If your previous experience with the Marvel property Daredevil stems from the 2003 film starring Ben Affleck, then it’s time to erase that from your mind. In this post-Avengers era, Netflix has partnered with Marvel to produce a series of lower-profile titles as limited risk TV series. The revamped, grittier Daredevil is a smart step in the right direction, far superior to ABC’s higher profile Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Little time is wasted on introducing the back story of Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox, Boardwalk Empire), the child who will become the haunted vigilante Daredevil. We are presented with a brief, targeted set of exposition explaining that young Matt sacrificed himself to save an elderly man from an oncoming car. Oh yeah, nearby toxic chemicals (because this is Marvel) leaked out and doused Matt’s eyes, causing permanent blindness.
Flash forward to modern day: New York City, and more specifically Hell’s Kitchen, is recovering from the devastation laid waste by the events of the first Avengers film. That’s about all we get of cross-pollination with other Marvel products (at least in the pilot anyway), and that’s just fine. It’s effective. It makes sense. And that’s all it needs to do. There are various crimes taking place, and a man in black with a face partially covered by a black scarf saves the innocent by singlehandedly beating villains to a pulp. This is, of course, the titular Daredevil, and we’re also spared (so far) an extended journey sequence that takes a regular blind man into a masked vigilante. We’re just presented with the facts: this is Matt Murdock. He’s a lawyer. He’s a crime fighter without super powers. This is how it is.
Another accomplished ascpect of the series is how closely it adheres to the comics in tone and content. Now, I was never a huge fan of the series – too much Catholic guilt and Hell’s Kitchen grime for me – but on the small screen, it feels right in a distinctively unique way. The pilot gives us a nice splash of what to expect from the overall series. Murdock is a Catholic and does indeed confess his guilt over his actions (beating the crap out of bad guys). He’s an attorney who uses his blindness to advance some light womanizing. He’s also helpless to the allure of those in need.
We haven’t yet met the big villain yet. That part, Wilson Fisk (also known as Kingpin) will be filled by Vincent D’Onofrio. But he’s referenced immediately in hushed tones, giving the allure of the unknown. This series isn’t ready to blow its wad right away. It’s making us savor the atmosphere. Now, there’s a little bit too much of the evil corporate goons, the corrupt policemen, the money schemes… All of that is just OK and it’s been done before. Also slightly underwhelming is the presence of Deborah Ann Woll (True Blood) as Karen Page, potential love interest and plucky secretery. She has the damsel in distress role and cries and screams through much of the pilot in a manner a little too close to her True Blood roots. I’m hoping future episodes evolve her character into something greater.
But the real brilliance of the pilot is its expertly constructed atmosphere – all dark and rainy Hell’s Kitchen streets – and the graceful, near-balletic action sequences. This isn’t a superhero who battles man against all odds. This is a blind guy using his natural senses and presumably expert training to fight back against crime. The action sequences are brutal and swift. Violent and beautiful. I can’t wait to see how they build upon them in future episodes.
Overall, I was impressed with Daredevil. Pilots are difficult because there’s always the sense of impatience, the creators want to show you more but there are bits of information you need to know first before you can get there. But as pilots go, Daredevil‘s is certainly good enough to warrant additional looks. Just as long as future episodes remember that, while a darker tone is absolutely fine, this is still a Marvel property. Let’s not take ourselves too seriously here.