I can’t call myself a diehard fan of Daredevil as a character, but I did, in my young years, thoroughly enjoy the critically lambasted 2003 film. Watching it as an adult is a very different experience, but I can’t deny the movie’s role in introducing me to Marvel’s blind vigilante. And despite how much the MCU has grown in film and television in recent years, I doubt I’d be checking out Netflix’s Daredevil venture without having seen it (I’m certainly not going to see Ant Man), and as poor a representation of the comics as that film may have been, it’s all I’ve got to go off of in my Daredevil viewing.
In the opening sequence of “Into the Ring” it’s not Matt Murdock we meet first but his father, Battlin’ Jack Murdock who pushes his way through a gathered crowd to where his son lays sprawled in the street after rescuing an old man and having a run-in with a truck carrying radioactive material. Jack being the first Murdock man we see, running to his son’s side, highlights his importance to Matt from the outset, and Skylar Graetner as a young Matt brings gravity and horror to Matt’s new reality as a blind person, screaming that he can’t see while his father attempts to console him.
The next time we see Matt he’s in a confessional, preemptively asking for forgiveness for the crimes he hasn’t yet committed. The obvious juxtaposition between Matt being a lawyer and vigilante is underutilized compared to the opposition between Matt’s devout Catholicism and his thirst to defend his corrupted city, which will lead him down whatever dark path he allows it to. The Catholic in him finds something deplorable in what he’s doing, but he’s equally set on seeing it through, despite its contrariness to Catholic teachings. But Hell’s Kitchen is bad enough that you can see how Matt justifies leaping into vigilante justice, beginning with putting a stop to a sale between human traffickers, rescuing the young women who had been taken.
These days any Marvel property is going to draw questions about how it does or does no, or eventually will or will not, intersect with the rest of the MCU. Daredevil doesn’t have much of that, not if you exclude the “incident” also known as the aliens descending on New York City unil being stopped the Avengers. And it certainly feels different from the splashy antics that populate other shows, including ABC’s Agents of SHIELD, which doesn’t have any problems handling the camp and fun of superheroes who battle dangers, all threatening the very fabric of the universe. Matt Murdock isn’t following in the footsteps of the Avengers. He’s not trying to save the world, just Hell’s Kitchen, struggling to prosper with all these bad people making their lives hard. Even sunny days look drab in Hell’s Kitchen, and while Matt and best friend and law partner Foggy Nelson (Eldon) are taking on the case of Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), the infamous Kingpin is unseen but working in the backdrop.
Steven S. Deknight, who was the showrunner of one of my all-time favorite shows, Spartacus has his fingerprints all over Daredevil. There’s blood and gore, including a pretty cool, if gross, scene of Karen gouging out the eyes of a guard sent to kill her in her cell. And ends with the deaths of two minor characters: the blackmailed father sent to kill her and the hired gun Matt dumped at a newspaper office. While there’s a sense of success in other superhero properties, at least at the end of their pilot episodes, the same can’t be said of Daredevil, which goes out on the dour note of seeing all the bad guys getting back on their feet, even participating in the abduction of a young boy. Things chug along with the Kingpin barely a whisper in the background, his name never being mentioned (it’s a very important rule). He works through his proxy (Toby Leonard Moore), who only mentions an “employer” and makes sure everyone knows not to call him by name. The Kingpin is only a myth in this pilot episode, his employee being the face of his blackmailing a prison guard into attempting to kill Karen Page.
“Into the Ring” functions much more as an origin story for Karen than it does for Matt Murdock, who gets some backstory via flashback, but the pilot is meant to introduce us to Karen. This episode is one very long, one very bad series of days for her. It begins with her awakening to a dead man in her apartment, his blood all over her and police suspecting her of his murder. Then she’s nearly killed in prison, strangled to death by the guard. She escapes only by playing dead and putting her fingers in his eyes, a moment that’s both gruesome and wonderful. Her role in exposing the shady dealings of her employers nearly gets her killed twice, the second time she’s only spared due to Daredevil’s intervention.
Though certainly a superhero show, “Into the Ring” doesn’t spend a lot of time reminding us of it. The fight scenes are spectacular, especially the episode’s final one which goes from Karen’s apartment to the street below. The thrills are there, but they’re accompanied by muted drama in Matt’s struggles with his faith and his tendency toward vigilante justice, his blindness and likely more as the season unravels. Charlie Cox, who everyone else knows from Boardwalk Empire but who I know from Stardust (a really quality film), imbues Matt with charm when appropriate and a solemnity when not. His first scene in the confessional is wrought with tension, as he recalls his father and his grandmother’s words about the devilish Murdock boys. But he switches gears to the lighthearted and charming when it comes to Foggy Nelson, and he’s a comforting presence for a traumatized Karen.
- I love the Netlflix opening credits. Mostly because they’re always vague and have weird music and I know I’ll be positively sick of it by the time I’m finished watching the show.
- Matt: “How would I even know that she’s a beautiful woman.”
Foggy: “I dont know. It’s kind of spooky actually. But if there’s a stunning woman with questionable character in the room, Matt Murdock is gonna find her, and Foggy Nelson is gonna suffer.”
Matt: “ I don’t disagree with anything you’re saying.”
- Deborah Ann Woll is so lovelyl