14 April 2015

Daredevil season one review

If The Dark Knight can be held responsible for anything, it's the sudden pop culture obsession with "grit" as short hand for maturity. Audiences have an in built belief that the more serious something is, the more worthy it must be, which after the success of The Dark Knight has resulted in multiple films and TV shows desperately reaching for grit as an easy way to fool audiences into thinking that their property is intelligent and important. Take Man of Steel, for example - the joyless tone and aesthetic combined with the faux-philosophical dialogue could easily trick you into thinking that it has something important to say, but ultimately Man of Steel is about as deep and meaningful as an episode of Britains Got Talent.

So when Marvel Studios announced that Daredevil would be "gritty", I was worried. Up until now, Marvel Studios had made a name for themselves by proving time after time that a film can be great in every way without relying on a particular aesthetic, and that family friendly doesn't have to mean childish.

After watching Daredevil, it's safe to say that my fears have been put to rest. Yes, Daredevil is significantly "grittier" than anything Marvel Studios has produced before now, but it is also one of the most well written comic book related pieces of entertainment that I've ever seen, one that certainly isn't using its aesthetic to mask (pun intended) deficiencies in other areas.

Daredevil follows Matt Murdock, blind attorney by day and masked vigilante by night, as he attempts to protect Hells Kitchen from the criminal element that has formed within it since the Chitauri invasion from Avengers Assemble demolished large portions of it. Leading this criminal element is Wilson Fisk, a powerful man who, like Matt Murdock, is simply trying to make his city a better place, albeit in a very different way.

It isn't just the grittiness of Daredevil that make it markedly different from anything Marvel Studios has done before. Matt Murdock is the first street-level superhero we have seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, his focus on improving the lives of ordinary people rather than saving the world making his story smaller in scale but significantly more personal than the exploits of the Avengers or the Guardians of the Galaxy, the darkness that Daredevil is imbued with actually mattering to the themes of the show and the story being told. He's also the first hero to have a secret identity, an element of super-heroism that hasn't really been explored by Marvel Studios yet, and one that looks as if it may have a very important role in the upcoming Captain America: Civil War.

And I'd love to see Matt Murdock show up in Captain America: Civil War, mostly because I want to see a lot more of these characters. Charlie Cox is great as Matt Murdock and he has consistently interesting interactions with the side characters, but his bromance with Elden Henson's Foggy Nelson could well be the most fun character dynamic in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far. It's also worth mentioning just how good Vincent D'Onofrio's Wilson Fisk is - we spend a lot of time with him thanks to the script treating him as a secondary view point rather than as simply an antagonist, and we really get to know him and watch him change. He's genuinely scary, both physically and psychologically, and is certainly a great villain (a surprising treat, considering the problems Marvel Studios have had creating interesting villains).

Ironically for a show centred around a blind character, Daredevil is as visually cinematic an experience as you are likely to find on the small screen, a far cry from the low production quality of Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter. The camera work is deliberate and on point, with interesting cinematography and well shot fight scenes that are far more violent than anything Marvel Studios has offered so far - an extended, one take fight scene at the end of the second episode being a particularly spectacular moment that will probably go down as one of the most impressive action scenes that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has to offer.

Daredevils major weakness comes about thanks to the format in which is was released. Up until Netflix decided to revolutionize the concept of television shows by releasing all episodes at once, it was imperative that each individual episode of a season of any television show stood up in its own right while still acting as a part of the larger story being told. The nature of Netflix and the concept of the binge watch means that Daredevil doesn't need to worry about this, and it shows - despite an incredibly strong opening, the season does lose its way somewhat during the last third, only just managing to bring everything together for the finale, and there are some real pacing issues throughout.

Other minor nitpicks include the final confrontation between Wilson Fisk and Daredevil being the least competent action scene that the series has to offer and the updated Daredevil costume being amongst the ugliest superhero costumes ever committed to screen, but on the whole Daredevil is a gripping, complicated crime drama that unlike previous Marvel Studios TV shows works as both part of the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe and as a stand alone series.

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