Now that a good portion of the “major” Marvel & DC characters have had at least one movie to call their own, we’re dealing with sort of a second renaissance on the small screen. Networks are loaded with new renditions of Batman, Green Arrow, The Flash, impressive spin-offs like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter, and even a few wild cards like Powers.
So now it’s Netflix’s turn to get a spin on the superhero wheel, and while they seem to have some pretty impressive plans for the future (including AKA Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and The Defenders!), their first Marvel series out of the gate is Daredevil. Yes, the blind lawyer/acrobatic superhero who was played by Ben Affleck in the generally forgettable 2003 movie.
And based only on the first three episodes of Netflix’s inaugural Marvel series, it sure seems like everyone involved is intent on giving this widely-admired superhero his cinematic due. And yes, I used “cinematic” to describe a TV program. That was not unintentional. Whoever decided that Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods) was the right guy to resurrect this superhero is quite simply good at their job.
Episode 1: Into the Ring
In some ways a conventional “pilot” episode, but then in other ways… not. Of course we get our requisite introductions to visually-impaired attorney Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) and his black-masked, justice-seeking “daredevil” of an alter ego; his loyal pal and legal partner Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson), and Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), a desperate young woman who is wrongfully accused of murder but quickly becomes close friends with her new-found legal saviors. Most of the episode is (thankfully) dedicated to these three characters, which gives us ample time to get acquainted with the key heroes.
And then we meet a whole bunch of internationally diverse villains, all of whom will doubtlessly assert themselves in more colorful fashion as the series goes on. For now we’re mainly focused on a sleazy gang of human traffickers and the ominous right-hand man of a crime lord so intimidating that none of the crooks, henchmen, or thugs will even mention his name aloud. Fans of the larger Marvel movie mythology will surely appreciate the few sly nods to a certain “incident” that has destroyed large portions of New York City, while those who are content to just focus on Daredevil alone will find a lot to enjoy in the series’ enjoyably gritty Hell’s Kitchen locations.
Plus the episode ends with a great character montage, a pretty kick-ass alleyway brawl, and I think I’m already in love with the musical score.
Episode 2: Cut Man
If episode 1 did a crisp and efficient job of building a new world for an old superhero, then episode 2 does an equally impressive job of covering three distinct subplots — and then closing with an epic bang. The “A” story focuses on Matt as he recovers from a brutal beating — and the new friend who nurses him back to health… and then helps him track down some vile kid-snatchers. (That new-pal-Claire is played by the flawless Rosario Dawson means she’s awesome. Period. I expect big things from Claire.)
The “B” story is a great piece of character building between Mr. Henson (as Foggy) and Ms. Woll (as Karen) as he helps her overcome a few well-earned fears, and she helps him get really drunk. When you have 13 episodes to work with, not everything has to be entirely plot-driven, and divergences like this “Karen & Foggy” subplot bode well for future episodes.
The third narrative spoke in this episode is a great collection of flashback sequences in which young Matt and his lovable but highly unlucky boxer of a father struggle to remain honest in a very dishonest neighborhood. Obviously a superhero movie/TV series has to have its “origin story,” and it sure feels like this one is getting off on the right foot.
Oh. And then the episode closes with a 6-minute, single-take action sequence that’s nothing short of amazing. Clearly inspired by the hallway battle in Oldboy (and probably a little dash of The Raid, too), this is a fight scene you’ll want to rewind and re-savor immediately. (I know I sure did.)
Episode 3: Rabbit in a Snowstorm
Almost as if in response to the wildly kinetic action sequence the closed the previous episode, “Rabbit in a Snowstorm” seems willfully chatty, deliberate, and laid-back. Aside from a pair of very cool action bits that bookend the episode, this is all talk, all courtroom drama, and all character(s) — and that’s not meant as a complaint. If Daredevil has made one thing clear by now, it’s that Hell’s Kitchen has no shortage of thugs, scumbags, underlings, and crime bosses. And now it’s time to start moving all the pieces around.
We’ve already established that Matt cannot see, and that all of his other senses are almost supernaturally advanced — so now we get to see how he uses those powers during his day job. And while nobody loves wall-to-wall action like yours truly, it’s highly amusing to watch an attorney who can predict what a juror will do based solely on how quickly her heart is beating. (Not all super powers involve fighting, you know!) Also it seems like Matt’s skills as a lawyer will actually have a bearing on the series’ plot, and not act as just a time-filler between moments of action-heavy Daredevilry. That’s a nice touch.
Meanwhile, Karen discovers even more dirt about her former employers; a veteran reporter starts digging up some dangerous dirt; and all those awful bad guys keep making fresh plans. ( I think I hate Leland the most out of all the villains, mainly because (as any Shawshank fan can tell you) nobody plays “despicable” like Bob Gunton.
I could go on and on, really. It’s only three episodes, but there’s simply a lot to like here, and I have to save some energy for the next three episodes. Bonus praise: so far there’s been no sign of that damn “supervillain of the week” template, and I don’t really think it’s going to become an issue. Whew.