I’m not the biggest fan of superhero movies, especially Marvel. I just didn’t grow up with the comics or cartoons. I think Captain America is a ridiculous, almost embarrassing creation at face value. I watched the first Avengers movie and thought it was unimpressive. Last year I bought into the hype and watched Guardians of the Galaxy and left the theater with a big “meh”.
I don’t get why people love these movies so much. They’re perfectly serviceable adventure movies I suppose. But the overload of bombastic CGI battles, the characterizations that are obviously focus tested, the lack of any rough edges that would hint at a singular directorial vision really grate with me. I just can’t stand these films, because they’re so clearly made to make money, more so than being any kind creative expression. The fact that these companies now plan sequels to movies they haven’t even released yet points at a mass production mentality.
I’ve been genuinely stumped and a bit frustrated that so many people I’d usually share similar tastes with are so enthralled with these Marvel movies. Why all the hype? Why do so many people think these movies are genuinely great? The only explanation I can think of is that a whole lot of these people have grown up with the source material in some form or other and can enjoy these films in that way. Well, I’m not going to start reading decades worth of comics just so I can appreciate the next summer action flick.
I say all that to give you an idea of just how shocked I am that Daredevil has been one of my favorite shows this year.
The creators of the show have said that first and foremost, they set out to write a great crime drama, that only happens to include some characters with supernatural powers. I really like this approach, because such an approach makes this whole genre of superhero films accessible to me in a way they’ve never been.
Daredevil season 1 is simplistically speaking the story of Matt Murdock and his quest to stop a shadowy crime lord from destroying his city of Hell’s Kitchen. It’s really David vs Goliath.
Murdock and his friend Foggy Nelson are lawyers who fight for the little man, and they’ve just started their enterprise anew. Their first client is a murder where nothing is as it first seemed. It all escalates in complexity from there, and I’m not interested in spoiling the story further. Matt Murdock is blind, having lost his eye sight when he was just 9 years old in an accident. As a result though, all his other senses have been heightened to the extreme, so that he can hear a person’s heartbeat, smell a man’s cologne from multiple floors below him and so forth. Also he knows martial arts, for reasons that are explained deeper into the season. But above all, he has a strong sense of morals and will fight tooth and nail for his ideals.
What’s great about this show is that the base premise is very simple. It’s an underdog we can root for taking on an all powerful bad guy, but the show is enriched by all these secondary points of interest. How did Matt learn to fight? Who’s the bad guy? Why is the bad guy doing what he’s doing? The pacing of the show is such that every episode you uncover more and more interesting information about this world and its characters, keeping you on your toes. All this is expertly balanced with really well choreographed and well shot action sequences that feel realistic and impactful, something I can’t say of the big budget Marvel movies. The story takes some really unexpected, but plausible-in-hindsight turns that escalate the tension towards the later episodes.
I also have to say something about the acting of course. Charlie Cox in the role of Matt Murdock does a great job of making the character likable. He’s more softy than hard-guy, which works because he’s a guy who for example really struggles with the idea of killing another human being. He has his weaknesses and it feels like sometimes he’s just trying not to drown in the trouble he gets into, not at all like some cock-sure alpha-male. When he gets into fights and takes some considerable punishment, you really believe that he’s hurting. The supporting cast is good as well. I like the places these character arcs go, especially the relationship between Matt and Foggy.
The bad guys in the show come off as comical at first. There’s the shadowy bad guy, his snide right hand man, the Russian gangsters and so forth, but the acting and the material they’re given is so good and so rich that they grow in stature to become believable, fearsome villains.
I think that the format of a TV show (even though this is a Netflix production) really lends itself towards the deeper story telling that the big blockbuster movies can’t have. While I don’t read the comics, I can only guess that this is much more faithful to the reading experience than these movies are.
And yet. I can’t get rid of the suspicion that I enjoyed Daredevil not because of it’s super hero tropes, but despite of them. They really downplay a lot of Murdock’s supernatural powers, and there’s even less supernatural about the villains. I really enjoyed this light touch, because when something extraordinary does happen, it feels actually impactful and exciting, which is something that’s become all too rare in action movies. My biggest concern though is about how the show almost has to change going forward. Yes, Daredevil starts of low-key and very much grounded in reality in this first season, but towards that later episodes, it became clear that the escalation of the story almost necessitates a change in tone away from the stuff I liked.
Spoilers: Daredevil runs around in his own makeshift costume for the entire season, and I grew to like that one because of its scrappy, amateurish look. But in the last episode, he gets his actual Daredevil costume, with the red and black and his mask with the little horns. It immediately felt out of place and really jarred. Also, Fisk’s grand standing when he makes his escape. It was cool to see, a real money shot, but the way he basically acknowledged that he’s just another hate-filled asshole out to destroy the city really dropped the ball on his character. I was really interested in how the writers built up his character as this guy who has a point and an actual goal that he believes in. But no, that’s all going to be replaced by an angry comic-book villain it seems.
I have some reservations about what Daredevil becomes in the future, but this first season is already a real triumph on its own. It showed me that Marvel actually have some very good writers and that they have a willingness to explore their worlds and characters in a different manner from the usual summer blockbuster format. For that alone, I have to pay respects, because that shows artistic authenticity, something I thought was beyond that company. I’m going to watch the second season as a matter of course.