Daredevil series one: spoiler-free review – “a grim, adult, moody drama”

Starring Charlie Cox, does the dark, brooding Netflix original play well with The Avengers? And is it Marvel's Torchwood? Read our review and find out!

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Here’s my problem with Torchwood: the Tardis should not exist in the same world as an alien gas that causes orgasms. No matter how inventive the scripts, the Doctor Who spin-off never quite achieved escape velocity from its family-friendly origins. Why was lovable Captain Jack, who battled a robotic Trinny and Susannah, now selling children into an intergalactic drug ring? Why was he suddenly swearing? The connection soured both shows. 

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That’s the danger with ‘shared universes’ – the crossover model from comic books that Marvel has so successfully brought to the big screen – where characters can walk through a door in one film only to crop up in another blockbuster or TV show. It’s not simply a case of superheroes bumping into each other: they bring their own tone and atmosphere wafting in with them like clouds of sex gas. The skill is avoiding a culture clash.

The Avengers proved the concept, and Marvel have already stitched together films and TV shows from an impressive range of genres: from political thrillers to period pieces to pulp sci-fi to Iron Man 2, they have seemingly created a world that can handle any story, so long as it involves people in costume hitting each other.

Yet Daredevil arguably represents the first real test for the system. Not only is it the first of several shows exclusive to Netflix (including AKA Jessica Jones starring David Tennant) this is a grim, adult, moody drama. Miles away from the four colour fun of The Avengers, this blind superhero is at home in the dark places of life.

Charlie Cox plays Matt Murdock. Blinded as a child in a freak chemical spill but with all other senses hyper-attuned, he is a lawyer by day, vigilante by night. He feels conflicted about all of the beatings he gives – just ask his priest – but sometimes he just “has to let the devil out.” Vincent D’Onofrio plays the all-powerful gangster Kingpin. Both men, in their own way, are trying to rebuild Hell’s Kitchen in New York. Both men, to their own degree, have the devil in them.

This is a more brutal world than Marvel movie fans are used to. People bleed when Matt hits them. Matt bleeds too. Kingin is larger than life, but a more palpable threat than the standard villains: he’s more terrifying because he’s more believable. I’m not afraid of Loki; I do not want to meet Kingpin.

Yet that is not to say Daredevil is ‘realistic’. The lamentable Ben Affleck adaptation of 2003 actually did a better job of making Daredevil’s powers seem both incredible and understandable, and this is still about a blind ninja lawyer who fights crime. In fact the most impressive thing about Daredevil is how well it fits into the Marvel stable.

First there are the links to the wider franchise – in a neat twist, the Kingpin has built his fortune on rebuilding the neighbourhood, devastated during the apocalyptic battle in the first Avengers film. But more importantly, Daredevil is careful not to go too far, even if Matt Murdock himself struggles to walk that line. 

We are used to the idea of ‘Netflix-exclusive’ meaning something like ‘HBO quality drama’: a high-minded, rough-edged programme popular with Guardian readers. But Daredevil isn’t Game of Thrones and it isn’t The Wire. It is deliberately and laudably more middle of the road. The swearing is held in check and the blood is limited to a CSI-ish level. While continuing our modern obsession with serialised storytelling, there is a recognisable shape to each episode. You can imagine dipping in and out of it on television. In short, Daredevil isn’t just for the binge-watching comic book aficionado; it has crossover appeal. 

And it’s this, more than the costumed heroics, that makes Daredevil feel like a natural part of the world-conquering Marvel universe. Whereas Torchwood tried to force an entirely different culture inside the Tardis, Daredevil feels like a different, darker shade from the same palette as the other properties. It takes fans to places they have never gone before, but have no fear: this brooding demon won’t spoil the fun.

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Daredevil is released on Netflix UK Friday 10th April