Believe it or not I don’t actually live in a self-manufactured time capsule surrounded by gratuitous 1980s paraphernalia. I am aware and immersed in the social fabric of our current age. It just never seemed appropriate material for a blog dedicated to history.
Yet there is little in our present media to suggest innovation in entertainment. Sure, we have new ways of absorbing media, but over the last ten years the content has become almost solely rehashed material from earlier generations. It’s gotten to the point where we are now simply rehashing the rehashes.
No one can spend all their time, however, watching reruns of Predator on TBS. A few weeks ago I took up Netflix’s original series, Marvel’s Daredevil. The show is based on the Marvel Comics hero created by Stan Lee and Bill Everett in 1964, and stars Charlie Cox in the titular role.
One of the interesting elements in the emergence of live-action comic-book adaptations of late is that many of the plots are pulled from 80s and 90s era story lines, with “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and “Knightfall” (i.e. The Dark Knight Rises) being two high-profile examples. When you consider that most of the writers for such movies and television shows fit in the age demographic that would have grown up reading these comics the occurrences seem less coincidental.
In its publication history the Daredevil comic could best be described as steady. Popularity has ebbed and flowed through the years as a myriad of writers have come and gone. During the 1980s the comic saw a particularly sharp rise in readership thanks to the contributions of Frank Miller. Daredevil’s literary appeal was steeped in heaps of human interest, something many other superhero characters lacked. And then a movie adaptation was released by 20th Century Fox in 2003.
When Netflix released their own serial version of Daredevil 12 years later, I was skeptical. Part of Daredevil’s charm is the aforementioned relatability; he has “super” powers, but they are probably the most subtle in the Marvel Universe – the character Matt Murdock is blind, by has superhuman hearing, smell, taste, and sense of touch. He also possesses an enhanced form of echolocation that works like sonar. These attributes combined virtually neutralize his blindness, but he has no super strength, or speed, or flashy weapons. He is, however, a master martial artists and combat specialist.
In other words, he’s a blind Batman. And admittedly that is how I always saw him in the comics. But while Christopher Nolan was able to develop Batman into the most successful comic-book movie franchise in history (okay, at least in this critic’s mind*), it always felt as though Daredevil was a bit too bold in appearance (it’s bright spandex, people) and a bit too dry in attitude for the silver screen.
Well, kudos to Netflix for changing my mind. Although we are skipping right to season 2 – because we missed the boat on Season 1; newsflash: it was a hit – there are a number of components spread out over both seasons that make the show mostly enjoyable…on top of all the crap that leaves me fuming in frustration. Let’s start with the good.
- The Punisher! I’m biased as this was my favorite comic growing up, and most on-screen adaptations have been lacking (Dolph Lundgren’s 1989 vehicle was previously the best). Jon Bernthal is a great cast as Frank Castle, and plays the jaded vigilante with nuance not normally seen in the comics yet emanates seamlessly in the show. His final act in the season was criminally underplayed, but leaves open room for his return in Season 3.
- Scott Glenn as Stick. He was awesome in Season 1, and delivered even more helpings of cynical one-liners to help offset Daredevil’s often preachy righteousness in Season 2.
- Peter McRobbie as Father Lantom. While Matt Murdock’s confessions frequently espouse a self-inflated sense of grandeur, McRobbie’s Lantom consistently delivers sage advice without ever delving into rote judgement. It’s a deeply restrained performance, but he steals every scene he’s in.
- The fighting. Arguably the best thing about Marvel’s Daredevil is the fight cinematography. It was brilliant in the first season, but the showrunners took it up to 11 in Season 2. The hallway fight in Episode 3 is can’t miss for action fans.
- Daredevil’s armor. First off, the relationship Daredevil has with his armorer, Melvin, is one of the more enigmatic in the show. It’s a true bro-mance, where neither party wants to admit vulnerability, but they both seem to have each others interests at heart. And the suit itself looks awesome. Bright red spandex would never have worked in today’s realistic superhero market; Netflix figured out a way to make the character signature without being ridiculous.
- Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page. Yeah, she’s still in the show. In the comic book, she dies. I wish they would do that here. Woll’s Page is annoying, whiny, self-possessed, constantly meddling, and has even managed to get another popular character killed through her own selfish and reckless behavior. Woll’s acting is atrocious and she has no chemistry with any of the actors on the show. Fingers crossed Bullseye is brought in during Season 3 to kill this useless character like in the comics.
- The writing is Dumb – oh yeah, big capital “D.” The writers are clearly aware of the source material, but have not actually read it. At some points it’s nonsense (how did Nobu survive being burned to ashes exactly?) to just plain lazy (Daredevil has super hearing, but that doesn’t mean he can stand on a building and selectively discern police transponder information from miles away – how much easier would it have been to just a write in a bit about Melvin putting a police transponder in Daredevil’s helmet?). And why do they keep referring to New York as Hell’s Kitchen? Yes, it’s where Daredevil lives, but is it the only place he operates as a vigilante? Hell’s Kitchen takes ups about 18 square blocks. It’s about the size of a baseball stadium. Does anyone in this show ever leave there? Is this the only neighborhood in all of NYC plagued by crime? I lived in New York for 10 years; I can’t recall ever meeting anyone in that time who referred to their work and social life exclusively by their neighborhood. In Marvel’s Daredevil someone mentions it about every 12 seconds.
- Elektra. Elodie Yung is much more convincing than Jennifer Garner, but her talents are clearly underutilized here. The series has made a hallmark of delaying character development (i.e. not revealing trademark outfits till the final moments of the seasons’ last episodes), but it’s particularly cumbersome when a good actor is given limited range in order to play up a big reveal that ultimately fizzles.
- Not enough Rosario Dawson. This is simple: get rid of Karen; focus on Claire. Like Yung, Dawson is also hampered by bad writing, but she is still 1000x more likable than Woll. Elektra is Daredevil’s perennial femme fatale, but Claire ought to emerge as Matt’s main love interest.
Overall, Marvel’s Daredevil is much akin to Law & Order: SVU. It’s dumb, the writing is dreadful, and their is a seemingly endless string of annoying side characters no one cares about. Yet for some reason it is maddeningly addictive. I left Charlie Cox’s performance off the breakdown because it really falls somewhere in between. He plays the character well, but you get the sense about a half-dozen other actors could have been dropped in the role and done just as good a job. Not sure if he’s performing his own stunts, but if so, two thumbs up, sir.
Vincent D’Onofrio is, likewise, a solid addition to the cast, but doesn’t stand out. Most fans have especially praised his performance as the Kingpin. Between strong and weak, D’Onofrio leans towards the former, but again could be inspired by some tighter writing.
In sum, Season 2 of Marvel’s Daredevil will sate action junkies and multiple generations of comic book fans, but will also leave the more sophisticated viewer (i.e. fans of The Watchmen) a little cold in it’s sophomoric delivery. But hey, sometimes a little cheese goes a long way.
*Is this the most successful comic book film franchise? Because there’s like 8 million X-Men movies…which I’ll delve into in our next post…which will be dedicated to why X-Men: Apocalypse is going to suck.