Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Review of Marvel's Daredevil

Mavel's Daredevil is the first of the Netflix Marvel superhero television series. In a way it's similar to Agents of Shield--it's set in the same universe as that television show, as well as the Avengers movies. But it's a very different type of show, less about exploring larger-than-life superheroes or the government agency responsible for dealing with them, than with the reasons a man with certain gifts becomes a vigilante. In that sense, it resembles Batman Begins or Arrow.

In some ways, Daredevil is a C-lister of the Marvel universe. Marvel's A-level superheroes are Spiderman, the Fantastic Four, and the X-Men. Even the Avengers are more B-listers, which explains why, when Marvel decided to take a more direct hand in the development of the superhero movies, they still had the rights to those heroes. The fact that they did such a phenomenal job with them did a lot to move the Avengers up in the superhero world, and now they've turned those same skills to the C-list heroes such as Daredevil.

Daredevil is an interesting hero, as his superpower is his blindness. The same accident that blinded him also heightened his other senses, giving him the ability to "see" much better than most people. He's also a highly trained martial artist, and very skilled at fighting. But he's not the powerhouse of a Thor or an Iron Man, or even a Captain America, and that makes him a much more down-to-earth hero. He's not out saving the world, he's taking on more localized villains--gangsters and killers, not aliens and gods. So his story is a lot more grounded.

Daredevil takes place entirely within New York's Hell's Kitchen shortly after the events of the first Avengers. New York is a mess, and Hell's Kitchen is worse than most of it. There's a great deal of crime in the streets and corruption in the police department. Matt Murdoch has just started a law firm with his old college roommate, Foggy Nelson, trying to do good work, but that isn't enough for him. Thus he begins his own private battle against the corruption around him, using his superior senses and his martial arts ability. But it's not easy. The fight scenes of Daredevil are very good, and very bloody. Matt can take on multiple enemies, but not with ease, and he often takes a beating while dishing one, and is staggering around, barely standing by the end.

Matt struggles to maintain a balance between practicing the law and working around it, but his greater struggle is with his faith. His Catholic beliefs both convict and inspire him, and he often seeks counsel from his priest. I'll point you to this article for more on this, but it struck me as more realistic than most Hollywood portrayals of people wrestling with their faith.

Matt's law partner, Foggy Nelson, is one of my favorite characters in this series. His main role is as the plucky comic relief, but he's also a genuinely decent person and a capable lawyer. He keeps the show from becoming too dark, and when Foggy's and Matt's friendship is at risk of breaking, there's as much a sense of danger as when any of the characters' lives are at risk.

Karen Page and Ben Urich round out the cast of good guys. Karen is Foggy's and Matt's first client, and she quickly joins their tiny law partnership. Ben Urich is an over-the-hill investigative reporter who's finding it hard to get by in the world of blogs and Facebook, but still has one good story left in him. They are up against a citywide conspiracy headed by Wilson Fisk, aka Kingpin. Wilson Fisk is presented as a complex character, who really wants what he thinks is best for the city, but whose goals require breaking a few eggs. And when those eggs are friends of the good guys, they fight back.

One disappointment I had with the show is that there wasn't that much lawyering going on. There's only one instance of courtroom drama, and I could only count four clients over the course of the show. I'm not entirely certain how they're staying in business, but I can definitely believe that they're struggling to do so. I did like that old-fashioned, generally dull legal research helped to bring the show to its climax and expose the bad guys, but that seemed to be entirely pro bono.

Overall, I really enjoyed Daredevil. It's dark and gritty, but not so dark that it lacks hope and a moral center. The characters feel real and their struggles were meaningful, both the external fight against Wilson Fisk and his allies and their internal struggles with their own consciences and pasts. If it's a sign of things to come, I'm definitely looking forward to the later series, especially Luke Cage and Iron Fist, two characters whom I already like. Heck, I've never even heard of Jessica Jones, and I'm still looking forward to her show.