Saturday, April 11, 2015

REVIEW: 'Daredevil' - Matt Murdock Asks for Forgiveness for What He's About to Do in 'Into the Ring'

Netflix's Daredevil - Episode 1.01 "Into the Ring"

Murdock's vigilante crime fighting and his new law practice find equally dangerous challenges in a murder case tied to a corporate crime syndicate.

Daredevil is the first of five series Netflix bought in a package deal from Marvel Studios sight unseen. That whole deal could have produced any number of results in terms of quality. Daredevil is the first one to debut and it has to carry that weight with it. Daredevil is the show that will inform us whether or not these upcoming projects will have some true grit and aspirations to them. Fortunately, Daredevil soars in this first episode. Yes, it does struggle like all superhero projects do in the beginning of having to explore all the various details about the main character, his powers and the story. And yet, there is such strong specificity to this piece that makes it feel much more distinct than Marvel's other television projects.

"Into the Ring" is a terrific opening episode that respects the audience's intelligence while setting up a story with actual depth to it. Marvel has insisted on connecting all of its recent projects in the same universe - aka the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). That could become a massive pitfall eventually. Setting all these stories in the same world could get tiring after awhile. There can only be so much death and destruction before it stops being engaging. Daredevil sets out to tell a story about the humanity around the fantastic. The events of The Avengers changed the way people in the MCU see the world. They know that there are superpowers and aliens out there. That wormhole caused the destruction of Hell's Kitchen. And now, Daredevil is set to tell the story of how it is going to be rebuilt by humans with genuine aspirations and ones with criminal corruption.

In this first episode, Daredevil shows that it is the darkest show set in the MCU yet - both in terms of content and in visual style. The characters live amongst the shadows. Matt Murdock is a blind crime fighter who sees the world around him differently. The episode doesn't go into large detail how he is able to fight other than through overly accentuating sound cues. And yet, that isn't a huge problem either because the fight choreography is so top notch. Matt is a gifted fighter who doesn't allow his disability to cripple him. He has a personal mission of helping the innocent people of the world from the nefarious men who try to corrupt it. It's a daunting mission for the hero. He helps expose one source of corruption only for the episode to end on a montage of things turning even more grim and bleak in the aftermath. That is the world that Matt Murdock exists in right now. That's why he has put on the mask and outfit. He wants to make the world a better place. And he's willing to dig deep into the devilish side of his soul in order to find that justice.

The series' opening minutes are some of the most profound beats of the show. Of course, the first thing the show depicts is the accident that causes Matt's blindness. Told through his father Jack's perspective, the audience just gets a glimpse of the aftermath of an accident. Young Matt is laying in the middle of the street. Horns are blaring and an elderly man is thanking him for what he did. Jack doesn't notice the chemicals spilled out into the street until his son starts screaming in pain and that he can't see anything. It's a brutal sequence to start the series on. And yet, it also showcases just how important the relationship between father and son will be. Jack is a professional boxer who is a huge influence on Matt's live both in the past and the present.

In the next scene, Matt heads to a confessional to tell the priest his story. It's important that the very first scene set in the present day of this story is one that shows Matt and his faith. At times, his monologue is a massive information dump. One that describes the look in his father's eye when he was in the ring and how his grandmother said that the devil was inside the Murdock boys. All of that is true. And yet, it's very powerful to see because it sets up the greatest internal conflict for Matt and what he's about to do. His struggles serving as a vigilante will come out of his faith. He can effectively be a vigilante and a lawyer. But it's harder for him to be a vigilante and a religious man. That is an exceptional statement to make early in the episode. He is seeking forgiveness for what he is about to do. The confessional doesn't work like that. And yet, Matt needs it to in order to justify his future actions. He is a very capable fighter in the shadows. But it has to have a meaning to him. He needs to know he is living in a world where he is making a difference.

In the episode's final third, Matt is able to make that change to the world. By helping Karen Page with both legal aid and physical assistance, he was able to expose Union Allied for their corruption. That is a personal victory. But one that doesn't change the direction in which the criminals are planning on taking Hell's Kitchen. They have a plan to bring the district up in ways that give them all the power. Matt can stop one shipment of girls and expose one company's fraud. But the crime of this area is vast and overwhelming. Matt's job as a vigilante is far from over. He is going to have to continue to embrace this part of his personality. He stands ready to do so. He appears on the top of a building listening to the crime happen in the world below. He hears the screams of the young child being taken away from his father and knows that there is still so much work to be done.

That's such a powerful way to end the first episode. This opening hour was exciting to watch while not shying away from the darkness that the MCU also holds. Matt Murdock is a complicated hero on his own path right now. His regular life is starting to form as well. The establishing of his legal practice with Foggy Nelson isn't as captivating as the darker parts of the show's DNA. But all aspects of Daredevil are already happening so strongly and with purpose. This is an impressive debut and I can't wait to see what else the season will hold.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Into the Ring" was written by Drew Goddard and directed by Phil Abraham.
  • The stuff happening with Karen Page was a little too complicated. Surely, there could have been better ways to retrieve the information she had taken without having to frame her for murder and then try to kill her. And yet, it gave her agency and importance to the show. So now that's she going to be Matt and Foggy's secretary, the audience knows that she is capable of so much more than that.
  • I like Foggy a lot too. At times, he came across too much as simply the comic relief character. But I rather enjoyed what he brought to the narrative. Plus, I loved his and Matt's back-and-forth about Matt always being able to find the beautiful woman despite being blind.
  • It was a stylistic choice to keep big bad Wilson Fisk largely out of this opening hour. His presence is known. And yet, his absence also shows how he likes to do business - with his influence known but by letting others handle all the dirty work. It helps build up the threat that he will eventually pose against Matt.
  • "Into the Ring" features two fight sequences and both are terrifically choreographed. So very exciting and well done!
  • As is the case with most Netflix shows released all at once, I'm going to try to review one episode a day until the season is complete. 

As noted in previous reviews from series released all at once, every episodic review is written without having seen any succeeding episodes. Similarly, it would be much appreciated if in the comments section, the conversation would only revolve around the show up to this point in its run.