Since 2008, Marvel Studios has shown time and again that putting your bets on a risky project can deliver in spades. With films like Iron Man, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, Marvel Studios showed that B-level superheroes could produce critically and commercially successful movies as long as the movies had a sense of fun and loyalty to their source material.
With The Avengers, many people doubted that a multi-superhero crossover movie would be a success, with some even feeling it would be downright catastrophic for all involved. However, it went on to become one of the most critically acclaimed films of 2012, as well as one of the highest grossing movies of all time.
The final naysayers of Marvel Studios were silenced in 2014 when Guardians of the Galaxy showed that a movie starring a talking raccoon and a walking tree could be even more successful than films from established blockbuster franchises.
As a result of previous successes, it provoked no incredulity when Marvel announced in late 2013 that they had made a deal with Netflix to produce four television shows for some of their lesser known superheroes: Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist and Luke Cage.
The plan for these four television shows was to create a spin-off Netflix series called The Defenders, which would essentially be a TV version of The Avengers.
The first entry in the ambitious new project, Daredevil, was just released on Netflix last week. Daredevil is simply fantastic and is the latest home run for Marvel Studios.
The season focuses on Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), a lawyer who was blinded as a child and later becomes a crime-fighting vigilante to help free New York from the corruption that has all but consumed it.
Lawyer by day, masked avenger by night, his allies stem from both of his identities, although most of them are unaware that Murdock is the man who is referred to as “The Devil From Hell’s Kitchen.” As a lawyer, he is aided by his long-time friend and law partner Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) and Karen Paige (Deborah Ann Woll), a young woman who joins Murdock and Nelson’s newly established law firm after they take up her case in the series’ pilot episode. When under the mask, Murdock finds help through a struggling nurse named Clair Temple (Rosario Dawson) and an investigative journalist for the New York Bulletin named Ben Urich (Vondie Curtis-Hall). Certain episodes of the series provide us with flashbacks that show Murdock being raised by his boxer father “Battlin’” Jack Murdock (John Patrick Hayden), his time in an orphanage after his father was murdered by mobsters and his time being mentored by a mysterious martial artist named Stick (Scott Glen) to attain the skills he needed to become a crime-fighter.
Yet, there is more than one origin story told in this season, as we also see the rise and evolution of the sadistic businessman William Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio), who certain comic book fans know better by the name of Kingpin. The struggles and development of Murdock and Fisk intertwine throughout the season and by season’s end, the pieces are put in place that make the two bitter enemies battling for the soul of Hell’s Kitchen.
The biggest strength of Daredevil is the excellent storytelling and character development that is on display throughout all 13 episodes of this first season. This is easily the darkest and most violent piece of the Marvel Universe to date, feeling far more in the tone of something like Batman Begins than The Avengers.
In spite of this though, the show is not a portentous parade of brooding, as it still manages to maintain the sense of fun and humor that has helped make all of the Marvel movies accessible and successful.
Daredevil exists in an already established Marvel Universe, but the show puts that universe in the far background in order to make this series capable of standing on its own rather than just feeling like a teaser for future outings with other Marvel characters. What the show does instead is take its time to not only establish its own environment, but properly develop and flesh out all of our protagonists as well as the primary antagonist.
As a result, the protagonists are relatable and are easy to get emotionally invested in, while Fisk is a sadistic but complex and three-dimensional villain. The twists and turns in the narrative keep things from getting mundane and the show properly builds the overarching storyline of the season to a very tense and very satisfying conclusion.
The cast all across the board is uniformly excellent, with the stand-outs being Cox and D’Onofrio. Nobody is hamming it up or chewing the scenery; instead, all the actors bring real gravitas and pathos to their characters.
The direction is also stellar, managing to ground this superhero in a manner that makes this feel more like a crime drama than it does a Marvel comic book adventure. All of the action sequences are cleanly shot and coherently edited so that you can properly see all of the well-choreographed moments, especially one incredible hallway fight sequence that was done in one shot. There are also some very subtle nods to the Marvel universe that will make the die-hard fans happy but not distract or confuse the casual viewer.
Simply put, Daredevil is impressive television on both a technical and storytelling level that manages to blend drama and emotion with thrilling action. This is a great season of television that makes very few missteps along the way, but those missteps should be addressed.
One misstep is the fact that while the main villain of this season is well fleshed-out, will the remainder of the side villains come off as pretty generic corporate bad guys whom we do not really get much depth out of besides the basic desire for power.
Also, there is a conflict that was introduced in the final leg of the season that seems interesting in concept, but was executed in a manner that makes the whole thing feel like it is being contrived for the sake of killing some time before the big finale.
Yet, the rest of the season is so fantastic that any gripes with it are minor. Daredevil exceeds Marvel’s other TV efforts,Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter, by a huge distance, easily becoming the studio’s finest TV show to date.
This new show ultimately serves as a reminder of just how far the Marvel Entertainment empire is expanding and withAvengers: Age Of Ultron hitting theaters in less than two weeks, it shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.
As long as they keep producing high quality entertainment like Daredevil, Marvel Studios will continue its stance as the finest outlet for superhero entertainment in Hollywood right now.
Final Verdict: A-