Monday, May 4, 2015

So I just finished Daredevil...

... and I didn't love it the same way that everyone else seems to. Or at the very least, NPR's Peter Sagal showered love on Daredevil on Twitter, while my nerd friends showered love on it on Facebook. I didn't check Pinterest or Instagram, but I'm sure there's love being showered on it there.

And there are things to love about Daredevil! I mean, I watched 13 episodes of my own free will--and very little of what kept me going was a sense of obligation. (Though there was that too.)

(Slight digression: Why is Drew Goddard credited as "creator"? There must be an agreement or a discussion that makes sense of that credit. Someone please explain that to me.)

Here's some of the things to love:

  • Vincent D'Onofrio's portrayal of a damaged Wilson Fisk, not yet the in-control Kingpin; 
  • the love of friends between Wesley/Fisk, Foggy/Matt;
  • some of the fight scenes.

And here's some of the things not to love:

  • repetitive and trite women and children in peril storylines; 
  • yet another Batman-ization of a character--the centralization of trauma;
  • most of the fight scenes;
  • so much empty talk.

To expand on trauma's central role in comic book characters: since the beginning of modern superheroes, creators have recognized that it takes a particular sort of person to put on a mask and hit people for justice. And often, that "particularity" takes the form of some trauma: the death of a loved one (Batman, Spiderman), exposure to some dangerous mutagen that might make normal life impossible (Fantastic Four, the Hulk).

Matt Murdoch, the Daredevil, gets a double dose of trauma in his origin story: blinded and granted heightened senses by exposure to some dangerous chemical, he also loses his father to gangsters. And yet, until Frank Miller took him over, Daredevil was something of a light-hearted character. (There was a running joke in the comics about how bad he was at keeping his secret identity, since he kept revealing himself to pretty women.)

And yes, Frank Miller did grim and gritty for Daredevil, which made a lot of sense: a street-level character dealing with police corruption and inner-city violence. (Hell's Kitchen also made a lot more sense back then. These days, every time someone in the tv show talked about how bad Hell's Kitchen was, I had to stop myself from laughing. It's the double-edged sword of Marvel using the real-world as a setting: they get the benefit and disadvantage of instant recognition.)

So the creators of the show could have pointed to Daredevil's history as a reason for either way they wanted to go: cartoony and fun or dark and heavy. No money for guessing what they did.

The problem with that, for me, isn't that I'm fatigued with grim-gritty superheroes. The problem for me is that, about half the time, they did grim-gritty in a predictable and boring way. For instance, in the opening scene Matt Murdoch talks to his priest:
"I'm not seeking penance for what I've done, Father. I'm asking for forgiveness... for what I'm about to do."
Not a bad line, unless you saw it coming from a mile away. And that sense of grimness such suffuses so much of the show, from the acting (so much heavy pauses in the speaking, as if the weight... of what you were saying... was exhausting), to the fight scenes (so many of which were muddily lit, robbing them of any excitement).

I could go on, but I want to end with just one comment on the role of women. Matt Murdoch is motivated, in part, by his father issues. (Get it--he starts the show by talking to a priest because he has father issues. Wah-wah.) Which would be fine change from being motivated by protecting women--except there's no hint of his mom at all. As if Matt sprung fully forth from Jack Murdoch's forehead.

Besides that glaring omission, we could go through the women in the show and their relation to the men, particularly Matt. The tally isn't so great. Sure, Karen Page (secretary) and Claire Temple (nurse) get at least one moment of revenge or beating someone up. (Heck, even Foggy gets one moment of beating someone up.) But most of the time, the women are objects of rescue: Karen, Claire, Vanessa (an object of rescue not for Matt, but for Fisk).

Oh god, and I didn't even get into the 80s-esque racial/crime components, particularly the inscrutable Asian gangs: the honorable Japanese ninjas (which are so Frank Miller), and the secretive Chinese drug-runners.

In short, I didn't hate the show, but it seems to have some really apparent problems and some missed opportunities.

1 comment:

  1. From what I understand, Goddard was going to be the showrunner, and was heavily involved with the first two episodes, but then there was a conflict of some sort (don't know what the nature of it was), and Steven DeKnight had to take over showrunner responsibilities for the remainder of the season. Goddard still gets an EP and creator credit though.