Monday, April 13, 2015

Daredevil Season 1, Episode 1, "Into the Ring" REVIEW (SPOILERS for first episode)

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Marvel entered a whole new world on Friday with the release of Daredevil season 1 on Netflix, and I can’t be happier with the show so far—at least once I managed to get Netflix figured out on my PS3!  The grittiness of the show is absolutely palpable; it is obvious from the start that Daredevil is tonally different from everything else Marvel has produced thus far.  The human aspect of Matt Murdock—and all of the characters, really—is abundantly clear in every aspect of the show.

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The first episode begins with Jack Murdock running over to find Matt lying in the street moaning, with a couple of cars and a truck around looking like they’ve all been in an accident.  When Jack is trying to find an explanation, an old man calls out that Matt had pushed him out of the way and saved his life.  Sadly, Matt got some chemicals in his eyes which took away his eyesight.  I thought that this was an awesome way for them to show us how Matt became blind.  They essentially took the origin story from the comic book and spread it out to show it to us in pieces throughout the series.  The visual representation of his eyes going blurry and then spots appearing before everything goes black was very cool, also.  As a matter of fact, so far I have been very impressed with their visual representation of his blindness and his enhanced hearing and other senses.

The scene immediately cuts to Matt in the confessional at the local Catholic parish.  However, he does not give a “confession” in the traditional sense; instead he spends the whole time talking about his dad, “Battlin’ Jack Murdock” and his ability to take a punch.  Jack was “always on his feet when he lost” because he just wasn’t a quitter.  Matt reminisces that every so often it was as though his dad would just “snap” and get a terrifying look in his eyes.  At that point his opponent would start trying to retreat, until Jack finally cornered them and knocked them selfless.  Matt’s grandmother would always tell people to beware of the Murdock boys because “They got the devil in them,” and when Jack was in the ring he would “Let the devil out.”  At this point the priest finally tells Matt that he needs to actually tell him what he is there to confess.  Matt’s response is a little frightening:  “I’m not asking forgiveness for what I’ve done.  I’m asking forgiveness for what I’m about to do.”  This whole scene gives us an interesting look into Matt’s soul.  He is not necessarily a devout Catholic at the point in his life, but his grandmother’s faith has certainly influenced him.  He feels guilt over what he must do, but doesn’t see any way around it.  He needs to “let the devil out.”

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The next scene shows Matt “Letting the devil out” against a ring of human traffickers led by Turk Barrett who are loading terrified women into a shipping container.  This scene is just plain fun because it lets Matt show off just about all of his abilities.  He appears out of nowhere and disappears into thin air.  He throws a cattle prod with nearly pinpoint accuracy.  He manages to jump his way onto a shipping container by jumping from wall to wall.  He even somehow manages to dodge bullets—something which is technically impossible—even for him (especially with supersonic rounds)—but he makes it look easy.  We also see some of his brutality come out as Matt just starts pounding on Barrett and won’t let up even after he falls unconscious.  I love how this scene makes Matt look like a genuine superhero—unable to be knocked out of the fight—something that the very next scene completely contradicts.

The next scene is when Matt wakes up in bed and moans because he got himself beaten to a pulp the night before.  The exhaustion is obvious; the cuts and bruises are clear.  It is abundantly clear that Matt Murdock is not a super soldier and does not wear any form of body armor.  However, Matt’s phone conversation with Foggy is probably the first “fun” or “humorous” scene in the series (perhaps setting the tone for the rest of the series):  Foggy assumes there’s a woman in bed with Matt and asks how she was last night.  He replies “Violent.”  After their conversation, Foggy goes off to “bribe” a childhood friend who is now a cop and ask him to send any interesting cases their way.  I think it is pretty clear that Foggy (and his relationship with Matt) is going to be the primary source of comedic moments in this series.  His character has serious moments as well, but he seems to be involved whenever something funny happens.  Those moments are pretty crucial to Daredevil; if we didn’t have those occasional funny moments, the show would be far too brutal and serious.

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Matt and Foggy next go to meet their real estate agent to pick out a location for their law office.  They choose an office in a part of town that was very heavily damaged in the Chitauri invasion—giving them an opportunity to discuss the effects of the Chitauri invasion (and The Avengers) on the residents of Hell’s Kitchen.  I didn’t think that the reference was too “on the nose” for the show; it made sense in the context that they would be talking about the Chitauri invasion, and that they would be looking into an office like that because they are so poor.  This conversation also gives us an opportunity to learn more about Matt and Foggy.  Matt only wants to defend those who are innocent; Foggy prefers for them to take all the clients that can because they need the money. Interestingly, this plot becomes more of an issue in a later episode.

