Friday, April 17, 2015

Daredevil S01 E01: Into the Ring

I'm not a big Daredevil guy. I know, a lot of you are thinking that's blasphemous. The truth is I'm also not a big Frank Miller fan. And while I acknowledge he did good work on the character, I can never really get past the idea of why a comics creator who so clearly hates superheroes would ever want to work in superhero comics.

My Daredevil is the first one I encountered - the swashbuckling superhero who partnered with the Black Widow and protected swinging San Francisco. Yeah, I know, that was a loooong time ago. I also liked the Ben Affleck Daredevil film, so there you go. At least I didn't say I liked the Rex Smith version.

All that said, when I first heard about the Netflix "Daredevil" series, I was immediately enthralled as it had Steven S. DeKnight as one of the showrunners. DeKnight is the man. Over on Starz, for several seasons, and throughout a tragedy and a recasting, he produced "Spartacus," perhaps one of the most brutal, dynamic, and spellbinding shows I've ever seen. If anyone could do Daredevil justice, it would be him. After watching the first episode, it's all true.

Unlike other entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this series takes place in Hell's Kitchen, just several blocks of one of the poorer sections of New York City. Daredevil exists in the same universe as the Avengers, but he's not going globetrotting, fighting gods, or headed to space, but he is solidly here. Hell's Kitchen has cheap rents and is being rebuilt after the Battle of New York, courtesy of the Avengers. Simple cause and effect. This is a world where super powers exist, but they do not really touch this corner of the Universe.

Charlie Cox, who was one of the best parts of HBO's "Boardwalk Empire," is cast in the dual role of Matt Murdock and Daredevil, far exceeds expectations. It is one thing to look at him, look at his body of work, and then actually watch him on the screen as the blind fury. He plays both roles splendidly. And his chemistry with Elden Henson's Foggy Nelson is one of the best things about the show, as well it should be. Henson's acting resume is impressive, and I'm delighted to see him here.

The episode opens with what else, the essential origin of Daredevil, a young Matt Murdock in an accident where radioactive materials get in his eyes. He goes blind, but develops a 'radar sense' that allows him a type of seeing similar to a hyper-advanced bat, through sound bouncing off objects. Yes, it's very hokey, but we're also talking Stan Lee in the Silver Age of comics. This is how they rolled back then. And thus he becomes Matt Murdock, Good Samaritan lawyer by day, masked vigilante Daredevil by night.

Our second scene is pure Miller, who introduced the religious aspect to the character. Matt is in a confessional, giving viewers a quick rundown on his dad, boxer Battlin' Jack Murdock. Did everyone else catch the Easter egg with Crusher Creel, AKA the Absorbing Man? But the big point of the confession was that Matt is there to ask forgiveness for not what he has done, but for what he's about to do.

What follows next is what I was so excited about when I heard McKnight was doing Daredevil - the potential of the fight scenes. As our hero takes down the baddies to stop a slave trade, there are no swords or animation as in "Spartacus," but the action sequence is amazing. This, along with the chemistry of the actors, will be the highlight of the series. And major props to Philip Silvera, the fight coordinator, this is all his prize.

A word or two about the costume. While we know that eventually we will get the traditional red outfit, it's even heavily hinted at in the bloody animation credits sequence, this black thing is what we start with. I didn't mind it, this cross between Rex Smith's outfit and the one from The Man Without Fear. The black with the red highlights works, even in the rain, I just miss the horns.

Action series, superhero series, check, check, but what we really have is a crime drama. That where Karen Page enters the equation. Karen goes back to the old days of Daredevil, and was unfortunately destroyed during the Miller era (I've been told it was Kevin Smith who did the damage, but by that time, because of Miller, I was no longer reading). Her casting, in the firm of actress Deborah Ann Woll, from "True Blood," was one of the few things about this series I was worried about. I needn't have worried, she's perfect.

The thrust of the episode involves a conspiracy Karen stumbled over to rebuild Hell's Kitchen after the Chitauri invasion and how everyone wants a piece of the pie, but it goes deeper. Though unseen, except through his harbinger Wesley, deliciously played by Tobey Leonard Moore, the real villain here is the Kingpin. Wilson Fisk will be played by Vincent D'onofrio, who has promised his will be the definitive version of the character.

A rooftop meeting of Kingpin's pseudo-Legion of Doom introduces us to the lesser villains who will be challenging Daredevil this season. Madam Gao and Leland Owlsley (The Owl!) stand out. There is definitive sense of evil to the unseen Kingpin, especially in the montage scenes toward the end of the episode. He does not play, and you do not mess with him. Of course Daredevil has made himself a serious enemy.

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