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Saturday, 2 May 2015

A series without fear: reflections on Daredevil

I've just finished watching the new Netflix series, Daredevil, and thought it'd be good to review and share some thoughts on it. Take this as a (minor) spoiler alert, so don't read on if your worried about any reveals.

Attempts to get DD onto the screen have had a chequered past. Although a popular character, especially following the seminal Miller era (early 80s) his first TV appearance was during The Trial of the Incredible Hulk ( 1989 ). I remember watching this and liking DDs different costume (actually similar to one in TV series).

The next attempt was Ben Affleck's version in 2003, directed by Mark Stephen Johnson (who also did Elektra and Ghost Rider). Although panned, I did quite enjoy a lot of it- Jennifer Garner's Elektra was cool, Colin Farrell was funny as Bullseye, and Michael Clarke Duncan's Kingpin was very good.
But fans generally disliked it, and indeed capturing the comic's balance of noir, religion, superhero dudes, and realism is a tricky business.

And the new Daredevil seems to be getting it right. It comes with good geek pedigree: Drew Goddard (Buffy, Angel, Alias, Lost, Cabin in the Woods) kicked it off then handed over to Steven DeKnight (Buffy, Smallville, Angel, Dollshouse and-er-Spartacus). The writers have quite clearly taken the noir style of the seminal Miller era Daredevil- the original run in which Elektra was developed and DD starting chucking folk off buildings; the Born Again run; and the Mini-series Man Without Fear. It's fair to say Frank Miller's work lends itself to films (Sin City, 300) and the writers create a conflicted, unsettling almost anti- hero in Daredevil.

To say it is violent is an understatement. It's probably secondary only to Watchmen (and I suppose Kick Ass) in its visceral violence. Mostly the violence is fair enough- the fist fights are bone crunchingly spot on, lots of martial arts ( that fit with the origin in which his sensei, Stick, teaches him) and bloodied faces. There are times when it veers into the excessive: a murder with a bowling ball in part 3; the Kingpin, well, in about a dozen places (crushing someone's head repeatedly in a car door; hammering to death; battering a minion etc); knife through throat; impaling own head on spikes; fair bit of blood spatter.

Has it gone too far in its pitch to the more mature audience? Tricky. Certainly in places it fits with the mood and plot, but I'm not certain it's vital to the overall series. We didn't need the sound of a crushing skull and blood running in streams from the underside of a car to know what the Kingpin had done. And Vincent d' Onofrio is good enough to create a sense of tension and dread when he's on screen without the gore.
And Vincent really is the star of the series. His acting is incredible and the build up of Fisk's story and characterisation is great- powerful scenes, palpable tension, a surprisingly awkward and sweet start to his romance with Vanessa. Just fab. They'll do well to maintain the quality with the other sub plots in series 2.

The evolution of the story, the origin and childhood scenes, the developments with Foggy are also excellently written. I can honestly say it didn't bore me at all. The episode with Stick felt a slight speed bump in the series, but it was needed to embellish the origin and set up plots for series 2 (I assume with The Hand, and Elektra).

The tie ins with the rest of the Marvel Universe are subtle, in a similar vein to SHIELD, with references to the attack on New York in Avengers1, and jokes about guys in tin suits, or with big hammers. 
And the costume? I sort of got used to the ninja get up, but if they make it more like the film's suit then I'll be happier.

So, all in all, definitely recommended. An excellent series and representation of the comic. Plenty of plot strands for series 2, and linked series such as Jessica Jones, Power Man, Iron Fist etc. hopefully they'll be a bit more accessible for the younger viewers, with less violence, but I suspect not. And, what the hey, maybe it was time for superheroes for grown ups?

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