Review - Daredevil (Netflix), Season 1
Daredevil (2015), TV-MA, 13 Episodes - As I sat down to work on this review, it occurred to me that while I've stated on a number of occasions in this space that Daredevil is my favorite comic book character, I don't believe I've ever actually explained why. I suppose there's no better time to share those reasons than now. I was drawn to the character because he's just about as 'real world' as you'll find in the pantheon of comic book super-heroes. Created by Stan Lee and Bill Everett in 1964, Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose other senses become heightened when a chemical accident took his sight as a boy. Raised by a washed up boxer, he's a self-made man who has always fought for everything he has. He works the courtrooms by day and uses his heightened senses to impose justice by night in efforts of making his neighborhood of Hell's Kitchen a better place. There's something intriguing about a character whose abilities stem from a disability rather than something like super strength, enchanted artifacts, or technologically advanced gadgetry. I'm certainly not taking anything away from those characters, but these are things that made Daredevil stand out to me. Matt is also Catholic, and his struggles with his faith and morality add even more depth to his stories that aren't often explored with other characters. Smaller details such as an excellent supporting cast and his being a fellow redhead didn't hurt either.
So that brings me to this new Netflix Original Series, which comes two years after Marvel Studios regained the property's film rights from 20th Century Fox (you can read my retrospective on the 2003 film here). Daredevil is the first of five original series that Marvel is producing and distributing via Netflix to introduce street level characters - Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist (Danny Rand), and team-up series The Defenders being the others - to their cinematic universe (MCU). The thirteen episode series is a wonderfully dark, gritty, and violent crime based drama that shows a much seedier side of the MCU than anything we've seen before. Crime is running rampant in Hell's Kitchen, including the trafficking of drugs and humans. Threats are made. Joints are dislocated. Bones are broken. People die. The series acts as a parallel origin story for both small-time lawyer Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) and businessman Wilson Fisk (Vincent D'Onofrio). Both want to rebuild their city in the wake of 'The Battle of New York' (which took place in 2012's The Avengers), but they have differing - and often conflicting - ways of working towards that goal.
The execution of the story in this series is wonderful, but it couldn't have been done without such an excellent cast. Each and every actor/actress that appears perfectly personifies their character. Having read all fifty years worth of Daredevil's comic book history, I honestly can't emphasize that enough. Charlie Cox is the epitome of Matt Murdock. So much so that I can easily overlook his not having red hair. Elden Henson's Foggy Nelson provides heart and some timely levity to the dark tale. The portrayal of his relationship with Matt is one of the strongest aspects of the series. Deborah Ann Woll brings the sweet, seemingly-innocent-but-quite-troubled Karen Page to life. She's the glue that keeps the fledgling Nelson and Murdock firm together when times get rough. Rosario Dawson provides a confidante/ally/love interest for Matt in the form of Claire Temple. Vondie Curtis-Hall (Ben Urich) has the experienced, determined, weathered look of a career investigative reporter who finds his trade falling by the wayside in today's technology driven world. Toby Leonard Moore plays Fisk's right hand man Wesley brilliantly, proving to be much more than your typical lackey. Ayelet Zurer (Vanessa Mariana) and Bob Gunton (Leland Owlsley) also have smaller supporting roles in regards to screen time, but both have a significant impact on Fisk throughout the series. And that brings me to Vincent D'Onofrio's Wilson Fisk, who is a cold, calculated business man, both a monster and a child all rolled into one. That may seem like a dichotomy, but D'Onofrio's portrayal makes it a terrifying reality, and a provides a worthwhile adversary for Matt. I also cannot neglect to mention Scott Glenn. He appears in only one episode, but his portrayal of Stick, Matt's blind sensei after his accident is spot on with Frank Miller's stories from the comics.
Daredevil is rated TV-MA because it is dark, violent (exceedingly at times), and it includes some mild language (some swearing but no F-bombs). For comparison sake, it is very reminiscent in tone to 2008's The Dark Knight. There have been many differing tones in the comics throughout the years, but the predominant one in the pages of Daredevil has been that of film noir. It is a feeling that creator Drew Goddard and show runner Steven S. DeKnight accomplished with this series quite successfully. I absolutely loved it. It grounds Daredevil in a reality that seems more believable than some of the other corners of the MCU (but also has a touch of the mystical), and is a great building block moving forward to the other Netflix Original Series in development.
