Marvel's DAREDEVIL follows Matt Murdock, attorney by day and vigilante by night. Blinded by an accident as a child, Murdock uses his heightened senses as Daredevil, fighting crime on the streets of New York after the sun goes down. His efforts are not welcomed by powerful businessman Wilson Fisk -- AKA Kingpin -- and others whose interests collide with Daredevil's. Though Murdock's day job suggests a man who believes in the criminal justice system, his alter ego proves otherwise, as he takes the law into his own hands to protect his Hell's Kitchen neighborhood and the surrounding city.
"Some fights just get ya bloody."
Extending a cinematic universe beyond the world already created by a franchise and its side characters is a risky business maneuver. What if it fails? That would mean hundreds upon hundreds of millions of dollars blown on a venture that didn't pan out. On the other hand, if it succeeds, then that is the foundation entire studios and careers are built on. That big risk certainly seems to have worked out well for Marvel. While their segues into television on ABC have been rocky at best, their partnership with streaming service Netflix has been killing it. With three new series and a fourth on the way, it's amazing to think that a character like Daredevil, one that got laughed out of theaters just thirteen years ago was the one to get another impressive franchise ball rolling for Marvel and their quest to bring every one of their heroes to life.
Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) believes in the law with every fiber of his being. After his boxer father Jack (John Patrick Hayden) was murdered by the mob, Matt dedicated his life to serving law and order. When he was blinded by a chemical spill as a child - few thought a little boy from Hell's Kitchen would amount to much of anything. But the incident gave Matt the focus he needed to train his mind to become a lawyer. With the help of a mysterious man known as Stick (Scott Glenn), Matt also trained his body to execute brutal order if the law failed. When the chemical spill heightened Matt's remaining senses, he was given an edge in any fight that he wouldn't ordinarily have had - and the people of New York are going to need a man like Matt, a man without fear.
After the Chitauri incident leveled portions of Hell's Kitchen, New York City is intent on rebuilding. As with any massive undertaking of this size, crime and corruption surge. Wilson Fisk (Vincent D'Onofrio), a seemingly benevolent businessman emerges to lead the city into a new light. In order to achieve his distorted vision for what New York should be, he's united the Russian, Chinese, and Japanese criminal underworlds as the Kingpin in order to squeeze the last breath of life out of Hell's Kitchen. By day, Matt and his partner Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) and Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) take on Fisk's operations in court. By Night, Matt will put his life on the line as the man in the mask, the man the people of New York have come to know as the Devil of Hell's Kitchen to put an end to Kingpin's reign of terror.
I've read comic books for a little over 30 years now. I got my start with Spider-Man, read a lot of Batman in the 80s, The Ninja Turtles before the cartoon series even began, and the random Punisher comic when I could sneak it in. I never really actively read Daredevil growing up, but I knew who he was. You read any comic long enough and random heroes from other series are bound to drop by for a visit. My first real introduction to The Man Without Fear was during that cheesy 'Trial of the Incredible Hulk' TV movie and I never really encountered the character again until around the time the Ben Affleck 'Daredevil' film was announced. As a dutiful comic nerd, I picked up a stack of trade paperbacks - in particular, the Frank Miller run - and plowed through them as fast as I could. Needless to say, I left the theater a tad bit disappointed in what I had just seen on screen. After that, any rumblings of a new live action take on 'Daredevil' was met with extreme skepticism on my part. I just didn't have faith that Hollywood or any earnest filmmaker could bring a true and decent adaptation to life.
My skepticism was so strong that when Marvel announced they were partnering with Netflix to deliver a live action television series, I pretty much wrote it off immediately. Even when the good word of mouth and positive reviews came out, I didn't buy in. In fact, it was most of three months after its premiere that I gave 'Daredevil' a shot - and I had to eat a lot of humble pie. 'Daredevil' is really good. Not perfect mind you, it is most certainly flawed in its story structure and pace, but darn it all if they didn't nail the characters. The core elements of the characters and their relationships are what make this 'Daredevil' so good and so fun to watch. It's everything I wanted to get from that ill-fated feature film. For me, Daredevil was always a conflicted hero, a man with extraordinary abilities hindered by mortality. Daredevil could get hurt - but that didn't stop him from putting life and limb on the line and Charlie Cox fully brings that aspect of the character to life. The fight sequences are incredibly choreographed but what's great about them is seeing the hero fight to the point of absolute exhaustion and find a way to get up and deliver one last kick. On that note, I also loved Vincent D'Onofrio's take on the Kingpin. D'Onofrio has always impressed me as a performer and he fully embodies this larger-than-life character as he plays the villain with a degree of subdued rage. Like a can of gasoline, he just needs a spark to set him off and when he blows it's scary!
