It really all started when Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury uttered the words “I want to talk to you about the Avengers Initiative”. Sure the majority of people who saw that post credits scene in theatres were the ushers sweeping up your popcorn and sweet wrappers, but word soon spread that Marvel had big plans. Big Plans.
Nobody had attempted to build an extended, connected universe before. I guess the closest we got would be Star Wars. A series of films and a few cartoon shows, a (now defunct) expanded universe of novels, comic books and video games would build a fictional world worthy of Lucas’ vision. Marvel’s ambitious plan was to have a series of films that connected, making best use of the intellectual property that remained at the company. Gone were Spidey and The X-Men, Fantastic Four, Punisher, Daredevil, Ghost Rider… I could go on. Unlike most ambitious projects, which are typically equal parts bravado and procrastination, Marvel started to deliver in their second project. Iron Man 2 was a world building exercise, teaching the company how not to do certain things, like over reach. When The Incredible Hulk dropped shortly after, we got Robert Downey Jr. In Tony Stark mode, dropping expositional gems left right and centre. The seeds were sewn, Marvel’s Cinematic Universe was born.
Jump forward half a decade and we are close to the end of phase 2. Phase 3 is at the forefront of everybody’s mind, and no one dare look ahead to Phase 4. In the last five years Marvel have moved into the Mouse House, where it currently shares a bed, and a laboured metaphor, with Lucasfilm Ltd. Since settling in at Uncle Walt’s, they have diligently moved through Hollywood regaining control of some of the characters who slipped through their fingers so long ago. Sure, some of the wayward children remain out of reach, the aforementioned X-Men and the Fantastic Four, show little sign of playing in Marvel’s sandbox, and these characters are currently being written out of Marvel’s comicbooks, an admittedly hostile way of unifying the comic book and movie universes and an attempt, perhaps, to devalue these characters. One of the prodigal children to have returned to fold is Daredevil. Previously seen leaving lots to be desired over at 20th Century Fox, Daredevil could have easily been filler at Marvel. A “stuff him in the back to make up the numbers” kind of thing.
It’s becoming very clear that this is not the Marvel Method when it comes to the MCU…
The Man Without Fear
Kevin Feige (prounounced Fi-Gee) is fearless. How easy would it have been to say, “We got Daredevil back, quick, let’s throw a movie out there now!”? That is not how this guy rolls. One imagines the wall of Mr. Feige’s office being covered in pictures of all the characters on the roster, pins connected by red twine making a Spidey’s (more on that later) web that he stands before on a daily basis scratching his chin. Like the maestro that he is proving himself to be, Feige uses his characters sparingly, slowly positioning them for maximum, concussive (apparently!) impact.
Enter the Defenders Initiative.
On the big screen the cream of Marvel’s crop are taking names and kicking ass. On the small screen a new brand of hero has taken shape, lead by former Avenger Agent “Why Is He Phil” Coulson, back from the dead (spoilers) to lead a group of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents against the rising forces of Hydra. The event series Agent Carter gave us another TV property that was set after the war, during the founding of S.H.I.E.L.D. Both shows have the unmistakable Whedonesque wink at the camera charm. Witty dialogue and snark in equal measure. It’s very much a TV thing. Could there be something in between? The answer is a resounding yes.
TV has become a new beast in recent years, Breaking Bad brought an audience to the streaming service Netflix and in return Netflix gave us the binge. Shows like House Of Cards and Orange Is The New Black dropped on the platform fully formed and uncut. Every episode there for immediate consumption. This would be Marvel’s next world to conquer, but why limit yourself to one or two series? Go Big Of Go Home must be written large over the door to Marvel’s offices.
The plan is to release Daredevil, AKA Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist. Each of these shows will lead into The Defenders, Marvel’s street level heroes. These guys move around the rubble left when one of the big screen Gods levels a building. How can these shows fair in the shadow of the movies? If this weekend is proof of anything it is that they will fair very well indeed.
Daredevil The Man Without Fear
I’m seven episodes into Daredevil, putting me just about halfway through the first season of Marvel’s first adult TV show. I use the word adult deliberately. So how is it? Lets break this down.
I will try not to spoil too much, but be warned that certain things I have to say will reveal certain elements so if you haven’t seen the show yet, move along.
