In 2003, diehard fans of the comic book character Daredevil had been left disappointed and bemused.
A film adaptation of the Marvel character, starring Ben Affleck as the titular hero, had been received poorly – despite taking $179.2m at the box office – with many criticising the plot and direction that the movie had taken.
Even Stan Lee, creator of Dardevil, said that it had “got the whole thing wrong”.
Fast forward 12 years, and that disappointement is no longer etched on the faces of Daredevil fans.
A Netflix original series and produced by Marvel Television, ABC studios and DeKnight productions, the TV adaptation of Daredevil has been lauded by fans, critics and casual viewers alike for its dark, gritty and accurate depiction of the comic book lore.
Created for TV by Drew Goddard, who was in line to write and direct a Sinister Six film for Sony set in their Spiderman universe before it got cancelled, the show draws inspiration from Lee’s and Bill Everett’s long-running series and introduces viewers to a side of New York City, in Hell’s Kitchen, that is overlooked in Marvel’s flagship film franchises.
Beware: Spoilers for the comics and show appear from this point on, so turn back if you do not want anything ruined for you!
Daredevil tells the story of Matt Murdock, a lawyer who was blinded as a child by a radioactive substance that fell from a vehicle after he pushed a man to safety from said truck.
Despite being unable to see, Murdock’s other senses are significantly heightened by the substance and grants him a ‘radar sense’, not unlike Spiderman’s ‘spider sense’.
By day, Murdock works at Nelson & Murdock: Attorneys At Law – a fledgling law firm set up by Murdock and best friend and fellow lawyer, Franklin ‘Foggy’ Nelson.
By night, though, Murdock stalks the rooftops, streets and buildings as the Man in the Mask, thwarting criminals and saving lives.
And in 33-year-old actor Charlie Cox, both Murdock and his alter-ego are transferred from page to screen effortlessly.
Charming, intelligent and resourceful as Murdock, and gruff, physical and fearless as Daredevil, Cox’s portrayal as The Man Without Fear is superbly carried out.
Cox’s ability to depict Murdock’s blindness, too, is down to a tee – the English actor’s work with blind consultant Joe Strechay paying dividends to give a natural, accurate representation of a blind individual.
And, as with all superheroes, there is a complexity about the character of Murdock and Daredevil that Cox manages to convey throughout a series of stellar performances.
Having taken the oath when becoming a lawyer, Murdock knowingly breaks his own vow every night when acting as a vigilante in Hell’s Kitchen.
Coupled with his devout Catholic beliefs, questions of morality and grey areas come into stark contrast for Murdock – particularly as the season reaches its final few episodes.
Indeed, Murdock’s emotions get the better of him as he seeks revenge for the death of the innocent Elena Cardenas – a resident of an apartment block who stands up main villain Kingpin/Wilson Fisk’s plans to buyout her building, but who is killed off by one of Fisk’s henchmen.
After being seriously injured during a showdown with Nobu, a member of mysterious Japanese organisation The Hand and part of Fisk’s criminal gang, Murdock is almost left for dead when stupidly trying to take on Fisk after despatching of the former.
It is one of a few occasions throughout the series when Murdock’s desire to do the right thing gets the better of him, and allows viewers the opportunity to question his motives.
Murdock’s constant struggle between refusing to take someone’s life, in part to the Catholicism instilled in him and, as he eloquently puts it, battling the ‘devil inside of me’, is a key component of the complexity of the character, and one that proves how intriguing Dardevil as a personality is.
Strikingly, Fisk – who is expertly portrayed by Vincent D’Onofrio – isn’t too dissimilar from our titular hero in wanting to rebuild Hell’s Kitchen.
Fisk’s willingness to kill anyone who stands in his way, however, is the one key difference that keeps the two players at polar opposites of the spectrum.
As a 12-year-old boy, Fisk saves his mother from his cruel bully of a father, after years of abuse, by beating him to death with a hammer – a move that begins to sow the seeds of the man Fisk will eventually become.
And it is this disposition, to remove anyone who stands between him and lording over his city, that leads Fisk into believing his intentions are justifiable, in spite of his criminal activity.
Such actions become more severe as the series presses on, as Fisk takes out fellow partners in the Russian mafia, led by the Ranskahov brothers, and financial distributor Leland Owlsley – the latter of whom conspires with fellow criminal Madame Gow to assassinate Vanessa Marianna, Fisk’s love interest.
His masterplan further unravels following the death of right-hand man James Wesley, who is shot dead by Page after she is kidnapped by Wesley, and sees Fisk become erratic and emotional – a move that eventually proves his undoing.
Both Murdock and Fisk are flawed as individuals, and believe that they must save Hell’s Kitchen from the mediocrity it finds itself in – their ideals over how to do so, though, is what ultimately leads them to butting heads as the season’s climax looms closer.
It is not just Cox and D’Onofrio who stand out as part of an impressive cast either.
Deborah Ann Woll is wonderful as secretary-cum-investigator Karen Page; Elden Henson as ‘Foggy’ Nelson too, who brings humour and heart in equal measure, especially when finding out that Murdock is Daredevil himself.
Rosario Dawson’s performance as Claire Temple, who patches Murdock’s injuries up and acts as a potential love interest, is strong if fleeting, while Vondie Curtis-Hall excels as journalist Ben Urich before his death at the hands of Fisk in the penultimate episode of the season.
There are small nods to Marvel’s other franchises throughout Daredevil too, with small mentions of the events of Avengers Assemble just one such example of how Marvel is tying its cinematic universe into its TV story arcs.
The season finale finally sees the ‘Man in the Mask’ dubbed ‘Daredevil’ in the media – thanks in no small part to the unveiling of Murdock’s new, improved and protective costume – and ties season one’s storythreads together in a fitting manner.
The face-off between Daredevil and Fisk could possibly have been a little longer in length, given the events that had led up to that point, but it was enough to leave viewers wanting more – a duel that will no doubt be revisited when, not if, Fisk escapes from prison.
That fight and other action sequences are well choreographed and fluid throughout too, with various camera angles picking up a variety of stellar shots to exhibit the violence on show.
A couple of slight niggles with editing in one or two episodes show that there is slight room for improvement, in addition to a smattering of ponderous moments, particularly in the earlier chapters of the series, but these faults are minor and can easily be rectified now that the show has a sound footing on which to build.
Season two of Daredevil, due for release on March 18th, will introduce fan favourites such as Frank Castle/The Punisher (Jon Bernthal) and Elektra Natchios (Elodie Yung), but it will have to make do without season one showrunner Stephen DeKnight – a decision that will hopefully not cause too much concern going forward, such was the acclaim the first series garnered.
If Goddard and co. can produce another successful season that surpasses the first, fans will be in for a treat. It’ll be much deserved after years of being reminded of that 2003 film.
Verdict: A triumph for all concerned, Daredevil is a tactful interpretation of a beloved comic book superhero. Gritty, dark, intriguing and, at times, shocking, solid foundations have been laid for the show moving forward into season two, with much of the same expected for the next chapter in the franchise. 9/10