Season one of Marvel’s Daredevil is a superhero origin story at its core, but, you would have to be as blind as Hell’s Kitchen’s masked defender himself not to see that it is also a story about the ascension of New York’s Kingpin of crime, Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio). Episode 3: Rabbit in a Snowstorm and episode 4: In the Blood both expand the scope of the series, shifting the show’s focus from Daredevil’s street level crime-fighting, to courtroom drama and Machiavellian underworld politics.
For most of the past decade, the Marvel cinematic universe (MCU) has released a string of hits, enjoyed by critics and fans. The one area where even the most successful Marvel films could improve is in the villain department. While the heroes in these movies have famous enemies, most of them don’t leave an impact on any of the stories that warrant revisiting their feud over multiple films. The villain in the first Iron Man film was The Big Lebowski in a metal suit and the villains in Captain America: The Winter Soldier were 80-year old Robert Redford and “Politics”. The MCU doesn’t know how to elevate their villains to Darth Vader status, that’s why it is so exciting to see how Marvel’s Daredevil is handling the ascent of The Kingpin.
For three episodes, the show played their villain card close to the vest. Holding Fisk back until the closing moments of the third episode gave him an air of mystique. Scumbags ranging from drug pushers and human traffickers to Fisk’s unctuous henchmen wouldn’t even dare to utter his name. When the assassin, John Healy (Alex Morf), killed himself rather than face the wrath of Fisk, he confirmed our suspicions —Fisk is a boogeyman, the kind of vengeful demon that scares wicked men into shining lights into dark corners and looking under their beds. Even though Fisk never physically appeared in the show, his malevolence cast a pallor over every scene.
Vincent D’Onofrio is mesmerizing as Wilson Fisk. D’Onofrio slips into the cracks of Fisk’s fractured psyche, playing him as a beast, struggling to maintain the façade of a man. Fisk plunges himself into the world of art and fine wine so that he may suppress his brutish nature. Though Fisk is on his best behaviour during his dinner date, the audience can see right see through his tissue-paper thin veil of humanity. Fisk, hiding behind a crocodile smile and a slick black Armani suit, is a walking apocalypse.
Marvel’s Daredevil continues its unrelenting assault on our ability to eat anything red and squishy while watching the show. The insane levels of violence begins five-minutes into episode 3, as we watch a man get “Red Vipered” (Game of Thrones fans know what I’m talking about). From that point on, the show continues to one up itself in the gore department; Fisk disposes of a henchmen by using his car door as a Vitamix, an assassin commits hara-kiri by driving an iron spike through his face and we see a broken bone tear through a man’s skin. Marvel’s Daredevil’s merciless violence sets it apart from the other Marvel movies, carving out its own niche in the MCU.
The series showrunner’s constructed Marvel’s Daredevil in a way that allows the show’s format to go off in many directions. Daredevil (Charlie Cox) didn’t show up in Rabbit in a Snowstorm until thirty-four minutes into the episode. Instead of the same ol’ spin-kicking and face punching, the series put its versatility on display, offering the audience a Law & Order style legal drama. I didn’t expect to enjoy the court room scenes as much as I did. Matt using his abilities to deal with the crooked jury members put a new spin on a re-hashed TV courtroom scenario.
Aside from Matt’s superhero antics, the show is branching off and following Karen’s (Deborah Ann Woll) quest to bring her former employer down and an investigative journalist’s (Vondie Curtis-Hall) attempt to identify the new power player striking fear into the criminal underworld. Jumping between stories means a little less Daredevil, which will add variety to the show and also keep Matt’s journey to clean up Hell’s Kitchen feeling fresh and exciting.
After watching four episodes of Marvel’s Daredevil, the show’s foundation is beginning to show some cracks. The main cast of characters and the relationships between them just aren’t interesting. The main cast aren’t boring or unlikeable, they’re just not compelling characters whose stories make me want to dig deeper into the show. As of episode four, I’ve noticed that it’s the circumstances that the characters find themselves in rather than the characters themselves that drive the show forward. The exception on the show is Ben Urich. Vondie Curtis-Hall brings a warmth and conviction to the role that demands the audience’s attention. I would like to watch a series about Urich, breaking stories on criminal syndicates in a world littered with super-villains.
Right now Matt Murdock’s character feels flat. Matt is a guy always concerned with heading straight from A to B. He rarely speaks about subjects that do not move the plot forward. If it were not for the flashbacks to his upbringing, we wouldn’t have much reason to root for him as the hero of the show. Matt is at his best when he is with Claire (Rosario Dawson). The duo have a playful “partners in crime” camaraderie between them (Claire’s striking a thug in the head with a bat was the final blow during their parking lot brawl/rescue). Claire is the only one that Matt shares his secret with, freeing him up to reveal a side of himself that is not a lawyer or Daredevil. Matt now needs to go out binge drinking with Foggy (Elden Henson) and Karen. The series has to show us an endearing side of Matt Murdock or else risk falling into the category of generic action television.
I can’t help but feel like Matt and Foggy’s relationship is a sham. Matt often comes off as the smartest guy in the room; he’s always three steps ahead of his partner. After taking the offer from the crooked lawyer, Matt immediately took the lead on the case, dictating the course of events for the rest of the episode while his bewildered partner went along for the ride. At times the relationship comes across more like parent and child and less like partners and “Bros”. Watching Matt apply his mental Ninjitsu to outmanoeuvre Foggy is like watching Agent Kujan get “Keyser Söze’d” in The Usual Suspects.
In its brief run, Marvel’s Daredevil has established itself as a top-notch action series and episodes 3 and 4 continued to prove why. Episode 2, Cut Man’s stunning “Brawl in the Hall” was notable for being one of the rare fight scenes in movies and television to show the hero grow physically fatigued. This show has taken a novel approach to fight scenes, establishing a world where the hero can grow weary and battered.
The show’s madcap savagery was on full display during Matt’s battle with the assassin/John Healy. Their back-alley brawl felt thrilling. The back and forth flow of the action was quick and intense and the combatants felt like they were evenly matched. The whirling dervish of flips and spin-kicks was visually impressive and the impact of every blow carried consequences because this hero requires time to heal (there is a moment when lawyer Matt clutches his side, revealing a re-opened wound).
While not as visually impressive and well choreographed as other confrontations on the show, Daredevil sneaking into the garage, taking out the Russian mob and rescuing Claire was as riveting as the show can get. For everything the scene lacked visually, it made up for with intensity and suspense. Watching Daredevil pick off a room full of armed thugs, one by one, brought out the same joy that I experienced reading comics growing up.
Rabbit in a Snowstorm and In the Blood proved that Marvel’s Daredevil is more than a dark beat’em up. The series stepped outside its comic book show boundaries and spread its creative wings by serving up an entertaining legal drama and introducing a captivating villain. As I venture deeper into the show, I’m beginning to notice some areas where the series needs to improve, namely fleshing out the main cast of characters. Fortunately, there is enough action, mayhem and villainy on display to distract from what’s lacking. Episodes 3 and 4 reveal that Marvel’s Daredevil has ambitions that extend beyond being a typical superhero beat’em up type of show. While no other aspect of the show is as strong has its comic book style action, the weaker elements of the show join together in a Voltron style merge, elevating Marvel’s Daredevil to a program that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Victor Stiff is a Toronto based writer and nerd culture curator who may have an unhealthy relationship with chocolate milk. Victor is covering Daredevil season one. Read his review about episode 1 here and episode 2 here. You can find him on twitter@victorjstiff