Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Episode Close-Up: Daredevil (2015): 1x01 'Into the Ring'

© Netflix/Marvel | Source: Moviepilot

USA; 54 min.; drama, action, thriller, superhero, comic
Series Creator: Drew Goddard
Director: Phil Abraham
Writing: Drew Goddard, based on the Marvel comics by Stan Lee and Bill Everett
Cinematography: Matthew J. Lloyd
Cast: Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson, Toby Leonard Moore, Bob Gunton, Peter McRobbie, Daryl Edwards, Chris Tardio, John Patrick Hayden, Skylar Gaertner, Nikolai Nikolaeff, Gideon Emery, Peter Shinkoda, Wai Ching Ho, Vincent D'Onofrio 

Synopsis: Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) is a blind lawyer in Hell’s Kitchen with a profound love of justice. Due to the high crime rate in his district, caused by the steady rise of a powerful mobster syndicate, he loses faith in the judicial system. In order to fight crime by day, he opens his first law firm together with his best friend Foggy (Elden Nelson). But it is the confrontation with the memories of his deceased father Jack (John Patrick Hayden) which gives him the incentive to also take action at night. Inspired by his father’s ability to never show fear and remain steadfast even in difficult circumstances, Murdock decides to stand up against the criminal elements of his city by roaming the streets as a masked vigilante. What nobody knows is that Murdock, although blind, has other ways of seeing and sensing things. 

I'm not seeking penance for what I've done, Father. I'm asking forgiveness for what I'm about to do." -- Matt Murdock

In the light of the recent infatuation with Marvel superheroes, the online streaming service Netflix has decided to produce a series about yet another costumed defender – Daredevil. A look at its very first episode indicates that, unlike in other Marvel movies or TV shows, there are no out-of-this-world gadgets, catchy one-liners or flashy costumes to dominate the scene, and this is precisely what makes Daredevil such a success. Reminiscent of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, writer as well as show creator Drew Goddard and director Phil Abraham have crafted a gripping, dark and gritty introduction to the newest addition to the Marvel franchise. So, without further ado, prop up your feet, grab a tasty beverage of your choice and allow me to take you through some of my highlights from the Daredevil pilot episode ‘Into the Ring’.

© Netflix/Marvel | Source: Netflix screenshot

The episode opens with a flashback to the accident which took Murdock’s eyesight when he was just a little boy. I really enjoy this beginning because it does many things at the same time. First, it sets an oppressive mood of uncertainty and chaos, with the camera following Matt’s father Jack through the scene of a multiple collision accident, looking for his son; but once he finds out that Matt has been gravely injured by a radioactive substance dripping into his eyes, drama unfolds and Matt’s repeated heart-wrenching cry ‘I can’t see!’ finishes the scene on a haunting note. Furthermore, it establishes, from early on, the crucial relationship between Matt and his father, something that will be touched on even further in the course of the episode. It is basically the first in a row of clever flashbacks which will help to flesh out Murdock’s character and explain his various mindsets throughout the show.

© Netflix/Marvel | Source: Netflix screenshot

The following scene takes us back into the here and now, with 30-something Murdock sitting in a confessional box, telling the priest about how his deceased father, who was a boxer, always managed to get up after he’d been knocked down in the ring. I think this is my favourite sequence of the episode.  Everybody who up to this point questioned whether actor Charlie Cox would be able to carry the emotional gravitas of the role can now be sure that actually, yes, he very much can. In a heartfelt monologue, he brings across admiration for his father’s toughness and hints at his motivation for why he intends to become the masked defender of his city. I love how Cox manages to convey discontent with the legal system by delivering an on-point performance and making proper use of the metaphorical qualities of the screenplay. It is a beautiful scene, really.

© Netflix/Marvel | Source: Netflix screenshot

What follows is my second favourite sequence of the episode. Everybody who up to this point questioned whether actor Charlie Cox would be able to carry the physical gravitas of the role can now be sure that actually, yes, he very much can. Additionally, he seems to have a very good stunt double, which counts for something. However, this scene also works on many different levels. I like how they establish the whole thing as a Daredevil origin story. Murdock doesn’t yet wear the prominent costume. In fact, he doesn’t even harbour the name Daredevil yet. Apart from this, by having him interrupt a sex trafficking scheme, the direction of the show becomes apparent. Murdock isn’t up against aliens or superhuman individuals. No, he fights organised crime, which gives the whole thing a scarily human and thus realistic dimension.