I've been waiting quite a while - twelve years to be exact - for my favorite character's next shot on screen. Over that time, my appreciation for Matt Murdock/Daredevil has only increased. Once Marvel regained the rights my hopes rose. When the series was officially announced so did my expectations. I did my best to temper them in the months leading up to the show's release, fearing that there was no way that it could match my level of excitement. Then the trailer hit and I couldn't help but be ridiculously excited. My expectations were sky high, and as I watched the series unfold last weekend, I couldn't believe my eyes. Marvel Studios, Goddard, DeKnight, and company had created a series with my favorite character at it's core that felt new and different, yet also fit into the already existing MCU. Somehow it didn't just meet my lofty expectations, but exceeded them. Now I realize that I'm biased considering my love of the characters involved, but for those interested in giving Daredevil a watch, please keep in mind that I haven't heard a single negative comment about this series from anyone that I have talked to. And that's a group that includes other fans as well as newcomers. If you enjoy criminal dramas and/or great fight choreography, give Daredevil a chance. You'll be glad you did. Now it's time for me to repeatedly re-watch these few episodes while impatiently awaiting news of a potential second season.
- The black costume that Matt wears is a nod to his home made costume in Frank Miller and John Romita, Jr's 'The Man Without Fear' mini-series from 1993, which went back and explored how Matt became Daredevil after his accident and the death of his father.
- I really liked the way they illustrated Matt's heightened senses through the use of slow motion, blurring of images, and muffling of sounds.
- 2012's The Avengers is referenced when Matt and Foggy are touring the office space, and again later in Ben Urich's office by two framed paper headlines. One that reads 'Battle of New York' and another Hulk referencing article title 'Harlem Terror'.
- Showrunner Steven S. DeKnight has gone on record as stating that the events of Daredevil take place after 2012's The Avengers but before this May's Avengers: Age of Ultron.
- The sign on the door across the hall from the office Matt and Foggy rent says 'Atlas Investments'. Atlas Comics was founded in the early 1950's and eventually became Marvel Comics.
- I didn't catch this one myself, but I've read online that the old sign on the door of Nelson and Murdock is that of Van Lunt Real Estate, a nod to Marvel's character Cornelius Van Lunt who eventually became the villain 'Taurus' (who has never actually appeared in the Daredevil title).
- Another one that I didn't catch because of his lack of direct contact with Daredevil in the comics: Father Lantom. He takes Matt's confession and consults with Matt throughout the series. He's a recurring character in Marvel's comics, primarily in a book titled 'The Runaways'.
- One more thanks to the internet: the barrels that leaked and caused Matt to loose his sight are labeled '0464XXXX'. The first issue of Daredevil was published in April of 1964.
- The man who instructs Jack Murdock to take a dive in the fifth round is named Roscoe (Kevin Nagle). Roscoe Sweeney is known as 'The Fixer' in the comics (for obvious reasons). The other man with Roscoe is named Silke (Peter Gerety). In the comics, Sammy Silke is a gangster who tries to overthrow The Kingpin during the Brian Michael Bendis/Alex Maleev story arc 'Underboss'.
- Wesley mentions that Fisk has recently acquired another mob boss's (Rigoletto) assets. In the comics, Fisk first works as an enforcer for Rigoletto before killing him and taking over his operations.
- Fogwell's Gym - This is where Matt's father Jack trained. There's also a poster for the Creel vs. Murdock fight on the wall. The fight that Jack wins instead of throwing, costing him his life. Carl 'Crusher' Creel isn't actually seen in this series, but does appear (year's later continuity-wise) in Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
- Matt throws a cattle prod during the initial fight on the docks foreshadowing his use of sticks/batons later on. We also get our first glimpse of Turk Barrett on the docks. A wonderfully inept recurring criminal in the comics.
- In the comics Leland Owlsley is one of the first villains that Daredevil faces, known as The Owl (issue #3 from August of 1964). While he is just a financier in this series, he mentions a son on a few occasions, leaving the possibility for an Owlsley to rise in the future. He would certainly have cause to turn to villainy as Fisk killed the elder Owlsley at the end of this series.
- The bar that Matt/Foggy/Karen frequent is called Josie's Bar, and is a recurring locale in the comics. Over the years Daredevil has thrown a number of sketchy characters through the plate glass window of Josie's. I had hoped to see that in the series but it didn't happen. Maybe in a future season.
- In the comics Claire Temple was a doctor and romantic interest for Luke Cage (centerpiece of another Marvel/Netflix Original series due out in 2016). While she isn't referred to by this name, she is essentially the Night Nurse, a nurse who provides underground healthcare to super hero types. Nothing has been officially announced yet, but she could be a connection to the upcoming Netflix series from Marvel.
- When Matt won't tell Claire his name, she says "I'll call you Mike". This is a hilarious nod to one of the most ridiculous stories in DD's comic book history: when Foggy and Karen begin suspecting that Matt has a connection to Daredevil, he tells them that he does because Daredevil is actually his (fictitious) twin brother Mike! Matt then has to run around juggling two identities in order to keep up appearances. Ah, those crazy '60s! Michael is also Matt's middle name.
