Hell’s Kitchen, New York
Yes, I know. I’m way behind on this topic, but the fact of the matter is that I only recently subscribed to Netflix. Life has a way of preventing us from doing things that we really want to do, so I had to wait a bit before taking the Netflix dive.
Oh, and since it’s been out for a couple of years now, just know that spoilers are ahead.
While Marvel has definitely figured out the formula for cranking out hit films, their foray into television is more hit and miss. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., while entertaining, has consistently lost viewership over its four (soon to be five) seasons. I quit watching the show regularly about two thirds of the way in on season one, and the few episodes that I’ve managed to watch since that time haven’t impressed me at all. Agent Carter only managed to last for two seasons before it finally gave up the ghost.
Despite Marvel’s mediocre foray into network television, I figured that having fewer restraints on their Netflix programming might actually work in their favor. In my opinion, it did. Daredevil has turned out to be a much grittier, more realistic look into some of Marvel’s “B Squad” heroes.
Growing up, I was first introduced to Daredevil in 1979’s The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, Issue 190, Something Evil This Way Comes. I still own a copy of the issue (although it’s in bad shape). I loved how a blind hero was working the streets with just as much success as big league heroes like Captain America. In fact, I’ve always seen Daredevil as an A-lister in the Marvel universe.
The Netflix series begins with Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) and his best friend, Foggy Nelson (the highly underrated Elden Henson) opening up their own law firm with zero clients, zero prospects, and zero money. Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) becomes their first real client and they hire her on as an office assistant in order to pay for their services.
This trio is really the heart of the series. Henson provides some much needed comic relief (this series is darker in a vein similar to DC’s cinematic universe) but is also a brilliant lawyer who gains confidence with each case and social interaction. He’s not just a bumbling sidekick, but a man loves his work. Without Foggy to keep him grounded, Matt Murdock would probably lose control of himself.
Deborah Ann Woll’s Karen Page is a much more mysterious character. Early on in the series it is hinted that she’s hiding something from Matt and Foggy. She often goes out looking for information despite the wishes of her lawyer friends. This means she gets into trouble once in awhile but she somehow manages to make it out of every bad situation with just a few scratches. A romance develops between her and Matt that I really enjoyed, but it gets derailed by a character introduced in season two that I’ll get to later.
Charlie Cox does an excellent job as Matt Murdock/Daredevil. He gets his tail handed to him regularly. He bleeds, gets bruises and cuts, almost dies a few times, and often relies on others to help him out in certain situations. It’s these things about the character that I love. He makes mistakes (in the real world and superhero land) and suffers the consequences for them. His relationships grow strong, unravel, or are reduced to a level of toleration. In many cases, especially when it comes to the law firm, he plays second fiddle to other characters.
As the series played out, our first real look at a villain comes in the form of James Wesley (Toby Leonard Moore). He is the go between for the true villain of season one and said villain’s associates, which happen to be numerous gangs throughout New York. Wesley made an immediate impact with me, and I couldn’t wait to see him turn up in each episode. He was cold, calculating, and never flinched when dealing with characters like Leland Owlsley (the brilliant Bob Gunton) and the secretive and sinister Madame Gao (portrayed by Wai Ching Ho). Madame Gao happens to be one of my favorite characters on the show as well.
Wesley is also our introduction to the many solid supporting cast members that keep Daredevil interesting. Leland and Madame Gao were excellent, as were characters like Nobu (Peter Shinkoda), Ben Urich (Vondie Curtis-Hall), Vanessa (Ayelet Zurer), and Claire (portrayed by the lovely and wonderful Rosario Dawson). There are other characters that move in and out of the narrative, and they are just as wonderful as the recurring members of the cast, especially Scott Glenn as Stick, Matt’s mentor.
Of course, every superhero needs an arch enemy, and Vincent D’Onofrio knocked it out of the park as Wilson Fisk/Kingpin. Despite not making a physical appearance until a few episodes in, Wilson Fisk’s shadow loomed large over the entire Daredevil story. Someone was manipulating criminals, police, politicians, lawyers, and just about everyone else in Hell’s Kitchen, but no one would mention his name. All we knew was that when his representative, James Wesley, showed up, things were about to be shaken up.
D’Onofrio brought heart to the character and for just a few minutes, I sort of felt bad for the guy. When we finally see him unleash his full fury on one of the Russian gang leaders, though, there’s no doubt about how cruel and powerful Fisk can be. His childhood haunts him, and he puts himself on a mission to “clean up” Hell’s Kitchen. Simply put, D’Onofrio’s Kingpin is the most interesting villain ever cranked out by Marvel on the small screen and he’s second only to Loki in the MCU.
Season Two of Daredevil brings with it new dangers and new characters. One new character, The Punisher, declares war on the gangs of Hell’s Kitchen. He brutally murders any and every criminal that gets in his way. He’s referred to as a one man army on many occasions (and rightfully so), and he initially gives Daredevil (and Nelson and Murdock) a lot of headaches.
The Punisher/Frank Castle is portrayed by Jon Bernthal. Being a huge fan of The Walking Dead and having met Bernthal in person, I expected quite a bit from him in this role. He didn’t disappoint. In fact, Castle’s story is the highlight of the second season. The bond he forms with Karen works perfectly, and his uneasy truce and clashing vision of justice with Daredevil moves the story along at an excellent clip. Heck, his interaction with Kingpin in prison is wonderful as well.
The only miscue in the second season, at least in my opinion, is the addition of Elektra Natchios (Elodie Yung). Listen, I have absolutely nothing against Elodie Yung. I honestly believe that she played Elektra to the best of her abilities. However, I feel like the character was sort of dumped on the series because the writers felt that they needed her to shake up the show. She wasn’t needed. The Punisher, the Blacksmith, Kingpin, Madame Gao, Stick, and Nobu were very capable of stirring the pot. I really wish that they would have held off on introducing Elektra in either season three of Daredevil or in The Defenders.
Elektra’s story was too rushed and unnecessary. There were enough stories needing to be told in season two already. But, the past cannot be changed and the character has arrived. Hopefully the writers will do better with the character in future installments.
I really enjoyed watching Daredevil. While the MCU dances around in technicolored madness and minimal bloodletting that earns a soft PG-13 rating, Daredevil is in the trenches getting bloodied, banged up, and scraped off of the cement. It’s funny that so many people complain about how dark the DCEU films are but seem to love Daredevil for being almost as dark. I hope that Netflix and Marvel continue to use their lesser known characters in this fashion. It will open up people to a whole new (to them) batch of characters that are just as interesting as the likes of Spider-Man and Thor.
Next up on my Netflix Catch Up Marathon is Jessica Jones. I’m three episodes in and, as of right now, I’m not that impressed. Krysten Ritter hasn’t had a lot to work with story wise so far, and I’ve found myself wanting to seek out different entertainment choices. Hopefully things will pick up now that Kilgrave (David Tennant) is finally showing his face. I hope that Tennant chews this show all to pieces.
As always, thanks for reading. I’ll be giving my review of Jessica Jones soon enough. From there I’ll hit Luke Cage and Iron Fist. By the time I’m done with them, The Defenders should be almost available.