This brings me to my next point: After the desperation and frustration delivered in the two previous scenes, it is here that the dark and gritty atmosphere comes full circle. The criminals are abhorrent, and Murdock treats them to a deliciously well-choreographed and unexpectedly violent fight. Bones are cracking, bullets and fists are flying – it is indeed a good thing that the show aimed for a PG-16 rating since this emphasizes its realistic quality. Additionally, it helps to elaborate on Murdock’s character. His hatred for the scum of Hell’s Kitchen is feasible. In uncontrollable wrath, he keeps punching one of the criminals in the face long after he has become unconscious. It’s obvious, Murdock has a beef with the underworld, but I’m left wondering just how far he is willing to go to defeat it within the course of the series. And where exactly does his beef stem from, really?

© Netflix/ Marvel | Source: Netflix screenshot

So, yeah, it takes this long to actually get to the opening credits, but, hey, all the waiting pays off. Accentuated by a haunting musical score, animated urban, clerical and judicial images are shown while a red sopping mass trickles off them. The whole thing leaves a lasting impression, invites interpretation and sets the right mood for the show.

© Netflix/Marvel | Source: Netflix screenshot

Amidst all this gloom, the episode definitely is in need of some comic relief. This is provided by Murdock’s lighthearted best friend and colleague Foggy Nelson. Actor Elden Henson delivers Foggy’s funny lines with ease and makes him come across as instantly likeable. It is especially a joy to see him interact with Cox. While Murdock has a strict moral compass and fixed ideas about justice, Foggy doesn’t mind bribing cops or taking on cases just to make money. However, his heart is in the right spot which, in the end, not only makes him an entertaining sidekick but also a reliable mate to Murdock.

© Netflix/Marvel | Source: Netflix screenshot

Speaking of likeable supporting characters, the lovely, talented Deborah Ann Woll appears as Karen Page, secretary at Nelson & Murdock and, if we choose to rely on the comics, part of a love triangle with Foggy and Murdock, which is maybe yet to develop within the series. Anyway, I like how they introduce her character as a murder suspect and the first client of Foggy and Murdock’s new established law firm.

So far the episode has done a great job of balancing dramatic and action moments. Now, it also throws in a bit of murder mystery, which keeps the suspense up, demonstrates the complexity of the show and helps to put a spotlight on the corruption and dangerous potential of the police department. It is a satisfying plot to begin the series with.

© Netflix/Marvel | Source: Netflix screenshot

Another one of my episode highlights is the meeting of all the major mobsters, with Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho) probably being the most intriguing one. I like how they indicate that the most important member of the syndicate is actually missing. However, for all of us who have paid close attention to the opening credits, it won’t come as a surprise that Wilson Fisk a.k.a. the Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio), one of the most popular villains in the Daredevil comics, is meant to be Murdock’s nemesis for this season. I still give the creators credit for erecting a certain mysteriousness around the Fisk character. I’m actually excited to finally see him on screen, and to see how his connection with the other gangsters will work out.

© Netflix/Marvel | Source: Netflix screenshot

As we know towards the end of the episode, Matt Murdock isn’t your typical blind person. He’s a trained fighter and, due to the radioactive substance that caused his blindness, he has actually heightened senses which allow him to feel, hear and intuit things even better than a seeing person does. In the course of the pilot episode, he has, inspired by his father’s tenacity, developed the urge to go up against the injustices of the legal system as a masked vigilante, but not without wondering how questions of moral and penance will affect his actions. Together with his good friend Foggy and new team mate Karen, Murdock has two intriguing as well as entertaining social ties which support him in bringing justice to Hell’s Kitchen and, besides that, provide some fun moments. On the other side, a criminal power is gaining momentum, promising gripping plots and engaging challenges for Murdock.

‘Into the Ring’ starts off in all the right ways and manages to finish on a note that leaves me wanting to know more about how Murdock’s journey from masked vigilante to Daredevil will take place. It makes me wonder what the Kingpin will bring to the table. It makes me want to see more of the breathtaking fight sequences and the absorbing sombre atmosphere. This is why I’ll stop right here to do what any good Netflix show will invite you to do: binge-watch like there’s no tomorrow.


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