If this first episode is any indication, Daredevil may very well end up being the best thing that Marvel Studios has done yet. Keep in mind, I’m not just referring to the their television endeavors with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter, I’m referring to Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, the works. This pilot brings us kicking and screaming into the gritty underbelly of the Marvel Cinematic universe, with the blind attorney, Matt Murdock, as our guide. While the skylines are now patrolled by men of iron and gods of thunder, the “little people” may actually be worse off than they were before. It’s in Hell’s Kitchen that we learn that following the events of the first Avengers movie, New York finds itself in a state of renewal. The destruction caused by the alien race, the Chitauri, has destroyed more than we may have thought, and has given criminals the opportunity to swoop in and make a profit off the chaos. That is of course, were New York not protected by a certain horn-head.
Unlike many other superhero films out there, the minds behind Daredevil realized that the best way to give us an origin story is by giving viewers more of an outline, rather than a detailed examination. Murdock gets hit by a toxic chemical which gives him “radar sense” as a child, he eventually becomes a lawyer, and patrols the streets in a black ninja suit, doling out bone-breaking justice to criminals in his path. After a two-minute or so introduction to Matt as a child, there’s a flash forward to him asking a priest for forgiveness for “transgressions” he’s about to commit — and we’re off to the races. Daredevil is a hero who is very human, and takes about as many jabs as he gives out, which is somewhat refreshing in this almost clean world of flying-caped folks. The only “power” Matt has is one that is skillfully demonstrated with his radar sense. In the comics, this gives Matt an “outline” of everything in his vicinity, but here, we’re given insight into how it works by hearing what he hears, and the show is made all the better for it.
Daredevil’s heart and soul lies in his relationships with those around him, particularly with his law partner, Foggy Nelson. Charlie Cox, as Murdock, and Elden Henson, as Nelson, play off one another perfectly here. They’re practically finishing one another’s sentences as they look for a new office for their newly made law firm, talk with Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) about her current predicament, and generally make jokes at Matt’s expense due to his disability. Speaking of Karen, she acts as the glue that brings everything together here, after we first meet her crying over the body of one of her co-workers at a financial firm, not remembering anything that happened but still holding a rather large, bloody knife over the body. Once imprisoned by the police, Karen is nearly killed by a prison guard and is then released into the hands of Murdock and Nelson, where the law and Matt’s nightly excursions are brought together in a fantastic union. Karen Page is a character from the comics who is mired in tragedy, so it’s apt that she’s the centerpiece of this initial dark outing.
Aside from his base of support, Daredevil shines in his relationship with his main antagonist, Wilson Fisk, a.k.a. the Kingpin. Appropriately so, the Kingpin is not shown at all here in this first episode, rather we are merely shown his shadow, metaphorically speaking. The Kingpin’s grasp on the city is long and entrenched, with events transpiring that you may not even realize were orchestrated by the physical titan in the first place. The first glimpse we have into his world of organized crime is through a father who owes a little too much to a bookie, and the debt has fallen right into the lap of Fisk. It’s quite the terrifying scene as Fisk’s right hand man walks the blue collar father through what may very well happen to his daughter, via live camera feed no less, should he disobey. It’s a pitch perfect way to learn about Fisk’s tactics and his character as the underworld ruler of NYC without actually seeing him, outside of his voice booming through the back of a car toward the finale.
Daredevil, though, is a superhero after all, so let’s dive right into the fight scenes. Taking a page from movies such as The Raid, Oldboy, and Ong-Bak, the hits are fast and most certainly furious. Bones are broken here, a lot, and it helps to emphasize that these fights are brutal, mean, and rough. The camera holds on the fights so you see each person delivering their hits, rather than incorporating fast cuts or blurry motion to heighten the sense of speed. These are mortal people, and when you see Murdock wake up the next day after having to beat up four slave traders the night before, holding his side and looking much worse for wear, it works. The cinematography here is top notch, especially with the final fight scene in the rain, as both combatants swing through the raindrops. It’s a scene straight out of a Sammo Hung movie and it’s simply beautiful to watch.
This first outing into the world of Matt Murdock is, in a word, breathtaking. It incorporates the world of the Marvel Universe and shows us a side of it that is a facet that we didn’t know we needed to see, until now. I have 12 more episodes to go and you can bet, I’m going to start watching them the second I finish typing the final word of this review. I strongly suggest you do the same.
Episode Rating: ★★★★★ Excellent
New episodic recaps of Daredevil will post on Collider every Monday and Thursday.
The Collider Offices of Murdock and Nelson:
– I absolutely loved the intro to this and I think it’ll go down as one of the all time greats.
– Interesting to see Leland Owlsley, played here by Bob Gunton, make an appearance as a member of the NYC’s organized crime. In the comics, Owlsley ruled his part of New York as the super villain, the Owl, with an appearance to match the name. I doubt we’ll be seeing him wearing any claws or flying through the skies, but it’s still a nice pull.
– Madame Gao hints at the incorporation of “The Hand,” which is a group of ruthless ninjas who take up a good deal of Murdock’s time in the comic books.
– In one of the final shots with Matt in the gym his father once trained in, a poster reads “CREEL V. MURDOCK.” “Creel” refers to Crusher Creel, aka the Absorbing Man, who appeared earlier this season in ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
– Nice foreshadowing of Daredevil brandishing his patented billy clubs as he hurled the taser at the slave traders in the opening fight.
– Karen: “How do you comb your hair?”
Murdock: “Honestly, you hope for the best.”
– Owlsley: “Can you at least pretend to be cold?”
– Owlsely: “Every time one of these guys punches someone through a building, our margins go up 3 percent.”
– Nelson: “She shrugged!”
Murdock: “Well then I’m going to take that as a ‘go ahead.’”
– Jack Murdock: “Come on Matty, get to work.”