- Before his fight, Jack leaves a message for someone voicing concern for what may happen to Matt. It could be assumed that the message was for Matt's mother Maggie, who had joined a convent.
- Karen and Foggy begin to bond, but she pines for 'the man in black'. In the early days of the comics, Foggy had a thing for Karen, but she was always day dreaming about Daredevil and feeling sorry for Matt.
- Ben Urich works for the New York Bulletin in this series as opposed to The Daily Bugle as he does in the comics. The film rights to that location are/were held by Sony under the Spider-Man umbrella so the name of the paper was changed here. The Bugle may be able to appear in Marvel Studios productions in the future as Sony and Marvel have since reached an agreement to share the Spider-Man property's film rights.
- Over dinner, Vanessa tells Fisk about a man who once tried to seduce her. She says he wore a white suit and a purple ascot. Fisk replies 'Ascot? That's a bit much', a humorous nod to Fisk's look of choice for the longest time in the comics.
- Urich puts together a connection board for his investigation. At the top he places a King of Diamonds to represent the as of yet unidentified Fisk. Fisk is not actually referred to as The Kingpin in this series, but this is a nice allusion.
- The orphanage that Matt is taken to after his father is killed is called St. Agnes. It is the same orphanage that Skye from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. grew up in.
- I have begun affectionately calling Episode 7 the Frank Miller episode. The episode focusing on Matt's sensei Stick has the strongest ties of any to Miller's work on the Daredevil title (and there are many in this series).
- While training with Stick as a boy, Matt is wearing a blue shirt, jeans, and a pair of Chucks, just like he was drawn in 'The Man Without Fear' mini-series.
- Stick speaks of a coming War and wants Matt to be prepared. This is most likely a reference to a showdown between The Hand and The Chaste. Two rival clans of ninja. Even when Matt was young Stick told him that Matt needed skills for the war and that he needed a soldier. At the end of the episode Stick reports to a man that we only see from behind. He is credited as being Stone (played by Jasson Finney), Stick's second in command of The Chaste in the comics. Stone also asks Stick if Matt will be ready 'when the doors open'. It may be safe to assume that he is referring to the doors of K'un Lun (more on this in a bit).
- Stick leaves a set of sticks/batons with Matt, telling him he'll need them later. In the comics, the only 'weapon' Daredevil carries is a set of these, also commonly referred to as his billy club.
- Previously referred to as 'the man in black' or 'the man in the mask', in Episode 7 Matt is referred to in the paper as 'The Devil of Hell's Kitchen' for the first time.
- We learn in the flashback's to Fisk's youth that his father had borrowed money from Rigoletto to fund his campaign when he runs for local office.
- Melvin Potter (Matt Gerald) is Fisk's special tailor, fashioning suits with a lining of body armor. In the comics, Potter runs a costume shop. He also goes on to become the villain 'The Gladiator'. References to his comic book identity can be seen all over his shop: an old movie poster, circular saw blades (The Gladiator's weapon of choice), and a blue and yellow mock up of the design that appears on The Gladiator's suit in the comics.
- With Karen and Foggy's help, Matt uncovers a warehouse that they believe is tied to Fisk's dealings. Matt investigates and finds blue prints for the rebuilding of parts of Hell's Kitchen. One section is specifically outlined to be for Nobu's organization (after they help Fisk clear out the current tenement). I don't know if it was meant this way, but it made me think of the 'Shadowland' story line in the comics when a possessed Daredevil-led Hand took up residence in the middle of Hell's Kitchen.
- Nobu's (Peter Shinkoda) organization appears to be The Hand, the group of ninja opposing Stick's affiliate, The Chaste. His appearance in bright red ninja-garb in Episode 9 is straight out of the pages of one of Frank Miller's stories in the comics.
- The logo stamped on Madame Gao's packets of heroine is that of Iron Fist's villain Davos, The Steel Serpent. It is basically Iron Fist's dragon logo without the wings. Later in the series, Gao (Wai Ching Ho) tells Owlsley that she will return to her homeland. Owlsley asks 'China?' and she replies that it is 'a considerable distance' farther than China. Between this comment and the Steel Serpent logo, I believe she is referring to the ancient city of K'un Lun, which in the comics exists on a different plane than our world. K'un Lun is the city in which Danny Rand grows up and becomes Iron Fist (which will be the fourth Marvel/Netflix Original Series - no release date yet). Madame Gao is an original character so it will be fun seeing how her connections play out.
- In the flashbacks to Matt's and Foggy's college years, Foggy refers to 'the Greek girl'. This is the only mention of Elektra in this series. In the comics, Elektra was introduced by Frank Miller as Matt's first love during college.
