Apologies for the hiatus, real life got in the way and this had to take a back seat. Hopefully I can get back into a groove.
Marvel’s Daredevil is the latest TV entry to the MCU, available on Netflix. This means that the whole season is out (and it’s already been renewed for a second season). This means that I can talk the full season with ease. This also means that I will talk about spoilers with impunity, so you’ve been warned.
Given the sprawl of the MCU at this point, it makes sense to just quickly note what I have seen. I’ve seen all the movies up to Avengers, only Guardians in Phase 2 and haven’t seen Agents of Shield. Also, I have basically no knowledge of Daredevil outside of general osmosis and what I remember from the movie.
First, my overall spoiler-free impression of the show is that it’s fine. The show is entertaining enough but has a number of failings. If you like superheroes/the MCU then you’ll probably enjoy this. Also, this show is incredibly violent, so if that’s not your thing then pass. Now, let’s get down to some more meaningful discussion.
Beware of Spoilers ye who enter
The show hits most of the technical elements well. The acting is excellent all around, but Vincent D’onofrio as Wilson Fisk stands out the most. Vincent does something with Fisk that only Tom Hiddleson as Loki has done in the MCU: played a villain that was actually memorable. Our first introduction to him with the juxtaposition of the awkward date immediately followed by decapitating a guy’s head via car door leaves a lasting impression. An impression that is built upon when we learn his back-story and just see him have such presence in every scene he’s in. While everyone else is good, this is a point that I’ll keep coming back to in that these are familiar characters.
The only technical element that isn’t that great is the fight cinematography. While the hallway fight scene in episode 2 stands out, later fight scenes are more of a chore and not terribly engaging. The fight with Nobu stands out as being an utter mess; interweaving it with the rest of the episode just makes it worse. As I mentioned before, this show is incredibly violent; while the actual gore is minimized, these fights are long. By the end of the Russian arc, I was bored more often than not.
One of this show’s big conceits is that Daredevil is a street level hero. This means that instead of Nazis or god-like aliens, the villains are far more mundane, in the order of organized crime. This works as the explanation as to why these heroes don’t overlap(The Avengers can’t handle every mob boss and Daredevil would be tissue paper against the Chitauri) but it isn’t perfect. While the Battle of New York and the reconstruction effort that follows are used as the basis for Fisk building his criminal empire in Hell’s Kitchen, it does produce a certain dissonance.
Daredevil is a weird pastiche of genres and tropes. You have things ranging from Matt’s father throwing fights for the Irish Mob, to ninjas, vigilante crime fighting, the backdrop of the MCU and some weird reporter tropes. While not having the supers of the MCU show up, people seem rather well adjusted to the fact that an alien invasion dropped out of the sky or the Norse gods are real rather well. In regards to weird reporter tropes, both Urich and Fisk deride the Internet and blogging with the show offering no counterpoint, which is weird. In an age where the value of the citizen reporter/social media/random bystander taking video in conjunction with the in-universe detail that essentially every institution is corrupt. This strange political commentary brings me to my main problem with the show.
In so many ways, this show feels empty. While individual episodes drift along, with so much filler, the real victims are the characters and setting. The relationship between Matt, Foggy and Karen is underdeveloped. This is mainly due to the fact that Matt is off doing his own thing while Foggy and Karen are doing their thing. Any sort of payoff that is supposed to happen in the second half of the season isn’t really there. The fact that ‘Nelson V. Murdoch’ needs to spend time developing their relationship while they’re fighting is indicative of this problem. This is a largely contextual problem: Hell’s Kitchen feels empty.
Despite the fact that both Matt and Foggy grew up in the area, they interact with a grand total of three people who have any shared history: the frenemy police contact, Matt’s priest, and the bar that Matt and Foggy helped out. None of these are particularly deep and the scarcity of these relations stand out in a way that makes Matt and Foggy appear to be outsiders. This could have been modified by writing in some more direct history with Elena Cardenas. On one hand, Elena Cardenas is clearly meant to be representative of Hell’s Kitchen as a whole, which is a fine storytelling technique. The problem again, is that Elena is one character who might as well exist in a vacuum. This in turn is a problem because of the show’s politics.
Fisk and his cabal of evil-doers are on some level, meant to be the personification of gentrification. This has the potential of being meaningful but the message is lost in execution. Fisk’s agenda is fairly nebulous and because Hell’s Kitchen isn’t really a place; you don’t really see a fight or care. This presentation is so tepid, so amorphous that you can hardly call it a political statement at all.
If Matt Murdock going on about “his city” and how he needs to protect Hell’s Kitchen then the fight has to have stakes to. Gentrification needs to be shown as the imperialist force that it is. But it’s not, and this brings us to the show’s other political problem. This is something that we’ve seen before so many times before. How different is this from Batman Begins or Arrow? The difference in the main character’s wealth isn’t a meaningful difference and Murdock even does the deeper voice when he’s crime fighting. How different is this from any other lily-white, heteronormative, patriarchal thing that the MCU has produced? The measure of self awareness in calling the usual motivation for these heroes an excuse doesn’t count when it then goes onto play these tropes completely straight. Nor does it count that there are fan theories about how Murdock and Foggy are bi or how Matt and Fisk are autistic. Nor does it erase the fact that the only two minority characters get killed. How many superhero origin stories have we seen at this point? By this point I’d be happy if a new character or team started in medias res just so we have something different. In so many ways, this is a story that we’ve been told before, multiple times.
If you’re looking for a superhero story that’s fine and doesn’t do anything new then Daredevil is right up your alley. It’s fine, not great and not bad.