TELEVISION by Symeon J. ThompsonNews Weekly
Justice is blind, while angels weep - Daredevil
, April 25, 2015
It has long been said that “Justice is blind”. For one intense, nuanced and decidedly counter-cultural superhero, this is not just metaphor. I refer to Marvel’s Daredevil, the blind crimefighter whose other senses are insanely heightened, and for whom half the battle is reconciling the world, and himself, with a deep-seated, inextinguishable Catholic faith.
Marvel has partnered with Netflix, the online streaming video service, to produce Daredevil, probably the most sophisticated and challenging of Marvel’s comic book adaptations.
Daredevil is set in the Marvel cinematic universe. This is the same place occupied by Iron Man and Thor and the Avengers. It is an attempt to build up what has been done by the world of comics over the past decades, where superheroes all exist in the same world at the same time, as if it were the real world. It is world-building on a level pioneered by J.R.R. Tolkien, and it can lead to a dizzying level of complexity, and a complete immersion in an alternate reality that is similar to ours, but still different.
For the past few decades superheroes were mostly kept on the big screen, with series like Smallville, about Clark Kent growing up and learning who he was, being significant exceptions. This has led to stories that take place over many years being impressed into feature-film length. Sometimes this works, as with the first Iron Man, but the problem with such an approach is there is no opportunity to let the
Comic books, after all, are a serial medium, and trying to choose the best story arcs to adapt to the big screen can be challenging. By working with Netflix, Marvel has managed to make an original story that fits the complexity of its characters and themes.
As for Netflix, it provides an intriguing new service to access a range of films and television series. While Daredevil is too violent for family viewing, there is much else there that would be suitable, and I would recommend that those that can check it out. At the very least it provides a counterpoint to the dross that encrusts regular broadcast television.
It has been a few years since “The Incident”, the alien invasion of New York depicted in The Avengers. The city is rebuilding and, as often happens after massive upheaval, criminal elements are staking out their turf in a bid to take control of Manhattan, especially the district of Hell’s Kitchen.
Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) was blinded by a chemical spill when he was a boy (played in flashbacks by Skylar Gaertner). However, the blinding led to his other senses being so incredibly heightened that he can perceive the world better than anyone who can see. He and his best friend Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) have rejected an offer from a prestigious law firm, instead setting themselves up in private practice, full of idealism and hoping to help people.
By night, Matt dons a mask and fights crime in the streets, trying to make the city a better place. Meanwhile, another man, a shadowy voice in the darkness, also seeks to make the city a better place, to be its saviour – but he will do so by any means he sees fit.
Since this is a superhero series, much of the conflict is of the expected kind, with brutal but understated fight scenes. However, the real conflict is a moral one: how far can a man go to do the right thing before it becomes the wrong thing? What does it do to him?
Matt, uniquely in contemporary storytelling, has a spiritual director of sorts, a priest, Fr Lantom (Peter McRobbie) with whom he discusses what he’s doing, and seeks counsel. Matt is not a straightforward practising Catholic, but he is one for whom his faith is so much a part of himself that it cannot but influence him. And it is this Catholicism that runs through the series from its title sequence with a cross-topped church dominating the city while a stone angel weeps.
Faith is taken seriously in Daredevil. Even those characters who have none do not sneer. More than that, the struggles that attend upon belief are treated with respect. Obviously, Daredevil, like any superhero yarn, is not a piece of theology, and ought not be treated as such. But as a mainstream myth that treats religion with respect, it deserves kudos.
Daredevil is a gritty and noirish series that owes as much to Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer as it does to costumed crusaders such as Captain America and Spider-Man.
Unlike the “big” stories that are focussed on events that threaten the world, it is focussed more on the battle between good and evil in the lives of everyday folk, and how good can triumph.
Symeon J. Thompson is a member of the Film Critics Circle of Australia (FCCA).