Dark And Gritty
I’ll try and talk about the look of this show without falling back on the overused and insufficient phrase “dark and gritty”. Without a doubt this show is aimed at the more mature audience and that is certainly reflected in the aesthetic. Gone are the brightly light, polished sets of S.H.I.E.L.D. along with the whedonspeak. Every frame of Daredevil is packed with economically lit atmosphere. The show itself is shot on a Red Epic “Dragon” camera at 6K! 6K! A Redcode Raw 6K source gives a 4K DI that is so gorgeous, so full of detail, that you’ll want to cry. So I’m assuming its a conscious decision to add the grain. There is a veneer of film grain over this show that makes it feel way more cinematic than you’d expect, leaving Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. feeling like the TV show, and this feeling like something in-between. A new hard to classify medium. It looks cool, and moody, every shadow used to great effect. I hope this aesthetic makes its way into the other shows coming to Netflix.
Wardrobe Malfunction Part 1
I have to admit something to you now. When the first images for this show started to leak, particularly the first shot of Daredevil himself, I wasn’t happy. The black costume did nothing for me. As a long time fan of Daredevil, one who grew up reading the books, the first thing I think of is the red tights, the billy clubs, the horns, the radar sense. I think of the man without fear leaping from tall buildings and swinging high above the filthy streets of Hells Kitchen. The first image we got did nothing to promise that and SPOILERS, we get precious little of it in the first seven episodes. Guess what, I really didn’t miss any of it. This is a show that knows how to pace itself.
The black suit has a feel of something Matt throws together in a rush to get out onto the streets and start delivering his brand of justice. It provides little in terms of protection as Claire, his first real ally points out when she is patching him up. He even uses rope to augment his costume in a scene I’m going to be recounting shortly, and it proves that this v1.0 Daredevil, is about utility ahead of anything else. It is simply awesome and I will be sorry to see the back of the black suit. I will be talking about my desires for season 3 later that will hinge of Daredevil’s costume, or lack there of so stay tuned for that.
The Heart Of The Matter
At the heart of this show are three characters. Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), the blind lawyer turned vigilante, his partner Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) and Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll). These characters arrive fully form, as if we are falling into step behind them and trying to catch up. Both Lawyers have a history, slightly hinted at in the show that could provide material for later episodes and Karen has a back story that drives the early episodes. I don’t want to score to many points of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. because they are doing very different things, but it must be said that these characters feel like they have lives out of frame. The cast of AOS seem to only exist to service the story, as if when they leave frame they sit in a directors chair play Candy Crush waiting for their next scene. Throughout the first half of the season we get Claire (Rosario Dawson) the good samaritan, love interest, nurse and capable defiant damsel, Wesley the (Toby Leonard Moore) aide to the big bad, Wilson Fisk (Vincent D'Onofrio) AKA the Kingpin, although, like the horns, tights and billy clubs, that name has yet to make its debut. Vanessa Marianna (Ayelet Zurer) as Fisk’s love interest, and an assortment of supporting characters, each as well rounded as the main cast. Everyone is given space to grow as the story picks up pace, and the introduction of Stick (Scott Glenn) is held back until everyone is established. Stick rolls into town in episode seven and brings with him what we can assume is the main thrust of season one. The less said about that now the better. I’ll take a closer look in part two.
Cape Less Crusader
One comparison that cannot be avoided is the closeness to The Dark Knight. A black clad vigilante haunting the shadows of a city that he loves, tormented by the ghost of a murdered parent. Charlie Cox even adopts a growly voice on more than one occasion here. Both characters are trained by mentors they will later find themselves at odds with, both flirting with a line between avenger and killer. That ladies and gentlemen, is the closest I can get to a negative word about this show.
A Fresh Look At Daredevil
Something that stood out to me about this take on the character is that he isn’t defined by his disability. What has always attracted me to Daredevil is the fact that he is a superhero who’s single defining characteristic appears to be that he is blind. Blind justice puns aside, it was a laboured point in the 2003 movie. We spend too much time in the opening moments of that film looking at Matts disability. We get to see how he organises the notes in his wallet, that his suits and brail tags on the sleeves, that he sleeps in a water chamber to mask the cries of a city that never sleeps. Thats not the case here. We get Matt’s back story, how he lost his sight, how he coped when his abilities started to manifest themselves. We never stop and study the minutia of Matts routine, but rather we are shown, not a disabled man, but differently abled man. It simply takes the blindness away and lets as view a capable man, driven by something far more compelling. That is a refreshing change to be sure.
