Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Phantom on Marvel – Netflix's Daredevil

By Phantom Troublemaker

Since I started the Needless Things Podcast the frequency of my commentary and speculation pieces has been dwindling. I enjoy talking a lot more than I enjoy writing and I enjoy conversation more than I enjoy tossing lengthy essays out into an unresponsive void.

Plus, now that I have paying supporters on (few though they may be) I feel a little more obligated to post stuff there when I am taken with the desire to write.
But every once in a while I still get the itch to post something here that’s a little broader and more interesting than a toy review. Which is why I’m here today.

I’ve already written about Marvel Comics, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Agents of SHIELD (which surprised me by getting its own post).

Today I’m going to write about Marvel’s Netflix shows. Originally this was going to be a post that encompassed all of Marvel’s television projects, but that proved to be too much for just one entry. As I’m writing this introduction, I’m curious to see if I can squeeze all of Netflix into one post or if I’ll end up breaking them off into individual pieces.

Let’s find out! (I did – this one is just about Daredevil)

Back before Daredevil first debuted almost two years ago, we had no real idea of what to expect from the Marvel/Netflix partnership. Would we see costumes? Supervillains? Would the budget show, and how badly? Would the shows lean more toward drama and less toward superheroics? Just how mature would Marvel get with these potentially darker and more graphic characters? In short, would there be boobies?

My main concern was the budget’s effect on the superhero element. And I’m not even talking about powers. I was worried that we would basically be getting another Law & Order type show with familiar character names slapped on, with the end result being a bunch of people standing around talking about dire situations and moaning about their feelings with only the occasional instance of actually taking action.
You know, like The Walking Dead.

Fortunately for all of us, things turned out better than that. Mostly. There was still a good bit of talking.


We’re two seasons into the original Marvel Netflix show and I am satisfied.

Matt Murdock probably falls into the middle ground of my superhero fandom. I haven’t read as many comics about Daredevil as I have Batman or the X-Men or Spider-Man, but I’ve read more stories about the Man With No Fear than I have about the Avengers or the Teen Titans. I’ve always felt like Daredevil was the working man’s Batman. Matt, as a defense attorney, sort of works twice as hard as Bruce Wayne. And he certainly doesn’t have Wayne’s resources, so there’s something slightly more admirable about his crusade, if less fantastically entertaining.

The Netflix show portrayed that, and in addition managed to capture the more contentious aspect of Murdock’s personality. While I, as an audience member, was able to get behind Matt’s crimefighting and the decisions he made, I also sympathized with Foggy and Karen and the effects his decisions were having on them. The show walked this amazingly fine line of Matt Murdock being a selfless hero and a selfish asshole. It depicted the realities of being a “superhero” and the effects it would have on a person’s life and relationships.

The show didn’t, however, portray this drama to such an extent that everything ground to a halt and became a chore to endure. No matter how dark Daredevil got, it always maintained a spark of fun. Most of that is due to the amazing chemistry between Charlie Cox (Matt Murdock/Daredevil), Deborah Ann Woll (Karen Page), and Elden Henson (Foggy Nelson).

Woll and Henson were fantastic and honestly kept me invested in the show far more than Cox. I’m not saying Cox was bad by any means – he was excellent – but Murdock is a tough character to actually like. You root for him because you know he’s doing good, but the guy is pretty much a prick. That’s why you have to have strong supporting characters like Karen and Foggy.

I mentioned above that there were, indeed, talking scenes. But I actually looked forward to scenes with Karen and Foggy delivering dialogue – particularly to each other. If Netflix wanted to do a spinoff Karen and Foggy Show I would totally binge that.

Side Note: I wasn’t familiar with Woll, but Elden Henson is a favorite of mine going back to the oft-overlooked horror-comedy gem Idle Hands. If you haven’t seen it, you need to. It’s the rare perfect movie.

Also Rosario Dawson was fantastic as Claire Temple, but that hardly needed to be said.

As fascinating as our protagonists were, the really neat trick that Daredevil pulled off and the thing that people are still talking about is its portrayal of the Kingpin Wilson Fisk as played by Vincent D’Onofrio.

Fisk’s story was told parallel to Murdock’s in an amazingly effective manner. We saw two men that both loved their city and who had very different visions of how to serve and protect it. Fisk and Murdock both wanted to have lives outside of their more extraordinary activities and both discovered the inherent difficulties of balancing them. It was a fascinating way of bringing these characters to life, and while the story didn’t necessarily make Fisk a sympathetic character – he is still shown to be a terrifying and powerful monster – it gave me a glimpse into his mindset and enabled me to understand him. The show took great care in making him the villain that truly believed not only that what he was doing was right, but that he was the good guy of his story. All of the best villains believe that they are the protagonist.

