Friday, April 10, 2015

DAMN Good Television -- DAREDEVIL: "Into the Ring"

It's been a long, hard road for fans of Marvel Comics' Daredevil, but finally, the devil has been given his due.

Back in October of 2012, the Daredevil film rights reverted to Marvel Studios after 20th Century Fox was unable to get a second film into production since their mostly disappointing 2003 film starring Ben Affleck.  Marvel fans rejoiced at the news, even more so when Netflix announced one year later that they would release four TV series starring Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist, leading up to a miniseries event called The Defenders.

The first thirteen episodes of Daredevil premiered late last night, with the opening episode written by former showrunner and current consultant/executive producer Drew Goddard.  As the series opens, we get a flashback to the day young Matt Murdock loses his eyesight after saving a man from getting hit by a runaway truck.  The chaotic scene is fundamental to Daredevil lore and immediately hooks the viewer as we learn that the truck carried barrels containing toxic chemicals that splashed into Matt's eyes.  What really sells this opening scene is the horror Matt experiences as his sight quickly fades into permanent blindness.

Switching to the present, we see the adult Matt talking to a priest in confession, introducing the character's Irish-American Catholic background and giving us our first impression of Charlie Cox as Matt.  We get some background on Matt's father, the boxer known as Battlin' Jack Murdock, but what's most interesting here is that Matt isn't confessing his past sins, he's confessing the sins he's about to do.

The next thing we see is Matt's superhero playground in Hell's Kitchen, New York, where Matt is now wearing the black semi-ninja costume and eyeless bandana mask from the comic book limited series Daredevil: The Man Without Fear by Frank Miller and John Romita, Jr.  Daredevil (or at this point, the future Daredevil) proceeds to take out a bunch of men forcing girls into a van as part of human trafficking.  The fight is brutal and messy, giving us a brief taste of Daredevil's penchant for billy clubs as Matt frees the girls after taking a pounding in the process.

We're then introduced to Elden Henson as Matt's legal partner and best friend, Franklin "Foggy" Nelson.  Matt and Foggy are starting up their practice, so Foggy meets with a former childhood friend named Brett who's now an officer for the NYPD.  Bribing him with a bag of cigars for his mother, Foggy arranges for Brett to tip him off on promising cases. However, it's the following scene where Foggy comes to life as he and Matt meet with a real estate agent to check out their new office for Nelson & Murdock, Attorneys at Law.  The agent mentions that the building was barely damaged during the Chitauri invasion featured in the first Avengers film, officially confirming that Daredevil is set firmly in the Marvel Cinematic Universe without beating viewers over the head with references the way Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter have.

And sure enough, Brett tips off Foggy that a woman named Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) is being held in police custody for a homicide of a man named Daniel Fisher.  Foggy and Matt go to meet her at the station and offer her legal assistance as their first and only client. Karen tells them that she worked with Fisher and met up with him for a few drinks at a bar, only to black out and wake up with a bloody knife in her hand.  As Daredevil fans already expect, Matt listens to her steady heartbeat as the human lie detector that he is and knows she isn't lying.

After a police guard tries to to kill Karen in her cell and fails, Matt and Foggy arrange for her to be taken to the offices of Nelson & Murdock.  Karen tells them she knows why the guard tried to kill her, remarking that she worked in the offices of Union Allied, a property developer that was working to restore New York’s West Side, as the secretary for the company’s chief accountant, where she’d coordinate the company’s pension claims. Accidentally opening an e-mail meant for her boss, Karen accidentally learned that the company is receving too much money and guesses that someone is embezzling.

Matt, of course, is a complete sucker for a pretty girl, despite being blind, something that Foggy is constantly incredulous about.  Taking Karen to his apartment, Matt offers her a clean and dry shirt after a rainstorm, which she changes into right in front of him knowing that he's blind.  Matt runs through Karen’s story with her again and suggests that Karen must have a file containing all of Union Allied’s embezzlement information.  He asks Karen if she still has the file, she says no, but her rapid heartbeat reveals that she’s lying.

Karen leaves Matt’s apartment and walks back to her own, the scene of Fisher’s murder, to get the file contained on a flash drive.  A man enters the room and knocks Karen out, taking the file, but Daredevil enters and the two scuffle, which results in Matt being pushed out of the window.  Falling onto the street below, Matt struggles to pick himself up after recalling a memory of his father telling him to get back to work on his schoolbooks.  The fight becomes even more brutal, once again showing a more realistic, messy throwdown than the perfectly choreographed stuntwork on the CW's Arrow.

Recovering the file, Daredevil dumps both the file and the attacker on the steps of The Daily Bulletin, a fictional New York newspaper that serves as a replacement for Marvel's The Daily Bugle, which is presumably tied up with the Spider-Man movie rights and off-limits. With Union Allied's scheme made public, crimelord Wilson Fisk's assistant Wesley is instructed by his boss to keep tabs on Karen, Matt and Foggy, teasing us with Vincent D'Onofrio as The Kingpin with only his voice.  And now that Karen is exonerated, Matt and Foggy offer Karen a new job as their office secretary, which Karen is more than willing to do considering everything they did for her.

Matt goes to Fogwell's Gym, where his father used to train, and starts pounding on a punching bag while we get a montage of various criminal activity taking place in the Kitchen. Anyone connecting Fisk with Union Allied is taken out, while somewhere else, a room filled with blinded workers package cocaine for shipment.  Even more ominously, a man looks over some New York City blueprints, with bold Japanese characters positioned directly over the Hell's Kitchen blocks.  But don't worry, the last thing we see is Matt as Daredevil once again, leaping into action as the episode fades into the closing credits.

So all in all, a promising start for Daredevil and already it's the best television series Marvel has produced to date.  Some may find some elements of the first episode a bit slow and heavy with exposition, but Daredevil is a slow burn to savor and appreciate over the next twelve episodes.  If you can't see the potential for greatness in this series, well...you must be absolutely blind.

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