It’s been over a month since Marvel’s Daredevil dropped on Netflix and holy shit it’s only been a month?? Whoa. I mean, Daredevil’s everywhere right now. Critics are gushing over it, Netflix is raking in Montgomery Burns-level money over it, and fans have been cosplaying it like tasteful charcoal-pinstripe suits are going out of style.
This show is the definition of runaway success, a glorious breath of fresh air that proves superhero properties still have some life left in them. I could gush on and on about why Daredevil is the best thing to happen to superheroes on screen since the Keystone Cops saved that lady tied to the train tracks, so I will.
It’s a bit late for an actual review, so let’s just summarize. You ready? Get your fanboy hat on.
Daredevil is cool. It’s dark, but in a compelling way, not a “let’s try to out-grit Christopher Nolan” way. It’s got an ongoing plot. No “monster of the week” format where everything returns to square one as the credits roll. No, in the Daredevil universe, actions have consequences. If Matt Murdock ends one episode in a pile of blood and broken femurs, he’s going to have to spend the next episode sleeping it off on a couch like a tequila hangover. If Matt Murdock hurts or betrays someone close to him, you can be damned sure they’re going to be giving him shit for it before long. Matt Murdock is smart but not ingenious, he’s strong but not immortal, he bleeds and screws up just like anyone else. Daredevil’s a simple man with a few interesting skills but no real magical powers, and a firm desire to do what’s right, even if he can’t always figure out how.
In short, Daredevil’s tense. And when’s the last time we had some actual tension in a Marvel property?
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the Marvel films. They’re the kind of pure escapist joy that would have had five-year-old me weeping tears of pure nerdlove. But like much escapism, the films have slowly and surely managed to escape any semblance the reality that I sometimes enjoy seeing reflected onscreen. Captain America: Winter Soldier is the exception, shit got real in that movie. And Guardians was so damn silly I can’t hold its cartoonish sensibilities against it. But there was a time when Tony Stark was cobbling rusty flamethrowers together out of spare Jeep parts as a brutal terrorist’s weapon-slave. It’s been a long, long time since Iron Man has been challenged in such a way.
Marvel films are forgetting an important aspect of storytelling – the hero simply has to be the underdog. Genius billionaire playboy philanthropists need to be stacked against even geniuser, even more playboyish trillionaire philanthropists. Otherwise, we’re just treading water until the inevitable CGI clustermess at the finale saves the day.
Case in point: Ultron, Age Of. I liked the movie. Liked. I spent a lot of the movie laughing and a lot of the movie looking at my watch. You want to know why? Because there’s a line in the opening scene where a bad guy literally says out loud that they have no chance against an Asgardian God, a flying genius with the arsenal of Red China strapped to his back, America personified, the Jolly Green Giant, and their groupies, Robin Hood and Lost in Translation.
I mean come on, did they really need the whole team to clear out one Russian castle? Iron Man’s immune to bullets and has an army of drones, why didn’t they just send those in while they all ate shawarma back home? Hulk is also immune to bullets. Thor can kill space snakes with his lightning. Three whole members of this team are effectively immortal, guys.
Meanwhile young Matt Murdock is sitting in his dark Hell’s Kitchen apartment trying to decide if he can afford to skip out on his water bill another month. His villain has more money than God. He got his ass kicked by a septuagenarian, a ninja, and a fat guy, in that order. He can hear an ant fart in the next area code but he can’t read a text message on a phone screen.
Take notes, Marvel Cinematic Universe: escapism is all well and good, but sometimes it’s kind of cool having a protagonist who doesn’t have every advantage ever.