Marvel’s Daredevil: First thoughts

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.

Young Matt Murdock is blinded, from Marvel's Daredevil on Netflix

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.

Matt Murdock walking down the street, from Marvel's Daredevil on Netflix

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.

Christine Hanefalk

Christine Hanefalk

Based in Stockholm, Sweden, Christine is a die-hard Daredevil fan who launched The Other Murdock Papers in 2007 to share her passion for Matt Murdock and his friends with other fans.

13 comments

  1. @Christine

    I feel the same way you do. The cast was absolutely perfect for this and for me I loved Mr. Cox as Matt and I loved foggy and Karen page and their interactions.

    Now for me these are the parts that in my personal view didn’t work. I understand that this isn’t a show that was as light hearted as agents of shield. But I just didn’t appreciate the level of blood and violence in this take of daredevil. I know that he is a dark character: the Bendis/Miller run of daredevil showed this wasn’t a kids book. But I just think they could have done this without the blood and violence(spoiler: graphically depicted a person kills himself by smashing/impaling his own head throw a sharp part of a gate). I think the show would have been much better had it been more like on arrow when it comes to the action or if nothing else if it had been more in line with the Dark Knight when it comes to the story is dark in tone absolutely…its just not as graphic as the Punisher which I felt there were parts of this series that was more on par with Punisher violence which isn’t daredevil to me in someways.

    The second is yes: how the powers were depicted. At first like you Christine I was looking for something more grounded and something that I was thinking would be closer to a real world take on it. But as the episodes progressed the show went from subtle to as you said “pure-blank-magic” lol. The part were he just “knows” things without a explanation just kinda ruined it a bit for me.if anything I would have been on board with a hearing based radar that you prefer with an ability to cypher echo information from the lowest/highest sound spectrum or maybe even something like the first issue of daredevil where it was nothing more than something that “pinged” objects and guided him to avoid bumping into solid matter. I would’ve like a strip down radar (if it were executed right). But once he goes into how it all works in EP:10 that he even knows what foggy ate for lunch 2 days ago kinda killed it for me.at that point I was thinking he had to have psychic powers or something which cheapings it for me and takes the grounded ness out of it which just doesn’t fit the show overall. But anyways I absolutely positively love your daredevil science articles and I can’t wait till you do a full review on that. But just so you know your not alone in being disappointed on its depiction in the series.

  2. (There may be spoilers in this, so, warning)

    Just finished watching, I was actually waiting a lot for your first thoughts – and as usual, I feel you are so right about all this. You put most of what I felt about it into words way better than I’d be able to !

    I was kind of put off by one of his descriptions of his, let’s call it by its comicbook name, “radar sense”. Hopefully we didn’t get to see the visual depiction that much, because it really didn’t feel great to me. At all. Also I was a little bummed when I saw him reading these plans. But other than that, it was a nice show, hooked me up right until the end, and I ended up liking characters I wouldn’t have thought I’d be able to (Owlsley, Wesley and his relationship with Fisk mostly). And Cox is I think the best actor they could have cast to play Matt, really.

    Anyway, thanks for your thoughts on this show ! and your awsome articles 🙂

  3. I disagree about the depiction of DD’s powers, and they are powers. He may have low level powers compared to many superheroes, but he is still super powered so I’ve never felt the need to have those abilities explained with real science (since they are not real abilities). I don’t think they take away from his humanity either, anymore than say Peter Parker’s spider-sense strips that character of his humanity. These are stories about people with special abilities after all, and that’s part of the appeal. Frankly, Daredevil exists in the same cinematic world as Thor, the Maximoff twins, the Inhumans, and the Guardians of the Galaxy. His superhuman senses fit in context.

    I appreciate that DD is a more grounded character than most but I think that applies more to the tone and style of the series and its focus on character and drama. Ultimately it’s still a story about a man with superhuman senses, and it’s both fascinating and inspiring to see how he perceives the world on his level.

    Anyway I really am enjoying the season so far (not yet finished) and loving the cast. I had some reservations about Charlie Cox at first because I didn’t think he quite looked like Matt, but man does he nail it. Vincent D’onofrio as Fisk is also amazing. And I’d not seen Vondie Curtis Hall before but he’s excellent too.

