So it's been thirteen years since the last outing of Marvel's Daredevil, in the cinema release described elsewhere in this node. The movie rights reverted back to Marvel (I believe) in 2013, and rather than do another film they decided to make a television series. It blurs the line just a bit, though, as the series was made with Netflix - and released on that service all at once, rather than on a weekly schedule. Marvel is betting heavily (and winning so far) on a combined film and television assault on our wallets and attention spans. This show is the latest manifestation of their efforts.
Let's start with the easy answer. I like it, but I've only seen around half the first season. A second season, as of the date of this writeup, has been approved by Netflix, so there will be more coming. So why do I like it? And what don't I like?
I like the setting. Quite a bit. Faithful to the comics, this show is set in New York City's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood, on the far west of midtown Manhattan. Back when the comic book was written, this area was a rough place - home to many day laborers and the remnants of Manhattan's dockside businesses, it consisted almost entirely of low-rise tenement walk-up housing. It was a crime-ridden area, at least in the public mind, due to the rough nature of its inhabitants. Daredevil setting out to clean it up as a native son was a perfectly acceptable story. The problem now is that unlike DC's efforts, Marvel's are set not in Metropolis or Gotham or Starling City or Center City but in Noo Friggin Yawk - and there's baggage there. Today, midtown Manhattan of all longitudes is an expensive place, much safer than it was, and heavily developed. How to reconcile the two?
Marvel have done so by adhering to their current plan. See, a couple of years ago, in The Avengers, New York got heavily beat up by a superhero-versus-alien battle that included everything from The Hulk to the U.S. military to nuclear weapons and on into spatial gateways and cosmically grumpy faceless badguy armies. We watched big chunks of the city laid waste in glorious CGI, although they did manage to respectfully avoid Grand Central Terminal itself. Clearly, even alien invaders respect the Oyster Bar.
But now, a couple of years later, the expected has happened. There are interests fighting over the wreckage in parts of the city - both the crime and vice that have settled in there, as well as the more massive opportunities available to those looking to build something in its place. And thus we get Daredevil.
Just as in the comic, Matt Murdock is the son of Battlin' Jack Murdock, crooked boxer who died after refusing to throw a fight. He was blinded in an accident involving radioactive isotopes on the street. He has acquired strangely heightened senses. He's a devout Catholic and a lawyer, partnered with Foggy Nelson and Karen Page, dividing his time between a quixotic law practice during the day and violent vigilantism during the night. So far, so good. He's not called 'Daredevil' yet, though - in much the same way that Arrow is tantalizing us by not using the central character's familiar name, Daredevil hasn't seen the name uttered once. Not even in the backstory the comic gives us for it.
The acting is fine. It's not wonderful, but this is a television show. There are some fine actors here, but they're also being given Marvel pap to chew and swallow, and it's really really difficult to play comic books without either chewing scenery or just picking a one-note and sticking to it. Charlie Cox (Murdock) is doing fine so far. He's able to project more emotional states than Ben Affleck could even hint at in the last film, for sure. He's doing okay at acting blind - not wonderful, I think, but not too badly. He still uses his eyes too much, and they still point far too close to where they would want to were he sighted, but he's working at it. One thing that's not subtle - the show has made a big thing of the Murdock men, how when cornered, they retreat into stone-faced violent immunity to damage until the job is done. Well, Cox doesn't really do that. They're presenting him as much too balletic a fighter to pull that off. He's also not big enough, so they can't have him just start accepting damage during fights. He shows up well battered afterwards, but for all they talk about it, he's not relying on 'stubborn bullheadedness.' That's okay - the comic book character didn't either. Halfway through the first season, he's still barehanded and the costume isn't in evidence yet - he relies on a tied black kerchief that makes him look (in my opinion) way too much like the Dread Pirate Roberts but I have a feeling that the costume's big reveal will be a later episode wow moment. People have already in the show started telling him he needs armor, he needs a better look, etc. Foreshadowing.
Elden Henson's Foggy is okay - he's earnest, he has the slightly overfed look you'd expect, but he's not actually overweight like Foggy was originally. He's earnest, and sidekicky, and serves as a great source of secondhand info on Matt. Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page so far is very blonde, in an inquisitive way, and reminds me an incredible amount of Donna from The West Wing. We'll see.
On the other side, while we have some Central Casting villains (mostly various sub-bosses in the consortium out to crush and develop Hell's Kitchen) we also have, of course, The Kingpin. Played here by a very hefty and bald Vincent D'Onofrio, he's doing a very good job of projecting driven power with a goal. He's complex enough to pull off a sequences where he becomes involved with a woman by being awkward and honest, and projecting both need and determination - impressive enough in a superhero story. He's a villain with a reason, even though we don't know what it is yet - that's backstory, and that's one of the drivers of these things. But he's capable of pure driven rage, much the same as Murdock. Their similarity in motives and tendencies are a central point of the comic, one the TV show explicitly explores in dialogue and visual references which, while not terribly subtle, are still effective.
In general? I like it. It's hewing close to the original; it's not afraid to drop bits that are awkward for its story or to make allowances to wedge in bits that are important to the character's history. It's nice having a central continuity for reference, when you're in a fantasy world - it makes things more solid. The fact that the movies (Iron Man and sequels, The Avengers, The Hulk and the Thor movies) all have hewed to it, as has Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. makes it feel like this really is a small story set in the easily extrapolated world of the Marvel New York. Spider-Man feels like he's out there somewhere. We know the Avengers are, they've been nearly namechecked ("A man in a black mask? If you said it was due to a blond alien with a magic hammer, or a guy in an iron suit, then maybe your excuse would hold up").
So. So far, a solid entry. Will keep watching and hope the season continues to entertain.
I finished watching the first season. The second season has been approved by Netflix, so we'll see what happens. Some notes follow.
The story is in fact quite well done. It's not nearly as tight as a good movie. It wanders around, and there are bits that look extraneous later as well as pieces that are clearly just hooks dropped in for later season stories and arcs, with no explanation. Still, it remains clear that this season is the story of Kingpin and Daredevil - how they started. It does close that arc, and close it well - with a decisive change at the end, but one which leaves infinite room for later development.
I have to say that the acting improved as the season went on, although mostly with the secondary characters. Vincent D'Onofrio's Kingpin became clearer and clearer as time went on, and when he exhibits the Kingpin's famous physical rages, he clicks ever so solidly into place. This is an excellent portrayal, marred only by some emoting quirks that feel overcoached or overthought.
Daredevil himself becomes less important to the onscreen action as the season continues, but he gets a full center screen treatment for the finale.
I'd recommend this, frankly. It feels less 'produced' than Marvel's movie franchises, but that's a good thing. It's less ambitious both by necessity and by design. It's very dark, and willing to go dark places - which is completely faithful to the source comic. At least one character will exit the season with something very surprising about them.