Monday, April 13, 2015

Review: 'Daredevil' Episodes 1-6: Mature, no-frills vigilante thriller

"Good and evil – sometimes the delineation between the two is a sharp line... sometimes it's a blur."

Beginning predictably enough with the accident that robbed Matt Murdock of his sight, Marvel's Daredevil then subverts expectation by shifting to more sedate surroundings, for a quiet and melancholic scene in which our hero asks a priest for absolution.

It's also a long scene - and a sign of what's to come, because throughout, Daredevil expects you to be patient, confident in its ability to deliver when the time is right.

I'd never go so far as to say comic books don't translate well to film - Marvel's huge success in that arena says otherwise - but I do feel that the medium is a more natural fit for television, simply because the serialised nature of comics is closer in form to how TV works.

No surprise then that Daredevil works particularly well as part of the Netflix model - these first six episodes do strike a balance between the serialised and the procedural, but with many disparate threads weaving in and out, it's a series that benefits from a binge-watch.

A series airing a single installment per week might not have the confidence to spend its first episode focusing predominantly on a costumed hero's civilian alter-ego; or to hold off on revealing its chief antagonist for so long; or to delay the first 'meeting' between said villain and Murdock til almost this season's midpoint.

It's to Daredevil's benefit that it does all of these things - it's a dark, intoxicating slow-burn as a result.

Yes, the show is dark - both visually and thematically - and yes, it's every bit as violent as the early pre-publicity suggested. It's bloody and graphic, the fights inventive and spectacular - particularly a standout sequence at the close of episode two, in which an exhausted Daredevil battles a gang of thugs in a lengthy one-shot.

But what a few critics have failed to mention is that Daredevil can also be warm - at times, it's laugh-out-loud funny - and that it has an awful lot of heart. A key part of that is the genuine friendship between Murdock and Foggy Nelson, and both men's relationship with Karen Page.
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Foggy in particular is a character it's easy to get wrong - one of the many mistakes the 2003 film made was to portray him as an outright buffoon. Here, he's self-deprecating but also capable and - thanks to a winning performance from Elden Henson - thoroughly engaging.
The casting on Daredevil is top-drawer all round - though it sounds like a contradiction in terms, Deborah Ann Woll brings a fragile strength to Karen Page, while Vondie Curtis Hall is excellent as downtrodden but high-principled journalist Ben Urich and Rosario Dawson no less impressive as Claire - Matt Murdock's one true confidante.

Unusually, this is a show where the 'good guys' - such as they are - have all the best tunes. One of the few criticisms you can level at it is that - with one notable exception (of which more in a moment) - the villains in Daredevil are a little colourless.

The Russians, Leland Owlsley, Madame Gao - all too one-note, and the various scenes in which they congregate to discuss dastardly business quickly become repetitive.

Thank goodness then for Wilson Fisk - in the first two episodes, he's an insidious, unseen presence attempting to inveigle himself within the squeaky-clean offices of Nelson and Murdock, just as he already has the vast majority of Hell's Kitchen's police force in his pocket.

Toby Leonard Moore does a splendid job in the early-going filling the void as Fisk's slippery public face Wesley, with no-one daring to speak the crime lord's name, violently taking their own lives rather than face his terrible wrath.

Vincent D'Onofrio has made a career out of playing offbeat characters and his Fisk is wonderfully weird - a softly-spoken, almost sensitive menace far more unnerving than a simple heavy-fisted hoodlum.

Like Murdock, Fisk is a man of two halves - these early episodes dwell almost as much on his romancing of the sultry Vanessa (Ayelet Zurer) as they do on his criminal activities, though once he does finally get a little blood on his hands at the end of episode four, it's in truly explosive fashion.
Murdock and Fisk are a classic hero / villain duo in the sense of being two sides of the same coin - parallels that Fisk himself directly references in episode six. "The city is a part of me, it's in my blood – I would do anything to make it a better place," he says at one point – words that could just as easily fall from Matt Murdock's lips.

Episode six ends with Matt facing a classic heroic crisis - the possibility that to defeat his nemesis, he may have to become him. I've left it til now to mention Charlie Cox's performance, but it's very much saving the best til last - he perfectly captures both the dangerous intensity and the charming fallibility of Matt Murdock, and brings a grim ferocity to Daredevil without resorting to gravel-voiced goofiness.

A legal drama meets a mature, no-frills vigilante thriller, these first six episodes of Marvel's Daredevil are expertly, exquisitely put together. Faithful to the comics without being stale or unimaginative, this is one of the most confident new drama series to launch anywhere in 2015 - a show without fear.

Watch Digital Spy's Daredevil primer video below:

via digitalspy.com


 
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1 comment:

Regina Caschetto said...

Great reviews. So happy.
Regina

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