Thursday, April 23, 2015

Marvel's Daredevil

This review is spoiler-free, and 100% rave.

Matt Murdock, born and raised in Hell's Kitchen, was blinded in a traffic accident at age nine. Twenty or so years later he's still a blind resident of that neighborhood. He sets up shop as a defense attorney with his law school buddy Foggy Nelson. They plan to do their best to help make their city a better place. But at night, Matt goes the extra mile towards that goal; he dresses up like a modern-day Dread Pirate Roberts and fights crime more literally -- with his fists.

A disability is finally totally convincing as a viable superpower. I kid not.

So blindness isn't technically his superpower, but if it weren't for his loss of sight he never would have had superhuman abilities in his other senses that more than compensate for his loss. He listens to heartbeats to know if someone is lying or not; he can smell cologne several floors up from the wearer; if he tastes copper he knows there's an open wound in the room, and, he can even tell what's around him, down to the smallest detail, by just standing there and letting his senses put together a picture of it. No turning necessary. It's all incredible, yet never unbelievable.

And the perfect vehicle for this realistic, lower-powered hero is a Netflix series. They weren't restricted by a typical TV-14 rating boundary, and the TV-MA result is as dark and violent as is appropriate for a blind vigilante fighting crime in the dark corners of New York City -- very, on both counts. (Besides the violence the show would probably get a PG-13.) Sometimes the gore element goes over the top for my personal taste, but for the most part, this show's action -- brutal as it is -- is the element that set it apart, and into the category of "Best TV Shows I've Ever Had The Privilege Of Adoring." The second episode clinched that title, after the jaw-dropping climactic 3 minute battle that was filmed in one continuous shot. We immediately went back and re-watched that scene.

And then we watched it again. Then we speculated on how it was done. (Here's a pretty interesting article on the scene that confirms our theories, and makes me even more impressed, if that's possible.)

Before this, the one thing DC had on Marvel was its signature darkness, but now, Daredevil's epic, deliciously dark tone makes even the blackest DC offerings look like My Little Pony. Okay, not that much, but it certainly does make Arrow look like a soap opera. Daredevil doesn't skimp on the drama, but the drama is sensible, emotionally relevant and involving, never contrived, and not reused over and over until staleness turns to full-on rot, like many TV dramas like to do.

Really, it feels wrong to compare this show to the likes of Arrow or Agents of SHIELD. As good and fun as those shows can be on their own, they crumble into practically nothing when beside the high quality of Daredevil. While Daredevil can be compared side by side with any Marvel movie, and come away impressively unscathed. There are only two things that give away Daredevil's status as a TV show: the episode format (more like a mini-series in flavor but still), and the camera work -- that is, there are no super expensive shots from cranes or huge CGI shots. Practical effects and practical filming is used, and I wouldn't change that if I could. It has a beautiful, striking, gritty character, with lots of hard lighting, silhouettes, wide shots and immaculately focused close-ups.

In a word; contrast. Beautiful, beautiful, gritty contrast.

Charlie Cox is the portrayer of the black-masked hero, and the subject of those close-ups. Cox's casting was the first thing this show did that piqued my interest, because the only thing I'd seen him in before was Stardust (review). A super fun movie, and his performance in it was charming, but I never considered it to be a role requiring any special talent, so news that he was going to be Daredevil was unexpected. And unexpected is a very good thing.

I was very curious to see if he could pull off a dark and brooding Marvel superhero, and he didn't -- because Matt Murdock is way more than a brooder. Cox goes beyond the typical character mantra I assumed he would take, and did his part to help create a complicated, three-dimensional, film-quality character. He gets ten hours of development instead of two, so things do move along slower, but it doesn't matter; he earns our approval and affection almost immediately, and grows steadily from there. He has all the darkness and intensity that comes with the required "devil inside," but he also has that signature Marvel-hero charm, and a gentle and compassionate side that constantly fights for that perfect balance. He's a fantastically complicated mess of deadly fury, kindness, and idiotic bravery.

The Devil of Hell's Kitchen. He's more a "still waters really do run deep" type than a "I'm supposed to be brooding but really I'm concentrating my handsomeness" type, and is and the newest addition to my favorite superheroes. With new top favorite superhero costume.