Daredevil excelled at building these wonderful characters, but it also gave us some of the most memorable fight scenes television has ever seen. Taking inspiration from Asian cinema and avoiding ugly modern film habits like quick cuts, shaky camera work, and tight shots, each instance of violent conflict was lovingly orchestrated and captured so that every punch, kick, and impact could be seen and felt by the viewer.

Each fight scene had a story and an ebb and flow that could be followed and that furthered the overall narrative. These encounters weren’t just flashy stunt shows done for the sake of violence – they were an organic part of the stories of Matt Murdock and Wilson Fisk.

The first season set up not only these new characters, but a whole new level of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Some are bemoaning the fact that there isn’t more connectivity between the Netflix shows, the network shows, and the movies, but I’m finding the little bits and pieces they throw out to be perfectly satisfying.

In my opinion the comics really started falling apart when Marvel started weaving everything together too tightly. I grew up reading Spider-Man and the X-Men and barely ever saw an Avenger show up. When Spidey and the mutants crossed paths it was a huge deal. There were always references that all of these heroes shared a universe, but it was rare that they shared a comic.

Now every fucking person in the MU has been an Avenger, even some of the X-Men.
Nothing is special anymore because everyone has done it. No team feels unique because there are no longer any defining traits as to what a team is or which individuals belong. 
Homogeny has killed Marvel’s comics for me. There aren’t very many special corners of the MUJ anymore because they’re all just the same thing.

I don’t want that for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I like Agents of SHIELD and the Netflix shows and the movies each being their own thing. There’s no way to include the Netflix heroes in the movies without lessening them. The same goes for all of the fantastic characters on SHIELD that we’ve grown to love so much. Coulson might be an exception since he came from the movies, but I’d still like to keep him on TV because when you’ve got forty super powered “name brand” characters running around, what is Phil going to do, really?

That was a bit of a tangent that I didn’t foresee. I’m gonna head on to season 2 now.
Daredevil’s second season flowed naturally out of the first. There was no reset or new beginning as we got to know everyone again. It hit the ground running.

The sophomore season was broken up into sub-stories a little more noticeably, which I think was a very smart decision. We had Frank Castle, Elektra, and the Hand each with their own intermingled but defined arcs. Stick and Madame Gao were introduced and were each awesome in their own ways.

Jon Bernthal had a bit of a rocky start as Frank Castle. I like him a lot as an actor, though, so waiting for him to click into the role wasn’t a big deal. His accent took a little while to settle out, but once he really got into being the Punisher doing Punisher things I was on board. I’m not gonna lie – Ray Stephenson is still my favorite Frank, but I am thrilled that Bernthal is going to have the opportunity to tell a longer form and more impactful Punisher story.

Daredevil’s Elektra was played by Élodie Yung, an actor I was not previously familiar with. She was charming and likeable and played the character well (at this stage of Natchios’s life, anyway), but I didn’t feel like she had the same easy chemistry with Charlie Cox that Deborah Woll had. I suppose that was the point, but failing to see a deep emotional connection between the two threw the story off a bit for me.

It was still a good story, though – the bad girl appealing to Matt’s dark side and his latent desire to just give up on the law and doing things “the right way” (as he sees it).

It seemed to me that the second season moved along at a much better pace and handled a ton of narrative elements in a very satisfying manner. There are still questions to be answered, but that’s the nature of ongoing episodic drama. The hook for the next season/show has to be baited.

Consider me hooked. Daredevil has successfully introduced me to a whole new slew of characters that I am fascinated by and invested in. While I don’t know the comics intimately, I feel like everything has been true to the spirit of what Matt Murdock and his friends and foes are, and isn’t that what’s most important?

I can’t wait to see these people again in Defenders and eventually season 3 of Daredevil.
Speaking of the next season/show, it’s time to wrap this thing up and start working on the next Marvel Netflix series, Jessica Jones.

If you enjoy Daredevil, binging TV shows, or Needless Things, you might enjoy


  1. Damn... It's been so long since I watched it that I'd forgotten that Henson was in Idle Hands. And I own the DVD.

    You can throw something heavy at me the next con we're both at.