“Daredevil” is tough.
Not the character, although that is one of the things I like about Matt Murdock, his dedication to putting himself in harm's way. There's an image at the end of the first trailer for the Netflix “Daredevil” series that kind of sums up how vulnerable he is, when he's freely bleeding from the face as he tries to stand up.
What's tough is getting him right on film. People love to dismiss Mark Steven Johnson's “Daredevil” outright, but that's not fair. What I find fascinating about the film is how many things they did right while still ending up with a film that doesn't work. When they were in pre-production, they boarded the entire film and put together a massive book of designs, and looking through that art, it is absolutely pulled from the pages of the comics. There is a true devotion to the source material that is clear in every bit of design work that was generated by Johnson and his team… but the film somehow never quite translated those images and that artwork and that passion, that undeniable passion, to the final viewing experience.
I have a theory about “Daredevil” as a property, and I am doubly curious now after seeing this trailer. I suspect this is one of the comics that does not make a clean translation to film, that will never comfortably work in live-action. The first thing that's obvious about the Netflix approach is that they're playing against the expected iconography. They've got him in a different costume. They're not going for the immediately recognizable imagery. It looks like they're trying to find a way to show what Matt's “vision” looks like, how his other senses will fill in to give him a vision of the world, which is something Johnson's film also tried to do. It's not easy to do, and I've seen a lot of attempts at similar effects. They're rarely as effective as we want them to be, and they end up being window dressing and little more.
I'm interested in the way Charlie Cox plays the role, certainly. Cox is a guy with an innate likability, and in “Boardwalk Empire,” they finally found the right role to showcase that. Will Matt Murdock be an equally good fit? I hope so. I also like that they're steering into the overtly Catholic background of the character. I don't need to agree with a character's faith to find the use of faith to be a powerful tool for character. And while Vincent D'Onofrio is not as cartoonishly gigantic as the Wilson Fisk of the comics, no one is. They'd either have to do a “Hobbit” style forced-perspective trick or use a suit to create something that would be 100% accurate, and it's obvious that this is being treated in a very real-world manner.
Ultimately, that's the trick here. If they can make this something different, something that feels grounded and honest and that actually hurts, then I think they have a shot at making it work. But if they're going to try to do the comic, that's a trap. There's something essentially unreal about the fantasy of this hyper-perfect blind martial artist, this Hell's Kitchen Zatoichi with legal briefs instead of a sword, and when I read the best runs of the character from various writers, reality isn't what makes it work. Reality isn't the touchstone that I like most about “Daredevil.” It's hyper-real. It's exaggerated and emotional and preposterous, and it's high drama and it's the impossible nature of what Daredevil does that is so much fun to watch.
It's a really good cast. Deborah Ann Woll is an intriguing choice for Karen Page, who is so much more than the standard damsel in distress that we get from a lot of comic books. She is Matt's Achilles Heel, his great weakness, the thing that could destroy him in so many ways. And I've been a fan of Eldon Henson's work since “The Mighty,” and I certainly think he's charming enough to make Foggy come to life. If you're casting an older badass mentor, you can't do better than Scott Glenn. And while the show's gone through some public development pains when Drew Goddard left and Steven S. DeKnight stepped in, that's not going to be something that should impact the final product. Whatever show it is DeKnight set out to make, that's what we'll see on April 10th when this is released all at once.
Beyond this, I'm curious because this is our first glimpse at what Marvel will be building for “The Defenders” overall. These are some tricky properties, all of them, and building a linked maxi-series that actually pays off is one of those things that requires so many individual parts to fall into place just right. We'll see…