I’m reposting this review to celebrate the release of Daredevil Season 2 on Netflix…
n the post-9/11 era, “heroes” became persona non grata in popular culture. Viewers seemed to view “hero” as equivalent to “simplistic” or “dull,” which didn’t fit the moral ambiguity and complexity of the times. Antiheroes – protagonists who lacked the moral bearings of conventional heroes – became more popular. In shows like Battlestar Galactica, the protagonists would engage in torture or kill unarmed prisoners to achieve their aims. Game of Thrones goes out of its way to punish characters that display heroic traits.
In recent years, “heroes” have seen a resurgence, especially with Marvel’s superhero franchise. However, I personally have never felt connected to any of the main Marvel heroes. They don’t overcome challenges through hard work and determination so much as through their superpowers. If I were invincible or had military-grade robot suits, I’d probably stop a few crimes as well. Moreover, these superheroes usually come from elite backgrounds (Thor is heir to a kingdom, Iron Man is heir to huge fortunes, etc.). They never have struggle to find work, earn people’s respect, or take care of family emergencies.
Marvel’s Daredevil is a major exception to that trend. The show combines post-9/11 grittiness and Marvel superhero mania with more relatable characters. The titular character, Matt Murdock, fights crime in the rundown neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen. Murdock isn’t heir to a fortune; his father was a boxer who struggled to pay his bills. By day, Murdock works as a criminal defense lawyer. He and his partner, Franklin “Foggy” Nelson, struggle to find clients. More importantly, Murdock doesn’t have superpowers. He is strong, but only because he exercises to keep his body in peak condition.
In fact, Matt Murdock is in many ways less privileged and less fortunate than most viewers. The character was blinded in his youth by an accident with chemical compounds. Yet, Murdock never becomes an object of pity. He learns how to use his other senses to compensate for his lack of vision. Even those of us who possess all five senses can identify with his struggle to make the best of what he has in life. His power comes from his hard work and determination (incidentally making him a great role model for kids with disabilities).
Daredevil doesn’t steer away from moral ambiguity; it is still rooted in the post-9/11 world. Murdock isn’t a saint. He is a violent man who uses pain and torture to achieve his ends. As the character becomes frustrated with his lack of progress in fighting crime, he considers assassinating Wilson Fisk, the head of the Hell’s Kitchen mob. Even if his ends are noble, viewers are left to wonder if the means always justify the ends. Yet, even though Murdock tells a criminal that he enjoys causing pain, he clearly feels conflicted. Like Batman, he tries never to kill his victims. The show dramatizes this inner conflict nicely by having Murdock attend penance and seek counsel from a Catholic priest.
Daredevil has received universal acclaim for good reason. The production values and acting are superb. It’s easily the best thing Marvel Studios has produced thus far. But I think the real secret to its success is that the characters are so relatable and grounded in human drama. Most of us could never grow up to be like Batman or Thor – we mere mortals just don’t have the trust fund or superpowers. But we can strive to be more like Murdock, turning challenges into opportunities and constantly asking if we have made the right choices.
Next week, I plan to discuss the villains of Daredevil, whom I found equally compelling…