Hello all! This is going to be my first post on Marvel’s Daredevil, now streaming on Netflix, but certainly not my last. I’m going to keep this first post as spoiler-free as possible. My next one, listing likes and dislikes about various plot points, characterizations and creative decisions will presume that you have seen all thirteen episodes. After that, as I re-watch the show over the next couple of weeks, possibly more than once, I will write a review of each episode. Those will, of course, only contain spoilers for the episode in question.
But the topic of this post is first thoughts, so let’s get on with that. From my point of view, all the things that this show gets “right,” in terms of characterization and world-building, are stellar. The cast is fantastic, and the relationships behind the various characters feel true, and make sense. Unexpected for me, who has always felt that Matt’s Catholicism has been played up outside of the comics, I really enjoyed the conversations between Matt and the priest who appears throughout the season. They really put Matt’s quest as a vigilante under the microscope, and affected our main character in interesting ways.
The way the entire series deals in shades of moral gray, more generally is one of its absolute strong points. While Matt never goes full anti-hero in Punisher style, he is also a very conflicted character. He is, at heart, a good and well-intentioned person, but it’s as if his passions take over and get the best of him. His anger and sense of righteousness come from the same place, which makes his character arc throughout the first season interesting to follow.
Matt’s childhood and relationship with his father, which we flash back to throughout the first couple of episodes, are stronger than I expected. I wasn’t convinced by the actor who plays young Matt in the preview trailers, but like him much better here. The creators also get much more mileage out of Jack Murdock than I could have hoped for, and the tragedy of his fate breaks your heart.
Karen and Foggy add a lot to the show, even though they don’t get to spend quite as much time together with Matt, as a trio, as I would have hoped. The portrayal of Foggy seems to be one of few sources of controversy in this show, as people either point to him as one of the strengths, or one of the weaker characters of the show. I’m very firmly in the former camp, and there’s a pivotal moment – or should I say episode – later in the show (those of you who have seen all thirteen episodes will know which one I mean) where I’m so firmly in his camp that I’m ready to nominate Foggy for the most authentic character award. Elden Henson is brilliant in the role.
Much of the show’s strength rests on the villains. Leland Owlsley and Wesley, played by Bob Gunton and Toby Leonard Moore, are spectacular from the start, while Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk has many of his stronger moments in the second half of the season. The background provided on his childhood is also absolutely haunting.
Charlie Cox is spectacular as both Matt Murdock and Daredevil. He can perform charm and chill with equal conviction and rises to the physical demands of playing both the blind lawyer and the vigilante. I do regret that we don’t get to spend a little more time with him in more neutral territory, so to speak. We get a good look at his “true self” when he’s in the company of Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple – another fantastic performance – but I still have a very limited sense of what Matt’s particular kind of blindness really looks like, in practice, outside of what he does on the streets.
My biggest complaint, as you might expect coming from me, is the portrayal of Matt’s senses. Don’t get me wrong, for the most part they’re very good, particularly in the first few episodes. The effects are subtle, and so are the senses themselves. Aside from an exchange with Claire Temple in the second episode, which prompted some mild eye-rolling from me, Matt at first appears suitably low-powered. In the middle of the season, however, there are a couple of instances where he simply knows stuff that I can find no real explanation for, and many of the tendencies that bothered me about the take on Daredevil’s senses during the Bendis run bother me here as well.
“On paper,” he seems low-powered, but the mileage he occasionally gets out of those powers seem to know no bounds, giving him a vast awareness of things far outside the realm of the physically possible (yes, even if there was such a thing as heightened senses). The many beatings Matt takes humanizes him, but some of the more exaggerated uses of his heightened senses give him an other-worldly quality that takes some of that humanity away. To be clear, he’s not seen doing anything he hasn’t done in the comics, but I was – perhaps foolishly – hoping that the creators would take the opportunity to ground the character in more ways than one. I will have plenty of opportunity to get back to this topic in more detail in later posts.
As I will have reason to return to the series in more detail, and allowing for more spoilers, in my coming posts, I will round this off here. I will allow full spoilers in the comments though, so feel free to post anything there! Those of you who don’t want the spoilers now know to stay away.
Update April 18: Since writing this post, I have seen the all episodes again at least once, and have completely revised my overall opinion on how the senses were written, and now consider it to actually be one of the strengths of the show. Those few scenes that bothered me the first time still do, in some cases, but I have a completely different opinion on this from a general perspective than I did initially. More on that here.