Friday, April 17, 2015

Daredevil Season 1 review (spoiler free!)

Daredevil is the first of what will be at least five Marvel shows being produced by Netflix, all set in the same shared universe as the Marvel Studios movies, as well as their other shows, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter. The show follows attorney Matt Murdock, who was blinded as a child in an accident involving radioactive waste that increased the sharpness of his remaining senses to superhuman levels. Murdock and his law partner Franklin 'Foggy' Nelson struggle to establish their firm while trying to expose Wilson Fisk as the Kingpin of the New York underworld.

Daredevil adheres fairly closely to its source material, with pretty much all the cast members being well chosen for their characters. Charlie Cox makes a great Matt Murdock, convincingly portraying both his blindness and his enhanced senses, and Elden Hanson provides a perfect level of comic relief as Foggy Nelson. Deborah Ann Woll's Karen Page feels a bit less concretely conceived, but doesn't do a bad job. Even the actors that don't resemble their comic counterparts as closely, specifically Vondie Curtis-Hall as reporter Ben Urich and Bob Gunton as Leland Owlsley, surprised me with how well their characters worked in the show.

Scott Glenn as Stick became my favorite character almost as soon as he appeared. His abrasive demeanor and borderline-abusive treatment of Matt immediately altered the entire dynamic of the show and gave a very different feel to his episode. I hope he returns in future seasons.

My only complaint character-wise is that, in an attempt to make him more sympathetic, Vincent D'Onofrio's Wilson Fisk, while still well cast, doesn't quite manage to feel like the big villain he is made out to be. He seems to be the head crime lord by default, without actually doing anything to warrant that position, and his speeches about trying to help the city don't make a lot of sense.

Although the focus is on the fight against Fisk, it shifts at times to other adversaries, which tend to be more interesting. In particular, I liked the episodes focusing on the Japanese side of things, which did a perfect job of playing with the supernatural elements associated with those comics without ever bringing in anything overtly supernatural. Once the story narrows everything down to Fisk toward the end, it feels a bit underwhelming compared to what came before.

There are lots of references to both the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, as well as the comics, scattered throughout the series, but thankfully they are handled in a way that keeps them from feeling out of place or distracting. In fact, outside of the show being set in the aftermath of the destruction of New York at the end of Avengers, viewers unfamiliar with the comics or other movies would probably think most of them were just part of the show.

The entire show keeps a serious and realistic tone that fits the story it tells, but the story sometimes feels like it lacks the forward momentum it thinks it has. There are lots of subplots with different characters that don't always go somewhere, but overall things work fairly well.

Things I liked about Daredevil:

The cast is great.

The exploration of Matt Murdock's background and character was very effective.

The tone is perfect.

The show sticks to the comics and doesn't shy away from the more violent aspects of the storyline.

The discussion of the morality of different characters' actions. I can't help wishing there was more of that. Characters would sometimes bring up interesting points that would be forgotten by the end of the scene. It's hard to complain about though, I'm just glad it was there at all.

The biggest and best surprise for me was that there is almost no CGI in the entire show.

Things I didn't like about Daredevil:

The constant push to get Daredevil into his red costume. We already know it's going to happen (they made it the cover image), we don't need every single character to tell him that his black costume is "dumb" or whatever (personally, I preferred the black). It gets worse than that, but I won't spoil it.

There is one particular scene where Matt needs to move across the rooftops quickly, but he keeps executing pointless flips and flashy moves as he goes. It comes out of nowhere and doesn't fit in with his character or the situation. Out of the entire show, this one scene was the only one that really bothered me. It was painful.

Fisk felt like just another criminal to be taken down, not the big ringleader he was supposed to be. 

The conclusion of the whole Fisk storyline was a bit anticlimactic. After how long it took to get there, it felt like it needed something more.

Occasional questionable dialog. Especially at the very end of the last episode. Way to blow things at the very end.

One aspect I'm torn on is the fight scenes. I appreciated the fact that they were almost certainly the most realistic fight scenes in a superhero movie or show so far, and the homage to the Oldboy hallway fight in episode two was great. But, in typical modern style, most of the others are shot with the camera too close to clearly see what is going on. It's not as bad as in a Christopher Nolan movie, but it could easily be better.

All in all, the first season of Daredevil is a very promising start for Marvel's Netflix series that also works well as a self-contained story. It definitely starts out stronger than it finishes, with its highest points somewhere in the middle, but the characters and tone are almost perfect. This is about as good a Daredevil show as could be hoped for, and the willingness to approach things from a darker angle appropriate to the character helps elevate it from the movies that try to please everyone.