22 April 2015

Cultural note

Daredevil. It's pretty good on balance. Some spoilers.

Good

The fighting sequences, especially some of the earliest ones are excellent. The single shot sequence fight is on par with some of the best choreographed fighting in any film (Oldboy, the Korean version, is typically looked at as one of the standards there). It's not as long as the single shot in True Detective last year, but that didn't require as many beats in a concentrated arc either. Most of the Marvel fights revolve around a lot of CGI characters (Hulk, Iron Man, Thor) doing CGI things, which are fun, sometimes even a comic relief (Hulk smashing the puny god Loki for example) but not the same as watching actual human beings doing moderately impressive things and taking the physical and emotional punishment of trying to do so. One exception was the fights and stunts in Winter Soldier, which were a lot crisper and easier to follow as a result. This was generally better than that with the caveat that most of them took place in often poorly lit sequences involving a guy in a dark set of clothes. These were still usually much better than most of Batman's fights in the Nolan movies, by a comparison to a darkly lit and ominous detective/crime fighter. It looks very smooth and well-thought out as a demonstration of a skilled hand-to-hand fighter (occasionally using clubs and improvised throwing weapons).

The darkness itself comes off as almost like a character at times. The way lighting and shots are constructed gives a feeling of almost perpetual night to much of the scenes. Since the main character is a blind guy, I would assume this is partly deliberate as a nod to that on top of the rather grim story line being itself an oppressive variety of darkness.

There's not very much of the campy-self-referential humor of the movie (which was basically a series of set piece fights rather than a film with a plot), or the other Marvel properties. There's some, but not much. It's way darker and bloodier than almost anything comic book related anywhere Watchmen is a much closer proxy universe than Guardians of the Galaxy. Even the Nolan Batman trilogy is much closer really. That makes it distinctive from other Marvel projects so far. There are a few tie-ins to the broader Marvel universe (a couple references to Hulk/Thor/Stark), but it basically stands on its own territory and stakes it out instead.

One element that's heavily involved in the plot is that Daredevil is basically a blind guy who moves pretty well in a fight and has very evolved senses as a superpower that help him dodge or anticipate threats. He does not have a suit of armor that makes him invincible against bullets and knives, or carry a magical hammer and come from another realm. So he gets beat up and stabbed and otherwise wounded much more easily. That means there's a lot of potential consequences and risks to when he wanders into a fight. It provides a touch of realism or at least pragmatism to the story line.

The performance for Fisk feels like it draws a bit on Brando's Kurtz/Vito Corleone, but with more violence of his own. There's a reasonably interesting dichotomy between what Murdock/Daredevil sounds like and what Kingpin/Fisk sound like in their vision and even possession of the city over which they are contesting each other, and also how both seem to have these disparate parts of their grand versions of idealism internally feuding with a darker pragmatic approach. This is distinguished from the Joker-Batman dichotomy because at no point does a version of the world Batman is seeking to create resemble the version of Joker's even though their methods differ. When the cultural views of the villain and hero look not so far apart, things get blurry and dark as to whether their methods are justified (Catwoman vs Batman is more like this example).

Stick's cameo appearance was funny. In part because there's suddenly a cynical asshole (brutally cruel almost) in the show countering all these idealistic crusaders. That and a couple other bits should set up a second season nicely as well with an obvious set of new villains, on top of the enemies he'd already have made from season 1.

Mixed or bad stuff

Daredevil as a character that they're drawing on is the Frank Miller early 1980s version. When NYC was a crime-ridden hellscape essentially (that also appears heavily in the Batman universe). While aspects of the dysfunctional governance of a large city-state still fit the times today, for example the possibility of corruption or violence from police sitting on the throat of a city rather than a helpful agent guarding the city fits in nicely with stories like Cleveland or Ferguson or Miami Gardens, the idea of a city that is so distraught and downtrodden that it requires not just a vigilante, but a brutal vigilante on the scale that the Miller version of Daredevil represents is missing now as there are few places where crime is that desperate a social ill that vigilantes become automatic heroes. Bernhard Goetz was considered a hero at the time by many people for the subway shooting he committed. Now he's looked on a little differently (and apparently feuding with home squirrel care advice and requirements). The show by dint of this grimmer reality gets to embrace a much darker version of anti-hero than usual. Which is certainly interesting as a means of cultural exploration, but presents certain challenges.

Most notably he essentially tortures almost every criminal/corrupt cop he meets. Since DD can basically act as a human lie detector, this seems like a very strange way to get information is to beat it out of people (and in a couple of cases, stab it out as well). To be sure one might often need to fight people in combat when dealing with criminals as a vigilante and there's plenty of that "ordinary" violence in the series, this is different. One of the most successful elements to me of the Nolan Batman universe is that this isn't demonstrated as a very effective means of getting the information he needs. Not only does Batman show up at one point to prevent someone else from torturing a suspect, when he does so himself, he doesn't typically get what he needs (Joker deliberately lies to him, and the mob basically tells him off eventually instead of giving him anything). What he does instead is employ a lot of complicated and often high-tech detective tools in order to figure out what's going on and who is behind it, for which some these tools and methods have their own questionable ethics. There's a few nods to this with Daredevil where he uses his sensory abilities to figure things out, but not many so far. I'd be more interested in the moral or ethical complications of a man who can basically determine if anyone is lying at a whim or effectively spy on anyone they want, and so on. One of the background themes of X-Men is the morality of having someone like Charles Xavier around and basically trusting that he will use his powers ethically and instruct others to do likewise, which isn't something everyone trusts to be the case. That becomes a challenging hypothetical ethical argument to entertain. The moral juice available from watching someone somehow magically decide someone is evil and then beat them up for information purposes so they can go find someone more important to beat up instead is much less compelling. Presumably it carries a degree of emotional satisfaction to the "eye for an eye" type crowd. It doesn't do much for me. The degree of brutality in the criminals being depicted is to be somewhat expected (kidnapping children, execution via car door slams, escape from prison using rib bone shards, etc), and some degree of response makes sense. But there isn't a very long examination of whether the lengths gone to are too far. There's only a hint of a conscience to these questions despite an overtone of religious examination supposedly going on.

Foggy isn't typically very interesting as either a foil for Murdock's better half idealism or as a comic relief character. Page comes off as more interesting mostly because we never really see her back story (it's implied at several points that she has had an... interesting life). Foggy's we see, but it's basically just "here's this guy Matt hangs out with because they were college roommates". He does however seem more practically engaged in the process of fighting worthy court battles, translating this idealism into legal battles rather than fisticuffs in the dark corners of the city. Maybe that will play out better for Murdock over time, but he spent most of the season scrambling over rooftops engaging in fisticuffs, so it doesn't interact as much as it could. They also seem to have reconciled this difference rather too casually.
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