As much as I do love this first season of 'Daredevil,' I have to own up and admit the flaws. My biggest issue with the show is its drawn-out pacing. At thirteen 54-minute episodes, this season's story arc probably would have been best trimmed down to a maximum of ten episodes. There are plot points that completely run aground and stall out the forward progress while other beats of Matt trying to figure out who Wilson Fisk is go on entirely too long. There is some necessary backstory stuff that needed to be covered as well as the necessity to pepper the series with hints towards Season Two, but there is too much bloat and a lot of great characters get shortchanged in the process. The character I felt that was particularly shortchanged was Vondi Curtis-Hall's awesome portrayal of Ben Urich. I won't spoil anything here, but if you know the comics well enough, you'd know this is an essential character not only for Daredevil but for Spider-Man as well and his treatment here is vexing, to say the least. That irritation aside, I still love the show. Including this Blu-ray review, I've gone through this first season at least four times now and it's just a hell of a great time that I don't seem to get tired of.
It's strange writing this review for 'Daredevil' from the perspective of having viewed both seasons of this show, 'Jessica Jones' and 'Luke Cage.' Marvel's streaming division is killing it with their characters and I can't wait to see 'Iron Fist,' 'The Defenders' as well as an upcoming solo 'Punisher' series in 2017. There is a lot of great stuff to come and it's cool to see a show like 'Daredevil' is more or less responsible for all this. I'm excited for all of the potential greatness coming our way. As someone who grew up watching a bootleg of the Roger Corman 'Fantastic Four' movie, Dolph Lundgren's 'Punisher' movie, as well as those terrible 'Gen-X' and 'Nick Fury: Agent of Shield' television movies, any fanboy hyper-enthusiasm about Marvel characters and their live action equivalencies on my part should be forgiven. It may not be perfect, but 'Daredevil' is everything I wanted for a live action rendition of the character - and a whole lot more.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Daredevil: The Complete First Season' arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Marvel and ABC Studios as a four-disc set. All thirteen episodes are spread out over four Region Free BD50 discs. All four discs are housed in a sturdy 2-Disc style Blu-ray case with identical slip cover where two discs are stacked on top of each other on their respective spindles. Each disc loads to an animated main menu with traditional navigation options. An exclusive Steelbook package from Zavvi with custom artwork by Joe Quesada is also available.
'Daredevil: The Complete First Season' arrives with a beautiful 1.78:1 1080p presentation for all 13 episodes. Shot digitally, this Blu-ray presentation is the best I've seen the show. Thanks to physical media, the clarity and detail levels aren't at the whim of a variable bitrate dependent on your internet connection. I've always had solid internet speeds, but even under the best conditions I felt like the streaming feed left a lot to be desired. Depth was always a bit muddled and detail levels would appear a bit waxy or overly crisp. On Blu-ray, the image feels like it genuinely comes to life. Facial features, costuming details, and production design come through with terrific clarity. Black levels look a lot more stable allowing for plenty of shadow separation so that even during the darkest night sequences or that infamous hallway fight sequence feels like there are some depth and distance around the shadowy figures. Compared to the cinematic outings, 'Daredevil' has a more drab and darker color pallet to work with. Primaries are genuinely kept to a minimum as the show tends to favor the darker olive tones that set the mood so well. That said, where a flash of bright red blood is required, there is plenty of presence to the tones. Flesh tones also look natural and healthy.
Not to deflate the praise balloon, but as great as this presentation is, there are still a few anomalies that ailed the streaming presentation do crop up here on Blu-ray. The biggest and most notable issue is some banding. Whenever an actor wears a heavily patterned piece of clothing, that dreaded banding effect creeps in. Thankfully it's only limited to clothing as any other instances that would normally be encountered like the front grill of a car, for example, don't rear their ugly heads. After that, every now and again some video noise pops in. Thankfully it doesn't last long, but it's pretty easy to spot when the adjoining scenes are free of these effects. Aside from those bits, the rest of the presentation is free of any other artifacts or trouble spots making for an all around great looking show to own on disc.
Each episode of 'Daredevil: The Complete First Season' comes packed with a robust and effective English DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio mix. Dialogue keeps to the front and center as most of these tracks nicely exploit the midranges. This is important because there is a lot of quiet whispering conversations had throughout the show and there's never any difficulty hearing what's being said. Scoring by John Paesano provides the right amount of lower register notes to keep the spread lively and foreboding when and where needed. Atmospherics and background sound effects make sure any scene in questions feels like there is plenty of space and dimension. Imaging is damn impressive throughout as there is constant channel movement. Even during those quiet conversational moments, there are enough background sounds filling the mix to keep the sides and rear channels active and engaged. The action beats are the signature moments of the show and when things get violent, there's plenty of squishy, fleshy thuds as fists hit faces - or heads getting chopped off with car doors for that matter.
No bonus features.
Finally, 'Daredevil: The Complete First Season' makes it's way to Blu-ray. This show was a big hit when it landed on Streaming and has opened up an entire side universe for Marvel's more rough and tough heroes to occupy. While the show could have used some tweaking to cut down on some bloat, the main thrust of the season is rock solid and is a dream come true for fans of the comics. It almost makes you forget the tragic Ben Affleck-fronted film from so long ago. Marvel brings the series to disc in their traditional fashion of delivering an exceptional A/V presentation but have decided against including any bonus feature of any kind. I loved this first season and having the video presentation locked in and not dependent on internet connection speed is reason enough to call this first season of 'Daredevil' recommended. I do hope future season releases step up the bonus feature game because that is a misguided oversight.