Dark, gritty, grim and confronting; these words are thrown around a lot, in the comic book world you’re likely to see them attached to the nearest Batman flick. Thankfully this review isn’t about the laughably bad Dark Knight Trilogy, this is darkness done right. Marvel/Netflix’s Daredevil series succeeds were every other attempt at dark comic story telling has failed, in place of distorted vocal grunting, poor camera angles and fight scenes that appear to have been choreographed by a dying walrus, you instead get a throwback to classic street brawling and diverse well-developed characters.
Let’s get one thing straight, Matt Murdock isn’t the typical impossible hero you’re used to, you won’t find any capes, billion dollar companies, magic weapons or extra-terrestrial lasers, Matt is a Hell’s Kitchen local who likes to beat up people traffickers with his bare-hands. The series does require a slight suspension of disbelief, Murdock is a blind man, a blind man who’s remaining senses have overcompensated to the point where he can smell the copper in blood and hear changes in your heart beat from several metres away, but beyond this slight exaggeration what you see is what you get. In particular viewers are treated to a single-shot five minute hallway brawl, it’s not the length of the scene, the brilliant camera work or the sheer complexity of the choreography it’s the emotional ride you’re treated to; this isn’t some garbage one-punch knockout affair you’ll be getting from the latest Fast and the Furious, this is fighting designed by someone who’s actually been there on the street. Everyone involved starts to tire, in fact throughout the series our titular hero gives as good as he gets, even ending up on the wrong side of a Japanese harpoon at one stage.
It’s not just about realistic fighting and a rejection of classic comic tropes, Daredevil successfully brings emotion and conflict into the more normalised setting of court cases and business transactions. Matt Murdock and his partner in law Foggy Nelson tackle the rising number of seemingly connected criminal cases; ranging from evicted tenants, to kidnappings and murder. All the while Nelson and Murdock’s friendship hangs on a thread as Foggy starts to suspect Matt’s constant bruises and late night disappearances have sinister implications. The interpersonal drama between the two serves as a fantastic highlight of the personal demons Murdock must face throughout the series, speaking of personal demons Murdock can often be spotted inside the confessional booth trying his best to find some justification and forgiveness for his actions outside the law.
Beyond the reaches of the law you’ll find the enigmatic Wilson Fisk. Previous attempts to bring Fisk’s character to the big screen resulted in the godawful performance by Michael Clarke Duncan who reduced the character to little more than a large man who liked punching things. This Fisk is different, he still has that affinity to hitting people occasionally bursting into a fit of rage and taking people’s heads off, quite literally, but he’s multidimensional as the series progresses Fisk evolves from a shadowy businessman and criminal mastermind into an isolated man desperate for companionship and a seemingly unreachable goal of a perfect world created in his own image. Fisk’s character is perhaps more complex than Murdock’s at times you feel sympathetic to a man who was quite clearly abused as a child, yet his sociopathic tendencies and his inability to see value in lives other than his own makes him difficult to relate to.
Fisk and Murdocks battle isn’t just about fists and fury; it’s a battle of ideologies; freedom versus control, justice versus vengeance and the story of a blind man with a vision facing off against a mountain encased in fog. Daredevil is a journey across 13 episodes of outstanding filmmaking and brilliant character acting. It puts its partner series Agents of Shield to shame and it doesn’t just thrown down the gauntlet to the other dominant players in the premium cable world; it picks up a bat, carves Netflix into the side and takes it to Game of Thrones’ head. This is the new superhero, the superhero with realistic goals and a combination of seriousness and self-awareness that would make even the staunchest critic of comic book adaptations (looking at you, Ebert) see the light. Marvel has let the devil out and now it’s time for viewers to let the devil in.