Daredevil is the first of five Netflix-backed Marvel series and the first MCU contribution that focuses exclusively on street-level superheroes. Not everyone can be a demi-god or a S.H.I.E.L.D agent; sometimes you have to go the vigilante route to protect your city with whatever skills you have at hand.
Cue the introduction of Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox). He’s charming to a fault and the epitome of adorable. With a balance of cockiness and charisma, Matt attracts people like a moth to a flame. At least when he’s working his day job as a lawyer with his best friend and comic relief, Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson). At night though, he’s the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen, a black eye-mask wearing vigilante who fights with nothing but his fists.
The crucial points of Matt’s backstory are fairly well summarized in the first episode of the show when viewers are dumped right into the scene of the accident during which Matt is blinded. His father finds him on the ground; he’s saved one of his neighbors, but gotten some kind of toxic waste in his eyes during the process. A true everyday hero. Over the course of the episode you also begin to understand the depth of the father/son relationship. Matt’s father struggles to make ends meet as a single father, but always gets back up when he’s taken a hit in the boxing ring (he’s a semi-professional) to set a good example for his son. Meanwhile Matt studies hard to learn brail and take care of his father’s injuries after a fight. Matt will later follow in these same footsteps after his father’s death – not in the ring, but on the streets of Hell’s Kitchen.
Left in ruins after the events of The Avengers, the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of New York City is riddled with crime. Developers are eager to rebuild the area, but of course some are out to do so at great personal financial gain and they’ll use less-than-legal methods to do it. Unforgivable crimes can be committed by ordinary people, and Daredevil reminds us that not every villain in the MCU is an extra-terrestrial threat. In this case, the man behind the curtain goes by the name of Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio). At first he appears to be a classic bully character out for profit, but as the show progresses he’s revealed to be the kind of villain who genuinely believes that his end goals justify his means of getting there. Spoiler alert: Daredevil and his friends disagree.
Matt follows the breadcrumb trail to Fisk bit by bit, both in his day job and as the secret vigilante. His first bit of evidence is provided to him by Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), a former employee of Union Allied, the development company responsible for handling most of the government’s contracts in Hell’s Kitchen. But when Karen accidently receives a file meant for her boss, she exposes a discrepancy in the pension fund, a discrepancy Fisk and his associates are willing to kill to cover up. She’s a victim of Fisk’s atrocities, but uses it as motivation to fight against the rising tide of corruption rather than succumbing to it. Eventually she joins the Nelson and Murdock law practice as a secretary to help expose Fisk along with the help of investigative journalist Ben Urich (Vondie Curtis Hall).
There are definitely a few darker themes in this show. Everything takes place in the shadows, the underground and the dark alleys of Hell’s Kitchen, something that’s accentuated visually by dimmed lighting and strategic filming. Not to mention that Matt’s whole world happens in the dark. He has superior senses of smell and hearing, but since the accident he’s not been able to see a thing. It’s also the most graphically violent of all the Marvel productions thus far. Daredevil isn’t just fighting against drug and trafficking crimes, but also against Wilson Fisk, a man who doesn’t even blink after severing someone’s head between a car door.
Fortunately those themes are contrasted with Matt’s Catholicism. Even before being introduced as a lawyer, the audience witnesses Matt going to confession. Thus from the start we are to understand that his vigilantism isn’t so much a conflict of the law, but rather an internal one between his religious beliefs and his embodiment of the Devil. He knows that what he’s doing is for the greater good, but always wonders how far he’s willing to go to protect his city. After all, crossing the line would mean that he’d become the very thing he’s fighting against. No matter how well intentioned, no man can pass judgment on another’s actions; that’s for God and the law to decide.
Overall I am really enjoying this series. I didn’t know anything about Daredevil before watching it (thus the reason I’m doing a spoiler free review), but I’m nonetheless impressed by the characters, the casting, and Drew Goddard’s writing. It’s entertaining and deep, even if it’s not as deeply connected to the MCU as the feature films and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The only thing I can say for sure that I’d like to see down the road is a cameo by Peter Parker/Spiderman. If you think about it, he’s the one extraordinary powered individual who focuses exclusively on New York City (remember he’s famous there) and it’d be cool to have him and Daredevil meet up sometime, even if it’s just in passing.
Let me know if you’d be interested in a more spoilery reaction to Dardevil. I intended this review to mostly be a set-up piece for anyone on the fence about watching it rather than a comparison to the comic lore (especially since I didn’t previously know anything about Daredevil’s role in the MCU), but I could be persuaded to give some more in depth thoughts on later episodes and character developments.