Allow me to introduce you to my latest TV obsession: a little Netflix original series called Daredevil.
I knew next to nothing about this hero before watching the show, so I had no expectations. Turns out, he’s basically Batman–if Bruce Wayne was a poor Catholic lawyer instead of a billionaire playboy, and if Batman actually admitted to having superpowers. The premise is this: Matt Murdock got in an accident with some chemicals as a boy, which blinded him but heightened his other senses to the extent that he can dodge bullets and hear people’s heartbeats from across a room. He fights crime in his New York neighborhood, Hell’s Kitchen, using his law school training by day and his martial arts training by night.
Not only does Daredevil feature some of the best acting and cinematography I’ve seen in any TV show, let alone a comic-based one, it didn’t take me long to realize that it’s the answer to all my problems with the Marvel movies. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but there are certain problems that tend to crop up tiresomely in all their films. This show thrives in every area where the movies fall short. Other Marvel superheroes wish they were as cool as Daredevil. Captain America has his autograph framed on his wall. Black Widow is rumoured to own Daredevil panties. Thor is afraid to let him touch Mjolnir–in case he’s able to lift it.
Let me explain. What are the most common problems with Marvel movies?
With all due respect to Tom Hiddleston, the bad guys in Marvel movies tend to be pretty cartoonish. Without exception, their goals and motivations can be summed up as: “He’s crazy and he wants to destroy the world.” Besides, they hardly ever have any cool powers compared to the heroes. Even Loki, an actual god, couldn’t do much besides duplicate himself, freeze stuff, and woo fangirls with his fabulous hair. Useful, sure, but not when you’re up against an indestructible guy who can call down lightning at will.
Daredevil does not have this problem. Wilson Fisk, the main villain, gets almost as much character development as Matt does–there’s an entire episode devoted to his backstory, and his is the only major romantic subplot in the show. Even the lesser villains come across as well-rounded, believable characters, with all sorts of conflicting goals. Still evil, though. Like, these people run human trafficking operations and kill old ladies for no good reason. And they pose a legitimate threat to the hero, despite being (for the most part) normal humans.
Most Marvel superheroes fall very close to the “Greek god” end of the scale I mentioned earlier. Super strength and invulnerability are the most basic powers issued to your average Avenger. That’s not even counting the flight, lightning powers, missile-firing murdersuits, etc. Even the supposedly non-powered heroes have access to a ridiculous amount of technology, inhuman fighting skills, and the aforesaid super strong and invulnerable guys as allies. All this is extremely cool, but it doesn’t do wonders for creating suspense. I mean…is Thor ever really in danger? From anything?
Daredevil missed out on the Marvel superhero starter kit. His powers help him to detect when people are lying and trail criminals without being noticed, but they do not help him lift cars effortlessly or survive nuclear explosions. And he’s not rich, so he doesn’t even have cool toys. It’s established early on, in as brutal a manner as possible, that he can get hurt, and he won’t heal right away. Hello super intense fight scenes! This also makes him more of a hero, since he’s not effortlessly beating up bad guys, but genuinely putting his life on the line for his city.
This scene has happened in almost every MCU movie ever: the hero gets mortally wounded. He keels over, to some dramatic music. His friends look concerned. And then some magic happens, and he’s fine. It happened to Thor in Thor, Captain America in the first Captain America, Iron Man in The Avengers, etc., etc. Come on, Marvel–everybody knows you’re not going to kill your heroes, so why do you keep pretending to?
I might regret saying this later, but so far, as of the first season, all deaths in Daredevil have been permanent. Which makes them horrifying and sad, kinda like how death is in real life. Even some of the villains have sad death scenes! It’s telling that Daredevil, despite being more of an anti-hero than his MCU fellows, is the only one so far who has a no-kill rule. Because death actually means something in his world. Taking a life is a line he just can’t cross. Plus he’s Catholic, so…
And I just love the characters. Matt/Daredevil is an all-around wonderful person, his fighting skills make Jason Bourne look weak–and he’s just flawed enough to be interesting. His comic-relief sidekick in the law business, Foggy Nelson, turns out to be a pretty awesome hero in his own right (though the “comic relief” part is very much needed as well). His love interest, Claire Temple, is the only superhero girlfriend I’ve actually liked…EVER. She acts like a sensible human being at all times, and is more of an asset than a liability to Daredevil–which is a first. In fact, my biggest complaint about the show is that she’s not in it enough. Hopefully that’ll be remedied next season. Oh, and the actor who plays Wilson Fisk deserves an Emmy.
Add in some truly gorgeous camera work (I’m tempted to post a video of the last fight scene in “Cut Man” as an example, but SPOILERS! Just know that it’s breathtaking), lovely music, and a complicated plot with all kinds of surprises, and you have Marvel’s most glorious creation.
So why are you still reading this? Go watch the show!