Thursday, 14 May 2015

Better the Devil

Like the character itself, Netflix's Daredevil series triumphs
against all odds.

I wish I knew who to credit with this striking graphic, but it certainly wasn't me.

 I'll be honest, I didn't really mind Fox's 2003 film version of Daredevil.  It seemed to be well cast and well-meaning, but was just a passing blip on everyone's sonar-sense. And when it is remembered at all it seems to be with some degree of derision.

When Marvel recently announced that Daredevil was coming to the small screen I might have rolled my eyes.  I assumed that getting a television series while all his Marvel stablemates had mega-budget cinema outings was the equivalent of being put in the 'naughty corner', and a publicity still of an awkward-looking Charlie Cox in an ill-fitting costume did little to allay my misgivings.  Then the somewhat overcooked Age of Ultron lowered my Marvel-lous expectations even further.

But I had the opportunity to watch the Daredevil series recently, so out of curiosity gave the first episode a look.  I was reasonably entertained but a little ambivalent, so I think it might have been the fascinating title sequence alone which encouraged me to try episode two.

And by the end of this second part I was completely hooked - I'd never seen anything like it before.  It's a very raw and uncompromising hour of TV, but its unflinching narrative serves a purpose.  Four major characters are given more definition than many other shows can give in weeks and our hero, although barely able to stand, shows a determination which transcends this genre.  What he manages to achieve at the end of the episode isn't merely heroics for their own sake, but an unsettling demonstration of inhuman determination and mind-over-lascerated matter.  I'll admit it, the bravura six-minute continuous-shot brawl in the corridor is a very guilty pleasure, but by the end you are 100% behind Matt Murdoch.

Murdoch is forever making the excuse of walking into a door to explain his injuries.

From this point in the series just continues getting better. Charlie Cox  as Murdoch is extremely charismatic despite the fact that his eyes are rarely seen, and Vincent D'Onofrio as his nemesis Wilson Fisk is equally terrifying in both his serene and berserker moments.  I'm not referring to them as Daredevil or Kingpin because the programme doesn't either (not until the very final moments for DD, at least).

Don't call him 'slap-head'...

Comic adaptations work best when they manage to present their subject in a way that seems completely fresh.  It must be too easy to fall into the same short-hand which comics use, where characters are so often well-worn archetypes or placeholder symbols; but this series gives us a familiar Marvel character who isn't named or even seen in costume until the last scenes of the final episode, and the production is stronger for it.

Such expectations are confounded from the beginning. Fisk is seen to suffer a crisis of the soul which is not directly brought about by our hero, and then given a touching romance plot-line which villains would seldom be granted anywhere else.  Murdoch spends an episode and a half recovering from a near-fatal beating, during which time his best friend abandons him.

And yes, on a baser level the action is great.  The fight choreography is like nothing I've ever seen before, rapid, gymnastic and convincing for someone who is using all his senses except sight.
I've been told that this series is attempting to steal some of DCs thunder because of similarities to Arrow, repeating many of the beats and stylings of that show.  I didn't last past the pilot of that one so can't judge, but for that reason I'm guessing Daredevil may not appeal to Arrow fans.  A shame if so: I honestly struggle to name one gripe about this vibrant and gritty new addition to Marvel's successful adaptations (a second series was greenlit very soon after Daredevil's debut).

Well, maybe one.. I'm still not entirely sure about that suit.  But even that says a lot about this programme.  Many superhero adaptations draw audiences who just want to see the main character in costume - Daredevil might be the first which actually delivers more without it.

It might take some getting used to, but this suit really is for his own good.

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