Daredevil

The first episode of Netflix and Marvel’s Daredevil collaboration won me over instantly with its moody atmosphere, slick action sequences and gritty take on urban crime and corruption.  I delved into episode 2, “Cut Man” looking for the series to prove that its rugged take on the superhero genre could be sustained over the next dozen episodes. Could Marvel’s Daredevil sink its hooks even deeper into my brain’s pleasure receptors or had the fledgling series already shown me everything that it had to offer?

“Cut Man” begins with a battered and bloody Matt/Daredevil (Charlie Cox), lying helpless in a dumpster. Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), an off duty ER nurse, rescues Matt and brings him back to her apartment. The episode alternates between Claire patching up Matt and flashbacks to his childhood.

I enjoyed the subtle way that Daredevil handled the introduction of Claire to the show.  For those in the know, Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple is the series iteration of the comic book character Night Nurse, a D-list character known for coming to the aid of injured superheroes. Despite the bloody vigilante laid out on her couch, Claire remains cool, going as far as to drop hints that Matt is not the first crime fighter that she has dealt with. Later on in the episode, Claire dawns a mask and joins Matt on a rooftop, barking out torture methods as they interrogate a captured thug. It is great to see the show introduce Claire (not just because of my not so subtle crush on Rosario) and establish her as someone other than a damsel in distress. It’s a refreshing change of pace to see the male protagonist get rescued by a lady.

So far, Marvel’s Daredevil is doing a tremendous job of avoiding the all too familiar superhero origin tropes. Most movies/shows treat superhero origins as cosmic explosions, firing every atom of back-story and exposition right at the audience. The way Marvel’s Daredevil treats the character’s origin is more like a wax candle, illuminating frustratingly little as it gently burns through the night. While “Cut Man” gives us more pieces of Daredevil’s origin, those who are new to the character still won’t have enough details to fully understand Matt or his powers.  In this episode, Claire serves as a proxy for the audience, gradually discovering some of Matt’s abilities as the night goes on.  I am very impressed that we are now two episodes into the series and the show has yet to explain Matt’s most important superpower.

While “Cut Man” deals with Matt’s recovery and the rescue of a kidnapped child in real time, the heart of the episode lays in the flashbacks depicting Matt and his father.  As I watched the events leading to the fall of “Battling” Jack Murdock (John Patrick Hayden) play out on-screen, I was surprised by how well the story holds up. Considering that the show uses the same basic premise as a comic book from the 60’s, Marvel didn’t have to change much to keep the story relevant with modern audiences.  The recent backlash from the portrayal of Superman in Man of Steel is a perfect example of how certain hero archetypes don’t hold up. In our era when white-collar criminals aren’t persecuted and police officers are shooting unarmed civilians with impunity, it makes sense that audiences connect with heroes like Batman and Daredevil; characters who assert their will on a corrupt criminal system.

The flashbacks offer insight into why Matt Murdock overextends himself; looking out for those who can’t afford a lawyer by day and going after criminals beyond the reach of the law at night. Just as watching the slaying of his parent’s drove Bruce Wayne to protect the weak, Matt’s guilt and frustration stems from the murder of his blue-collar father. While the show never comes right out and says it, we are shown that the only way that Matt knows how to deal with his pain and guilt  is through single-handedly writing wrongs in the  court  and on the streets.

I’m only two episodes into Daredevil and it’s already proving to be one of the best action series on television. I don’t believe that anything else on the show this season will top “Cut Man’s” electrifying climax.  The intricate final sequence was staged to look like it was filmed in one take. In the scene, Matt takes on an entire floor of thugs in a savage brawl that is the antithesis of the fast and nimble fisticuffs witnessed in earlier fights. Over the course of the melee, both Matt and the thugs grow tired, wheezing for air and struggling to remain on their feet as the combat degrades into slow motion barbarism. The entire time, the audience is aware that the force driving Matt to go on is the fighting spirit ingrained in him by “Battling Jack”, telling him to keep getting back up. “Cut Man’s” final action sequence perfectly caps the episode off thematically while also acting as the series signature moment.

I thought that the first episode set the bar high, but episode two cleared it with ease. “Cut Man” gave us some touching flashbacks to Matt’s humble origins, a compelling new relationship between Matt and Claire and an action sequence for the ages. This is a dark, moody and well paced episode that will be difficult for the series to top. I suspect that the next few episodes will shy away from Daredevil and focus on Matt, Foggy (Elden Henson) and Karen’s (Deborah Ann Woll) law practice as well as their burgeoning relationships.  At this point I’m curious to see if Marvel’s Daredevil can make Matt Murdock’s office job as compelling as his night shift.

Victor Stiff is a Toronto based writer and nerd culture curator who may have an unhealthy relationship with chocolate milk. Victor is covering Daredevil in a weekly review format. Read his review about episode 1 here. You can find him on twitter@victorjstiff