Matt's real person, charming and friendly side is most prominent when he's around his friend and business partner Foggy. Foggy is played by Elden Henson, who I recognized as the memorable but mute member of Katniss' propaganda team in Mockingjay. He does even better when he gets to speak. He is the main source of comic relief, which there is more of than you'd think would be welcome considering the dark tone of the show, but it always is welcome, and is never silly or overdone or distracting of the darkness. Foggy and Matt's dynamic together is easy and fun, and watching them work as lawyers is good enough to be its own show, without all the vigilante-type crime fighting.

Then Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page makes the third. Karen is Nelson and Murdock's first client, then she becomes their assistant, and fits right in with the dynamic of the other two. Foggy and Karen may be unaware of Matt's nightlife, but they get their time in the drama too. Toby Leonard Moore, who became an unexpected favorite, and Rosario Dawson and Vondie Curtis-Hall round out the rest of the supporting cast I think needs a mention, though there's never a trace of bad acting to be found in the entire lot.

Matt and Foggy doing lawyer stuffs.
 
With a few exceptions, the episodes seem to split the attention on the hero with attention on the villain, Kingpin, or Wilson Fisk, or just "my employer" to his many servants who are forbidden to speak his name. He is played powerfully, with mesmerizing idiosyncrasy by Vincent D'Onofrio. Most of what is disturbing and overly violent in the show revolves around him. He is one of the more unsettling superhero villains out there, but has a strangely sympathetic aspect to him. Not so much to make you actually sympathize with him, but maybe feel like you could... if he wasn't so incredibly evil and disturbingly creepy.

There's never a trace of bad acting, as I said, but this guy stands outs even more.

Daredevil practically reinvents how to tell a secondary superhero story, and the method is simple; tell it like it's a primary superhero story. They deserve nothing less. Netflix gave this series a chance to be something different, and break out of the mold, and that is exactly what it did -- to memorable, mind-blowing, bar-raising results. So much so that they outdid themselves too early, and slid back to end the show at a lower, more traditionally Marvel point; which was still great, but less exceptionally different than earlier episodes. Credit for the overall outstanding creativeness can and should go to every unique aspect, and every person involved, but mainly I think it should go to the writing.

The writing is what guides the rest of the show, and leaves behind the typical campiness of Marvel and the overly serious melodrama of DC for a bold and sensible seriousness that's not afraid to go deep into the dark, and leave behind some scars. The story it gives us is often daring, with a smart, complex, and steadily paced plot line that doesn't actually feel like it's being made up on the spot for a compelling change. It sets that rich, meticulously dark tone, provides a balance of high-quality comedy for the darkness, and serves us with action sequences that are awesomely jaw-dropping, painfully grueling, and immensely satisfying to watch.

Daredevil is changing things. In the Marvel Universe, and in ours.

Superhero movies and TV shows have been around and popular -- extremely popular -- for a long time now. They're all around us, and it's easy to wonder if we're witnessing the peak of their super-powered high; if they've nearly reached their potential for wonder, exciting action, and real-life moral dilemmas. Daredevil, the first of its kind in a world full of its kind, reminds us that there are many more stories out there like it; that don't fit in a cookie-cutter shape, and are full of involving plots, exciting action, and magnificent heroes, waiting in the unexplored darkness for a chance to save the day.

12 comments:

  1. I seriously love this show. Matt is amazing and ahhhhhh I just love it. The episode lengths make it hard for me to watch with my limited attention span but I do really enjoy it nonetheless. Its funny and action packed and the acting and cinematography is incredible. Also the characters. Love it.

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    1. Me too, I love it, and everything about it. It's incredible! That actually sounds kinda like a good thing -- my family all decided we should only watch one episode a night instead of binge-watching it, and it was really hard! After one was over I just wanted to see the next one! But it was rewarding ultimately, to have it all spread out. You really get to soak it in every little bit of its amazingness. :)

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  2. I don't know what DC is going to do now?I mean all they had was seriousness and a dark real life based stuff and Marvel has taken that as well.I mean this show is simply amazing and the way it portrays the characters and the way storyline is built it is simply binge watch worthy. :)
    I love the costume of Daredevil so excited for more Netflix Marvel shows and Season 2 of Daredevil!

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    1. Hahaha! I know, they're being beat at their own game now! It's almost sad. And this one did the darkness and the realism so amazingly well too! And I was so tempted to binge-watch it. :P

      Which costume do you like -- the black on he wears most of the time, or the red one he gets at the end? I ask because I adore the black one, but actually don't like the red one at all. :P Yes, season 2 is only year or so away! :D

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  3. Honestly, I am still in awe at how utterly amazing Daredevil was. I had high expectations, but not this high. It truly blew me away!

