Latest Netflix series ‘Daredevil’ revisits superhero

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Latest Netflix series ‘Daredevil’ revisits superhero

photo via netflix

photo via netflix

photo via netflix

photo via netflix

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Now, I know Netflix has graced us all with the remarkable ability to binge-watch the entirety of its newly released shows the minute they come out. I would never  discourage anyone from watching 13 hours of TV in one sitting, but there’s something to be said for taking a little bit of time to watch, absorb, wait and then watch some more. In any case, I’m using this out-of-the-box, brand new concept of a slightly slowed down viewing schedule with Netflix’s new show, “Daredevil.” First up, a review of the first seven episodes of the show.

Netflix is taking a different approach with “Daredevil” and the four other Marvel series it ordered. “Daredevil” and the three other shows revolving around Jessica Jones, Iron Fist and Luke Cage are going to be working as lead-ins to the team-up TV miniseries event, “The Defenders.”At this point, anything Marvel is almost a sure thing, so businesswise it doesn’t seem like much of a risk for Netflix. Regardless, ordering five series, sight unseen, is nearly unheard of in the TV world.

With Marvel’s two other series, “Agents of Shield” and “Agent Carter”, existing on a broadcast network, I was excited to see what Marvel could do on a platform like Netflix, which has fewer restrictions with content and storytelling. “Daredevil” certainly pushes past even what the movies tackle. So far the show is dark, gritty and full of blood, gore and dismembered limbs. It’s not for the fainthearted and I expect this to continue if not become more graphic as the show continues. Most importantly, it is an extremely engaging retelling of Matt Murdock’s story and his journey  becoming “The Man Without Fear.”

Thanks to the much maligned 2003 movie starring Ben Affleck, the Daredevil origin is pretty ubiquitous. What this show does, thankfully, is show the car crash that blinds young Matt and then jumps right into the meat of the story. When we see Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) in the present day, he is a young lawyer, smart and competent but without a lot of clients or street credit. Then, we see him in the streets  paralleling his legal pursuits. First taking out a human trafficking operation, black mask covering the top of his face, no sign of red. He is already extremely technically skilled in fighting and able to take out five men on his own. But, as the episodes go on, there’s the sense that, although he has a goal and strong morals, he’s not sure exactly how to be a hero. It’s something I’m assuming he will learn as the show moves towards its close.

As I was watching, it felt like I was viewing a prestige drama about a real hero, rather than an anti-hero. There’s this prevailing myth that for shows to be hard drama, there must be some kind of moral dissonance between the audience and the main character, as if tension is what gives the storytelling possibilities their juice. We know that Walter White, Frank Underwood, Dexter, or even Don Draper and Rust Cohle are doing terrible, immoral things, but we keep watching, enthralled by their blatant traipsing over ethical lines.

What’s interesting here is there’s a lot of talk by Claire (Rosario Dawson) and Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) about how Matt is straying dangerously close to “becoming what he’s fighting against.” This proves to be pretty common superhero trope. However, in the context of this show that is modeling itself, both content-wise and stylistically, after these anti-hero prestige dramas, the idea that we are watching a man struggle (and possibly succeed?) to hold onto the moral and ethical values easily tossed away by other characters is extremely interesting.

This idea is one of the reasons I love superhero stories. They give us a solid ground against the inexplicable and unimaginable evil in the world. Sure, it’s not realistic and there are real people who are not super-powered or super-rich fighting in real life. There are also “evils” that can’t be punched away. However, as a story intended to be shared and spread, it’s a compelling and ultimately optimistic, ideal to live up to. So far, Matt is ruthless, but not needlessly malicious. He is determined, but not to the point where he’d do anything to get what he wants, and he’s caring and empathetic. It’s a nice balance between the devil in Matt and his desire to ultimately do good in his city.

Aside from the thematic elements, though, the show is highly entertaining purely from a visual and plot standpoint. The fight scenes are beautifully shot, using the “Arrow” method of shooting in the dark while still being able to see every detail of the choreography. So far the fight scenes are not overwhelming, as the show balances exposition, dialogue and action nicely.

My primary critique of the show, similar to many other superhero programs (also with prestige dramas and really all shows in general), is its treatment of the women characters. Sometimes with shows like this that focus on one male main character, the women get cast as the fill-ins— characters that are tangentially important to the story as long as they have a direct relationship with the main character and without any real agency to direct the plot.

“Daredevil” begins with Karen Page’s (Deborah Ann Woll) prosecution and attempted murder, and so far, has used women being in positions subordinate to men for almost every moment of tension, victimization and violence shown on the show. To put it simply, I just want more from this show. Marvel should know at this point that a very large group of its fan base are women. And having Karen just be the voice of worry or someone for Foggy (Elden Henson) to flirt with, or having Claire be the token love interest who bandages Matt’s wounds while looking sultrily at him is unacceptable. I can’t imagine the rest of the show improving on this, but it is disappointing that such a well done show in other respects falls flat in this area.

While I recognize these problematic elements, “Daredevil”, in many respects, is a great model of how the superhero narrative can be molded to this darker, more boundary-pushing storytelling mode that services like Netflix allow, while still holding on to the core superhero themes that we see in the more family-friendly blockbusters. Despite my reservations, I’m really enjoying seeing all the places the show has taken Matt so far, both dark and light.

One last suggestion: try taking a stroll through this show instead of a gallop. I’m going to take my own advice and leisurely walk through the rest of the season. Keep an eye out for my final full-season review and if you’ve already finished the season, no spoilers!

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