Daredevil: A Netflix not so Hidden Gem
WARNING: This post contains mild spoilers for the Netflix series Daredevil. While I won't be revealing major plot points I will be talking about the series in terms of things I liked and or noticed about the look, feel and characters. If you wanted to stay 100% spoiler free, you might not want to read this until you have finished watching.
Netflix has figured out how to stay relevant in an ever-changing media landscape. If you have seen House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, or The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt you know that they have made some really good content that people want to see. They have also made it affordable (I think we pay $18 a month) and easy to do. If you are reading this post you are likely aware of the deal Netflix has made with Marvel to create various series featuring Marvel street level defenders Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage (Power Man), and Danny Rand (Iron Fist). With the first of these series now available for public consumption, fans have had the chance to see Marvel characters on the small screen outside of network television's control.
From the start, this series feels more real than the cinematic universe. Crime is more rough and dirty, street level. The people of Hell's Kitchen are more concerned with sex trafficking, mafia, and grand larceny than they are with large-scale alien invasions. You can leave those for Midtown Manhattan. The fight sequences follow suit; there is nothing flashy about them. This is blue collar heroing. If the Avengers are a Super Bowl team, then Daredevil is an inner city school team scraping for equipment and a bus ride to the next game. And it's perfect in terms of portraying a local, on-the-ground vigilante.
So, what do you need to know in advance to watch this series? Not a lot, actually. In fact, you get the crux of the origin story in the first three minutes. In his youth, Matt Murdock is in an accident that blinds him. He grows up to be a lawyer and vigilante, and his Catholic faith is important to him. Done, no lingering. It's great. There is more of Murdock's background peppered through the episodes, but the story moves through the present with hints of the past without getting too mired. There are a few clues to let you know we are working in the same universe as other Marvel works (the movies and Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D), but it's just a few small clues. The focus remains Hell's Kitchen.
Right away it's easy to notice that Daredevil has a different look and feel than anything in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) or any of the comics based shows currently on television. Grit factor is halfway between Arrow and The Dark knight movie series. Rather than just being visually dark, the city oozes sickly yellows and greens, which serves to make the red pop that much more, but also conveys what Murdock keeps trying to tell us: Hell's Kitchen is plagued by an illness that he hopes to remedy. In this first season characters might deviate from the look you are traditionally used to. Daredevil's iconic suit doesn't make an appearance until very late in the series and Kingpin is seen in mostly black, which moves to gray; possibly progressing to white in the future?
Now is probably a good time to admit my experience with Daredevil comic is very limited. We read Daredevil: Guardian Devil for Comicazi Book Club, and I didn't like it. It soured me on Daredevil, so I never bothered to read any additional stories. I will also admit to being less comfortable with the heavy Catholic overtones in that book. I know Catholicism is an integral part of Matt Murdock, but it's something I abandoned in my teens. Then I started doing some research for this post. I am currently making my way though a more modern series written by Mark Waid, and a collected trade of Frank Miller's work.
These are better, though I will admit to liking the televised version of Foggy more. Besides filling in some history, the stories are fun and do provide some background on villains and situations that may be on the horizon in the Netflix series. Again, this background isn't needed, but if you like what you are watching, checking out the source material doesn't hurt.
As Marvel works go, the Daredevil Netflix series does hit a new level in terms of violence. This isn't really something that bothers me. But it did make me take notice. Violence is much more graphic and more authentic to the limitations of physics than what's in the MCU. The fight choreography is very well done; Murdock fights like a boxer, and an actual human. He gets tired, he stumbles, he falls, a lot. And there is some very strong directing and camera work. Be sure to take notice of the 3 minute long, single shot fight scene in episode 2. There are no cuts, and you feel just as exhausted as Murdock after watching. For those of us who don't interact with the visually impaired regularly, there are a few opportunities to see some of the technology available for the blind, like a talking alarm clocks, and a special computer. However I was a little surprised by a scene where a woman takes Matt's arm without asking so she can lead him around a room. While the character might be fine with this, (Matt's fondness for pretty women is made quite clear) I have always been taught that touching a blind person without asking first is pretty much the biggest no-no. In a situation where a simple "May I?" would have sufficed this felt like a missed opportunity to model appropriate interactions.
Daredevil is the first of several shows yet to come, and the bar is set pretty high. While this work certainly instills confidence in future shows, Daredevil's a more well-known character than Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, or Danny Rand. Will Daredevil's success be enough to lure in non-comic fans to the upcoming series? It's hard to say, but hopefully good press, and word of mouth, will be enough to get people watching, and sending the message that this is what fans have been waiting for.
Note: Thanks to a fan petition few days after Daredevil was released Netflix rolled out audio commentary so the visually impaired can also enjoy the series.