    "Daredevil's epic, deliciously dark tone makes even the blackest DC offerings look like My Little Pony." That part made me laugh, but it is kinda true. DC's darkest is Watchmen, and that movie was meh (I don't recommend), but that is not even part of the main universe. Daredevil, on the other hand, is a game changer. It is redefining comic book adaptations. If I had to rank it compared to the films, it would be right there with Iron Man, The Winter Soldier, Age of Ultron, ect. It is so amazing, and yet it fits into the MCU enough. I can't wait for AKA Jessica Jones, although I am afraid that it is going to disappoint compared to the greatness of Daredevil.

    Excellent review Sarah!

    -James

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    1. Me too dude, me too.

      Haha, alright! But yeah, it is. It's amazing to me how a TV show can possibly be good enough to compare with the those huge-budgeted blockbuster films, but it really, really does! In some ways I would even say it's better than them. It's almost like it's whole new medium for filming comic book stories. Totally, I'm looking forward to it mostly just to see if it can match Daredevil, or if Daredevil was just a fluke or something.

      Thanks a bunch, James!

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  4. "Dread Pirate Roberts" ha. My thoughts exactly. That outfit was perfect. "We immediately went back and re-watched that scene." Very relatable. And that scene was amazing, I hadn't realized that it was one long shot, that's seriously impressive. Now I want to go back and rewatch it. And the writing was great, there were several times when in the middle of a conversation I was afraid it was about to become cliched but every time it didn't. I just finished watching the last episode about an hour ago...I kinda...watched them all in two days. heheh. Wow though I loved the characters and relationships (between Matt, Foggy and Karen especially). And Fink was creepy (my first thought though when I saw that shot of him from the back was "Gru").

    xx

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    1. It's a great look. Comfortable, and always in fashion. ;) It really was perfect though.

      Okay, technically, there were cuts, but they were blended to look like one shot. Like, when the camera changes directions I'd guess. And they also used some tricks to change Cox with his stunt double for that one flip-kick, and then back again -- when he falls out of frame through the doorway. We watched it a couple times to figure out the mechanics of filming it, and it actually made me even more impressed with it! :D

      Yes, I noticed that too! How they seemed to be going cliche and then turned it around back on itself. That was great.

      Woah, two days? Impressive! My family decided we would only watch one a day, which was nice in some ways and pretty torturous in others. :P

      I loved the characters and relationships too. Those three were totally the best, but I also liked Westley a lot too, as kinda a surprise fun side character. :P Haha, yeah, he did look a lot like Gru in that first shot! Except much more evil and scary. Hehe. :D

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    2. Yes, exactly. :D Seriously though there's something about all black and mask and everything that's just mean to be.

      Yeah I read article you mentioned, and actually another, about that scene and then watched it several more times. The other article that talked about it said that it was just one shot, which would be really cool if it was. I love how we just see down the hall the whole time and just hear the noises while the fighting is going on inside the different rooms, and then how everyone comes out and Matt makes his way a little further down the hall and on and on.

      So much self control. ;) I guess there's benefits to watching it all at once and watching it more slowly, for the first you see it more as one long story and for the second you have more time to process the character development and everything. Anyway I've begun re-watching them (because they're amazing and totally worth it), this time more slowly.

      Yes definitely more evil and scary. haha Westley was such an interesting character, we never really see much into his past or learn what motivates him (if I remember correctly) which kept him rather mysterious. I kept wondering how he and Fink got together. He was used so well as a side character.

      Here's to the best avocados at law in all of NYC! :D

      xx

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    3. Yeah, since you can't say for sure if there was cuts, it is cooler to think about it just being one shot. :D But no matter how they didn't it, it was an incredible scene!

      Haha! I guess there's strength in numbers, cause if it were just me I would have gone through them so fast... Totally, there's pluses to both ways. Now I should re-watch them as fast as I can! ;)

      (Spoilers) Yes! He was like, the perfect side character/sidekick for the villain! And because of that, and how mysterious he and his past was I was really surprised when they killed him off. And somehow that made him even more interesting. He was cool before but his dying so abruptly is what made me like him as much as I do... which was a great move on someones part. :P And he had such a great death too. :D

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