Jessica Jones achieved something quite remarkable. In fiction, villains are often more far interesting than heroes and in Jessica Jones we were given one of the greatest screen supervillains ever to grace a comic book-based TV show or film. David Tennant’s intense, charismatic and yet simultaneously loathsome performance as Kilgrave was like a force of nature. Not bad for a villain who, for once, didn’t want to rule the world. He was basically some creep who couldn’t accept that when a woman said no, she means so, who was also, unfortunately, blessed with super powers.
But – and this is the remarkable thing – he didn’t outshine Jessica. Jessica was still the star of her show. She was fully-rounded; flawed and feisty; a joy to watch. (Well, apart from that silly-looking jumping stuff…)
I’d love to be able to say the same about Daredevil because I have, in the main, loved both series so far. I love the tone, the twists, the fight scenes and the gut-wrenching emotional storylines that underpin the action. And I love a lot of the characters: Foggy; Karen; Fisk; Frank Castle; Elektra; Madame Gau; Clair Temple.
But I don’t love Daredevil. I don’t hate him either. I just think he’s disappointingly dull, for various reasons.
In a show which is blessed with such a gloriously complex villain as Wilson Fisk and fascinating anti-heroes like the Punisher and Elektra (who are allowed to kill without conscience) the Man Without Fear ends up more like the Man Without Direction. He has to be the moral heart of the series; he has to be the one who does not kill; who is the more traditional hero. But the writers seem to be struggling with how to make him interesting at the same time. In amongst all those other colourful killers, Matt Murdock/Daredevil comes across as a little, well… wet.
Which has the added problem that you wonder what Elektra sees in him.
Matt spends most of series two coming across like some low-rent Dark Knight, pushing friends away, wibbling about his mission and having a crisis of conscience about his methods. Maybe on paper this looked like “good, meaty human drama” but in reality it’s all a bit laboured and overfamiliar. The self-doubting superhero needs a good dramatic exploration but Matt just comes across as a bit mopey and humourless. He doesn’t need to be a constant quipster like Spider-Man, sure; in fact, he’s at his best when he just silently fights his enemies like some kind of scarlet spectre. But when he’s Matt, it’d be nice to see some wit, even if it’s self-deprecating. The grim, relentless persona can work for those on the more psychopathic end of the hero/ant-hero spectrum, but when you can’t follow it up with a kill you end up coming across like a stroppy teenager.
An added problem with season two is how the writers have handled Daredevil’s powers. Or rather, not handled them. Rarely are we reminded that Daredevil has any heightened senses other than hearing, and even that’s only referenced sparingly. Most of the time – aside from a couple of moments when he has to hand something to Elektra to read – he’s not a blind superhero so much as a superhero who cocks his head in an odd way occasionally. And if there was a mention of his “radar” sense in season two, it passed me by.
Being the blind superhero should be Daredevil’s USP; not just a gimmick but a real defining trait of the character. He should be a positive role model. But most of the time his disability is simply ignored during the action. The writers have a bit of fun with the fact that he can’t hear the heartbeats of the Hand henchmen, sure, but they ignoring the fact he’d be able to hear their footfalls and clothes rustling; he’d be able to smell them; he’d be able to feel the air-flow created by their movement. It’s the combination of all these that creates Daredevil’s fascinating radar sense in the comics. On the show it only ever seems to be super-hearing that comes into play. This feels like a real waste of potential to show what makes Daredevil so unique and not just Batman in red.
(Actually, I’m not keen on the costume either, but that has less to do with a fan of character not liking the fact it’s different from the comics and more that it looks completely out of step with faux-realism of the rest of the series.)
Even as a lawyer, Matt spent most of season two handing the case over to Foggy. Which was great for Foggy – he rises to the occasion marvellously – but once again robs Matt of something that should make him stand out as a character.
I have no problems with Charlie Cox. He’s a fine actor and does well with what he’s given. And in the finale at least he’s allowed to cut loose a bit more and have some fun. But too often the writers seem to treat Daredevil as a literal punchbag and Matt as a metaphorical one, as they give all the best lines and best scenes to very strong supporting cast.
Come on guys. Give this devil some better tunes!