, New York, where lawyer Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), who was blinded in an accident as a kid, strives to not only defend the innocent in the courtroom, but also deal out a different kind of justice at night, on the streets, dressed in a dark outfit and mask (seeing Murdock at first just starting out, before his trademark red suit, before he is known as Daredevil and as he is first gaining his allies and making his enemies, helps ground things in reality).
Right away in the series we know it has ties to the MCU; in fact, the events in The Avengers pretty much serve as a springboard into the rise of new organized crime elements in Hell’s Kitchen. The destruction of part of New York during the events in that movie have allowed criminal elements to swoop in for the rebuilding (one bad guy, upon learning of Murdock’s nocturnal activities, even admits he’s glad there’s another hero on the horizon; everytime one of them punches a bad guy through the wall, he says, their profit margins go up). When Murdock and law partner Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) are initially looking for office space, the realtor says they can get an unfinished place for a reasonable amount, due to its damage during the “incident” (referring to the alien invasion thwarted by the Avengers; “Is that what we’re calling it now?” Murdock wryly asks). So guys like Murdock are kind of left to clean up in the wake of the more famous heroes, in a way.
And clean up he does, as much as he can, through heightened senses (scenes where Murdock can hear at an extraordinary level, and even tell from someone’s heartbeat whether or not they are lying are well done) and above all, a strength of spirit that he gets from his dad (who we see in flashbacks) as well as his Catholic faith (at the outset, we see Murdock confessing to a priest for the things he is about to do, as he embarks on his quest to clean up his home, knowing he’s going to get dirty and bloody in the process).
The series does indeed get bloody; this is not Captain America punching someone out without us seeing the consequences. There is real pain, and death, in this series, and people, including Murdock, suffer and hurt. This, coupled with the many nighttime scenes, as well as the dimness of the show as a whole, not only somewhat captures Murdock’s sightless world, but also lends a bleakness that would not be unfamiliar to residents of Gotham City in the DC Universe. So Marvel kind of has its Dark Knight with this series, a refreshing counterpoint to the more colorful heroes that have already been brought the the screen (in addition to the other heroes planned for Netflix series — Jessica Jones, Iron Fist and Luke Cage — it might also be nice to see The Punisher get a similar treatment at some point).
The performances in Daredevil are strong, and realistic, considering the world they are in. Vincent D’Onofrio in particular plays Wilson Fisk (later to be known as Kingpin) well, as a complicated man who, yes, is violently climbing his way to control crime activity in the city, but, strangely, seems to be doing it to some degree out of his affection for his Hell’s Kitchen home, or at least says he is. Fisk can go from being a soft-spoken, swooning romantic on one of his rare nights out with a woman, to a man who explodes in extremely violent rage. While we don’t see Fisk until Episode 3, you can feel his presence lurking in the background throughout, making his appearances the more impressive.
The fight choreography is also impressive in Daredevil. These are not CGI fights like we’ve seen in some of the other MCU titles; there is some bravura stunt work, especially in a scene where Murdock takes on a slew of Russian gangsters in a minutes-long battle in a warehouse hallway. It’s almost balletic how Murdock, with his heightened senses, is nimbly able to leap, and balance, and spin away from and towards his attackers.
Daredevil is a very nice break in between big-screen Marvel epics of a more fantasy nature. It’s highly recommended not only for comic book fans, but also for viewers who enjoy realness, grittiness and, yes, tons of ass-kicking.
Daredevil is now streaming on Netflix.
Daredevil photos: Barry Wetcher © 2014 Netflix, Inc. All rights reserved.