Marvel has been doing a fantastic job of expanding their Cinematic Universe. I was really impressed with the concept of Agents of SHIELD (a bit less so with the execution at times), tying together a tv show with a series of hit movies. So when I heard about the Netflix series coming up, my two reactions were, “Those could be really amazing,” and “Damn, I guess I finally need to get Netflix.” Yeah, I’m the one guy who didn’t have it before.
Daredevil finally premiered, and I signed up for Netflix, and watched the first episode. As much as I wanted to like it, I was going in as close to neutral as I could. I gave that up a few minutes in. This is a really, really well done show.
“Into the Ring” starts the series off, and starts DD’s career, both heroic and civilian. As attorney Matt Murdock, he and his partner “Foggy” Nelson open up their first law office. There were several really nice touches here. The realtor trying to get them to take the place was completely thrown off by Matt being blind, and Foggy narrated some of her more entertaining gaffes for Matt. It was a nice bit of comedy, and it helped set up the rhythm between them. While they have some differences of opinion about how the business should run, they’re clearly good friends. Also, as part of the pitch from the realtor, there’s a lot of talk about the area being rebuilt. This both sets up for a major plot in the first few episodes, and is a connection to the rest of the MCU, as the rebuilding is from the alien invasion seen in Avengers.
There are several flashback scenes that give us Matt’s origin, or at least the start of it. As a kid (although he was a teenager in the original comic story), Matt shoved an old man out of the way of an out of control truck. Matt was struck in the face with chemicals that blinded him, but gave him enhanced senses and an extra, radar-like ability (which I don’t think we’ve seen yet on the show). Matt’s father, Battlin’ Jack Murdock, was a boxer who never quite made the big time, but he loved his son a lot and taught him some very important lessons.
There’s an early scene of Matt in Confession, talking to a priest. He talks about his father, about the state of the city, about how his father would sometimes lose his temper and “let the devil out.” The priest, concerned, asks him what he’s going to do. That provides a good segue to the first time we see Daredevil in action.
He doesn’t have his costume yet, he’s wearing a black uniform that’s a cross between ninja and special ops gear. Daredevil goes after human traffickers, and beats them badly. The fight scenes were impressive, but for more than just the action. The fight choreography is amazingly well done, but what impressed me more was how they chose to do it. Captain America breezes past thugs until he gets to a big boss, like Batroc or the Winter Soldier. Black Widow has a nearly effortless grace in her fighting that lets her do some wild acrobatic moves. Daredevil is neither of them. He’s a brutal, human brawler. Each thug he faces it seems like there’s a real chance he’ll lose, which is how fights work in the real world. The best martial artists, boxers, MMA fighters, can have a bad day or a bad break. Daredevil isn’t breezing through his fights, he struggles every step of the way, and it’s done beautifully, if that word can be used in this context.
In addition to Matt and Foggy, we also meet another important supporting character in Daredevil’s world- Karen Page. She becomes Nelson and Murdock’s first client after she’s arrested for murder. Her story is part of a much bigger picture they are building slowly and well.
One of Daredevil’s (and several other street-level heroes based in New York) big foes has always been the Kingpin. He’s a ruthless and brilliant gangster who will do whatever he needs to in order to further his own complex plots. They are building up to Kingpin appearing, so far just showing underlings and his assistant. In fact, the assistant won’t even let the other criminals say Kingpin’s name, Carlton Fisk. This is smart on two levels: it makes it a lot harder for law enforcement to learn/record anything to use against him, and it builds up a mystique around him. Kingpin, while we don’t see him in the debut episode, is shown to be a very dangerous man.
The episode both sets up the rest of the series and tells Karen’s story. There’s a nice dynamic between Matt, Foggy, and Karen by the end of the show. They manage to work in some nice character moments between the action scenes. We also see a lot of hints about how Kingpin’s organization works.
The end of the episode is a nicely done montage. Matt pays off a worker at a local boxing gym to leave him alone after hours. As a nice Easter Egg, there’s a promotional poster for a fight between Jack Murdock (Matt’s father) and “Crusher” Creel (who later becomes the Absorbing Man as seen in Agents of SHIELD). While Matt works out on the heavy bag, pushing himself hard, there’s a series of scenes showing Kingpin’s agents cleaning up after the events of this episode. There are a lot of deaths, most, if not all of which, will likely be ruled a suicide. It’s a nice contrast, showing Matt training and the extent of what he’s up against.
What I liked: Damn near everything. This was an amazingly well done premiere. Daredevil is part of the larger Marvel Universe, but he’s clearly off in his own little corner of it. That can be a difficult balance to maintain, and I think they do a great job with it. As I mentioned above, the difference in the fighting between Daredevil and others like Captain America and Black Widow is huge, deliberate, and shows the different worlds they move in. To use a gaming analogy, Cap and Widow are high-level characters. DD is just starting out and nowhere near their level. The friendship with Foggy, Matt, and Karen worked really nicely. The comedic lines didn’t derail anything and were great (I loved “She just curtseyed. It was adorable.”). They also ended the show with a clear view of the scope of what our blind vigilante is up against. The ruthlessness of a villain we never even see was nicely executed.
What I didn’t: Very little. I’m not wild about flashbacks. I think they are a bit overused, although to be fair, I think I got burned out on them by Arrow (which this runs rings around on every level). I get that Daredevil is just starting out, but I’d like to see him in his comic book red costume soon. And those few nitpicks are about it. Irony alert, though– the show is about a blind superhero, and Netflix didn’t opt to do the audio description service that vision-impaired people use for television shows. That is kind of not cool.
I’m giving this a 5 out of 5. It just blew me away. It was amazing. If this is any indication, the rest of the run of Daredevil and the other upcoming series should be some of the best live action superhero fare I’ve ever seen.