I finished watching the first season of Daredevil on Netflix today. I could have watched it a lot faster than I did, but I really wanted to savor it–at least somewhat. I’m extremely happy not to have had to consume the show on an episode-per-week, basis. The short version is, it’s pretty much the exact opposite of the 2003 movie, and for that reason, was completely perfect.
I didn’t mind the Daredevil movie all that much when it came out–not like some people. Sure, it took some liberties with the source material, but Michael Clarke Duncan was a great Kingpin and they at least made an attempt at updating Bullseye for the new millennium. I’m convinced that the problem with the film wasn’t Affleck, and not even the script–it was that it was a Daredevil movie. But like I said, I didn’t really mind it. A Daredevil movie was the best us comic guys could hope for given the climate in Hollywood at the time.
But Daredevil–and Matt Murdock–aren’t really characters that lend themselves well to a movie adaptation, in my humble opinion. Batman is iconic enough and has a general appeal such that there isn’t a problem with making a movie introducing Batman, setting up a couple of villains and having Batman kick the shit out of them. With Spider-man, you again have an instantly recognized icon. While Peter is changed drastically by the events of his films, we’re still talking about classic storylines that could be served up without having to dig far below the surface of the characters to find the gold. In both cases, of course, the comics have provided radical deconstructions of the characters and their motivations over the years, but I’m talking specifically about adaptations of these characters to film.
What we got in season one of Daredevil is basically a season-long origin story–not just for Murdock, but for Karen Page, for Wilson Fisk, even for Daredevil’s costume. The story has time to breathe. We don’t have a fully-realized Kingpin until the end of the season–but in exchange, we have Vanessa, a fully realized character in her own right. I don’t think there’s a chance in hell she’d have fallen in love with the Kingpin of Crime, and I don’t think the Kingpin could rightfully come off as charming–but done this way, it works. We don’t see the red suit until halfway through the last episode, which makes perfect sense for a hero at the start of his career, and comes about organically, as the result of Matt getting his ass kicked by a frickin’ ninja and inspired by his discovery that his archfoe’s suits have a little “extra padding.”
Karen Page, Foggy Nelson and Ben Urich, so important to the mythos, aren’t shoehorned in, in such a way as to reserve most of the running time for Murdock, Kingpin, Bullseye and Elektra. Foggy gets a rollercoaster through the emotions of betrayal and finally acceptance when he learns who his old friend Matt really is. Karen gets a full character arc, from being a victim in the first episode to being firmly entrenched in the shit by the end. Deborah Ann Woll would have been wasted on anything less, just like Vincent D’Onofrio would have been wasted on simply playing “The Kingpin.” The movie tried to encapsulate the entirety of what Daredevil’s about in a couple hours of film. There’s no way in hell that could have done the character justice.
I love that we haven’t even seen Bullseye or Elektra the whole season. There was no need. The writers and the moneymen knew damn well if they made a killer first season, they could bring them in in good time. Charlie Cox did such a good job of playing a vulnerable, driven, human hero, and it only took a sliver of Daredevil’s rich backstory to do it. We only got a small taste of The Hand, and that was plenty to carry an episode, with consequences lasting all the way to the end of the season. Gao’s going to be back (though I’m betting her return will set up The Defenders more than anything else), the Owl’s been teased, Potter’s Gladiator is surely nigh at hand, and if you looked closely when Murdock picked up his suit, those stilts in the corner probably weren’t placed on set as an afterthought, either.
I doubt we’ll see all of these things come to fruition in season two, either. Because if the creators turn in a killer season two, they don’t have to rush to get everything on the table. I’m guessing Bullseye and Elektra won’t even be introduced in the same season. If I was in the writer’s room, it’s what I’d do. And while personally, I’d rather see a Defenders show featuring Jessica Jones, Iron Fist and Power Man right from the get-go instead of three individual shows, I have faith in Marvel that they’ll continue offering quality comic adaptations. I do have to say a Punisher show on Netflix is at the top of my wishlist, however, and a Wolverine solo show adapted from his comic would be the tits, if Fox decided to get into the game.