In the months leading up to the launch of Marvel's debut on Netflix, I was admittedly underwhelmed by what I had seen. The casting left me uncertain (until Scott Glenn's reveal as Stick); the teasers were extra-teasy (and not in a good way); and that suit... Ugh!
As Daredevil unfolded across almost 13 hours, however, I grew to appreciate the series. It's a genuine noir storyline that represents a departure from the super-powered antics of the Avengers and the often campy Agents of SHIELD. It's a sign of good things to come for the remaining three Netflix efforts.
This is an overall review of the entire story arc and not a spoiler-filled breakdown of each episode. I realize that most folks did not devote their weekend to the show and encourage people to jump in at their leisure.
First off, let's tackle one of my initial concerns, casting. I have to say I'm still not sold on Charlie Cox. He's credible in his Daredevil persona (and his stunt double is AMAZING), but I was consistently distracted by Matt Murdock's puffy shock of hair. The kid who played young Matt felt wrong too. HOWEVER, after seeing some of his training sessions with Stick, I can forgive his jarring acting style. Rounding out the Murdock clan is Matt's dad. This guy really didn't work for me. Jack is a punch-drunk palooka, but John Patrick Hayden plays him as a quasi-moron. Still, anyone familiar with the Daredevil origin story knows that we don't see very much of him.
I was much more impressed with series regular Debrorah Ann Woll as Karen Page. Woll is an earnest actor and she credibly balances a tenuous attraction to BOTH of her erstwhile employers, while also serving as the occasional damsel in distress. Woll's Page actually drives a lot of the action and has a particularly strong arc with Ben Urich (played with a world-weary intensity by Vondie Curtis Hall).
Comic relief (and another bad haircut) are delivered by Elden Henson as Foggy Nelson. Nelson has a challenging job here. As the quintessential sidekick, he plays Foggy as mostly hapless, but in later episodes, reveals a surprising amount of depth. Given that Jon Favreau played the role opposite Ben Affleck, I can't exactly complain at the casting of the young character actor, but neither of the two male leads exactly clicked for me.
Rounding out the "white hats," we have Claire Temple, played by Rosario Dawson. I'm a fan and she delivered. In the comics, Claire is a love interest for Luke Cage, so it's POSSIBLE that she will be a bridge for the series. They've blended her with the Night Nurse, so I'm looking forward to seeing her tend to wounds with Iron Fist and Luke Cage (although his impenetrable skin should make him a pretty easy patient).
Wilson Fisk is obviously the big bad and its hard to go wrong with Vincent D'Onofrio playing a big, brooding sociopath. D'Onofrio's Fisk is a bit more vulnerable than Michael Clark Duncan's portrayal, but he shines in his moments of explosive fury. We get a glimpse of his tragic backstory and gain insight into the impulses that motivate his consolidation of power in New York City. The comics always talked about Kingpin's agility, but his physique was drawn so large it was always tough for me to imagine. D'Onofrio's fight sequences are amazing and in those moments, it's easy to see why he commanded such fear from his minions.
We are also introduced into his love interest, Vanessa. Played with a cool elegance by Ayelet Zurer, it's easy to see how Fisk falls for her. More interesting is how she overcomes her initial fascination (and subsequent revulsion) to become equally enthralled by Fisk's enigmatic complexity. Woe to anyone who seeks to harm the love of Fisk's life.
I won't go into specifics, but there are some Game of Thrones level shocker deaths in these episodes. One in particular had me gasp. You'll see what I mean when it happens.
Plotwise, the 13 episodes chronicle the cat and mouse relationship between Fisk's behind the scenes mastermind, his legions of criminal partners and pawns, Nelson and Murdock's legal maneuvers, Karen Page's own vendetta, Ben Urich's investigative journalism and, of course Daredevil's efforts to bring Kingpin to justice. We also get the teensiest of peeks into the Hand's ninja devil magic and Matt's relationship with Stick.
These sequences are about 50/50 current time and flashback. Scott Glenn is FLIPPING AWESOME as Stick. He's arguably the most spot on casting in the whole series and I would have welcomed more screen time for him. There's a nice set-up for the second season, so we'll likely see a bit more of him then.
Now's the time to talk about that outfit. It's basically a compression shirt, which means NO PROTECTION AT ALL. Claire mentions body armor twice in the course of her relationship with Matt. His weak complaint is that it would slow him down. REALLY, Matt? Even shin guards would help! The super suit doesn't make its appearance until episode 13... and it's just not right. From a distance, it looks fine, but that helmet! The mask actually looked a lot better. On the one hand, the "magic science fabric" clearly offers Daredevil some much needed protection, but the horns feel completely out of touch with everything we've come to know about Matt and his mission during the series.
It's to be expected that some episodes are slower than others, but Daredevil knots together a surprisingly entertaining yarn. Rock-solid fighting sequences, credible snippets of genuine romance, over-the-top brutality, layers of deception, betrayal and shocking revelations...
In many ways it plays a lot like Marvel's version of Cinemax's neo-noir "Banshee." In fact, I think I would like Daredevil a LOT more if that series' lead were playing Matt Murdock for Netflix. Still, I have to say I enjoyed it more than recent episodes of "Agents of SHIELD." It feels grounded in reality, while making explicit references to include Daredevil into the same New York that was destroyed during the Avengers.
I give Daredevil a solid B+. It's well worth the time for people seeking a superhero fix in anticipation of a certain little May release.