This review contains mild spoilers.
Twelve years since the original adaptation of Daredevil, this Netflix original season provides a gritty, violent and realistic aesthetic to the character. Telling the story of Matt Murdock, a blind lawyer with superhuman senses, this television drama focus heavily on his life both professionally as a lawyer and personally as the vigilante ‘Daredevil’, also known as the ‘Devil of Hell’s Kitchen’. If you’re looking for an action-packed, character driven, thrilling ten episode series, this season is definitely for you. Whether it be the sheer depth of the primary antagonist Wilson Fisk or the excellent direction and cinematography of the hallway tracking shot, this show is pure quality in nearly every aspect and is a true love letter to all those who enjoy the source material. This is one of the most refreshing, unique, original and incredible pieces of television in the Marvel Cinematic Universe ever to have been created.
Set in New York’s ‘Hell’s Kitchen’, Daredevil has all the great conventions of a crime drama: a dark, gritty tone, adult themes, an anti-heroic and insightful protagonist and a thrilling antagonist with a strong motivation for what they are doing. This drama brilliantly executes the balance between action and character development, showing Matt Murdock as a man of intelligence, wit and a slight thirst for violence and releasing his inner demons. It’s a compelling narrative – despite its tendancy to sometimes have a ‘crime of the episode’ style – and really goes deeper and deeper into the enigma that both Matt Murdock and the villain, Wilson Fisk, provide. Fisk is a troubled man, who believes in trying to make the city ‘a better place’. As a viewer, it is difficult not to sympathise with his dark past and relationship with Vanessa. Even despite all the horrific things he does, his character is one that provides a great deal of balance and intrigue, unlike the typical Marvel villain archetype of being solely evil. Where this show blossoms is in its brilliant characters, that make this drama feel as alive as any other show with quality material.
Not only thus, but the cinematography and overall choreography for the fight scenes are pure genius. Take, for example, the excellently thrilling and gut wrenching tracking shot, that mesmerised viewers with over three minutes of beautifully shot hallway action. It felt realistic, like we were feeling every blow dealt to Matt and feeling his sympathy towards the kidnapped young child. First starting with silence and the gradual anticipation and build up through Matt’s senses soon lead to punches, manoeuvres and bodies sprawled across the floor. Every hit felt natural, and every enemy appeared to act and behave in a manner that most cinematic archetypes would not: they actually fought back. While tracking shots have been done many times before – from No Country for Old Men to True Detective – but something about this particular scene is so appealing and attractive aesthetically to the eye. It’s safe to say that this really set the precedence for the season and for the Netflix Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole.
The biggest issue with this season was the thirteen episode format, which created a vacuum for small crime, somewhat filler episodes. While it was refreshing to see a variety of different, compelling antagonists, sometimes this detracted from the overall focus of the plot with Wilson Fisk and made it feel ever so slightly repetitive in parts. It severely hindered the progress of the plot and sacrificed what could have been a very coherent and well structured story. Not that it’s a terrible thing to boast the excellent direction and action, but sometimes it would have been appreciated if more focus on the highlight of the show would have been acknowledged and considered.
Another detracting feature was the somewhat anti-climatic conclusion to such a dramatic, highly anticipated series. Fisk had been a dominant hand in the city, both through influential and physical power. He had shown signs of weakness – which ultimately made him all the more likeable – with his relationship and light-hearted nature alongside Vanessa, but for the majority of the season he had developed a broad group of associates and had repressed those seeking to fight against him. He even went as far as murdering a particular character in order to keep the news outlets completely oblivious to his crimes, not to mention him paying off many forms of law enforcement to keep his secrets safe. Yet, despite all this power and influence, his closure is found in a futile battle against Daredevil – who had taken severe injuries after their last confrontation. This ending felt too scripted, too coincidental and just too simple. While Fisk’s story was one of the most compelling and intriguing throughout the season, his ending made him appear as a criminal out of his depth.
This, however, is almost a side thought that sweeps alongside the positives because this show does so many things right that these criticisms are very difficult to remember when watching. With characters as compelling and thoroughly fleshed as these and choreographical sequences that baffle both the eye and the mind, this show is definitely onto a winner. It’s a very positive, confident approach that changes the perceptions of Marvel and the genre. Essentially, it’s a superhero show that is inhabited and absorbed by a particularly rich mystery and crime. While it may lack a strong conclusion, it still warrants a second season – which is also available to watch – and more than justifies a binging session.
Daredevil Season 1 scores: