This is a review I hoped I wouldn’t be able to do for at least two more years if not more but thanks to Netflix’s recent decision to cancel Daredevil I am now reviewing Daredevil The Complete Series. The very idea of this show was something that had me buzzing from the minute it was announced in 2013. I have always adored the character of Daredevil and wanted to see a proper live action representation of him. I did have some concerns though because at the time Netflix hadn’t proven itself to be the great producer of original content in the way it has since been perceived. I believe at this time there had only been one season of House of Cards which is great but at the time 15 year-old me wasn’t exactly interested. Despite that small question mark about Netflix’s involvement I was really excited because at the head of this was Marvel, not Fox working with Marvel characters but Marvel.
The thing that makes this show work so well is that the people who were hired to run and write the show understand and respect the source material. In the first season show runner Steven S. DeKnight could have made the choice to simply put Matt Murdock into the red suit that fans know and love straight from the get go, but he didn’t. Instead DeKnight chose to take the time to carefully develop Murdock and his mission to the point where the red suit is necessary. There was a reason to each and every moment in the show or a decision a character makes, everything at some point comes full circle, whether its in the next episode or two seasons later. The foundations that are laid for all of the characters in the first season are fantastic, they’re all expertly developed and have meaningful relationships with one another in a way that few shows do.
The aforementioned Matt Murdock brilliantly played by Charlie Cox is at the forefront of those characters. The combination of the purposeful writing and Cox’s genuine emotional performance Murdock is easily one of the best Marvel characters ever translated from the page to screen. The character is a dead on representation of the character from the comics in every way with the exception of his red hair. His faith and conviction are so excellently portrayed throughout the three seasons of the show, with his faith being most interesting and integral in the now final season. It is endlessly fascinating to watch Murdock toe the line of breaking his rule of never killing. There are times where it feels like he may genuinely go through with a killing and the tension that comes from it is positively bone chilling.
Speaking of bone chilling this show broke Marvel’s live action properties streak of forgettable one-note villains, with Vincent D’onofrio as Wilson Fisk. A truly horrific, cold and calculated villain who truly believes that what he is doing is for the greater good despite how horrible his actions are, and yet we still sympathize with him. At first the show tries to make the audience feel for Fisk because of how he feels about Vanessa, which is a fine way to make a villain likable to a degree but then episode eight of season one happened. The backstory that is given to Wilson Fisk, does not only make you sympathize with him but helps you fully understand his point of view on the world despite how horribly twisted it was.
The other supporting characters are great as well whether it’s series regulars Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page and Elden Henson as Foggy Nelson or season specific characters like Jon Bernthal as The Punisher and Jay Ali as Special Agent Ray Nadeem. Starting off with the regulars they’re fantastic and it was really great to see them grow over the course of the show, especially Woll as Karen Page. Now her turn from legal administrator to journalist is a bit silly and frustrating but is ultimately one of the few issues that this series has but outside of that she is fantastic. Karen is a likable, kindhearted character who is deeply flawed and has a lot of inner demons. It was really great to finally see what those demons are in the season three episode “Karen”. The episode does a fantastic job of giving clarity to many of the decisions that the character makes in previous episodes of the series. It was nice not to just have that just be an exposition dump, we actually saw it and it was relevant to the story that was happening at that current moment. Foggy as well goes through a great deal of development and grows from just being Matt’s plucky partner to being a great character and lawyer in his own right. The head butting that he does with Matt is also really well done, it causes great conflict for Matt and every time he lets Foggy down it is heart breaking. One other character that sort of falls into the series regular camp is Clare Temple portrayed by Rosario Dawson. While she’s only in the show on a regular basis during the first season she is still worth addressing because of the impact she had on Matt. Temple was a great character to challenge Matt and why he does what he does, not to mention their terrific chemistry. Yes Karen and Matt are a great match and work well together but there was a lot left to be desired between Matt and Clare.
