When Marvel Studios announced plans to launch their Cinematic Universe, beginning with Iron Man in 2008, the team-up they promised seemed like a distant hypothetical. If Iron Man worked out and if the rest of the movie did too, maybe we’d see something along the lines of The Avengers. Seven years later, not only is Marvel about to perform the trick for the second time, they’re debuting a new one, albeit one that feels somewhat familiar.
Netflix’s Daredevil is Marvel’s first step toward bringing the Avengers model to serialized television, and in its first hour, the series suggests that replicating the Cinematic Universe’s success is most certainly possible on TV and that if everything goes according to plan, the big picture might be something even more rewarding.
But I’m getting way ahead of myself. Let’s talk about the first episode, which considering Netflix’s all-at-once model, you’ve probably blown past on your way to the next 12.
The very first scene signals two things immediately: 1) we’re seeing the origin of Matt Murdock’s blindness, a traffic accident involving some nasty chemicals, and 2) Marvel on Netflix has a much different feel than Marvel on ABC. Daredevil has a distinct look that’s somewhere between the Cinematic Universe and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., definitely leaning more cinematic. It’s clear right away, as Jack Murdock, Matt’s father, finds his 9-year-old son, lying in the middle of the street. The boy managed to push an old man out of the way, but it costs him his sight, which we see the loss of from his point of view. I love how the show gets the most obligatory part of any superhero story out of the way in a few minutes, as if to say “This is how it happened. Everything else you need to know, we’ll fill in as its relevant to the larger story.”
Flash-forward to Matt as an adult, entering confession and giving Charlie Cox a nice, talky scene to get acquainted with the audience. People familiar with his work on Boardwalk Empire won’t need anyone to tell them this, but he’s pretty fantastic, lending emotional heft to his pre-confession (“I’m asking forgiveness for what I’m about to do.”) and making a believable ass-kicker in the next scene. Before the focus moves to the docks, Matt gives us a preview of what to expect. The Murdock boys, according to his grandmother, “have got the devil in them,” and Matt has seen his dad let it out in the ring. And lucky for us and a couple of would-be trafficking victims, we get to see Matt do the same.
No, Daredevil certainly doesn’t waste any time getting us to the action, and it was wise to do so, even if the first fight scene is a little too Batman Begins for its own good. Instead of going through the obligatory motions of telling us how Matt learned to fight and which store in SoHo he bought his ninja outfit from upfront, we meet an adult Matt who has already been dabbling in crime fighting. I’m sure we’ll see that other stuff down the road, but for now, entice us with some actual Daredevil action! Right off the bat(on), the fighting makes a good impression. The bouts are blocked with clarity, allowing us to see that Matt is very good at kicking ass, fantastic actually, and we believe it. Its action direction is akin to the Russo brother’s glorious fights in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, except with an extra dose of brutality. How’d everyone like the leg break? The sequence ends with Matt letting the devil out on the thugs’ leader. It’s certainly a dark moment, but it does the job of setting Matt apart from the other heroes of the Marvel Universe.
We’re just getting to the title sequence now?! To keep my reaction brief: I love the design of the blood-built New York skyline. Bonus points for not featuring a Regina Spektor song, but it loses some for not being Kimmy Schmidt’s theme.
Since this is the story of an urban, nocturnal crimefighter, there’s a rule that a scene of the hero waking up in bed, tired and bruised, must follow the first fight sequence, and that’s what we’re treated to as Matt’s law partner, Foggy Nelson, calls him. They have a meeting with a real estate agent that Matt needs to get up for, but Foggy has business to attend to first, specifically, bribing his childhood friend Brett, now an NYPD officer. At the perspective offices of Nelson & Murdock, the real estate agent explains that the building was one of the few not damaged during “the Incident,” or Chitauri attack during The Avengers—making that the series’ first concrete link back to the Cinematic Universe—and Foggy and Matt end up taking the space, even if their funds are a bit lacking. This might have to do with Matt’s client rules—he only reps innocent people—a policy that’s put to the test when Officer Brett calls.
Foggy’s friend in the NYPD has a client for them. The only problem is that she seems really guilty. When the police found Karen Page, she was hovering over the super dead Mr. Fisher, holding a bloody knife, but she adamantly maintains that she didn’t do it. Sounds like a case for Nelson & Murdock! The seven-hours-old lawyers arrive in the interrogation room to hear her story. She doesn’t have the money to pay them, but that’s all right. They’re short on clients, so Matt asks to hear her story. The whole ordeal started when she asked Mr. Fisher, her coworker at Union Allied Construction, out for drinks, because it’s “so hard to meet people in New York.” Sure, it is, former sex vampire Deborah Ann Woll. Anyway, they had just started talking at the bar when she blacked out. The next thing she knew, she was in her apartment with Mr. Fisher stabbed to death.
As Matt listens to her, the show gives us another glimpse at things from his perspective, this time focusing on his enhanced hearing. From the sound of Karen’s heartbeat, he knows she’s telling the truth, something that comes back up later in the episode. It’s a simple, smart way to build drama directly into Matt’s powers.
NEXT: More punching!