REVIEW: Daredevil: Episode 1-Into the Ring
The escapism of comic book films, and even Marvel’s first TV show, Agents of Shield, has been traded in for gritty depictions of the Hell’s Kitchen slums in New York. This is the darkest addition to the MCU to date, with fight scenes featuring screams of pain and cracking bones rather than the emotionless combat we’ve become used to in the Marvel films. Marvel has officially stepped into the world of the gritty street level superheroes.
Viewers will find themselves seeing actual evil criminals. These aren’t power craving gods or evil AI’s. These are men who will kidnap women, murderers who will stab unsuspecting victims in their own home, and crooked cops willing to strangle prisoners in their cells. On the sliding scale of good and evil, these criminals are, in many ways, far worse than the Lokis and Mandarins we’ve seen in the MCU films.
The episode is grounded by a combination of perfect pacing and the show’s actors’ performances. English actor, Charlie Cox does a perfect job of portraying a realistic, yet interesting protagonist, who manages to create a sense of authority without special effects or a Batman-esque menacing voice. His genuine emotional pain can also be felt throughout, in a scene in Murdock’s church he is seen confessing “for what he’s about to do,” a genuinely emotional scene that reminds us that the Matt Murdock screaming in pain as his sight fades in the show’s first scene, is the same man we see now in the present day.
Daredevil is by no means a huge leap forwards for the superhero genre however, with the show seeming to be largely influenced by the Christopher Nolan’s Batman films and Hell’s Kitchen even starts to resemble Gotham at times. The streets are filled with drugs, gangs and murders, while companies plot to take advantage of the struggling citizens. Also, these aren’t simply background scenery to add to the gritty setting, the narrative is written to tie every part of Hell’s Kitchen into the Daredevil story, as was a key aspect of the comic books.
In this debut episode we find Matt Murdock, our vigilante hero, and Foggy Nelson, his law firm partner, trying to get their business off the ground. Enter Karen Page, a woman about to be accused of murder. The pacing allows the show to perfectly balance Murdock’s vigilante escapades in full costume and his day time lawyer profession, meaning it actually works well. So well in fact that it was rare that I found myself wishing a scene would end so I could see more of either side of Murdock/Daredevil.
Murdock’s powers are never actually explained, which is a perfect example of just how far the superhero genre has come, and expects the audience to be able to work out that his senses are elevated to superhuman levels, or perhaps Marvel just presume we all suffered through the 2003 film starring Ben Affleck. Unlike the film however, the show does not fall into the trap of trying to show off the fact that Matt Murdock is blind. It’s not something exciting for him, and why should it be, he is a man who has had his sight taken from him and has then had to learn how to live using his heightened senses, but he has had years to grow accustomed. This is shown in fight scenes as well, as Murdock actually struggles to fight three men involved in a human trafficking business; he may have powers, but these aren’t the kind that give him too much of an edge over his adversaries in a fight. It builds tension and makes a fight actually interesting to watch, if we wanted to watch a vigilante beat up dozens of gang members, we could simply watch a Batman film, or even Arrow, which has a very similar feel to that of this Daredevil series.
The episode is a perfect staging point for the rest of the 13 episode series. The final few minutes of the episode are especially effective, depicting the criminals of Hell’s Kitchen plotting on a rooftop about their future plans. One surprise was the lack of Vincent D’Onofrio playing Wilson Fisk, one of Daredevil’s famous foes. Trailers for the show had featured him as a primary draw for the show, so it seemed strange that he was regularly referred to, yet rarely even glimpsed on screen. Building up a villain this way would be far more effective if we hadn’t already seen his character narrate a full trailer, there’s no mystery left to Kingpin, so why not make the most of him now?
Overall, this is an especially positive first look at one of Marvel’s most crucial ventures. The attention to Hell’s Kitchen as a setting not only bodes well for Daredevil, but for all of the Marvel Netflix series’ also set in the same section of New York. If Marvel can continue to keep this gritty story focused on what makes Daredevil interesting, and perhaps link in a little more the MCU, they’ll finally have proven Marvel superheroes have a place on the small screen.