If you wish that either Martin Scorsese had directed The Avengers or that The Wire was a little sillier, Marvel and Netflix have good news in the form ofDaredevil, the new hour-long drama that, on Friday, dropped 13 episodes suitable for bingeing. The series is created by Drew Goddard, director of The Cabin in the Woods (which he in turn wrote with Avengers writer-director Joss Whedon), and its first episode is very good.
Daredevil has a typically silly radioactive Stan Lee origin story, which is the first thing we see: as a little boy, Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox as an adult, Skylar Gaertner as a kid) pushes a man out of the way of a careering truck and ends up splashed in the face with the mysterious goo the truck was carrying, blinding him and also giving him the power, as he grows older, to beat up pretty much anybody. Also to hear, touch, taste and smell better than most non-superheroes to make up for his lack of sight – but that doesn’t really get explained in the first episode.
Fast-forward and he’s done what any sensible person would do, namely take a day job as a lawyer and moonlight as an acrobat who punches people, especially a guy loading a group of screaming young women into a shipping container. Roll credits.
The show takes its cues from the work of Sin City creator Frank Miller, who lived in New York in the 70s and 80s and has said in interviews he got beat up with some regularity. New York has changed a lot since the Taxi Driver days and there’s a certain disconnect between the brightly lit Manhattan of today and the Hell’s Kitchen of Miller’s experience (and imagination), but it’s also sort of nice to see a contemporary show about the grimier side of the city. You can only make so many romantic comedies set in Central Park.
The show does quite a few things well – for example, it has a kind of Wong Kar-Wai-lite oversaturation in every shot, so it’s pretty cool looking, as befitting a zillion-dollar Netflix series – but its primary virtue is a terrific cast, notably Deborah Ann Woll as Dare-amour (sorry) Karen Page and Elden Henson as Matt’s sad-sack partner, Foggy Nelson.
Freed from the traditional show-it-all-in-the-pilot formula, Goddard does not introduce us to The Kingpin, or Daredevil’s red costume (he’s running around the black outfit fellow nerds will remember from Miller’s and John Romita Jr’s Man Without Fear), or anybody recognizable from the Marvel Universe except the civilian characters and Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho), a formidable old lady who also runs a creepy drug ring staffed by (we learn in the final montage) blind people and might turn out to be Iron Fist villain The Crane Mother. Iron Fist, by the way, will be joining Daredevil in the Marvel, uh, Digital Streaming Universe.
There’s not much to complain about, beyond the show occasionally being a little too nasty – there’s a lot of lingering on human trafficking and Karen gets objectified and victimized a sight too much; there’s also a scary sequence in which a mobster threatens to murder a prison guard’s college-age daughter in front of him if he doesn’t kill Karen … and when he fails, the twist is that the daughter finds his bloody body. Superhero comics, everybody! Still, there isn’t enough New York noir on the dial these days and the show has a lot of potential, especially in Cox, who brings a lot of texture to a character who’s been unfairly filed under Miscellaneous Superhero for too long.