On December 31, 2009, The Walt Disney Company purchased Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion. At the time, many had feared that the Marvel Cinematic Universe (spearheaded by one Kevin Fiege) would derail into itself and take away the wittiness and bite off the Marvel movies. A similar situation has ensued during the Lucasfilm/Disney deal that has given the House of Mouse (and by extension, Marvel Comics) control over the Star Wars franchise. At the time, and even currently, most Marvel movies are PG-13 fare that skirts into the young adult with some rare glimpses into serious adult entertainment. Around of October of 2013, rumors began swirling that Netflix was going to get first dibs on Daredevil as a series, that would eventually lead to a Defenders mega series (similar to Marvel's Phase One). Fans wondered what tone the show would have, especially after the last portrayal of Daredevil in FOX's Ben Affleck critically panned bomb; and the tepid first season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Enter Netflix's Daredevil:
Starting off with the familiar, and tense, flashback of young Matt Murdock's accident that left him blind (and with super senses) we start the show with an adult Matt (newcomer to the MCU Charlie Cox) confessing to a catholic priest where our lead reveals his inner turmoil about the choices he must make to save his beloved Hell's Kitchen from rampant crime; after the events of the chaotic Battle of New York (depicted in Marvel's The Avengers). The show's gritty tone is slowly revealed when we see the show's female lead Karen Page (played to honest to God real person perfection by Deborah Ann Woll) caught in a murder/set-up with ramifications with the New York City's Hell's Kitchen criminal underworld headed by the mysterious ("We don't say his name...") "Kingpin of Crime" Wilson Fisk. It's up to both Matt Murdock and his partner Franklin "Foggy" Nelson (the always dependably hilarious Elden Henson) to defend Miss Page in court and try to uncover the truth behind her setup.
|"Just some wholesome Marvel family fu-... awww shit!"|
The show weaves between flashbacks (ala "Lost" and "Arrow", showcasing Matt's past as a child being raised by his boxing father, and even a mysterious teacher that eventually leads him to his crime fighting ways "Stick" (played with infinite gravelly gusto by Scott Glenn); and Matt Murdock's current struggles against the criminal underworld both as Matt Murdock, the attorney, and as the crime fighting vigilante, dubbed by the media and criminals as "The Man With the Mask." All while trying to keep his identity (and powers) a secret from everyone in his life, including his partner Foggy.
|Shaky Cam not included®|
As far as Marvel shows go (not that we have many to compare it to) Netflix's Daredevil is a phenom. The perfect blend of criminal drama and action thriller, never does it stray into familiar Marvel territory where action pieces feel grand and somewhat devoid of real drama. Matt Murdock gets his ass kicked (sometimes in rather bloody and gruesome ways) more than once by the show's villains, including standard foot soldiers. There's a sense of realism that had once been lost from Marvel properties (save for maybe Lionsgate's "The Punisher" treatments). His portrayal of Matt Murdock resonates with the audience and captivates immediately in the open minutes of his confession, this is a man with conviction, but also with regrets, a man without fear who just wants to do what is right - but is caught having to do a little bit of wrong to get to it.
If Charlie Cox's portrayal of Matt Murdock/Daredevil is akin to layered puzzle box, then Vincent D'Onfrio's portrayal of Wilson "Kingpin" Fisk is a one man orchestra. Never has the Marvel Cinematic Universe seen such a captivating villain that skirted between sympathetic sociopath to cold blooded killer. Make no mistake, and don't let his inability to speak his words with the cadence and rapid succesion of Tony Stark's best jabs fool you, Wilson Fisk is cold, calculating, and always "on." D'Onofrio's newest chameleon trick on screen is a sight to behold and a terrifying experience. Another notch to his already storied cinematic career.
|Not pictured: purée'd human head.|
There's many episode standouts, and while I could go on forever quoting bits and pieces of the show (which has an amazingly light sense of humor, even if the rest of it is infinitely darker than any MCU film or production to date), I would be remiss not to mention at least three episodes that stand out. Episode 2's ("Cut Man") amazing single shot fight scene climax is one of the best pieces of cinematic film we've been given this year and it's on a television show! Episode 10 ("Nelson v. Murdock") is both heart wrenching and incredibly sweet (and fairly funny) as we see Matt and Foggy struggle to maintain their both their personal and professional relationship intact after a disastrous event that has left Matt vulnerable physically and emotionally. A strong character study for both the show and even Marvel's entire array of heroes on why they don the suit and mask to do what they do. The Season Finale (aptly named "Daredevil") is a grand spectacle and the resolution to all the main storyline threads (save a few small ones I won't spoil) that steers back into familiar Marvel fan service territory, but feels earned after all the struggles and pitfalls our hero has found himself fighting against.
|"And that kids, is how I met your Mother."|
What does this mean for the future of Daredevil as both a show and a character of the greater MCU? As of writing, Season 2 has already been announced due to both critical acclaim and word of mouth approval of the "Man Without Fear." Netflix's plan for "The Defenders" is still on track and the next superhero series is "Jessica Jones." Charlie Cox is also contractually obligated to appear in Marvel movies, so a cameo or a full fledged appearance in next year's "Captain America: Civil War" is a possibility. Not to mention an appearance in the grand spectacle that will be "Avengers: Infinity War Part I" and "Infinity War Part II." But while we wait, we can rest easily, knowing that Hell's Kitchen, and the MCU's television series world, is safe in the hands of the House of Mouse.
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