In what could be the biggest review series in the history of Obsessive Viewer, I’m committing myself to reviewing all the movies and shows in Marvel Studios’ Cinematic Universe. You can find an index of my MCU reviews here and check out The Obsessive Viewer Podcast here. Now, here’s my review of season 1 of Marvel’s Daredevil.
Daredevil is the first of four Netflix-exclusive Marvel series that will lead to The Defenders miniseries (which will also be Netflix-exclusive). It’s a tonal anomaly within the MCU since its Netflix exclusivity gives the studio more leeway in terms of subject matter. And, in that aspect, Marvel certainly did not hold back.
Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) was blinded as a boy in an accident that gave his other senses superhuman abilities. As an adult he runs a law firm with his best friend Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) by day and fights the criminal element of Hell’s Kitchen, New York by night. Employed by Nelson & Murdock is Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), who works with reporter Ben Urich (Vondie Curtis-Hall) to uncover the criminal syndicate running the underworld of Hell’s Kitchen. The kingpin of the criminal underworld is Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio), an extremely guarded man prone to shockingly violent outbursts.
The first season is 13 episodes of beautifully lit action and drama that utilizes Netflix’s serial-friendly format to its fullest. There’s a notable absence of traditional lighting throughout Daredevil. Scenes in this dark, morally blind Hell’s Kitchen are often lit by what feels like the production replicating natural lighting and natural tones. This gives Daredevil a remarkably grimy atmosphere that is unlike anything we have seen in the MCU thus far.
The violence is astounding as well. This isn’t The Avengers and it isn’t Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Daredevil is brutal and unforgiving in its depiction of violence. Characters are impaled through the eye, decapitated in brutal fashion, stabbed, shot, and beaten to death. But none of the violence is particularly glorified. It’s all in service to the tone and keeping the viewer abreast of what’s at stake in Hell’s Kitchen.
One of the show’s greatest strengths is the characterization of Murdock and Fisk as individuals in Hell’s Kitchen. The season isn’t an origin story for Daredevil, not exactly. We’re given Matt’s origin story through a few flashbacks, but the series itself begins when he’s already embracing his vigilantism. His origin and backstory is dispelled to us naturally and called upon as needed.
When it comes to Wilson Fisk, Daredevil delivers to audiences the MCU’s strongest-written villain yet. Equal time is spent developing Fisk and Murdock throughout the season. Each have their own episode that explores their backstories and they both go through significant growth throughout the course of these 13 episodes. Fisk’s arc throughout the season is surprisingly personal. He has a love interest in Vanessa (Ayelet Zurer), an art dealer. Their arc together feels genuine and avoids the melodrama that one might expect from a super villain with a girlfriend plot.
Matt Murdock is depicted with quite a bit complexity. The soft-spoken Charlie Cox sells the viewer on the psychologically harmful moral implications of what being the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen has done and will continue to do to him. An integral part of the character is his catholic faith and how it affects his choices. There are many scenes where he consults his priest for guidance. These sequences spotlight why Hell’s Kitchen needs to be saved and informs Murdock and the audience of the toll that saving it will take on our protagonist.
The choreography and brutality of the action in Daredevil stands out so much from the rest of the MCU that when the show makes references to events in the MCU, it almost takes you out of the show. Seeing characters argue about grim situations in Hell’s Kitchen with a framed newspaper referencing “The Battle of New York” caused a slight cognitive dissonance with me. Likewise, having thugs discuss the masked vigilante that’s disrupting their organization only to be met with incredulous rage from their boss is slightly frustrating.
These instances are brief and don’t distract too much from the show. But it’s still a stretch to think that people who watched aliens invade New York City only to be thwarted by a Norse god, a 100 year old super soldier, a billionaire in a red suit, and a massive green hulk wouldn’t crap their pants wondering if the vigilante their facing might have superpowers.
Daredevil is super powered when it comes to his heightened sense. I haven’t read any Daredevil comics, nor have I seen Ben Affleck take on the role in the overall panned 2003 movie. Therefore, I don’t have those to compare the Netflix show against. However, something I found surprising and refreshing in this series is the subtlety with which it depicts Murdock’s heightened senses.
There are no flashy or gimmicky shots of Murdock mapping out the threats surrounding him with some visual sonar. We get to watch and hear as he zeroes in on heartbeats to detect if someone is lying and the camera sweeps to areas he detects threats. But it’s not until episode 5 until we’re shown what it is he sees and the effect is done to further his development and relationship with Claire (Rosario Dawson), the nurse who patches him up from time to time.
Marvel’s relationship with Netflix is off to a remarkable start with Daredevil. Netflix has greenlit season 2 of the show (and cast The Walking Dead’s Jon Bernthal as The Punisher) and has shows for Jessica Jones (starring Krysten Ritter), Iron Fist, and Luke Cage all in the works. Though it’s slightly incongruous with the tone of the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Daredevil breaks new ground for Marvel Studios that will hopefully continue with high quality content on the streaming service for years to come.