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Daredevil: Marvel’s Man on Fire

April 28, 2015

Daredevil movie poster

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Wind blows the hardest the closer you get to the mountaintop.

Daredevil tells the story of heroes and villains striving to make life more difficult for themselves. They chose to climb the mountain and because of that things will get real dark and dangerous. Basically, winter is coming and they are moving closer to it.

What I loved about Daredevil is that it checks off all the boxes for a successful show. It features an intriguing bad guy, lots of grey area and finally dealt with superhero related property damage. It doesn’t sidestep the idea of faith and never shies away from a bit of ultra violence. The choices made in Daredevil wear on the characters and it succeeds in building a suitably damaged cast of characters who are simply doing their best (or worst). Most importantly, it tells the origin story of a blind man who went from dressing like the Dread Pirate Roberts to dressing like a true superhero.

Daredevil  has its faults but they are overshadowed by its virtues. This is an ambitious creation that feels steadily guided and thought out. For every Foggy/Murdock argument (or unnecessary guffaw) you get a moment of actual character building. I can go along with the flow as long as I like or understand the characters. I don’t think the underrated/overrated reaction is applicable because Daredevil shouldn’t be put under the microscope because Marvel fans think it is the greatest thing ever. On its own Daredevil is a fantastic introduction to Marvel’s darker world.

Daredevil

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The journey to being a red garbed badass is almost believable (for a comic book TV adaptation). Matt Murdoch (Charlie Cox) was the son of a human punching bag and was trained by the grumpiest blind Sensei ever. The chemicals that destroyed his vision left his other senses ultra sensitive and he can see a world on fire. He doesn’t have a mythical hammer so he gets the living sh*t kicked out of him more often than not. If Matt Murdock had a motto it would be “you should see the other guy.”  The fight scenes are pretty incredible as episode two delivered a one take brawl that felt like The Raid met Oldboy and spawned a Bourne movie. When punches land they seem like they hurt and I love how one punch knockouts are rare and ramifications of not killing people continuously haunt Murdock.

What I found most unexpected is how bleak the Daredevil world is. Everybody is some form of damaged and things just get worse.  The Marvel cinematic and televised universe has been full of gloss, false deaths and straying away from damaging subplots. Robert Downey Jr. never became an alcoholic in Iron Man and the contract killing back story of Black Widow was only briefly mentioned. Daredevil operates on a level of depression rarely seen. Established characters get wiped out and it gets to the point where you want something to go right for the heroes. The trio of Matt, Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) and Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) survive death threats, breakups, kidnappings, murders and self medication via lots of whiskey. It is always darkest before the storm and the storm is seemingly miles off.

I usually dislike flashbacks that explain how a villain became a villain. However, I loved the back story of Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) because it is handled so well. creator Drew Goodard and crew weren’t simply attempting to shoe horn in a back story. They gave the guy an origin worthy of a superhero. Basically, they give you a glimpse of his early life (parent issues), left a gap then introduced the man who would become Kingpin. What I love is that any time he is on-screen you don’t feel safe. Fisk is a powder keg inside a china shop that is inside a nuclear bomb. It isn’t a matter of how he will explode it is a matter of when. Watching his character through heartbreak, madness and omelette making is a thing of glory.

Wilson Fisk Vincent D'Onofrio

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Daredevil also gives personalities to the side characters and clearly differentiates the Yakuza, Triads, Wall Street tycoons, art dealers, sidekicks, minions, priests and bullet proof suit makers. Days after watching the show I can still clearly see and remember the folks whom Murdoch punched in the face.  For instance, the body armor creator Melvin Potter (Matt Gerald) who was known as “The Gladiator” in the comics is impressively memorable in his three appearances on-screen. In about five minutes of screen time he comes across as conflicted, nice, badass, smart and dumb at the same time. It is an impressive feat for such a small character.

The actual NYC locations aid the show greatly. There is an authenticity to the proceedings that is much appreciated. If you are making a show about a superhero fighting in Hell’s Kitchen you better make an effort to film it in Hell’s Kitchen. The grime of NYC is captured and becomes its own character. I also love how the shows deals with bottle episodes. Bottle episodes are key to shows like Daredevil because the majority of the budget is spent on NYC shooting, action scenes and moments involving hundreds of extras. So, occasionally you need to hurt the main character to force him into one location to save money. These scenes allow important information to be exchanged and the little character moments needed to form the characters.

I kept finding myself amazed at all the call backs to prior episodes.  When Foggy talks about missing bagels at his old law firm you better believe he will be eating a bagel in a flashback. The constant call backs prove that this is a meticulously planned out show. However, it doesn’t feel like things are being checked off a list. The story has an organic vibe that puts other Marvel properties to shame.

Daredevil is a fantastic first step for Marvel and Netflix. I can’t wait to watch further exploits and hopefully come awards time Vincent D’Onofrio will be remembered.

Watch Daredevil. Eat bagels. Drink scotch. Prepare to be bummed out (in a good way).

 

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