Over the span of three days, I consumed the entirety of Netflix's first contribution to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Daredevil.
Welcome to the darker, edgier, more realistic(-ish) corner of the MCU. It's no less awesome than the rest of it.
It ties into the main Marvel Cinematic Universe only in so far as one of the premises is that the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of New York City is one of the neighborhoods that got hit pretty hard by the alien invasion in the Avengers movie. (Which may account for why the Kitchen is a bad neigborhood in the MCU despite it having been gentrified in the real world decades ago.) The construction companies involved in the reconstruction over the past several years have ties to criminal activitiy.
In case you are unfamiliar with Daredevil here's a rundown of the premise: Matt Murdock (played by Charlie Cox) is a lawyer by day, and by night is a masked vigilante, eventually named Daredevil. The twist, Matt is blind, but he can fight in his masked persona as if he was sighted (or better) given his other senses that have become superhumanly strong. His main nemesis is the new secret crime boss of New York City, Wilson Fisk (played by Vincent D'Onofrio).
I'm of two minds on how much they embraced ability to go more "adult" I don't mind it being darker, dangerous, and with a bit of a body count. But at times it went too heavily into explicit violence, almost Tarantino-esque. So much that few negative reviews called it "blood porn". Episode 3 was the worst offender here, and though it could have been worse, it was pretty hardcore.
At its best, the violence was shown to have consequenses. The beatings Matt takes carry over from episode to episode, requiring lots of medical attention from an unlikely ally in the form of an ER nurse during her off-hours treating him in secret (played by Rosario Dawson). The wounds and torn flesh are shown onscreen when being treated, which must have been a masterwork in effects makeup.
Further consequese is that to the soul of Matt himself. How far outside the law is he willing to go is one that Matt wrestles with throughout the series, especially as it becomes increasingly apparent that the bad guys have too much an edge in terms of control of what should be institutions of law and order through bribed and threatened cops, lawyers, and media.
Between the blood and explicit language (Certainly R rated quality language) this is clearly not for kids. But I think it goes a little too far in distancing itself from the tone of the rest of the Marvel movies and TV shows. With its levels of violence and language it is more like HBO's Sopranos (though not quite so frequent with the cursing, and no nudity or sexual activitiy, save for a brief tease of nudity in the first episode.), when it ought to have reigned it in to more of a basic cable level, ala Breaking Bad.
Still, I wouldn't say that the MCU shouldn't have darker corners, meant for more mature audiences. It's just that with the connection to PG rated material, it would have helped to keep it a bit more accessable.
It's said that any hero is only as good as it's villain. And D'Onofrio delivers a great performance as Wilson Fisk. It's notable that through the first two episodes (and most of the third) Fisk isn't even mentioned by name. He's refered to only tangentially, but clearly the top man in the criminal world, and one to be feared.
But once his is introduced onscreen its in the context of him wooing a woman, Vanessa. His relationship with her and his freindship with his right hand man, Wesley, are strong, positive relationships. This is not some cardboard cutout one dimensional villain. He has ambitions and dreams that are laudable. But his criminal means, dark secrets, and occasional brutal nature have clearly cast his path as one of evil. Just as Matt goes through his own crisises, we see Fisk deal with his own.
The closing fight scene of episode two has been praised up one way and down the other as an incredible one-shot scene (with some opportunity for cheats as the camera reverses direction) set in a hallway. It tells a story of endurance, determination, and heroics like no fight scene in the history of super-hero adaptations. Even if you don't watch the entire series, episodes one and two are must see. Do not stop at just the first episode and give both a try.
I find that at it's best, the vigilate aspect of the super-hero genre is an exercise in personal ethics, and Daredevil has embraced that. Matt and Fisk's personal journeys show the consequenses of the choices on each other, and their personal relationships, as well as how those personal relationships affect their own choices. It's this thread that ties the whole season together, and makes for compelling viewing.
Netflix has lined up four more series for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, A.K.A. Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, which will tie in to Daredevil and each other to some degree, leading ultimately to "The Defenders" a team-up series featuring all four characters. One hopes that there will be further seasons of Daredevil on top of this, but based on the example here, I'm a least looking forward to the rest of Netflix's Marvel offerings.
My Rating: ★★★★☆