27 April 2015

Some of My Thoughts on 'Daredevil'

Now that the semester is calming down and coming to a close, I find myself feeling too tired and annoyed to get any work done. That's the life of a typical college student, of course. But there have been times when I want to sit back and enjoy a good show, only to find that Youtube took down my favorite channel, the old talents at Channel Awesome continue to lose their luster (save for two), and Netflix has one too many crappy shows and movies for me to bother with. These first world problems are more annoying than critical, but I like to feel that my time is well spent... or I have the illusion that my time is well spent. Netflix has been hit and miss on that front, and I was back in a rut with the service for the third time this year.

Until Marvel of all things managed to make something that has a pulse and catches my interest.

I know the vast majority of the internet speaks in hyperbole and memes, but I'm very serious. This is the only Marvel "masterpiece" quality work that I genuinely agree as much as people claim. Kind of. Maybe. I don't know.

At least Gone Girl more than
makes up for this.
I remember the Daredevil movie from a decade ago. It had a few Evanescence songs on its soundtrack. The appeal of Ben Affleck baffled me as much as Tom Cruise's and Brad Pitt's. It was really dark... and black... and blue... and there was a literal waterbed? Uh... yeah, I never saw this movie. And I'm glad I spared my precious time and soul back then. Even by my standards, which allowed me to watch The Rage: Carrie 2 unironically and love it, that movie always looked WAY too edgy and cheesy for me.

Many years of mockery and unwillingness to take a stab at it again, a few higher-up guys had the balls to allow Marvel and Netflix to make a show. In an era where at least two superhero films are planned each year up until 2183, this is the best time to start over again with a more mature and sensible approach after the continuous success Marvel is bathing in.

Back in my X-Men review, I mentioned that I don't care for superhero stories. To clarify I'm not a fan of American comics and the superheroes that spawned from them. Regardless of allegiance, Marvel and DC are equally uninteresting to me in the sense that I have no motivation to dig into and be immersed in the lore. It'd the same reason why some people hate chocolate, or fish, or sports, or Nickleback; they just don't mesh well with your taste in media, hobbies, and other random elements of life. I can't explain how exactly without talking for over an hour (believe me, I tried), but from my review of Days of Future Past and my thoughts on Netflix's Daredevil series, you might see some  minuscule reasons why.

A blind man is a lawyer by day, vigilante by night. Basically Batman, but relying more on fists than expensive technology. And more realistic and understandable weaknesses aside from the usual psychological torture. And Matthew Murdock is a generally decent person with a mildly annoying suave mouth that lawyers generally are supposed to have.

Ok... My cynicism for questionably persuasive career fields and personalities aside, I enjoyed this character in part because how the pieces of his past are slowly shown in the most important and thematically relevant moments. Episode 2 is very, very damn brilliant for numerous reasons (action directors and writers ought to take notes), but the overlapping plots and backstory helped to keep the show move at a steady pace while giving you ample reasons to sympathize with Matt.

Sorry, Mick. But I still love you.
Episode 2 is so damn good that it made me understand why Moonlight was so poorly received back in the day. It's amazing when a low-budget internet show manages to have a tighter script with far more interesting and intriguing future plans than a safe to borderline formulaic vampire show on TV. Daredevil has far superior fight scenes, with the camera showing every flowing movement on screen with an uncanny realism that has been sorely lacking in recent years, and the parallels between the present day plot to Matt's past is so beautiful. If Moonlight even attempted to explain Mick's past in a similar fashion, it'd make the narration style of storytelling unneeded... for good reason. But alas, that is just the beginning of Moonlight's problems that I've only begun to notice recently, and it'd probably take up a whole new "Decontrusting the Squees" rant for another day.

Daredevil has a spin on the "origin story" that makes it more memorable and interesting than I anticipated. Rather than have a 90 minute monster-of-the-week blockbuster episode, the show takes its time to know the setting, the characters, their motivations and desires before the madness truly begins. All of this is done in thirteen fifty-minute episodes, all available right now to stream. Priceless.

As hilariously dumb of a name as Hell's Kitchen is, the unrest within the city is profound and disturbing. A complex crime syndicate with multicultural gangs have complete hold of the city, and one man wishes to change Hell's Kitchen for the better, even by crushing his "allies" or the civilians. No one can be trusted, which would make one believe that Matt is savvy enough to maneuver through the madness during the day with his best friend and partner Foggy Nelson and at night in his cheap Dollar Store getup. Then just halfway through the show, Matt fell for at least three traps and tricks in spite of his enhanced hearing and sensing abilities.

It shows how naive Matt still is in spite of his best efforts to be the vigilante badass trying to protect his city. Even as a lawyer he has made some questionable - if not stupid - decisions that could have put him, Foggy, or their secretary and new friend Karen at risk. The three of them see so many shady connections leading to dead ends and questions, but they are so badly in over their heads that you want to cheer for them. Their idealism and recklessness serve as a double-edged sword, helping them get closer to the heart of the corruption threatening their everyday lives but also leaving them exposed for the media or the gangs to ruin them.

