Marvel’s Daredevil is more than a simple comic book show: It works effectively as a crime drama, as a bite-your-nails thriller, and as a character study. It’s a rumination on good vs. evil and the prestige drama-fueling inner demons that drive Matt to both torture a criminal (and growl that it’s “because I enjoy it”) and work as an honest-to-god good lawyer. Matt murders those who should be murdered; Matt shows up to church for a confessional session with his priest.
Like the best-written comic adaptions, there is a solid balance between the human character (Matt) and his alter ego (The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen, soon to become Daredevil). This is especially true of Fisk/Kingpin. Daredevil has an exhilarating build-up to the villain reveal, with people terrified of just uttering his name out loud, teasing viewers with fear and horror stories for a few episodes before finally showing Fisk staring at a painting, remarking on how “alone” it makes him feel. The ruthless violence — and man, does Daredevil get ultra-violent; a scene involving a car door will have you reeling — and the sheer terror that King exerts over Hell’s Kitchen is only made more believable and chilling after we learn about Fisk as a person, a human, a man trying to woo a woman, who puts on an air of importance but later admits that he doesn’t know anything about wine. When Fisk’s temper flares and he begins beating his enemies (innocents) to a bloody pulp, it’s the backstory, combined with D’Onofrio’s standout performance, that makes it land so effectively.
When it finally comes to the Fisk vs. Daredevil showdown, everything is already perfectly in place — one of the series’ strong points is how it delights in the serialized story, with each episode leading to this final battle. What’s clear is that this is much bigger than their hatred for each other: They are at war for their city, for Hell’s Kitchen, because each wants to make it better, but they have diametrically opposed ideas as to how.
D’Onofrio isn’t the only actor to watch in the series. Cox, from the very beginning, feels more like Daredevil than Affleck ever did. Both Deborah Ann Woll as Karen and Rosario Dawson as Claire (Matt’s secret nurse/love interest, who routinely stitches him up and tries not to ask too many questions) bring their characters to life, even — especially — when they both, individually, get thrown into the woman-gets-kidnapped plot. (Both plots, particularly Karen’s, are dealt with surprisingly well.) Elden Henson’s confident but subtle portrayal of Foggy Nelson results in a character that you truly (almost painfully) care about as the series progresses. Foggy and Matt’s friendship is one of the driving forces of the series: their conflicts are real, and are dealt with accurately, rather than rushing through to a conclusion. And, thankfully, Marvel’s Daredevil forgoes the overt love triangle despite Karen’s clear interest in both men.
That isn’t to say Daredevil doesn’t have some rough patches — a reporter character falls into cliché territory, and both main women could still use a bit more development. But it’s an exciting start for Netflix’s multiple Marvel series. It tears down the massive destruction of Marvel’s bigger movie properties (though the fight scenes are still numerous and impressive) to show us the “street level noir side” of these popular superheroes, resulting in highly serialized, character-driven stories that care as much as about the unmasked men as it does the masked ones. Which, in a way, is as fearless as Daredevil himself.