Box Office Democracy TV Special: Daredevil
While the Marvel Cinematic Universe is an unqualified success, I don’t think I’m alone when I say that the Marvel Televisual Universe is much more of a mixed bag. While I hear Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has gotten much better since a rocky start but I’ll never know because I decided I would never care about any of those characters over a year ago. Agent Carter had me completely captivated for two episodes until it started to feel like Mad Men meets an exceptionally long episode of Scooby-Doo. Daredevil has none of this blandness; it doesn’t feel like anything else in the Marvel stable or anything on TV at all, really. It’s a dark, violent, abrupt show that begs you to binge watch it and then gives you bad dreams as a punishment.
Daredevil feels more like an extended Christopher Nolan Batman film than it does anything else in the Marvel canon. This world of organized crime, corrupt police and brutal fight scenes feels much more like Nolan’s Gotham City than any of the slick worlds we’ve seen in the rest of the Marvel universe. There’s a signature scene at the end of episode two where a long take down of a criminal gang is done in one take and it’s a wonder to behold. It lays down what the aesthetic of the entire show will be in that sequence and it seems to serve to hook the audience or inform them that maybe this show won’t be for them. It’s different than anything I’ve ever seen on a super hero TV show or, honestly, maybe anywhere. It feels like HBO-level action but with considerably less swearing and no nudity.
The villains always define superhero stories. The 2003 Daredevil film is often criticized, and it deserves most of that criticism but Michael Clarke Duncan was fantastic as Kingpin, it’s a criminally underrated performance lost in a mediocre movie. Vincent D’Onofrio approaches those big shoes (and bigger suits) with a different approach, his Wilson Fisk is still a larger than life presence and when he decides to be involved physically it’s quite sudden and terrifying but there’s also this fragileness to him that is quite touching. He’s unsure of his interactions with Vanessa, he shies out of the public eye not just because he wants to preserve his criminal anonymity but also because he’s generally uncomfortable in public. This interpretation of the character might not come directly from any comic books I’ve ever read but neither do I think it’s completely divorced from the source material, there’s a tenderness in Wilson Fisk beneath his violent criminality. It’s nice to see a new take on the character and D’Onofrio is the kind of actor that can make anything work. It even works to hide the lower stakes of the show when the big threat of the series is the gentrification of a neighborhood that doesn’t even exist anymore. It doesn’t feel like a low stakes nothing, it feels intensely personal.
Perhaps that’s the big difference offered by Daredevil, everything feels so personal. The fate of the world isn’t what’s at stake, instead it’s the fate of a neighborhood. If evil wins on this show there’s probably going to be some pricey condos put up and maybe someone will build a Whole Foods. I’m sure more people were actually killed when this happened to Williamsburg than are killed in this attempted renovation of Hell’s Kitchen (a Hell’s Kitchen that in the Marvel Universe doesn’t have a subway line when the real world neighborhood has had the A train for 83 years). I appreciate these kind of stakes so much more than the way Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. keeps teasing that maybe I’ll see an Avenger if I watch long enough or the way Gotham has to remind me in every episode that one day some of these people might meet Batman. Real stakes not move allusions separate Daredevil and make it the best superhero show I’ve ever seen and a triumph for both Marvel and Netflix.