(Beware, spoilers below!)
Over the past few years the demand and popularity of comic book adaptations has gone through the roof, with both Marvel and DC throwing new properties left, right and centre in order to take advantage of the trend. Marvel’s Daredevil – dropped on Netflix with all thirteen episodes – newly sets the bar for comic book superhero adaptations, turning out the be the Captain America: The Winter Soldier or X2 of the small screen. After the airing of Agent Carter, Daredevil is a turning point for Marvel’s TV properties, demonstrating how their television game plan is different from DC’s. DC has pandered to the idea of creating large continuous universes, as summed up in the three (soon to be four) seasons of Arrow, what would have inevitably been a much longer and bombastic season of Constantine and the multi-character world of Gotham. None of these universes are necessarily connected, and for the most part stay within the prescribed parameters of each show.
Marvel’s taken a much different approach, creating a multi-puzzle piece approach to their media properties whilst grounding it in the heavy realism of the Marvel Comic Book Universe. Daredevil sums up this approach best: set in the Hell’s Kitchen area of New York we follow the adventures of Matt Murdoch, a blind lawyer who masquerades as a vigilante by night. There aren’t any S.H.I.E.L.D. drop ins here, nor do we see Matt team up with Captain America anytime soon. He’s the guy who shows up for the girl being attacked in a back alley or the kid being abducted on a side walk. Whilst Coulson and the gang are off facing Inhumans and saving the world, Matt concentrates on keeping safe the world around him at ground level. This is demonstrated in the show: we get the odd hint here and there that there are other heroes in the world, but for the most part we don’t concentrate – nor care – what they’re up to.
This helps keep the show strong as the dramatic tensions in the show are small and acute, real enough to unnerve us. The show ties in some killer action sequences along with it; the camera sometimes follows Matt ceaselessly in one unending shot as he spins, kicks and staggers his way through the bad guys. It creates some of the best and most convincing action shots in a superhero television property so far. The casting also lives up to Marvel’s reputation of getting it spot on. Ben Affleck might have had the headlining name all those years ago in the cinematic film, but Charlie Cox slips into Matt Murdock’s shoes like a pair of slippers. He has convincing chemistry with the numerous characters he plays opposite and they too are portrayed by actors cast to the book. A particular favourite has to be Foggy Nelson, played by Elden Henson. Often the source of humour in the comic books he could easily come across as a clownish character in the show. Instead he’s played with cheerful sincerity, a man taking the light hearted approach because he knows that the world can be a brutal place and as a lawyer he’s face to face with that all the time. Vincent D’Onfrio’s portrayal of Kingpin might possibly be more divisive, but think he’s toed the line of the great villain just about ok. He manages to create the aura of a formidable villain to the Man Without Fear without being some hilarious caricature.
The of the show stays on beat from the first episode to the last, and balances gratuitous violence with the darkness associated with the character. The conspiracy heavy storyline keeps the long term arc ticking whilst also managing to avoid a ‘case of the week’ feeling. Daredevil has turned out to be a slick, sharp superhero crime drama, a show that has the potential to reach a much greater audience than people that just like superheroes.
Roll on the next Netflix Marvel property, especially if it’s as a good as this one.