Following my look back on 2003’s Daredevil, which I hold in a higher place than most, it is now time to take a look at Netflix’s much-lauded recent reboot.
Since this version has met with such aplomb, let us begin with the best aspects of it.
1. Charlie Freakin' Cox - The rest of the cast does exemplary work as well, and there are moments when looking at Vincent D’Onofrio, despite the obvious size difference between him and Kingpin, one still gets a similarly chilling feeling of seeing a comic character onscreen. I also feel that Scott Glenn deserves an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Appearance for his role as Stick. But for my money, the lead role is the most well-cast
2. The Tone - While the series definitely goes for a similar dark gritty-grit approach that so many have tried since the dawn of Nolan, it takes it deeper than most. I noted that the 2003 film certainly got into the “dark,” “urban” aspect of the character, often through a hard rock soundtrack, which I did enjoy. But the feel here is different. There’s no Nickelback or Fuel, there’s not even a bombastic, heroic score like Nolan’s Dark Knight films. The show definitely follows the stark, bare-bones, just-a-little-shakey-cam style of holier-than-thou Netflix and cable shows. This all might be very different if it were a theatrical film as opposed to a series, but it takes advantage of it’s own medium. Without high-flying CG stunts, it goes full-on with the incredibly-choreographed fight scenes, and uses more budget-friendly artistic ways of filming them, such as the now-famous one-take fight scene in the second episode, things which garner them a lot higher praise.
3. The Writing – Especially in the early episodes, the writing is often impeccably good. The pilot episode manages to do it’s job in introducing all the characters well enough that we become totally invested in them and their struggle, as we continue to be. And that’s what is really at the heart of any show. As I’ll point out, there’s some aspects of the show that go south for me after this point, but as long as you are invested in the characters, and yearn for them to overcome the struggle, everything else becomes secondary.
1. Kingpin – It seems this is one aspect that has garnered a lot of praise, but for me, was the most disappointing. Not only does D’Onofrio do some incredible overacting, but the character’s menacing appeal is done away with for the sake of “humanizing” him.
Take into account that the series spends three episodes building this man up as the formidable big baddie. Then, in our first real introduction, we get to see fumbling over his words trying to ask a girl out. Do not misunderstand me. I am fully aware of the appeal of humanizing your villain. If this scene had come after the scene where he decapitated a man with a car door, it would have been a much better fit. But you only get one chance to make a first impression, and when it came to this big, bad, uber-villain imprinted the wrong sense for the series to me.
What’s more, this oh-poor-bad-guy aspect is never let up on. Showing his personal life, to an extent, is commendable (and the flashbacks to his childhood are downright great), but it grows old, and without even a central scheme of the antagonist to add to the plot, the entire thing just becomes the good guys scrambling to take him down while he has personal troubles. By the end, I was left wanting for a villain. Now, in twelve hours, there are some stand-out scenes of Kingpin being a truly menacing, but they are all very spread out, while hespends most of the series looking like he’s going to cry. Seriously. It’s like constant cry-face.
By the time we get to the final confrontation with Daredevil, when he whines for the last time about his city, I was ready to take the billy club and knock him out myself just to shut him up. Anakin Skywalker has nothing on this guy.
2. The Final Episode – I cannot be the only person out there who realizes how truly insipid this was. Yes, now I am getting to that level of criticism. This was stupid, and was so in so many ways.
It’s perfectly fine right up until Kingpin’s escape. But the police officers all turning on each other and breaking him out is as ridiculous a scene as was ever done in the 2003 film, or really in any Marvel movie to date. It’s that bad. Not only is Fisk’s omniscient universe-spanning power now making Nolan’s Joker look like an idiot, but the whole thing just makes no sense. Dirty cops may work for a mob kingpin under the table, but it’s a little harder for dozens of them to suddenly turn and shoot up half the police force. How exactly are they planning on sweeping that under the rug? Even if the man the boss wasn’t flying off to another country, never to be heard from again? Maybe the reason this part gets under my skin so much is that this had been such a smart series. A smart, mature series that all of a sudden takes a major dive into super hokey-ville.
Then there’s the matter that the big climax of this 12-hour long epic is the hero hunting the villain down when he’s running away. With the hero completely in the role of cat, and the villain the mouse, it takes away a major sense of gravitas that should be present. Critics long ago came up with a word to describe such an ending: Anti-climactic.
Then there’s that costume. That bulky, lunky, clutter of armor. Almost immediately, one can notice how much more rigid Cox’s movements get from here on out, totally losing the fluid, agile feel he’s had throughout the series. There’s no nicer way to put it: The costume sucks.
This last gripe is more of a personal fanboy one, but one that I could not believe the creators got wrong. One of the lynchpins of the comics, (or at least the Frank Miller comics I’ve read, so please tell me if anything has changed) is that Daredevil is just no match for Kingpin in a fight. At all. He’s just too massive and powerful. Every time they confront each other, DD gets his rear end handed to him. This is something that makes their relationship so interesting, as it’s so different from a typical hero/villain rivalry. This is one aspect that I have to say, the ’03 film actually handled much better, and much truer to the comic. Clearly they have to have a fight scene, and the hero has to win, but for crying out loud, did they have to actually start it off with DD literally flipping Kingpin through the air? That was just like saying “up yours, source material!”
As you can see, my praise for the series lies in it’s portrayal of the protagonists and the overall tone and portrayal of DD’s crime-fighting life, while the criticism essentially lies with the antagonist. That makes for a pretty mixed bag. I would say I really enjoyed at least the first half of the series, but it got more frustrating towards the end. But, having it’s characters and it’s style in place, I’m hoping for a great season 2, and to possibly see some more classic characters in the future.
I just hope he drops that disastrous costume!