The landscape of superhero films has changed a lot in the past few years. Not only are more comic book characters making the leap to the silver screen than ever before, but they now interconnect with one another just as they do on the very comic book pages they leapt from. The latest specimen in the modern era of superhero films, the Netflix series “Daredevil”, combines a legal thriller with one of Isaac Florentine’s “Ninja” films, the end result being one of the best entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date!
The role of The Man Without Fear is embodied by Charlie Cox, who perfectly makes Matt Murdock into a soft-spoken and kind-hearted man in his civilian identity while a gravity-defying shadow warrior with fists of fury in his alter ego. Elden Henson portrays Matt’s good friend and fellow attorney Franklin “Foggy” Nelson, while Deborah Ann Woll plays Karen Page, who becomes a close ally of our hero. Rosario Dawson and Vondie Curtis-Hall step into the role of two more of Matt’s trusted allies, nurse Claire Temple and journalist Ben Urich, while Scott Glenn plays Matt’s belligerent martial arts mentor, Stick. Rounding out the cast is Bob Gunton in the role of Leland Owlsey and Ayelet Zurer as Vanessa Marianna, who respectively become an accomplice and a lover to the villain of the series, Wilson Fisk, aka “The Kingpin”, a shadowy businessman and entrepreneur with a blazing, unpredictable temper played by Vincent D’Onofio.
Following the climactic Manhattan battle of “The Avengers”, a mysterious entrepreneur named Wilson Fisk presents himself to the media as a Good Samaritan using his vast resources to repair the damage done to Hell’s Kitchen. However, attorney Matt Murdock can sense that Fisk has an ulterior motive. As a child, Matt’s life changed forever the day he was blinded by toxic chemicals. Despite losing his vision, his remaining four senses were heightened to superhuman levels far beyond those of a sighted person, especially his sense of hearing, which transformed into a kind of radar sense that more than compensates for his blindness. By day, he runs the unremarkable legal firm Nelson and Murdock with his best friend, Foggy, but Matt knows that his legal practice will not be enough to uncover the truth behind Fisk’s activities, and that must he don his alter-ego – the masked vigilante who rights wrongs by night, whom the media have come to dub “The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen”.
Like “Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist”, “Daredevil” is built in such a way that its incredibly easy for even die-hard fans to forget that they’re seeing an adapted work, but without the series going out of its way to hide its origins either.
Each episode feels like a harmonious blend of “Law and Order” and “Ninja II: Shadow of a Tear” that just happens to tie into “The Avengers” – whoever said you can’t please everyone needs to talk to the writers of this show! The series also charts its own course from other instalments of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with how dark and surprisingly violent it is. It has more in common with DC’s “Arrow” than it does with Marvel’s “Iron Man”, but that’s perfectly fitting for its title character.
There’s a lot more restraint given to the depiction of Matt’s super senses than in the 2003 “Daredevil” film. Matt’s ability to act as a human lie detector is depicted largely through close ups and the screen slightly blurring, and his radar sense is displayed a grand total of once in the episode “A World on Fire”, a clever double-entendre for the Kingpin’s plot and how Matt “sees” the world. Marvel is clearly going for a very different tone for their Netflix shows, with Matt’s powers being given a more naturalistic feel in comparison to the superhuman supremacy of Thor or the Hulk. This works for the kind of street-level crime fighting that The Man Without Fear partakes of during a typical night on the job.
While the other films of the MCU incorporate martial arts to varying degrees, “Daredevil” is without doubt the one that makes the greatest and most extensive use of martial arts action. Matt’s fighting style has a genuine and very fitting feel of Ninjutsu to it and his agility is simply amazing. He twirls and somersaults into every duel, and blends his acrobatic tornado kicks with lots of close-quarter punches, traps, sweeps, and grappling manoeuvres. As impressive as Matt’s airborne fighting style is, however, the fight sequence that really solidifies the series as Marvel’s best achievement in martial arts action yet, comes at the end of the second episode, “Cut Man”. In one of the best action scenes this year, Matt, in tremendous agony from three cracked ribs and a knife wound, battles his way past half a dozen henchmen to rescue a kidnapped child, with the entire fight captured in a single shot.
With every punch Matt throws, you’re wincing as much for him as for the guy on the receiving end. Whether under the bitter tutelage of his crusty mentor, Stick, or getting skewered within an inch of his life by a red hooded assassin, probably no other hero in the MCU has taken the kind of punishment that Matt does throughout the series. This makes his rationale for trading in what might be called his “blind ninja” garb for his trademark horns and red Kevlar clear. Matt’s change of attire is held off until the final episode when he faces off against the Kingpin for the second time, after a thorough pummelling in their first encounter.
This version of the Kingpin is a very different rendition of the character than past iterations; a man who appears to be containing a volcanic eruption at all times and explodes like Mt. Vesuvius when he finally loses it. You know the MCU is moving into much darker territory with its villains when one of them decapitates a man by slamming his head repeatedly with the passenger-side door of a car. Of course, it’s the strength of the villain that makes or breaks a superhero film, and the only appropriate way for “Daredevil” to close out is with a duel between a fearsome grizzly bear of a man and a gravity-defying blind ninja with superhuman senses!
“Daredevil” is easily in the upper echelon of the MCU, right alongside “The Avengers” films and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”. There’s a darkly atmospheric tone, stunning martial arts action sequences, and amazing performances all-round especially by Charlie Cox and Vincent D’Onofrio. “Daredevil” masterfully establishes Marvel’s Netflix shows (which will culminate in their own team-up, “The Defenders”) as a world within a world and sets the bar high for the series’ second season. And, a heads up to fans of Marvel’s King of Kung Fu, Iron Fist – watch out for the Steel Serpent Easter Egg!
- Ayelet Zurer also appeared in “Man of Steel” as Superman’s Kryptonian mother, Lara Lor-van. This makes her one of two actors to appear in both the Marvel and D.C. Cinematic Universes, the other being Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, who portrayed Algrim in “Thor: The Dark World” and will be seen as Killer Croc in the upcoming “Suicide Squad”.
- Vincent D’Onofio has, in a manner of speaking, portrayed another Marvel character – in 1987’s “Adventures in Babysitting”, he plays an auto mechanic who is mistaken for Thor by one of the younger characters.
- The black suit that Daredevil wears for the majority of the series is almost identical to the one he wears in the 1989 television film, “The Trial of the Incredible Hulk”. The black suit would also later make an appearance in the comics, in Frank Miller and John Romita’s 1993 story arch, “Daredevil: The Man Without Fear”.
Film Rating: 9/10