A familiar Marvel hero gets a solid new start in ‘Daredevil’

Charlie Cox plays lawyer/vigilante Matt Murdock in Daredevil.

Three stars

Marvel's Daredevil Season 1 available April 10 on Netflix.

The Marvel cinematic universe makes a big leap with the debut of Daredevil, the first of five interconnected series set to premiere on Netflix over the next few years. The first four (including A.K.A. Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist) will each focus on a single character, and then all four characters will team up for the miniseries The Defenders. It’s a project every bit as ambitious as the movies that lead into The Avengers, and will play out over 60 hours, as opposed to the 8-10 hours that make up each movie cycle.

To start with, though, things are pretty simple. The first five episodes of Daredevil make a few oblique references to the larger Marvel universe, but anyone who’s never seen the movies or watched the other Marvel TV shows would have no problem starting out with the adventures of Matt Murdock (Boardwalk Empire’s Charlie Cox), a lawyer by day and masked vigilante by night. An accident with a truck of mysterious chemicals when he was a child robbed Matt of his sight, but greatly enhanced his other senses.

Although Matt has superpowers of a sort, Daredevil is much more grounded and small-scale than the Marvel movies or even the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series. The series gets off to a slow start, parceling out bits of the title character’s origin story over flashbacks in the first two episodes, and taking its time to introduce the supporting cast. But once Vincent D’Onofrio appears onscreen as Wilson Fisk, the dapper crime-boss villain known in the Marvel comic books as Kingpin, things pick up considerably, and Fisk turns out to be an even more fascinating and complex character than the protagonist.

Clearly influenced by Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, Daredevil is dark both thematically and visually, taking place in poorly lit warehouses and alleys, and it can be a little dour and humorless. But it also takes advantage of Netflix’s lack of restrictions to show the full consequences of superhero violence, physically (Matt is constantly getting beat up) and psychologically. The 2003 Daredevil movie starring Ben Affleck made the character seem silly and cartoonish, but the version in this series, with a toned-down, all-black costume, is more relatable and more human, a guy just trying to make a small difference in his crime-ridden neighborhood. Eventually he’ll get caught up in a larger superhero story, but for now he’s the center of a solid, gritty crime drama.

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