You know, it was touch and go for a while as to whether I'd be able to get this review done, until I ended up watching eleven episodes, totalling nine hours, in two days - and that, children, is why you should always space out your workload and not prevaricate on getting things done.
Daredevil, set in the MCU's Hell's Kitchen, focuses on Matt Murdock, a defence attorney and the son of a famous boxer, who moonlights as the Devil of Hell's Kitchen, a vigilante. While Matt is blind, the circumstances surrounding his loss of sight have granted him super-senses which he uses in his fight against crime. When a young woman, Karen, is targeted by the Russian mob after discovering shady dealings in the company she works for, Matt sees a chance to take down his true target: The shadowy and reclusive Wilson Fisk.
Let's start by talking about the cinematography and direction of this show, because that comprises about fifty percent of the reason why getting through those early episodes was a slog for me. Much of the series is shot at night, with harsh yellow lighting and deep shadows - it's a lighting set-up that you don't necessarily see all that much anymore, but used to be everywhere, and there is a good reason for that. Namely, that it's a very naturalistic way of filming night-time scenes: The lights of the inner city are overwhelmingly harsh and yellow, and that in turn creates a lot of very deep shadows, and a lot of areas of stark contrast.
|This still makes it look better lit than the actual show. Less mustardy, too.|
It also looks awful.
It hurts the eyes, but more than that, it's impossible to see what's going on in those scenes. When your lighting is overwhelmingly of one colour, and is harsh enough that you have very dark shadows, distinguishing two men wearing black (Matt doesn't get his distinctive red costume until much later) from each other is practically impossible - they just become shapes, and their movements are entirely indistinct, meaning that you can practically skip any of the fight scenes.
The first two episodes are lit almost entirely like this, leading to an ironic situation in which in a series about a blind man, the audience can actually see less than the main character.
From episode three or four onwards, there's a bit of mixing things up: More daytime scenes (lit blandly, but at least visibly), more indoor scenes at night, fewer fight scenes.
That last is a boon because, rather damningly, Matt isn't especially convincing as a vigilante. There's surprisingly little suggestion that he's actually competent at it, and there are a few reasons for that: The costume he spends most of the series in looks like he tossed it together from things in his closet; the very second episode starts with him bleeding out in a skip; we start straight off with him already involved in vigilantism, and the show provides very little fanfare for this fact; and that he's never really given any smaller villains to deal with - Matt spends most of his time beating up various generic mobsters, and is never really given any bombastic, rogues gallery esque villains to deal with.
|The Kingpin, who gets his own tragic backstory. I'm not sure if that's a good thing.|
The non-vigilante side of the plot - usually split between Matt and Foggy defending a client, while Karen and reporter Ben Urich attempt to find evidence to use against Fisk - is much more interesting and compelling, but since Matt is almost never involved in that, indeed is conspicuously absent for much of it, he starts to feel like a side character in his show.
But, you know, I did start enjoying Daredevil once I started watching it in earnest. It never had me hooked, indeed I was literally always doing other things while watching it, but it managed to keep my attention and interest enough that watching nine hours of it in two days was actually quite fun. The plot picks up nicely once Fisk makes his appearance, introducing another strand of plot in which we get to see the mob's machinations from Fisk's point of view - and truth be told, that's a lot more interesting than watching Matt and company try to stop Fisk.
|Pictured: Matt, looking conspicuously un-ginger.|
(A rather odd touch to the series is that despite being set in the MCU, almost nothing else about it ever comes up. SHIELD isn't mentioned, and neither are the Avengers. Captain America gets namedropped once, and mysterious and surprisingly strong Chinese mobster Madame Gao makes a veiled reference to going home to somewhere 'a considerable distance farther' than China, which is probably a reference to K'un-Lun, the extradimensional city where Iron Fist, due to have his own Netflix series, gets his powers.)
Daredevil is an interesting series, but it's also undeniably the worst entry into the MCU's canon, and that's a massive shame, I think. I like Daredevil, and I think a series about him could've had the potential to be really great - instead, it's good, but massively flawed. With the end of the series seeing Daredevil assuming his distinctive costume and name, though, I'm hoping to see a distinct improvement come the second series. If it gets one, that hasn't been confirmed yet.