  4. Spoilers will follow. I’ll save more in depth comments for your individual episode reviews but here are few things about the series in general:

    I kind of agree with you Christine about his powers, they just weren’t as important to me as many other things they got right such as, well, everything else about Matt Murdock so I wasn’t bothered. The more I thought about it, the more I expected this take on his powers as this is how Miller and Bendis portrayed them and thats what the show is based on. I was puzzled why they showed his p.o.v. (“a world on fire”) just that one time and never again. Why even bother.

    I was shocked and saddened in episode 12 as was most everyone I imagine.
    I loved the “final” suit, though Melvin did say it wasn’t finished, so they could tweak it before season 2.
    It needed more of Rosario Dawson, not a lot more, but it was noticeable that she disappeared for several episodes and then shows back up for one scene to say she’s leaving.
    Stick was amazing. So, so, so happy they embraced the ninja aspects of the characters and setup the Hand.

    The cast was phenomenal. The standout being Charlie Cox. D’onofrio was amazing but we all expected that. Charlie was the key for this whole thing to work. The only performance that didn’t hold up to me was Gunton’s near the end. Once Vanessa was poisoned, he played Owlsley way too broad and over the top. I immediately knew he was behind it and wondered how the other characters didn’t realize it immediately also.

    Honestly the one flaw that stands out, that actually irks in any real way, is the final fight with Fisk. It started off good, but quickly became the weakest fight in the whole series to me. The lighting and the choreography were better in almost every other fight and that final slow motion punch was like something they would do on Arrow. It was like having this wonderful, perfectly cooked steak and then in that final juicy bite getting a piece of gristle. The steak was still the best meal I’ve had in very, very long time though:)

  5. How many times in the next few weeks are you planning on watching everything? I’ve seen it once and I’m exhausted. I love it, but still. I tend to agree with your thoughts, maybe not to the same degree with everything, but any complaints are nitpicks as a fan rather than something that truly detracts from the quality of the series.

  6. I rescind every complaint I had. Every one.

    My father called me up today. He saw the show pop up on his Netflix, not knowing what it was, and binged all four episodes in a row. He absolutely adored it. And he finally understands why I’ve loved this character for years.

    I spoke to him for hours about the character after that. Not spoiling him but letting him know all the tidbits I could and engaging him about the show. My dad and I have always been close and he never condescended or discouraged my comic book reading hobby (he has dyslexia and appreciates how powerful reading can be in any form) but he never was able to share it with me like our other shared interests.

    I can not thank Steven S. Deknight enough for making it possible for me to introduce my dad to this wonderful character.

  7. this show exceeded all my expectations. i like that tey went mare adult with this, and while there are some grisly images, the actual depiction of some of the more gruesome deaths were just out of view, but there were a couple, specifically the bowling alley dude. wow. and marvel isnt quite ready to drop an f-bomb just yet, even though they can have 1 in a pg-13 film. i was expecting one to creep up in the show. still, compared to all the other marvel films/shows, this was hardcore.

  8. @Andrew and others (re powers)

    I absolutely know that this is a much bigger deal for me than for most other fans, which is fine with me (in fact, part of me is jealous of people who care less). I also don’t expect “realism” in the literal sense. Daredevil isn’t realistic, end of story.

    However, there are two things that sort of frustrate me about when they go what seems a bit overboard to me. The first thing is how unnecessary it usually is. There are really only about a dozen scenes that I think went to far, either in the way Matt does something or what he says about certain things (such as in his conversations with Foggy). These are all scenes that, if they had just been tweaked a little bit, would have removed every single problem I had with them, and thus the entire series. That’s almost the most frustrating bit, they were so close!

