It’s still surreal to me that it’s here after all the hype and the waiting. Rather than hash out point by point what happens, let’s look at reasons why the first episode of Marvel and Netflix’s Daredevil is one of the best first episodes of anything ever filmed; superhero or otherwise.
This all begins with the vision, which leads to showrunners Steven DeKnight (Spartacus) and Drew Goddard (Lost). We got hints of the gritty tone — true to the comic source material — from the trailers. The TV-MA rating was the only way it would work and kudos to Marvel for letting them take this part of the MCU in this direction away from The Avengers and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. There’s little room for cheese. Speaking of no cheese, how fucking bad-ass is the bloody-waxy opening title sequence?
My wife even admitted: “It’s no Game of Thrones, but that was pretty damn cool.” Damn cool indeed.
This is not Marvel for the kiddos. Yes. It’s bloody, it’s violent, they say “shit” a lot, there’s a touch of nudity, but it’s also correct and Daredevil fans have been waiting for this. The adults want to play too, and we’re finally able to do so. Some critics kept throwing out The Wire comparisons, which made me excited and nervous as it’s one of my other favorite TV shows. I’m thrilled to say that the comparison holds. The crew has managed to balance a superhero show with something like Law & Order: Hell’s Kitchen.
And they don’t waste any time in the first episode “Into the Ring.” Once Karen Page is revealed, we get into the meat of the plot which is an elaborate embezzlement scheme by her former employer, Union Allied, that happens to have shady ties to one Mr. Owlsley mentioned below. Very different than previous and current MCU plots, and not to belabor the point, but something Stringer Bell would be researching at night school. It’s another ensemble-based crime show where the good and bad appear in all the characters making everyone so damn compelling.
Hell’s Kitchen is hell after “the incident” (the Chitauri invasion from The Avengers) and is rebuilding. Even when it’s light out, there’s a feeling of pain and despair. When it’s dark, this neighborhood in New York City truly reveals itself, and director Phil Abraham keeps the sense of darkness and uneasiness continuous. His intimate moments with the lead trio are also well done, especially between Matt and Karen.
The fights scenes are also some of the best ever filmed. More on that later.
Ah, and the way the Daredevil’s senses are portrayed follow the theme of realism and the crew lets us in on the super hearing in this episode, including the famous lie-detecting hearing of a person’s heart rate. Karen’s heart rate. Twice. I loved his first person shot of young Matthew screaming “I can’t see!” after the accident showing us his world get narrower and narrower until black.
I don’t know who made the non-linear call on the origin story, but it was a good one. The flashback scenes to fill it in as we go remind me of Lost. Battlin’ Jack appears and we get a sense of Matty’s daddy issues.
Abraham also gets outstanding performances out of this very talented cast. The acting (and writing I should add) in Daredevil is eons better than any other superhero show or movie. I’d argue better than most TV or movies in general, on par with an HBO series. Perhaps fittingly, two of the leads: Charlie Cox (Boardwalk Empire) and Deborah Ann Woll (True Blood), cut their acting teeth with HBO. I liked Cox in Boardwalk, but didn’t think his enforcer character was anything too special. Here though, he absolutely owns Matt Murdock. I enjoy the nuances of his confidence as a lawyer mixed with his doubts and good old Catholic guilt. I bought his monologue in the confessional. Not an easy way to first meet a character. One of my favorite scenes in the episode is him telling off the cops in a calm but snarky way that ends up getting Karen out of jail.
Woll is great as Karen Page, easily playing the damsel in distress, but more interestingly showing us glimpses of the layers of the character’s depth. Like when I read all those comics, I half pity her, half want to yell at her to wake up. I’m curious how far down her tragic rabbit hole we’ll go.
I knew little of Elden Henson, apparently he’s in the newer Hunger Games movies1, but he plays a good Foggy Nelson. He’s not outstanding, but good for some comic relief and trying to lighten the mostly dark mood. He and Matt share some great moments when he’s first introduced clearly showing their deep bond as buddies from law school.
When the conference of the monsters of Hell’s Kitchen happens, we get to meet the Russians in charge, Leland Owlsley, a scary and silent Nobu, a wise-cracking Madame Gao speaking only in Mandarin, and a focused Wesley representing his “employer” and not happy about the Page situation or the new player in the mask. Bob Gunton’s greedy Owlsely (the Owl) is by far the most entertaining of these Hell’s Kitchen Villains 101 who, when responding to the man in black (love me some Johnny Cash) problem, says:
Every time one of these guys punches someone through a building, our margins go up 3%. We should be celebrating!
The theme of realism is very apparent in the fight choreography. It’s at times precise and brutal and at times a sloppy mess. Oldboy, Repo Men, and The Raid films come to mind and it’s a credit to fight choreographer Philip Silvera (who’s also choreographing the upcoming Deadpool film), and Abraham’s single camera style for keeping the action and human error flowing. No room for wires and green screens here.
The fights are filmed in such a way that we all feel those blows both given and received. Daredevil throws down with his own mixed martial arts from his dad’s boxing base, to Muay Thai, to either Panantukan or Krav Maga, and I’m assuming, elements of Ninjutsu. I have a feeling we’ll learn more.
Snap, crackle, pop; those were bones, not Rice Krispies.
Daredevil is the better fighter with his super hearing setting up a number of bad-ass moves and counters, but he also messes up and gets tagged hard. Frequently. In the first fight scene, DD versus multiples including old Turk, who already has more depth than the comics ever gave him, we get a taste (of things to come…) of what Matt can do when he picks up a baton one of the Russians drops. Classic.
In the longer and more difficult battle with Wesley’s top assassin, there is a real struggle and though he pulls it off, Matt gets beat-up pretty good even with his super senses working overtime. Lucky that chain clinks. Of course we’re suspending reality at times, and sometimes it’s so dark you can’t see every move clearly, but the realism here… sorry Arrow (and I say that enjoying their work). I had high expectations in this area, and they were exceeded. Some of the best filmed for TV or film. More please.
The episode ends with Murdock and Nelson Attorney’s at Law officially opening with Karen joining the team as secretary, which seems great; our Yang. At the same time, the underworld is covering all their tracks so that though they had a set-back, business continues as usual; our Yin.
A couple final points if I may.
- First, a Marvel easter egg. At the very end, I thought the symbol on the cocaine being packaged by Madame Gao’s blind workers looked familiar. I don’t know Iron Fist’s world as well, but that symbol is on of one of his adversaries: Steel Serpent.
- Even though I realize I’m flipping between calling him Matt Murdock and Daredevil, I want to point out that “Daredevil” still has not been born at this point.
- The ninja outfit represents Matt Murdock evolving into how much punishment he can take, how much he can dish out, and just who this alter ego is.
More please. Best pilot ever.