It’s been 12 years since the (shudder) Daredevil movie, and for some, that’s still not enough recovery time. But Netflix is here to save the day with its new Daredevil show. Quick primer: Matt Murdock is a lawyer from Hell’s Kitchen, New York, who was blinded as a child in a chemical accident which also gave him superhuman senses. He uses his gifts to fight crime as Daredevil. Keeping in mind that a TV show has obvious advantages over a movie in terms of time spent developing certain aspects of the story, let’s take a look at why the new Daredevil rocks. Spoilers ahead.
10. The Show is Focused
It’s very simply laid out: the good guys are Murdock and friends, and the bad guys are Wilson Fisk (that is, the Kingpin, though he never goes by that name in the show) and his literal partners in crime. Fisk wants to rebuild Hell’s Kitchen after “The Incident” (the alien invasion seen in The Avengers movie), but his methods are of the illegal and unsavoury variety, and people suffer because of them. Daredevil wants to stop him. The show doesn’t sag under the weight of an over-abundance of characters, and allows sufficient time for the audience to care about them; even (or especially) Fisk.
9. Subtle Winks to the Comic Book
The show’s primary focus is on Murdock vs. Fisk, but it sets up some other characters nicely. Leland Owlsley is supposed to be The Owl from the comics, but his son will probably take that title. Nobu is very likely a member of The Hand ninja clan. Madame Gao is likely from K’un L’un, which ties into another upcoming Marvel Netflix property, Iron Fist. Matt’s Greek girlfriend from college has to be Elektra. There’s also a sniper on a rooftop with a deck of cards in his bag showing the ace of spades—that’s a Bullseye signature. We even see the ridiculous metal legs of Stilt-Man in Melvin Potter’s (a.k.a. Gladiator) workshop. The show is much more of a procedural crime story than a superhero show, but there are still enough little comic-book gifts to keep fans happy.
8. Daredevil Was Trained
Matt Murdock did not just magically turn his heightened senses into combat mastery, as it was explained in the movie. To be a successful vigilante, he first needed to be able to control his abilities and make them useful, e.g., filtering out the noise of the city so that he can function in daily life, or focusing his hearing to listen in on police bands, or detecting someone’s heartbeat to tell if they’re lying. Next, he needed to be trained as a martial artist. Enter Stick, an old blind sensei who showed Murdock how to do both. We see Murdock training at the gym, and Foggy Nelson (his best friend and business partner) even comments on the fact that of course he’d have to keep training all those years.
7. Grit and Realism
This is a dark, street-level crime show. Murdock is trying to keep his neighbourhood safe by fighting thugs dealing in human trafficking or by busting major drug operations. He also takes several beatings before realizing that he could really use some kind of body armor; just because he has superhuman abilities doesn’t mean he’s invulnerable. He gets beaten and subsequently patched up a lot; some lessons he just has to learn the hard way. The martial arts action is swift, often brutal, and usually not gratuitous. The show also takes risks — it isn’t afraid to punch fans where it hurts, as the events of episode 12 attest to. No character is safe. It’s gutsy, and it pays off.
6. A History of Violence
The superhero comic has violence in its DNA, and Daredevil boils that violence down to bare knuckles smashing bones. The action is presented realistically, and it has consequences. Similarly, Murdock’s penchant for violence is literally in his DNA as well. His father was a boxer, and the show mentions how Murdocks have a stubborn streak and were known for their ability to take a punch—something that is repeatedly shown at great length in this series. Matt walks a fine line between wanting to give out justice and wanting to give out beatings just because he enjoys it (episode two). And that gives the character much more depth and complexity than most.
5. Daredevil’s Catholicism
While the director’s cut of the Ben Affleck film does showcase more in the way of Murdock’s Catholic faith and how that factors into his life as a vigilante, the show really drives it home. He seeks solace and guidance at his church, and he wrestles with the morality of his actions, especially when it comes to deciding whether or not he should kill Fisk. As his priest said: “The question you have to ask yourself is: are you struggling with the fact that you don’t want to kill this man, but have to, or that you don’t have to kill him, but want to?” The religious element of the character never feels shoved down the viewer’s throat; it’s simply a part of who Murdock is, and the show does a great job of exploring it.
4. Karen Page
In the film, she has a few lines and gets the guys coffee… and that’s it. But Page is actually a huge character in the Daredevil mythos — she’s one of the loves of his life. In the world of DD, that usually means you’re doomed, but we’ll get to that in subsequent seasons. Page is resourceful and tenacious, though a little naive, but has her heart in the right place. She also becomes tougher as the season progresses, and hints that there’s quite a bit we don’t know about her in one of the later episodes: “Do you really think this is the first time I’ve shot someone?” All of this is handled nicely by Deborah Ann Woll, whom you might remember from True Blood.
3. Foggy Nelson
It’s a little tough to decide who makes a better Foggy — Jon Favreau in the film or Elden Henson in the show. They’re both funny sidekicks, but Favreau’s Foggy is likely the victim of limited screen time in a movie; he mostly cracks jokes and provides a friendly foil to Murdock. Henson’s Foggy has time to develop. He was a party guy when they met in college; he initially wanted to be a defence attorney for the money; he has great faith in Murdock and is loyal to him… which makes the betrayal and fury he feels when he discovers Murdock’s alter-ego all the worse. There’s an entire episode devoted to that reveal, and that’s where Henson really shines as Nelson. Even Murdock can’t help but cry at the potential loss of his best friend.
2. Wilson Fisk
Vincent D’Onofrio is arguably the best reason to watch the show. His performance as Fisk is nothing short of brilliant. He perfectly captures the character from the books both in sheer physicality and in personality, but makes him much more sympathetic and complex. Fisk’s back story is just as deep as Murdock’s, and his accomplices are right when they accuse him of acting emotionally. Fisk only really lashes out when events involve Vanessa or his mother — the women he loves. Fisk also has clear motivations for doing what he does. He believes his choices, while regrettable to him sometimes, are necessary to further his goals, and he believes that ultimately he’s doing the right thing. When you can make an audience care about the bad guy that much, you’re doing something right in the writer’s room.
1. Daredevil Himself
Two words: Charlie Cox. While Ben Affleck did okay in some scenes in the film, Cox steals the show. He’s more believable as a blind man, and he looks like Murdock (minus the red hair). That helps a lot when it comes to suspending disbelief. It was hard to watch Affleck’s Murdock and not just think it was Affleck in a costume. Cox is far better at conveying the moral torture of the character. As Murdock, he’s soft-spoken and contemplative (okay, brooding), and as Daredevil, he’s intense and brutal. And yet he struggles with what he’s doing, which is what really sells the character. He’s an everyman with extraordinary powers/circumstances, and anyone with a sense of wanting to correct injustices can empathize with him. Affleck had a little too much smirk. And it helps that Cox’s American accent is really convincing. You’d never guess he’s actually English.