Jul 2, 2015

[TV] Daredevil: Season 1

The 2003 Daredevil movie is often cited as a good example of how Marvel can get things wrong. It was a rather strange movie adaptation of the popular comic that resulted in some superhero training for Ben Afleck but not much else. And worse, it spawned an Elektra sequel, which was just...bizarre.

So when Netflix announced that they were going to release a web series based on the blind acrobatic superhero, I was among the skeptical. Sure, they had had a few successes with original programs like Orange Is The New Black, but could it handle a proper adaptation of such an established character? After all, if they couldn't do a decent movie about it - why would anyone think that a TV series would be a better alternative?

But then the show was released online and everyone began the new binge-watching viewing pattern that Netflix has trained thousands of people to appreciate. And the result...was actually pretty darned amazing. And while many people focus on Marvel's successes in the movie world, this show is a great example that their properties can also do well on the small screen.

Synopsis: Daredevil or Marvel's Daredevil is a web television series created for Netflix by Drew Goddard. The show was naturally based on the Marvel character of the same name and the first season ran for 13 episodes. The show has already been confirmed for a second season.

The district known as Hell's Kitchen has been under the control of various criminal elements, especially after the "incident" that took place during the first Avengers movie. And it as this time that Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), a blind lawyer who lost his sight but had also gained heightened senses in a childhood accident, decides to begin his fight for justice. He dons a meager disguise to hide his features and completely cover his blind eyes as he takes the fight to the streets. At the same time, he and his longtime friend Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) finally open their own law firm and receive Karen Page (Deborah Ann Wolf) as their very first client.

She claims that she has been framed for the murder of her co-worker and hopes that Matt and Foggy can help prove her innocence. But at the same, there are forces out there who are determined to silence Karen permanently, and thus it's clear that the murder is merely a distraction for the real story. And thus begins Matt's efforts to help the innocent both as a lawyer and as a vigilante. And more and more it becomes clear that crime in Hell's Kitchen is more than just organized - someone is pulling almost all the strings in the city and Matt becomes determined to find out who this is.

Charlie Cox seems worlds different from when I last remember seeing him in movies like Stardust. And while you can still believe he's a sheepish, mostly quiet yet intelligent lawyer, he's also every bit the superhero. And he nicely captured the charm of the original comic book character along with his intensity given his fight against crime. This is Daredevil more than we've seen anyone else depict the character in the entertainment world.

Opposite him is Vincent D'Onofrio as the infamous Wilson Fisk, better known as The Kingpin in the comics. At first I thought he was going to be a largely secret character that we wouldn't see for most of the show. But in that regard I was nicely proven wrong when we meet this leader among crime bosses by the third episode. And thus we don't treat him as some caricature Bond villain. Instead he's a complex individual who has a clear vision for the city - but it's a vision that cares little for anyone who might get in the way.

The fight choreography for this show was particularly good - which is a great touch given the fact that Daredevil was never much in the "powers" department when you look at different comic book heroes. He's more of a peak human, but one without sight. And so it's only fair that at a lot of attention should go into making sure his fights look awesome. And man, they really, really do. There's even the obligatory Oldboy homage, which was very well done indeed.

More importantly, I liked how the folks behind this series chose not to just rehash the way the movie depicted him. So instead of all those special effects trying to depict how Matt might see the world with his advanced senses, we get Matt merely cocking his head for a moment as he focuses on something we can't hear. It doesn't sound all that exciting as I write about it, but in terms of the show, it's amazing. We don't focus on that small aspect of his abilities and instead see him as a complete person.

Another interesting part of this entertainment experience is how everything was written. Looking at this like a traditional TV show, there are times when it feels like the pacing of things is a little slow or perhaps carefully measured may be a more apt description. But when you look at the show as an alternate web experience that you could potentially sit through during a single weekend, you come out feeling that you're in quite the action-packed movie. And I wonder if this was truly intentional - was the show written as something one should binge-watch instead of something one should enjoy slowly with a single episode per week. I prefer to think the resulting narrative structure was deliberate and reflective of the unique medium of the show. Only time will tell.

Daredevil is a great example of what television can be, and not just superhero television mind you. I can understand how it might not be quite as embraced by everyone and a few folks may not like the nature or the tone of things. But Daredevil is a unique moment in television and thus it truly deserves a full 5 surprise plot twists out of a possible 5.


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