Short version: It’s morally muddled and fairly empty but, golly, it makes you feel good.
Longer version: The problem with Daredevil is the problem with pretty much all superheroes. It takes so very many shortcuts to get the audience on the side of the hero that it is sweet on the tongue but there isn’t enough substance for anything to actually make it to the belly.
You have typical melodrama ingredients. We see a couple unnamed people. One is dressed like a businessman. One is dressed like a hoodlum. The hoodlum does something very bad to the businessman. Immediately, the audience thinks “ah, he *IS* a hoodlum!” A dark figure swoops down and does something very, very bad to the hoodlum. Hurray! He got what was coming to him!
And, of course, the businessman has not been made whole, the structural problems of the city (that created an environment in which hoodlums don’t have a whole lot of options otherwise… heck, an environment that may have been created by the businessman, for all we know) have not been addressed, and we’ve got a guy who swoops down and hits people and our response is “Hurray!” and not “Wait… that’s kind of messed up.”
There have been some decent advancements in melodrama technology in the past few decades, of course… we now have businessmen giving short speeches about how much money they’re making off the backs of the miserable before we see them encounter the hoodlum. We hear the hoodlum give a short monologue about how he looked for work and this is the only way to make a buck. We hear the swooping hero talk about how broken the system is and how he wishes the system worked but, because it doesn’t, he has to punch people in the face… but then we see the same essential story play out and we feel all sorts of muddled when we watch the exact same interactions.
Well, the first few episodes of Daredevil do a good a good job of setting up that it knows that we’re in a situation that is fairly muddled morally… but, from there, we see Daredevil give impassioned speeches about the importance of giving people a chance to be good and turn their lives around within minutes of watching him torture bad guys for information. And then, after engaging in torture, we see him argue against murder.
It’s not that such a position is particularly hypocritical, mind. It’s that there is cognitive dissonance between the various scenes and the end result is a muddle.
We go from seeing a beatdown, a shootout, people screaming in pain and fear to a scene with a priest who gives a monologue about morality, judgment, guilt, obligations, justice… and the monologues are great. (There’s a funeral at one point and the priest gives one heck of a message. I mentioned to Maribou that most of the funerals that I’ve been to weren’t half as good as that one and she pointed out that this priest has better writers than most of the ministers here in town.) After getting a pretty good moral speech about moral action from this character dressed up to communicate that he has moral stature, we go back to seeing another beatdown, another shootout, and more people screaming in pain and fear. It’s a muddle.
But, thankfully, the fight choreography is fantastic. When the hero swoops in and gives the hoodlum what the hoodlum has coming, it’s some strange mixture of graceful and brutal. (Bruceful? Gratal?)
And, like most melodrama, you walk away feeling how silly the story was but, at the same time, enjoying that the bad guy got what was coming to him. Even if it was muddled.
So… what are you reading and/or watching?
(Featured Image is “Edison’s Telephonoscope” by George du Maurier from Punch Almanack for 1879)