|'This is Marvel doing something it rarely does: slow burn. Daredevil has patience by the bucketload, to the point where it perhaps has too much.'|
Marvel have often been accused over the last few years (and for longer than that in fact) of skewing young in their output, certainly from a film point of view. Big budget films need big returns though, which means that a PG or 12 certificate will always be the aim. It's unlikely Tony Stark will ever become a full on alcoholic, foul-mouthed version of himself. Marvel's darkness needs to come from somewhere else.
Which is definitively what Daredevil is going for. Right from the first trailers, this looked like a series deliberately aiming older, something which the Netflix partnership and 15-rating confirms. This is Marvel's attempt to tell an adult story in an adult way. It's a familiar superhero territory but a brand new uncharted tone. Marvel may be well-practised at this genre by now, but with this much uncertainty, who knew which way Daredevil would go.
The good news is that Daredevil does largely succeed in its tone. This is a series that, a few episodes in, has one of its key characters chop off another character's head using only a car door and a lot of anger. You rarely see Hell's Kitchen, New York, during the day and when you see it at night the glum light is only brightened by neon sign reflections and faint glows from desk lamps. The exterior shots are dark and threatening, the interior shots (many of which admittedly look a little too set-like in HD) create lurking-shadow corners in grim buildings with abandon.
What it doesn't quite nail is story. This is Marvel doing something it rarely does: slow burn. Daredevil has patience by the bucketload, to the point where it perhaps has too much. Keeping the hero out of his true role (read: costume) to the point that it does is very brave, but it also misses the point of the build-up somewhat. The best example of an origin story is still Batman Begins, which kept its suited hero off screen for an age but then had the good grace to give him probably half a film's worth of pay-off. Daredevil has no such satisfaction level.
What it does manage is a terrific villain, presented in a way that makes the inevitable Avengers-shaped hole palatable. Wilson Fisk (Vincent D'Onofrio) is a Hell's Kitchen villain with a megalomania and lack of superpower that means he doesn't quite justify a smiting from Mjolnir. Instead, Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) approaches him almost like a legal case, building up the argument to take him down. If there is one complaint it's that the two don't get much head-to-head or face-to-face time. On the small occasions they do, Daredevil crackles. D'Onofrio is outstanding, a complete contrast from his presence in, say, Jurassic World. In his hands Fisk is an imposing monster of unbridled fury and discipline.
He isn't enough though to paper over the cracks which make this series a sometime-spotty experience. Sub-plots are picked up and dropped. Stick (Scott Glenn) for example, is given an episode and a bit before he disappears. Several of that episode's goings on aren't explained by the season end. There's an impression made but certainly not to the point where it lasts. Murdock and Fisk both get back stories, but at times the former especially feels like distraction and filler. There's build-up and then there's obfuscation for obfuscation's sake. Wesley (Toby Leonard Moore) gets a lot of the face time Fisk should get, although at least there is pay-off. Karen (Deborah Ann Woll) gets a good arc, but Foggy (Elden Henson) spends at least one whole episode late on moping, as yet more backstory (Foggy and Murdock's) is doled out.
It's certainly promising and the approach in multiple areas is spot-on, but it also has first season set-up syndrome and this much patience, after a time, is wearying.
Daredevil is currently playing on Netflix.