    The second reason I feel Daredevil needs to be grounded more than other characters has to do with a general respect of his weaknesses. I’ve always found the pretense that Matt has to go through to protect his secret identity to be a source of mild discomfort with the character, and I don’t think I’m alone in this. Of course, he really doesn’t have a choice, so it’s ultimately forgivable. It’s not as if he could actually pretend to be sighted in all areas of real life (i.e. outside of crime fighting). I mean, if he went into a clothing store by himself, to take one example, he’d have to ask for help from a sales clerk to figure out where to look among the otherwise indistinct shapes of fabric, and in that kind of scenario, a white cane actually becomes a convenient short-hand that communicates what’s “wrong” with him and makes his questions about fashion recommendations and color choices perfectly logical. Knowing Matt, he’d probably also use this as a way to flirt with the women on staff. 😉

    But, the more powerful he becomes, the more of a liar he becomes, if that makes sense at all. This is not true of other characters the same way. “Blind Matt” is never going to be an outright lie as much as a half-truth, but there is a spectrum here, and I prefer that his powers are powerful enough to explain how he can be a superhero to begin with, but not so insanely hyped up that it minimizes his blindness for no other reason than to minimize his blindness.

    In this regard, I was actually pleasantly surprised to see the braille angle played up. There is no suggestion that he can actually read regular print by touch. Even the scene that Lef mentioned, with the plans, doesn’t actually suggest much in ways of superpowers. I see it more as a scene where he, on the off-chance that he might figure something out about a pile of papers by touching them, does just that. He doesn’t study them in detail (probably because he’s already learned all he will be able to), and I’m pretty sure that even I could distinguish a set of blue prints from a document of written text by touch, depending on the printing process, of course. He realizes that they are building plans, and can probably guess what they’re for, but I don’t read more than that into it. There’s a pretty big step from that to the Stan Lee-esque “I can speed-read regular print much faster than a sighted man!” So, naturally, this is something that helps ground the character and provides a pretty good counter-balance for the crazier stuff.

    Anyway, I’m going to watch the whole thing again, much of it today, and I do expect to be much more forgiving this time around. That part with detecting two flares in a tool box from the other side of the room will still be crazy though, As will the bit he tells Foggy about how he could hear a girl being molested down the street! Not down the hall, but down the street. In another building (if it were actually happening on the street, it would make more sense). What would it have hurt if the story had been about a girl down the hall on the floor below? That’s still pretty insane. No need to go further. That’s not heightened hearing, that’s remote viewing.

    Oh well, I’ll have reason to get back to this, of course. As well as all the things I really did love about this show.

  9. I’m guessing flares have a pretty unique smell to them of sulfur, so I’m almost willing to forgive that if I try really hard. That scene as a whole was pushing it a lot (nails, for example, could smell like any metal and some of the other items also didn’t seem like they would have a distinct smell). None of the objects were moving, so I don’t think hearing was a relevant factor (taste of metal could be, but that’s tied in with smell). Knowing Foggy had onions two days earlier was where I thought things went too far, but I also think the scene was supposed to be deliberately freaky. Hearing things down the street is OK with me. Sounds of a few city blocks is scaling it down from that time he could hear a heartbeat across the entire city. And it shows how overwhelming his senses must have been before he learned to control them.

    To me, the biggest thing that bothers me is the closer he gets to sight. I know it’s unrealistic to expect much, since he needs to believably be able to fight, but I don’t think Matt should be able to tell the difference between one finger and two fingers held closely together (granted, even if he couldn’t, he probably could have figured out why it would have been one in that scenario). I also thought the “world on fire” visual representation was too precise. To me, Matt doesn’t “see” anything, he imagines a visual image. And the less precise that image the better because you never want to forget that he is indeed blind.

  10. On the episode with the world on fire stuff, I first thought:”oh gee… This dosnt look good” my second thought was: “Christine must be pissed!”

  11. I see a clear influence of The Wire in the layered characterizations. And visually it’s dynamic in much the same way Breaking Bad was. Unexpected close ups, camera angles, pans, color schemes, etc.

    More than a little Walter White arrogance when Matt calls it “my city.” Interesting.

    The ep wugh Stick and young Matt eating ice cream was remarkable. Scott Glen still has his fastball.

    Wish it had more Rosario! She is amazing.

  12. The best thing for me was watching daredevil meet Melvin potter,the gladiator llareron loved that bit

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.