The scene cuts to Karen Page kneeling over a dead man, murder weapon in hand.  She begins screaming “I didn’t do it” when the police break into her apartment.  Matt and Foggy take the case—their first one.  Foggy nearly leaves when they find out she doesn’t have money to pay them, but Matt insists on staying and listening to her story.  While listening to Karen’s story, we get a glimpse at one of Matt’s more impressive skills:  he is a human lie detector.  When someone is speaking, Matt can focus on the person’s heart rate to determine if they’re lying.  I like the way they show this on the show:  the edges of the screen get blurred, and the person’s voice gets quieter, replaced by the sound of their heartbeat.  The way they are showing Matt’s abilities is very interesting, and one of the better parts of the show.  On TV there’s only so much you can do without the visual; the focus on the sounds he is hearing is a fun way for them to emphasize that there is more going on that just what we see.

The next scene appears unrelated at first, but shows the lead-up to the assassination attempt on Karen Page in her cell.  A man in a suit (later identified as Wesley, Fisk’s number two) approaches a man eating his lunch (a police officer) and uses the twin motivators of enormous debts and threats to his daughter’s life to “encourage” him to kill Karen Page.  When he fails to do so, Matt and Foggy immediately demand that she be released (especially since too much time has elapsed without her being charged with a crime).  As if all the blood weren’t enough of an indicator, the fact that Karen has ligature marks on her neck for the rest of the episode makes it pretty obvious that this show is far grittier and more mature than anything on network TV could be.

They bring her back to their office to find out why someone would be trying to kill her.  This scene helps to clarify the setting for the series.  This is happening over two years after The Avengers (close to present-day).  The company Karen works for, Union Allied Construction, is one of the big contractors working on rebuilding New York, and they have been embezzling massive funds from government contracts and other sources through their company pension fund.  She accidentally opened a file, saw the numbers, and now they’re trying to kill her (and anyone she tells) to keep that information from getting out.  This sets up the conflict between Matt and Wilson Fisk (New York’s “Kingpin of Crime”) in the series.

Matt of course invited her back to his apartment until they could find somewhere safe for her to live.  This gives him an opportunity to interrogate her further about what had happened and determine that she had taken a copy of the file and hidden it in her apartment.  When she leaves to retrieve the file, she is attacked by an assassin, from whom Matt saves her.  The fight is incredibly brutal (including Matt falling out the window and landing on the pavement, triggering a flashback to his childhood and his dad).  After the fight, Matt takes the flash drive and the hitman to a newspaper to run the story and make everything public.  Because the story went public, Fisk decides not to have Karen killed—everything she knew is in the newspaper, and they want to keep the body count down to avoid unwanted attention.

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We also get a chance to see the group of crime bosses who are working with Fisk meeting in a building under construction.  In this way we learn some of how the crime bosses are working together to control the city:  Madame Gao runs a group of workshops which package drugs.  The Russian brothers (Anatoly and Vladimir) organize distribution through their taxi company.  Their organization is also involved with the human trafficking operation that Matt disrupted at the beginning of the episode.  Leland Owlsley is the financial expert.  Nobu is their Japanese contact.  I think the amount of time that this show devotes to the villains is excellent; it lets us really get to know them and their motivations, actually making them sympathetic.  It is interesting that though Fisk has a definite presence throughout the episode, we only hear his voice in a single scene while Wesley is in the car, and we never hear his name.

The episode ends with Matt at the gym where his dad trained, working a punching bag while a montage of Fisk and Wesley’s cover-up of their involvement with the Union Allied Construction scandal, along with clips setting up future plots, plays.  That whole scene reminded me forcefully of the scene introducing Captain America in The Avengers.  There is a difference:  That scene focused on Steve’s recollections of his wartime service and loss of his past, rather than on key elements of the plot.  Regardless, I think it was intentional that they placed Matt in a deserted gym steadily working a punching bag during a montage of clips.  That scene was one of the most subtle allusions to the shared universe that I’ve noticed in a Marvel offering.

In summary, I absolutely loves Daredevil episode one.  It sets the stage nicely for the rest of the season, and does a good job of introducing us to most of the key characters.  One of my favorite parts is how well they handle the slow reveal of Matt’s abilities, as well as their portrayal of his identity as simultaneously a superhuman and a regular human with all the frailties of a regular human.  It’s amazing that a man who can dodge bullets is also technically blind and wakes up feeling all of his injuries in the morning.  I cannot wait to keep watching this show!

So what did you think of Daredevil episode one?  What was your favorite part?  Is this what you were expecting?

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