Justice is Blind
Heroes? Villians? What’s the difference between the two, if they have the same end goal?
Marvel and Netflix have now provided us with the definitive story of Daredevil: The Man Without Fear. The result is dark, gritty, violent, and awesome in every way. But the show gives us something far more important…a much-needed moral ambiguity in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While we love The Avengers and all of the heroes that comprise that team, it is refreshing to be reminded that not everyone can operate using the same moral compass as Captain America. Without the means of reaching such heights, the exploits of Matt Murdock can be interpreted as an amoral attempt to be judge, jury, and executioner. And that’s exactly what happens—after all, “The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen” is not working for S.H.I.E.L.D. or the police, and his means of extracting information from supposed criminals are brutal, merciless, and certainly illegal. When making your city a better place comes at the cost of mass beatings, rooftop tortures, and assumptions of survival, can you really call yourself a hero?
Go ahead, Matt. Call yourself a hero. But recognize that Wilson Fisk is right there with you. After all, Fisk just wants to make his city a better place as well. Yeah, he’ll have to make some deals with drug traffickers…but he can take down human traffickers in the process. One thing at a time, right? With Fisk operating on a larger scale, he can do worse things to the people of Hell’s Kitchen, but can also do great things. Machiavellian, sure, but isn’t that what Murdock is doing too? So what’s the difference?
The greatest facet of the show is its unwillingness to answer that question, at least for the first six or seven episodes. Murdock and Fisk, the two main forces in the show, are constantly at odds, and we are forced to sit and wonder if the two are really all that different. Why do we assume Matt Murdock is the hero and Wilson Fisk is the enemy?
Murdock came from humble beginnings…the show makes a point to get this across. Through a series of flashbacks, we are given Matt’s backstory in full…from the accident that blinded him to his training with Stick. None of these flashbacks ever feel out of place, as the show does not rush to tell us everything up front. Is this relevant now? No? Then we’ll wait to give it to you. The origins, by the end of the season, are pretty much fleshed out and are true to the comics. There are also a handful of fantastic Easter Eggs sprinkled in. Matt’s adult life is equally faithful to the books, as his legal education, Catholic faith, and personality are all represented in a fan-friendly, yet believable way. While Charlie Cox’s hair lacks the over-the-top orange coloring that makes his comic book counterpart so distinct, everything else about the actor’s portrayal is spot on. And the same can be said about many of the other leads, like Karen Page, played by Deborah Ann Woll, and Foggy Nelson, played by Elden Henson. Between the great casting and sincere writing, the characters truly shine in what turned out to be a wonderfully high-fidelity adaptation.
But if Daredevil is the Man without Fear, then Wilson Fisk is the Man with Nothing But. Fisk may be the best Marvel villain we’ve seen to date. With a detailed backstory, given about three-quarters of the way through the series, we see that Fisk is not a merciless villain and doesn’t enjoy hurting people who cross his path. He is cautious. He is private. He is…afraid to talk to girls. Fisk stands in stark contrast to other Marvel villains like Loki and Ronan the Accuser, whose flair for dramatics in the limelight played a part in their downfall. Fisk is a reserved man who doesn’t even allow his name to be uttered under penalty of death (or worse). But the fear surrounding Fisk is an illusion created, in part, as a buffer, simply because, deep down, Fisk is scared of even himself and what he is capable of.
The portrayal of the Kingpin, in relation to the comics, is a bit different at first. I was thrown for a loop when watching it, since the Kingpin in the comics is a larger-than-life figure that is publically known to be a criminal (but he hides his activities wisely). He’s not afraid to take risks and has…high self-esteem. However this season was as much of an origin story for Fisk as it was for Daredevil, and the two characters really come into their own by the end of the season.
The arcs of each character are interwoven masterfully in a plot that is far more complex than anything we’ve seen thus far in the MCU. With details on pensions, procedures, and police activity, you can tell that this show is not meant for a young audience who can be satisfied with a standard “good guy/bad guy” plot. Despite all the financial jargon and legalese in the dialogue, at no point does the show really get bogged down. You don’t need to be a CPA or have passed the BAR to understand what is going on behind the scenes. At the end of the day, the show does an impressive job keeping things clear and on course.
The fight scenes are equally as impressive. They are expertly choreographed, and the cinematography is just as noteworthy. The show doesn’t rely on shaky-cam or quick cuts to trick us into thinking that a fight scene is fast-paced and dangerous. Fluid and stable shots comprise a surprising amount of each sequence. There’s even an amazing fight scene at the end of the second episode that is relayed in one extensive, continuous shot. At times, these scenes can go on a bit long. After all, when a fight is made up of only punches and kicks, you can start to wonder “how much longer is this one guy going to just keep punching this other guy?” There are some exceptions to this, however, most notably the fight in ninth episode of the season.
All in all, this was amazing television, spoken from a die-hard Daredevil fan. While it may be some time before we see another season of the character, as Netflix will first focus on Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, we can all rest assured that the future will be solid for Matt Murdock and the people of Hell’s Kitchen.