Binge-watching used to be shameful, but nowadays it is something to boast about. And there is indeed something joyful about taking a whole day or weekend to dunk your mind fully into a hot pop culture phenomenon. The fact that these days more and more series are released a season at a time, with all episodes instantly available, feeds into this. (Making A Murderer is all the rage as I type this.) There are spoilers to get ahead of, there is a cultural conversation to take part in and there is a do-able amount of episodes with a clear end-point.
While I am easily behind the curve on Daredevil (2015), I did mostly binge-watch it, albeit with a big break in the middle. It was a big hype when it first dropped, a more dark, noire and adult-oriented take on superheroes than the usual Marvel fare. Daredevil was never one of the characters I cared about as a kid and the Daredevil movie – from 2003, with Ben Affleck – failed to make me and most other viewers a fan. And despite it clearly being better than the movie, the series still didn’t really hook me.
I like Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock, aka Daredevil. He’s convincing enough as a blind lawyer with super-hearing and martial arts training, who decides to dole out justice to criminals in his spare time. I wasn’t really enthused by his allies Karen and Foggy (played by Deborah Ann Woll from True Blood and Elden Henson from The Hunger Games respectively). I don’t think it is a failing of the actors. Foggy is clearly supposed to be the comic relief and moral center in this murky universe, but he comes across like a cornball. Karen gets stuck being stressed and sad for most of her scenes, making her feel limited as a character. The problem is that the series is bad at lightening its overall dour tone. The scenes where Matt, Karen and Foggy hang out at their fledgling law firm, bond and have some laughs, fall flat. They feel forced and awkward.
The main villain is The Kingpin from the comics, aka Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio). He is a big, quiet man with a vicious temper bubbling just beneath the surface. His backstory is shown and in keeping with the series’ morally grey approach, his point of view is explained. He doesn’t think he is a bad guy – he imagines that he has noble intent. He is just willing to kill innocent people to get what he wants, the goal justifying the means. His true colours are never in doubt though – something like seeing him decapitate someone with a car door will keep it clear that he is indeed a thoroughly Bad Guy.
The first season builds to a showdown between Fisk and Daredevil and the confrontation doesn’t disappoint. In general, the fights are the highlights of the series. The second episode in particular has a seriously impressive and complex sequence that seems to have been shot in one take. But the series is less good at creating investment in these fights. They deliver more visual excitement than emotional pay-off. That the finale does have an impact is because of the extensive amount of time that the series has spent setting it up.
You get the feeling that some streamlining would have improved the season overall, creating more tension and urgency. It would likely have been more powerful at a compact ten episodes, rather than the thirteen it has. Because it’s a sure bet that Fisk and Daredevil won’t truly face off until the last episode, you sense that the writers are dragging their feet. It doesn’t help that big plot twists are rare and you generally can predict where storylines are heading. One scene with Karen stands out though, and really threw me for a loop – though a major unlikelihood is involved, one that is even pointed out within the scene. You’ll know the scene when you see it.
Because see it you should. Daredevil doesn’t quite live up to the hype and has pacing issues, but it is still an interesting take on the superhero genre. It does need to fine-tune its tone and blend the humor and darkness better. Seeing people beat the crap out of each other can be mightily entertaining, but you do have to care about the outcome.