Ask anyone who has seen the show so far and they will tell you about the fight scene in the hallway. Heres what film maker Kevin Smith had to tweet about it:
What follows should be considered spoilery so if you have yet to see the show, move along:
There is a point in episode two where the Russian mobsters at the heart of Fisk’s empire set a trap for Daredevil. They very publicly take a child from his father and leave a trail that attracts Matt. We don’t see what happens but Matt is left wounded. He is patched up by Claire, a good samaritan who is soon running interference with a Russian gangster disguised as a policeman. Long story short, Matt ends up torturing this guy to get the whereabouts of the boy. Then, battered, bloodied and bruised he sets off to rescue the child, fully aware that he is expected. What follows is a film making tour de force. Matt enters the building where the kid is being held. He bursts into a room and engages several thugs, armed to the teeth, Matts only weapons are his fist, bound in rope. Oh, and a microwave. The camera follows the action down a corridor as Matt beats seven barrels out of anyone he crosses paths with. This isn’t an infallible superman though, he takes as much of a pounding here as he gives, but like his father said, “its not how you hit the canvas, its how you get up!” Every second Matt gets to regroup he does, leaning against the wall to gather his strength before launching into another rally of blows. Finally everyone is dealt with and Matt is the last man standing, barely. With that he opens the door to the room where the scared little boy cowers. Before he enters he lifts his mask showing the boy a friendly face. This is a nice touch. What a beautiful scene, beautifully shot, beautifully edited, beautifully choreographed and a beautiful piece of character building for Matt. One of many highlights of season one’s first half.
Wardrobe Malfunction Part 2
Someone leaked the image of the red suit ahead of the shows release, effectively forcing Marvel to put something out before we got to see the suit on film. They put out the motion poster below as a sort of reveal:
As I said before, when I think of Daredevil, I think of the red tights, the horned hood, the white billy clubs and his swinging through the streets. SPOILERS; but I’m at episode seven and I haven’t really seen any of those things. Whats more is I don’t care. The carefully paced reveal, the build to all these aspects is great fun for a fan, an I’ll assume its fun for the uninitiated also. I have to say it was disappointing to see the suit before I got to see it on screen, correctly lit and in context. Dare I say, I didn’t really like what I saw, I am much more partial to the black gear. I suspect that the red suit is revealed in the next episode, episode eight so I will try to reserve judgement until then.
Another nice little easter egg is set in a scene between Wilson “The Kingpin” Fisk and his love interest/dinner date/art dealer, Vanessa. She is recounting, quite frankly too, a liaison between her and another man, a man who she describes as wearing a white suit and an ascot. Basically the comic book version of The Kingpin then.
Does Whatever A Spider-Can
Now, a little while ago on an episode of the Movie Geeks Film Cast, I suggested that a good place to reintroduce Spider-Man into the MCU would be Daredevil. The two characters have crossed paths in the books and in fact, they were some of my favourite stories. But just as how this show presents version of Wilson Fisk we haven’t seen before, a version you’ll lose your head over, it also presents a set of situations that Spider-Man simply wouldn’t fit into. This past weekend Marvel confirmed that Spidey will be Peter Parker and he will be a teenager. So he will definitely not fit into the tone of this show. In fact I do wonder if any of the Defenders, should they all follow this template, could transfer over into the MCU proper.
You know I think what we are getting here is perfect. In the comic books you had these adult tones, running alongside a more family friendly tone. So I can accept that this is the same universe as say the Avengers or Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. but you’ll never make sense of them alongside each other. Think of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. as a bowl of brightly coloured sugary cereal washed down with chocolate milk, and Daredevil as a late supper of bloody meat and a rich red wine. They are great alone, but never the twain shall meet…
Ok thats it for part one, I’ll get to the rest of the show and put together a part two review asap.
Before I go though I’m looking ahead at the future for these Netflix shows, and what I want is very specific. If you’ve ever read any of the books you’ll probably be familiar with Frank Millers run, specifically Born Again. Born Again is my absolute favourite and I want to see it, but not just yet. I’m concerned that there will be a rush to get to the good stuff in that book, but we need time. We need to see Matt and Fisk develop an obsession with each other. We need to get to know Urich and Karen better, we need to want to know more about Matt’s mother before we can really enjoy the Born Again story. So Marvel, please, hold this story until at least season three.
I’m certain there will be one…