Netflix “Daredevil” series may be the best small-screen addition yet
Something unprecedented is happening in American entertainment. A universe is being built, across multiple platforms, in multiple mediums, and nearly every incarnation is good. The universe isn’t new; it’s existed in print for decades, meaning there are decades of stories to draw from, and its own interlinked stories have always been a major draw for core readers.
But never before has the American public seen this type of cooperation in distribution. Marvel Entertainment is re-imagining how stories are told in the modern world.
It helps that Marvel Entertainment’s parent company is Disney. In this one instance, it’s hard to argue that the giant media conglomerate is responsible for stifling creativity. Instead, individual visions seem to be encouraged and supported.
From major blockbusters to network television to online platforms, Marvel Entertainment has become an unmatched force, spreading across the media environment and reaching viewers in a way never before seen.
There is, of course, a built-in audience for the material. Comic book lovers will see anything released about their favorite characters. But because of the choices made from the top down, and because of how carefully these stories are interlocked, Marvel Entertainment is reaching new viewers and creating new fans—fans with little background knowledge of the lesser-known characters.
Marvel’s most recent series, “Daredevil,” has just been released on Netflix and is likely the company’s best incarnation of serialized entertainment.
The “Daredevil” property was nearly ruined in 2003 with the much-derided film starring Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner. Audiences rejected the premise of a blind superhero due to a poor script and a backlash over Affleck’s status as Hollywood star. Affleck, much like the hero he played, has battled back and shown his talents in the face of an undeserved sneer, but the “Daredevil” character seemed unlikely to be revisited.
The character as written in the comics, particularly under the direction of Frank Miller, was too dark for the flashy world of comic book movies but too unfamiliar for a gritty, “Batman”-style reboot. That it found a home as a Netflix original series is a stroke of brilliance by the Marvel team.
Marvel’s first step into the world of the small screen was with “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” which was severely lacking in superheroes during its first season, although it managed to pull together after a clever tie-in with “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and has been stronger since.
The second series, “Agent Carter,” suffers from some of the same drawbacks found in “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”—namely, a strong lack of superhero stories. “Daredevil” doesn’t have that problem. It is, in fact, everything that it should be.
It doesn’t have to overcome the notes of a network censor, is free to explore the world at its own pace, without interruption by pharmaceutical companies, and is therefore able to be as gritty and violent as a place like “Hell’s Kitchen” requires.
The series continues in the continuity set out by the other Marvel properties. “Hell’s Kitchen” is being restored after the alien attack led on New York by Loki in “The Avengers.” It’s fascinating to think that a show this violent and dark exists in the same universe as a talking raccoon.
Blind lawyer Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) has taken it upon himself to clean up the crime-riddled streets of Manhattan in the wake of this destruction, one man battling alone against the underworld.
This is, of course, standard comic book fare.
However, the fight sequences are better than any television show I’ve seen. Not only that, but the show explores the very real consequences of vigilante justice. Murdock is beaten relentlessly, on more than one occasion to the edge of death, as any real human would be when taking on 11 criminals at a time.
The series is an origin story, which might be tiring for some viewers, but nevertheless is necessary for the tale being told. The journey towards the ultimate creation of Daredevil the hero unfolds over the course of the season without becoming tedious or repetitive.
As with all comic books, the hero must be set against an appropriate antagonist. “Daredevil” uses famed Marvel villain Wilson Fisk, aka “The Kingpin,” and creates a powerful, human incarnation of the character. Much of the credit for that goes to the outstanding Vincent D’Onofrio, who is both terrifying and sympathetic, when it might have been easier to create a lumbering caricature.
The cast is rounded out by Deborah Ann Woll and Rosario Dawson, proving once again that the Netflix platform is more than capable of capturing the talents of well-known Hollywood stars.
Much can be said about the overexposure of superhero properties in the entertainment industry. These characters are popular and there is always the risk of alienating non-comic book fan viewers. But when the stories are told this well, the complaints should fall by the wayside.
As Marvel continues its slow onslaught towards a superhero singularity, anyone with an interest in good stories should be more than happy to be in its path.