Daredevil Steps up Marvel’s Superhero Game
The captivating third season dropped on Netflix October 19
By: Olivia Hultgren
Before Netflix’s “Daredevil” landed on laptop screens everywhere in 2015, the only image I had of the Marvel superhero was Ben Affleck in skin-tight red latex. The 2003 Daredevil film may not have been “Green Lantern” bad, but it sure wasn’t great. From 2012’s “The Avengers”to the more recent “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” it’s no secret that Marvel has been keeping it family-friendly. And since Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” films, the entertainment industry hasn’t seen a serious, realistic portrayal of superheroes on screen. Not to rip on Marvel’s lighter fare, though (“Spider-Man: Homecoming” was a well-executed dream).
Then came along Netflix. The streaming giant all but flipped Marvel’s cinematic universe on its head with its retelling of “Daredevil” as dark, gritty, and real. Charlie Cox plays Matt Murdock, a blind attorney who uses his heightened senses and martial arts training to fight crime by night as the masked vigilante Daredevil. Deborah Ann Woll and Elden Henson co-star as Karen Page and Foggy Nelson, Matt’s best friends and partners in law who find themselves inextricably wrapped up in the criminal politics of Hell’s Kitchen. Local police forces fall into the pockets of wealthy, vile crime lords, newsrooms get shot up in flurries of blood and flying staplers, and each episode forces the characters to question their morals further.
After the explosive first season paved way to a disappointing second, the third installment of the series bounced back with a riveting furor, introducing layered characters and adding even more facets to the existing characters fans of the show know and love. Change marks the third season from the beginning to end. Wilson Fisk, nuanced beautifully by Vincent D’Onofrio, is out of prison and gaining power. Matt struggles to recover both physically and mentally from the skyscraper collapse at the end of “The Defenders,” first letting Karen and Foggy believe he’s dead and refusing to don the Daredevil suit. Karen adjusts to her job as an investigative reporter at the “Bulletin” and must deal with Fisk’s vendetta against her. Foggy decides to run for district attorney when he realizes the election’s frontrunner has decided to ignore Fisk’s criminal dealings. Throughout the season, each character’s inner struggles are flushed out: Matt suffers an identity crisis and weighs conflicting morals, Karen confronts her family’s tragic history, and Foggy is torn between his family and his responsibilities. Suspense builds within each episode and throughout the season as a whole.
Something the show does extremely well is character development, particularly of its supporting roles. Its supporting characters don’t simply exist to appease the main character and his arc. They each have their own arc and their own complex backstory, especially the villains. Wilson Fisk is arguably one of the best Marvel villains of all time, a powerful New York businessman with what seems like all of Hell’s Kitchen in his pocket. Fisk’s cryptic, morbid past is explored throughout the first season, painting an intricate picture of a violent man straining to be understood. Season three provokes this further, exploring Fisk’s motivations as he works to turn the city against Daredevil. This season also delves into the backgrounds of several new characters, from the tortured hitman-turned-villain Ben Poindexter to Ray Nadeem, an FBI agent whose family struggles financially. Throughout 13 episodes, their controlled lives gradually spiral into chaos when Fisk gets involved. Within these central conflicts and subplots, the story twists and turns in unexpected ways, leaving the audience compelled and eager for those five seconds to pass so Netflix can play the next episode. Not even footage of nails going through heads in alleyways or blood-strewn newsrooms can stop viewers from watching.
In fact, brutal scenes like these are part of what makes the show so compelling. Blunt violence and grisly images are something that Marvel all but introduced in “Daredevil.” Keep in mind, this was before the age of Ryan Reynolds’ “Deadpool” and its use of violence as raunchy humor. But, “Daredevil’s” graphic scenes are much different than those in “Deadpool.” They are shot carefully and honestly, reflecting the show’s mature themes and dark undertones. For the comic book giant, this is fairly new territory. And although extended action sequences are not, “Daredevil” showcases some of the best, like the single-shot hallway fight scene in season one, which is prominently echoed in season three when Matt must fight his way out of a prison hallway. Each fight is expertly choreographed, and the acute camera angles coupled with long, panning shots make every scene flow like a symphony.
Although the show is action heavy as most superhero romps are, it especially emphasizes the importance of morality and will. This season more than any highlighted these themes, following Matt as he struggles with whether or not he should kill Fisk, and whether or not that decision is up to him. A huge part of that conflict lies in Matt’s religious beliefs. Not to disregard the myriad of terrible things the Catholic church has covered up in recent years, but by exploring Murdock’s Catholicism, the show gives representation to the religion that it doesn’t usually get in cinema and television, and especially not in Marvel products. Religion is often something filmmakers shy away from, and if they portray it, it’s often in a negative way. But in “Daredevil,” the ambiguity of religion is reflected in Murdock’s own struggle with his beliefs. He’s not portrayed as a devout Christian or an atheist. It’s somewhere in between, a place where it seems many people in this world find themselves, even if they don’t have to make decisions on whether they should kill or spare the biggest threat to Hell’s Kitchen.
While questions of morality are abundant throughout many character arcs in the third season, they come to a head in the final episode. Foggy must decide whether standing up against Fisk is more important than preserving his family’s deli business. Karen must choose to run from or face the consequences of her committed murder. Matt must either kill Fisk or take the chance that he won’t escape prison again. And in the end, as Matt punches down a bloodied Fisk in a white suit, he ultimately chooses not to kill him, thereby winning the battle of wills between them. In this decision, he shows that his morality is not something Fisk can take away. It may not be anything like Iron Man sacrificing himself to a giant alien wormhole, but it surely cements “Daredevil”as one of the best shows on television, and the best project to come out of the MCU thus far.