While I’m guessing that many have watched Daredevil 1 & 2, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage twice over already, ol’ Johnny-Come-Lately me has only just finished the first series, going into it with minimal knowledge of the character, not having watched the 2003 film (I gather I’m not missing much there) or having read any of the comic books. But now I’m officially on the bandwagon, reserving an hour or two every (Marvel) Monday to watch a couple of episodes.
So you know the story: New York lawyer Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) was blinded as a child, giving him heightened senses which he uses to fight crime at night as the mysterious, black masked vigilante, attempting to free Hell’s Kitchen from the corrupt stranglehold of crime lord Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio).
I guess I should start by saying that it took quite a bit of time for me to settle in to this series and for the first four episodes or so, I kept waiting for a truly exciting, engaging event that would get me invested in the show. I kept thinking that the first few episodes were akin to setting up a joke but continually waiting for the punchline. Like the fuse had been lit and I was continually waiting for the bang. Admittedly, I was fully prepared for the possibility that I wouldn’t enjoy this series at all.
But then things started to change for the better as the show seemed to hit its stride and started delivering on its early promises. And I fully believe that it all started to get better when Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) entered into the equation. Far from a larger-than-life, Sin City-esque caricature of a villain, Fisk is surprisingly soft-spoken with an admirable code of ethics and a very well thought out backstory. As such, the insanely tense, Fisk-centric episode “Shadows in the Glass”, which explores his childhood and his relationship with his father is, for my money, the best episode of the series.
He is a three-dimensional antagonist, the kind that the Marvel films would be lucky to have, and the series allows him to show a certain sensitive side through his interesting relationship with Vanessa Marianna (Ayelet Zurer), brought to life by the thoughtful writing and spot on performances by D’Onofrio and Zurer. But of course he’s still a formidable force to be reckoned with, initially two steps ahead of Matt and not averse to smashing a guy’s head to bits with a car door! Wilson Fisk is ultimately a fascinating, well written character and a great boon to the series. In addition, Toby Leonard-Moore is chilling as “Evil Smithers” James Wesley and Bob Gunton is suitably slimy as Leland Owlsley.
And of course, the central trio of Matt, Foggy and Karen works very well, delivering heart and soul and bringing us characters who we love and support. In particular, the chemistry between Charlie Cox and Elden Henson is wonderful; the flashbacks that show the start of their friendship are perfect, as are the scenes where their relationship turns sour, when Foggy discovers the truth about Matt. Cox is indeed excellent as Matt/Daredevil, doing the whole dual identities bit very well, being wonderfully charming in some scenes and completely badass in others.
It is admirable that Daredevil doesn’t shy away from being dark and brutal, with noticably more blood shedding than you’d see in more clean-cut shows like Arrow or The Flash, the perfect example of this being Matt’s fight with Nobu where he’s sliced and diced mercilessly and I was left wondering just how much more he could take! In addition, the portrayal of just how Matt’s heightened senses ability works is expertly achieved.
It’s great that the show doesn’t rely on overwhelming set pieces, preferring to focus on character development and grounded storytelling but I will say that the plot strand involving Karen and Ben Ulrich investigating Union Allied often had me zoning out and I couldn’t help but feel the need for just a touch more spectacle, feeling as though they were holding back a little bit. But hey, now that he’s got his superhero suit, maybe things’ll be a little different . . .
An uncertain start, but ultimately a consistently interesting, dark series with good writing and great performances.
★ ★ ★ ★
And now onto Jessica Jones. Or maybe, don’t judge me, I’ll take a look at the 2003 Affleck incarnation. Which Nelson and Murdock themselves, Elden Henson and Charlie Cox, have apparently said that they really enjoyed . . !