Ali Taimur Shabbir considers the appeal of the hit Netflix superhero show
With the current oversaturation of the TV series market, it can be difficult to find a show that you particularly like, let alone one you want to devote time to and follow. There are, of course, the heavy hitters: Game Of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Narcos, Sherlock and so on. But among the niche shows, among your Penny Dreadfuls and your iZombies, lies a gem: Daredevil.
For the comic-savvy among us, it can be hard to forget Ben Affleck’s disastrous rendition of the character that was released by New Regency Productions in 2003. This connection between the film and its studio is baffling, considering that this is the very same company which produced the Oscar-winning films 12 Years A Slave and Birdman. And yet Daredevil the film was so poorly received that the criticism directed at it took 11 years to die down, after which Marvel president Kevin Feige recruited Drew Goddard, of The Cabin In The Woods fame, to resurrect the character for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As with most things MCU, the Midas touch quickly showed – for the most part.
If there were a checklist created for a great action TV show, Daredevil would tick most boxes, and yet is let down in other aspects. First, the positives: A fantastic, multi-dimensional protagonist? Check. Excellent technical camerawork and cinematography? Check. Airtight writing, action sequences and casting? Check.
Consider this: Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) is a blind lawyer by day and Hell’s Kitchen crime fighter by night, with a prominent religious streak that often has him torn between what is necessary and what is right. With no real superpowers to speak of, he relies on his four remaining enhanced senses to fight crime. Most people would agree that this premise is a superior alternative to that of billionaire archers (inexplicable) and socially awkward twenty-somethings with superspeed (one-dimensional). Cox and the writing team exploit this gap in the market and do well to explore each trait Daredevil possesses.
His physicality, for one, often comes to the fore in action sequences. These shots are of a calibre so high that only their counterparts from 2001’s The Matrix can provide any meaningful comparison. But where The Matrix was extravagant and flamboyant, Daredevil opts for realism that is a breath of fresh air. Murdock doesn’t end the first fight triumphant on his feet. Instead, he collapses on the pavement, exhausted from fighting an equally skilled thug. Murdock is beaten, cut and pulverised throughout the first season, because he is new to his vigilante work. The series doesn’t try to explain his quasi-superpowers, nor even explicitly acknowledges them; they’re just there. Not many shows have the courage to challenge their protagonists quite like Daredevil does.
For that matter, not many series enjoy consistently astonishing camerawork either. There is one sequence in particular that belongs in the upper echelons of movie greatness, a continuous shot of a fight from the second episode. The fight itself is a no-nonsense slugfest that shuns silly pirouettes and backflips that have become a hallmark of action choreography. What really makes it shine, however, is the otherworldly technical skill with which it is captured on camera. Allied with this technical proficiency is a new take on what ought to be the tone of a superhero series. Let this be clear: Daredevil is gritty and violent, a far cry from similar TV shows (we’re looking at you, Flash). Chief villain Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) anchors the tone well. Witnessing his metamorphosis from troubled criminal to cold-hearted killer is also a thrilling aspect of the show.
However, as Cox and D’Onofrio burn the brightest, the rest of the cast suffers. Murdock’s legal partner Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) seems to exist only to fire off one-liners that are bearable at best and cringe-worthy at their worst. Reporter Ben Urich (Vondie Curtis-Hall) is consistently portrayed as a fearless and important character, but everything happens to him, not because of him. He really does nothing of note. Pacing is also an issue in some episodes, as characters try to sustain scenes purely through dialogue, but it simply doesn’t exude the same magnetism that made Game of Thrones the master of this type of footage.
Regardless, a 98% approval rating from review website Rotten Tomatoes does not come without merit. Superhero fan or not, if you’re looking for a brilliant TV show, Daredevil should be a top pick.
Featured image credit: Official Daredevil poster