“Daredevil” is the first of four Marvel Studios exclusive productions for Netflix and it is great but not perfect. In fact, it is less a TV series than what the producers promised would be a “13 hour movie”. And as wonderful as the performances were, there are precious few things in the world that are engrossing for 13 straight hours. Having said that, the street-level Marvel Universe presented here is fantastic. NYC is a supporting character with the bright lights of the city always informing the shadows of Hell’s Kitchen with the stark contrast that exists between the two.

Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock/Daredevil is a tightly wound spring with the talent to hide all of his coiled energy behind a humble. friendly facade for a public that just sees a blind man. His turns as the lawyer Murdock would comfortably fit in any episode of “Law and Order” but when he gears up and starts beating the crap out of criminals, Cox (and his stunt team) turn it up to 11. This is not a kid-friendly cartoon beat-um-up. This is exposed broken bones and gruesome sound effects befitting the real world of getting your ass kicked in the streets without a referee in sight.

 The morality of being a lawyer by day, vigilante by night is as thoroughly explored as you would expect over 13 hours of viewing time. Since this is the heart of the “Daredevil” character, it was appropriate. To reiterate, “Daredevil” isn’t paced like a traditional TV show. Acknowledging the new consumer habit of “binge viewing”, Marvel let the producers stretch and pull the story to accommodate the new paradigm. Not to say the story would be incoherent if serialized the old-fashioned way but it may not hold the same level of drama if you actually had to wait a week to find out what happens.

The rest of the cast of “Daredevil” is very good to stellar. Elden Henson (forever the legendary Fulton Reed from “The Mighty Ducks”) nails Foggy Nelson. I will forever read Foggy in Elden Henson’s voice going forward. There is too much that he gets right about Foggy and his relationship with Matt and Karen that I’m giving him an Emmy now. He won’t get it but he’s that good. Deborah Ann Woll, recently of “True Blood”, makes Karen Page the right mixture of helpless and sturdy. She quickly grows from damsel in distress to a vital third component of the Murdock/Nelson/Page trinity. With these three as a base, “Daredevil” can spin in any number of future directions and be secure that this trio can do the heavy lifting with ease.

Toby Leonard Moore brings full life and consciousness to Wesley, a minor character during the seminal Frank Miller run on the “Daredevil” comic, and he is a revelation. “Daredevil” hides it’s Big Bad behind voiceovers and shots of a hand or back of the head for the first 3 episodes and Wesley is the avatar for evil until then. He’s efficiently calm and brutal in this role and commands respect even though everyone knows he’s not “The Man”. Speaking of which, when “The Man” does arrive he does so in the hulking, broad skin of Vincent D’Onofrio.

With his shaved head, deep growl and calculating speech, D’Onofrio imbues Wilson Fisk with the exact power and majesty Frank Miller gave him on the four-color page. He is never called “The Kingpin” and in service to the fans, D’Onofrio’s Fisk, states categorically that ascots (his traditional affectation in the comics) are “over the top.” So there. Fisk is not the typical megalomaniac wanting to rule just because. He is deluded into thinking that what he does, he does for the city and not because he’s a brutal crime-lord doing brutal crime-lord things. His romance with Vanessa Marianna (Ayelet Zurer is excellent as the ethereal yet somehow grounded paramour) complicates his business life and in this, Wilson is no different than anyone else. Look at that, our Big Bad is human.

And that is what I took away from “Daredevil”. Everyone is human, even the blind guy with the crazy senses that more than compensate. He takes horrific beatings (nice touch with the “I meditate to speed the healing” mumbo jumbo) and comes back for more, no matter what the odds. Fisk surrendering to the rage that always simmers just beneath his skin is more human than super-villain. Marvel has created a Hell’s Kitchen that sits beside the NYC of the Avengers comfortably and it would be wild to see what happened in the Kitchen during the “Battle of New York”. Just a thought, producers.

Two things “Daredevil” does that I wholeheartedly approve of:

  1. I’m cool with the modern “Team” concept” for secret identities. Having a few trusted friends at your back is never a bad idea and takes the ridiculous lengths shows have reached to protect a secret ID, off the table.
  2. There are only two visual references to how Daredevil “sees” things and ZERO visual cues during fight scenes about how it works. A slight tick of the head at a sound is about all we get when Daredevil fights. The subtlety with which it is done is so much better than any FX thing they might have tried to show his “radar vision”.

Should you watch “Daredevil”? If you are a DD fan, absolutely. If you’re a comic geek that wants to see a four-color page live and breathe, definitely. If you’re a casual, just now getting into Marvel fan, yes but I strongly suggest the binge protocol for you. If you’re looking for a traditionally paced and structured TV series, this may be tough sledding for you. But if you pass, you’re missing some great acting from all the previously mentioned but also, Vondie Curtis Hall and Rosario Dawson as important cogs in Team Daredevil. Overall, “Daredevil” is an excellent representation of the character Marvel comics readers know and love and a good first step for the Netflix Marvel productions soon to come. Next up, “Jessica Jones”.

Lem Utu

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