The Daredevil series is here, and the first episode does a great job of setting up the world.
Daredevil is kind of a big deal. Not only is it the first live-action TV series based on a single Marvel character with ties to the current Marvel Cinematic Universe but its marks a major deal between Disney, Marvel and streaming service Netflix which will see the creation of a further three single character shoes and a massive crossover mini-series over the next five years. That's a lot of conent, and another step into making the Marvel Cinematic Universe all consuming, especially when paired with theatrical outings and network shows like Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter.
In case you don't know, its based on a series of comics featuring the character of Matt Murdock. He's a fellow who was blinded by chemicals as a child and works as a lawyer by day and a masked vigilante by night on the mean streets of Hell's Kitchen in New York.
That all holds true for the TV series, with the accident and Matt's law credentials all handled in the first few moments of the film. This about his injury but more concerned with how his life has led to the creation of the alternative character of Daredevil, a man without fear who does his business when the law fails.
It's also not a superhero story in the normal sense of the word. Matt's injury doesn't add the ability to fly or shoot webs, it takes away one of his primary senses and gives him a little bit extra in return. It's still very much a disability and this, combined with the physical danger the character puts himself in and his very human frailty has always been one of the most interesting parts of the character, especially when he exists in a world where Asgardian Gods and Incredible Hulks are absolutely real.
This show absolutely exists in the same space as Iron Man and co, with references to the incident which destroyed half of New York at the end of The Avengers, an element which is cleverly worked into the central plot as part of a scheme on the part of the villains. These references are on point but subtle enough to not feel like fan service, while also offering a very economical way to establish the reality and rules of this new part of the universe.
The first episode is written by showrunner Drew Goddard (Buffy, The Cabin in the Woods) and it's a great piece of scene-setting. The characters are given plenty of busywork to establish them and we get hints of the mysteries to come, while major elements like Vincent D'Onofrio's Wilson Fisk are cleverly kept in the background. Instead we mostly focus on a fairly cheery Murdock (Charlie Cox) and his lawyer partner Foggy (Elden Henson) as they invetigate a grim case involving Karen Page (True Blood's Deborah Ann Woll).
We also get flashbacks to the relationship between Matt and his father, a beaten down boxer who lost more fights than he won but never went down, sometimes unleashing the devil inside him and beating his opponents to a pulp. It's a legacy which still lingers with Matt and I'm looking forward to seeing how that unfolds with the old and new timelines as the episodes continue.
It's a talky episode which is likely to define the series but everyone is doing good work, especially Brit actor Cox who nails a consistent accent and Murdock's charm and intelligence. A pair of action scenes bookend the ep, the first is decent if showy and the second a particularly aggressive one on one brawl which shows the grounded style I hope the show adopts. There are a couple of bloody scenes but no bad language or nudity - this may be a Netflix show but it also has to work within the rules of the Marvel universe.
Overall, this episode is a thrilling first encounter. The lead character is engaging and there are plenty of story strands set up for future entanglements, and the sense of style is smaller then the theatrical outings but still gorgeous to behold. I'm looking forward to seeing where this new direction for Marvel takes us, especially as the other characters enter the mix over the next few years.
All 13 episodes of Daredevil season 1 are available to stream on Netflix now.
- Daniel Anderson