- A large Marvel corporation is mentioned during a flashback to Matt's and Foggy's time as interns: The Roxxon Corporation. This is a further tie to the rest of the MCU as Roxxon has been mentioned in both Iron Man 2 and Agent Carter.
- On more than one occasion while patching Matt up, Claire tells him how his vigilante costume sucks and that he needs some sort of body armor. Ben makes a similar comment at one point as well. Matt claims that it is 'a work in progress'. After Matt pressures Turk for info on Fisk, he learns that Potter is the source for armored alterations. He enlists Potter's help in creating a new suit in exchange for protecting a woman named Betsy, whose safety Potter fears for. In the comics, Potter has been known to be mentally unstable and Betsy has helped him reform and rehabilitate after terrible actions as The Gladiator.
- For her protection, Fisk makes arrangements to send Vanessa away. She refuses to leave without him. This is similar to the comics when they both went away to Japan for a time.
- Wesley abducts and threatens Karen. She calls his bluff and kills him by shooting him numerous times. This gives Karen a dark secret similar to some of the shady moments from her past in the comics (primarily drug abuse).
- We see some good old comics inspired rooftop acrobatics as Matt tracks one of the blind drug mules back to the warehouse heroin operation of Madame Gao.
- Madame Gao puts Matt on his back in a face to face confrontation. Another tip of the cap to her likely K'un Lun connection.
- Fisk confronts and then kills Urich in his home before he can release his story with his findings. Urich is a wonderful character and I loved Vondie Curtis-Hall's portrayal in this series (Urich is white in the comics so Curtis-Hall's casting is different but was a great choice). This is the one thing that I wish they had done differently with this series, as it's a shame that such a great character can no longer be used. On the same token, I can understand why they did it. It adds a sense of finality and consequence to this darker corner of the MCU.
- After Matt rescues Detective Hoffman, he instructs him to turn himself in to Officer Mahoney at the 15th Precinct. As he does so, we can see a picture on the wall behind Mahoney of Daredevil creator Stan Lee. This keeps up the Marvel tradition of a Stan Lee cameo in its films/shows.
- In the arrest montage, not only is Fisk taken in, but so is Turk, a slew of dirty cops, and Senator Randolph Cherryh (Johnathan Walker). Senator Cherryh is used by Frank Miller during his run in the comics.
- When Matt visits Potter again to pick up his new gear, we see the legs of Stiltman's suit. Stiltman was one of Daredevil's earliest and most ridiculous villains (first appearing in Daredevil #8 from June of 1965).
- Potter presents Matt with his new suit - very reminiscent of his classic red suit from the comics with a slight nod to DD's armored look of the early '90s. Potter tells Matt that the black portions are armored plates that provide the most protection and that the red portions are more flexible and may or may not be capable of deflecting a blade depending on the angle. Matt pauses for a moment, obviously not able to see the colors, he then runs his fingers over the suit and deems it worthy. I was most worried about how they'd pull off the look of the red suit, but I think it turned out great. It is functional and fits right in with the feel of the other MCU heroes.
- In the final episode, we finally see Matt - in his new gear - in a showdown with Fisk. It is a brutal, knock down, drag out battle of conflicting fighting styles that is well worth the wait. We also see extensive use of Matt's sticks/batons. He not only uses them individually, but is able to connect them into a longer staff - very reminiscent of how he has used them from time to time in the comics.
- After Matt takes down Fisk, the paper dubs him as 'Daredevil' for the first time. Foggy, now knowing Matt's secret, jokes that the horns are a bit over the top. Karen quips that it is a serious upgrade from the vigilante's previous look. The headline in the paper is also accompanied by a piece of artwork that will be familiar to fans of the comics: it was also the cover to issue #60 of volume 2 (July 2004) by Alex Maleev.
- Foggy alludes to possibly getting back together with Marci (Amy Rutberg). This would leave room for a budding romance between Matt and Karen, just as happened in the comics. The series ends with Matt taking Karen's hand and reassuring her that 'all we can do is move forward...together.'
- I'm not sure if this was intentional or not, but two things made me think back to the 2003 feature film: 1) at one point we're shown what Claire 'looks' like to Matt and 2) Matt tells Ben at one point 'I'm not a killer. I keep telling people that'. Both are reminiscent of the film and the way they illustrated how Matt could 'see' things despite his being blind, and his constantly repeating 'I'm not the bad guy'.
- All in all, I absolutely loved this series. I loved how it illustrates both Matt's evolution into Daredevil, and Fisk's evolution into the criminal menace that is The Kingpin. They did a wonderful job of seeding plot points for both future seasons and the other series in production. Considering the wonderful response that this series has received, I'd say the chances of future seasons are pretty good. It'll only be a question of when, as Marvel has a very deliberate way of piecing the stories of their Cinematic Universe together.