On the side of season specific characters there are four that are worth diving into, the first of which being Elodie Yung as Elektra. That character is the one that is the biggest mixed bag, her relationship with Matt in itself is intriguing but the storyline with her in season two was notably the weakest aspect of that season. The entire time that things are focused on her and her story, you find yourself wanting to get back to the other big story thread of that season until they intersect at the very end. Yung herself in the role is excellent and made her relationship with Matt feel natural and like it had existed before we saw it. Sticking with season two Jon Bernthal as The Punisher like Charlie Cox as Daredevil is perfect casting that feels like the character has leaped off the page and onto the screen, there’s no question. Much like Fisk you see where he’s coming from, but unlike Fisk you actually sympathize with him one hundred percent and root for him. At many points throughout the season the story that focused on his character was more interesting than Matt’s story in season two. Then jumping into the third season there’s the addition of Ben Poindexter played by Wilson Bethel (who was once up for the role of Steve Rogers) and was absolutely incredible. From the moment the show introduces the character he immediately captivating and you immediately want to know more about him. A lot of characters in the show are given a lot of great backstory and episodes or at least scenes that are dedicated to those backstories and other than Fisk the best backstory was given to Poindexter. Seeing all of the things that make him tick, why he acts the way he does and the stuff that he keeps at bay for a lot of the season. The performance given by Bethel is layered and slower gets more and more interense until he finally snaps and becomes the Bullseye from the comics. Finally there is a character that is much different from all the previously mentioned because this character didn’t exist in the comics and is one of the shows original characters and his name is Special Agent Ray Nadeem. Portrayed brilliantly by actor Jay Ali, this character added yet again another interesting dynamic. The relationship that he develops with both Fisk and Matt are so different but equally enthralling to watch as a viewer. At the start of season three the way the character is introduced isn’t in a typical expositional way. The show takes time to show him in his regular life and gain perspective into his struggles as a person. Perhaps the thing that makes this character stand out so much is that he is simply just a regular person trying to do the best thing. Even when Fisk is clearly playing him, it’s easy to be sympathetic with him because of his financial and family issues and the fact that he genuinely isn’t aware that Fisk is playing him. This isn’t the standard bad guys pays off or blackmails the cop, it is just someone honestly doing the best they can with the information they have. His arc is so expertly executed that you are never, not in his corner.
It isn’t just characters and writing that the show executes with excellence but also the cinematography, shot selection and action. There isn’t a shot in Daredevil that feels stock standard like in the majority of television shows. The use of color in the show is second to none; it is always used in a way that brilliantly sets the mood, tone or theme of a scene. Throughout the series there are a number of breath taking scenes due to all of these factors, the first and most well known being the one shot fight from the second episode of the first season. It is some of the best choreography done for a fight scene, every punch is impactful, and every broken bone is chilling. Audience members will be on the edge of their seat the entire sequence. Then in the second season the unthinkable happened, they followed up that scene with the stairwell sequence. Again the lighting, choreography and the one shot all again are used as effectively as they could be. This scene captures all the same lightning in the bottle of the first scene and then some, the moment where Matt pulls the trigger to scare the gang members and the smile on his face are something that gets permanently ingrained in ones mind. These sequences are a huge factor into why the show is so memorable, they compliment the other elements of the show the way milk compliments a cookie. Of course looking to the third season there are so many scenes like this such as the prison scene, the fight at the Bulletin, and the intense final confrontation between Daredevil, Kingpin and Bullseye. One that isn’t talked about much though is the sequence where Matt is desperately getting Nadeem to the courthouse to testify against Fisk. Everyone will have a different take but in this review the most tense action sequence is this one. The nail biting events that take place are second to none and it felt so unpredictable, where anything could have happened.
As good as the action sequences are in the show they wouldn’t have nearly been as memorable without the excellent character and dramatic moments in the series. Perhaps the biggest stand out and best example of the shows excellence in this area is the rooftop episode. It is such a simple concept for an episode but the convincing performances elevate the already compelling writing. Audiences learn so much about the character of Frank Castle and the episode serves as a strong effective reminder of who Matt Murdock is. The clashing of their ideologies are so fascinating that you find yourself getting excited and on the edge of your seat just listening to these two people having a conversation. While there are a great many other moments that could be discussed for the sake of not making this review any extra longer than it already will be there’s only one more talked about here. At the end of the final fight sequence there is this incredibly powerful scene that warrants Charlie Cox receiving an Emmy nomination. Matt finally comes to terms with his faith, his desire to kill Fisk, and learning that what makes Matt, Matt is that he doesn’t cross that line. When he screams “I BEAT YOU” chills run down the spine, that wasn’t just an actor delivering a line it was a truly visceral scream with genuine emotion behind it (and not to mention the beautiful music by John Paesano). It really highlights just how great of an actor Cox is. Not only that but it highlights all the love and care that was put into the series as a whole.
While it’s heart breaking to know that Erik Oleson’s vision for a fourth season will likely never see the light of day, it’s truly something special to have these three great seasons as they are. All the show runners that the show has seen have done a wonderful job to bring to life one of the best characters in comics in the most effective way possible. This show is a triumph that showcases the benefits of taking source material, adapting it and making changes to it where necessary but still ultimately respecting it. It’s a show that doesn’t concern itself with living up to the expectations built up from previous seasons. It focuses on telling a good story first. Daredevil the series to put it simply is the best live action adaptation of any comic book character, movie, television or otherwise.