Sunday, April 12, 2015

'Daredevil' - Season One (2015)

Starring Charlie Cox, Vincent D'Onofrio and Deborah Ann Woll
Developed by Drew Goddard and Stephen S. DeKnight

Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) is blind lawyer, and he's just opened a new practice with his best friend, Franklin "Foggy" Nelson (Elden Henson). Their first client is Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), who has proof of shady dealings at a construction company dealing with contracts after the Battle of New York.

Karen has been framed for the murder of a coworker, and when she's nearly killed in her cell, Murdock and Nelson get her freed and promise to protect her. Thankfully, Murdock is more than just any regular blind man.

Due to a childhood accident involving dangerous chemicals, Murdock's senses beyond his sight have been heightened to superhuman levels, and he's been given some kind of sixth sense that functions almost like sight. For years, he's trained to become a masked vigilante. He patrols the neighborhood of Hell's Kitchen by night, stopping criminals and helping people. The newspapers call him the Devil of Hell's Kitchen. But with Karen's case, he starts to realize that there's more going on than just simple street crime.

Murdock, Foggy and Karen, along with newspaper reporter Ben Urich (Vondie Curtis-Hall) find themselves embroiled in a conspiracy that seems to turn the entire world against them. The police, business leaders, the media, even the drug trade, they're all owned or controlled by Wilson Fisk (Vincent D'Onofrio).

As things go from bad to worse, as Fisk seems to grow more powerful and gets closer to enacting his mysterious plan for Hell's Kitchen, Murdock begins to realize that he can't just be any plain vigilante with a mask. The Devil of Hell's Kitchen will have to be something more...
Ever since it was announced, I've been waiting with baited breath for "Daredevil," Marvel's third TV show connected to its larger "cinematic universe." I'm a huge fan of the Daredevil comics by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev. It's one of the few comics I've got an entire run of (albeit, collected in hardcover, but still). The 2003 "Daredevil" movie with Ben Affleck was a big misfire that recovered somewhat in its R-rated director's cut version — but even that's far from ideal.

So I approached Netflix's "Daredevil" with both hope and fear. Marvel's had two times at bat with TV and one of them, "Agents of SHIELD" is a slog; the other, "Agent Carter" was a pure joy. I was hoping "Daredevil" would turn out like the latter, and thankfully, Marvel and Netflix have obliged.

Right from the first episode, "Daredevil" proves itself to be something else entirely. It's the darkest, literally and thematically, and most violent of Marvel's productions so far. Characters swear a lot, the violence is bone-crunching and bloody. If it weren't for the occasional references to the Avengers, Crusher Creel and allusions that some of Fisk's allies dabble in the supernatural, "Daredevil" would feel like it stood entirely alone from those other productions. In one way, this is good — the show avoids the cheesy tone and cheap look of "Agents of SHIELD," but it also means that it's a little more difficult to accept that it takes place in the same universe.

The production value is incredible; the show looks sharp, mired in darkness but with yellow and red as dominant colors, which is fitting for the character. It's definitely produced in New York City, too, which gives it a more authentic feel. Though, its depiction of Hell's Kitchen is not at all like the neighborhood actually is, but that's neither here nor there. The title sequence alone is cool as hell. The fight sequences are also impressive for TV, especially one fight in the second episode as Murdock punches and kicks his way through the Russian mob to rescue a kidnapped boy.

Still, the show does stumble occasionally. It, like many seasons of TV, has a strong start and end, but the middle seems a little unfocused. An entire episode dealing with Murdock's old mentor Stick (Scott Glenn) doles out important info in flashbacks, but the current-day storyline feels almost entirely like setup for a story in a possible second season. Rosario Dawson's character, Claire Temple, disappears for long stretches of time until Murdock needs a nurse to patch him up. Additionally, there are far too few scenes of Murdock and Foggy in the courtroom, being lawyers. What we do get is great, and it's one of the things I want to see more of later.

But for the most part, "Daredevil" is a winner. Charlie Cox does great as Murdock, and even better, he has great chemistry with the two actors he needs to have it with: Henson and Woll as Foggy and Karen. Henson, as Foggy, totally nails it, however. Right from the start, he's funny and charming, but later on he gets some real dramatic meat to chew on and he gets it right. Woll's Karen is the glue that keeps the two of them together. Occasionally she wavers into "victim" territory a little too much, but for the most part she comes across more as someone driven to find the truth rather than a damsel in distress.

Also incredible is Vincent D'Onofrio's Wilson Fisk. The man always seems like he's just barely containing his rage, but keeps it wrapped up in a facade of culture and class. It's a fascinating portrayal, especially when Fisk really does get inflamed enough to lash out. D'Onofrio seems like an unleashed animal, frightening and feral, in a great suit. It's incredible.

Despite some minor stumbles, "Daredevil" is a massive success. It's almost exactly what I wanted out of this series, and it gives me high, high hopes not only for the rest of Marvel's Netflix series ("AKA Jessica Jones," "Luke Cage" and "Iron Fist") but also for future seasons of "Daredevil."

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