“DAREDEVIL” LAYS A SURPRISING FOUNDATION FOR “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR”
By T.T. Stern-Enzi
Right off the bat, I need to address the pink elephant on the page of the film section. Why, for goodness sakes, is a film critic wasting time talking about a 13-episode narrative (season two of “Daredevil”) that’s only available via a streaming service (Netflix)? Shouldn’t I be celebrating the lavishly produced spectacles (the upcoming comic book adaptation “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”) made for the big screens, where audiences gather to share in these experiences together, not partitioned off in our homes?
Well, in my defense, I believe there’s a truly compelling case to be made for what “Daredevil” gets right about its world that will send fans, especially Marvel Cinematic Universe disciples, out in droves to the theatres when “Captain America: Civil War” takes to the box office battlefield in May. While there has been no direct crossover between characters in the films and the streaming world, the team in charge of Marvel’s live action realm certainly understands and appreciates the tone and tenor necessary to blend the fantastic elements of marauding aliens, techno warriors, gods among us, and raging green monsters with the real world everyday realities of life on these fictional streets.
Picking up months after the thrilling introduction to this street-level take, the first episode of season two captures the criminal underground in flux. Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) is behind bars thanks to the efforts of the law firm Nelson and Murdock, with able assistance from the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen and a series of players fight for position, eager to claim the vacant throne. But just like Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” reboot illustrated, vigilantes breed copycats. The problem in the Marvel Universe is that the pretenders prove to be far more than mere imitators.
The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen, also known as Daredevil (Charlie Cox), has seemingly spawned a mercenary upgrade in the form of Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal), the man soon-to-be dubbed The Punisher, due to his lethal approach to justice. He’s a remorseless executioner who points out to the far more judicious Daredevil, “You’re one bad day away from being me.”
There is more than darkness at the edge of these frames. The creative team behind this Netflix series wants to do more than just remind us that the small screen world is a niche within the larger universe. This tale, set in Hell’s Kitchen, appropriates references from classic and neo-classic films. The early jockeying for control—and the bloody attack on the Irish—has the feel of “The Godfather” or “The Untouchables.”
Over the course of the season’s 13-episode arc, precious little mention is made of the larger world-beaters pummeling and punishing the urban and international landscape. Intriguingly, the characters within Hell’s Kitchen rarely even discuss the other emerging powered individuals (Jessica Jones and the forthcoming Luke Cage) lurking in the wings. But none of that matters because what “Daredevil” continues to do is ground us in atmospherics and details that speak to the humanity the movies, in two-hour narrative blocks, can barely render in their cinematic shorthand.
Watching Matt Murdock struggle with maintaining a dual identity, we see how and why choices were made, for instance, for Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) to “out” himself as the armored hero of the first “Iron Man” movie and why the idea of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) as a regular man in the present can’t be mined in a convincing way in the films. We need to focus on Captain America, the symbol of liberty and justice, the super soldier, and the best use for Rogers is as the conscience and the foundation of the ideal.
The beauty in this model, this use of these two very different storytelling platforms, is that it allows audiences to imagine and transfer some of the emotional complexities from the more intimate stories to the out-sized heroes of the big screen, while also highlighting the wider canvas on which these street-level do-gooders may find themselves roaming around.
I say binge-watch “Daredevil” with all of your heart and soul, and then launch yourselves into the multiplexes when “Captain America: Civil War” takes the stage. You might find you have a fast and furious affinity for the crossover appeal (and potential) for these once larger-than-life superheroes who, in the end, are men and women fighting to protect what makes them human.