What I'm getting at is that this is a crime story with the superhero elements being complementary. The premise does not hinge exclusively on Daredevil the persona, but Matt Murdock and how he lives two frustrating, daunting lives that could easily ruin him and the world around him. This show does more than focus on his abilities; it shows the consequences of Matt's actions and constantly questions his motives and his potential as a vigilante or a true hero. And while almost every other character is relatively normal, they are just as interesting as Matt. Or to put it differently, Matt is just as human, as flawed, as fragile, as weak as they are.

Daredevil is not a power fantasy but it does not succumb to despair and nihilism either. This show managed to take a source material with goofy comic book shenanigans, dropped the bullcrap with multiple writers and retcons and analyzed the essential elements of the character in a respectful, intelligent ma-


This series... to some degree underwent a Christopher Nolan makeover in the emphasis on "gritty realism". I can't really deny that, though I'm sure I'm not the only one who made this observation. STILL. Admitting that connection and acknowledging that I like this show makes a part of my soul cringe.

I shall avoid speaking ill of the dead, so I wish the spirit of Heath Ledger is resting peacefully and happily; but I must say that The Dark Knight was one of my worst movie-going experiences ever. Up there with Prometheus, Splice, and Oblivion. My reasons are irrational - I won't deny that - but everything it was trying to do seems more meaningful and digestible in Daredevil. Call me a plebeian; I just want to enjoy fiction that doesn't look like it's sticking its head up its ass all the time (1).

Nolan, please stop suppressing angry Bale.
While it took me some time to catch up with who's who, Daredevil does a so much better job at giving superficially memorable cues about characters either through the cinematography, the directing, the acting or a mix of everything that I can recognize everyone extremely well. Compare to The Dark Knight, which felt so lifeless and homogenous as a whole that almost no one stood out despite the clearly recognizable actors (also, the impenetrable dialogue killed almost all attempts to make me relate emotionally to anyone aside from the Joker, who was an extreme, an anomaly both in and out of context of the film).

Perhaps I'm so comfortable with certain styles of storytelling that the second someone like Christopher Nolan walks into a room, I can't stand his work. Perhaps Daredevil hit the right spots in telling the story of people; flawed, damaged, conflicted, and scared, but willing to make Hell's Kitchen their home no matter the cost. I can't fully explain how or why, but the emotional connection I have for characters like Matt Murdock and Wilson Frisk come from watching their highs and lows. Watching their childhoods crumble to pieces and their role models abandon them hits hard because of how painful and violent some of those memories are. The effect these monsters have on these men to the present day and how it shaped their ideas of justice for Hell's Kitchen is understandable in their simplicity. No flowery dialogue, no pretentious speeches, and no droll monologues. Daredevil shows the nasty details rather than tells fluffy white lies. Sometimes the straightforward approach is obvious, but sometimes the earnestness is enough to make some people ignore the lack of subtlety in other places.

But I still have to credit The Dark Knight for trying to make Batman translate to a more realistic and grounded setting. Too much fiction misses the point of Nolan's approach that many people seemed to like. And while I admire him for cutting away as much comic book bullshit as possible, I did not like his final product at all. Still, Daredevil took some parts of Nolan's approach and made a superhero series that is grounded and maintains the core elements of the figure without minimizing or stripping the more human elements to make Matt Murdock both an annoyingly rigid lawyer but merciful and fierce vigilante. Wilson Frisk is similarly a fascinating villain, both social awkward and short-tempered but earnest and respectable. It's quite rare when I care about the hero and villain equally to the point that I dread how the conflict between them will end.

While I have only completed seven episodes thus far and my opinion is very high at this point, I am a little concerned about some things. As adorable as Foggy and Karen are, I'm glad they finally seem to be getting more screen time with Matt, because I began to question if they have any interest in bonding as coworkers in a new law firm. Foggy and Matt do have decent banter and chemistry, but they don't have enough time together to flesh out Foggy any more than a nervous, mildly reckless goofball. Maybe it's because of the actor or his character's cheerful tendencies when helping Karen deal with shock, but Foggy is too much of a cute Ron Weasley for me to hate him.

Aside from the biggest players in the cast, very few others have things worth talking about. I'll admit that the Russian brothers have some interesting development for the limited time we see them, but Madam Gao's defining trait is her speaking 汉语 (Chinese) and Nobu's speaking 日本語 (Japanese). Claire was a nurse who had some interesting things to add to the story, but I have no clue if the creators are done with her permanently after a rather pitiful hand wave. The guys at the newspaper still have potential, but they are erratically handled, perhaps due to the show already showing multiple story lines happening at once from episode to episode without rest.

That being said, I will finish the first season. I'm too engaged to simply let go of this show. Daredevil has reasonable hype behind it... at least from where I'm sitting. Someone on Netflix was unsure, so I jumped into the pool to test it out before reporting back with thumbs up.

And the bright side is, it's the one more Marvel work thus far that tickled my fancy. I wonder if this, Iron Man 1, Avengers 1, and Thor 1 are the only ones?

Hmm. Guess so. ... Wait. There was another - ?

Meh... I'm too sleepy from after all my research stuff. Signing off for now!


(1) - While Christopher Nolan is nowhere close to being a director I like, Inception was ok. Almost nothing else he made enticed me, but like superhero comics, he just not be my cup of tea. Everyone's milage can vary.

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