Since 2008, Marvel Studios has made a name for itself as the company that excels in making big, fun comic book-based adventures. Movies like Iron Man and Guardians of the Galaxy have captivated by being as funny as they are thrilling. The new series Daredevil doesn’t fit into this mold, however. Daytime chase scenes are replaced by dark alley muggings; superhero quips are replaced with the sound of blood splatter and crushed bone. Tonally and aesthetically, the show is far darker and different than anything that Marvel has produced thus far– but in exploring a new color, Marvel has just found yet another corner of the comic book world to dominate.

In advance of Daredevil’s first season release on Netflix next week – 13 episodes going live on April 10th – I had the recent opportunity to take in the first five episodes of the series, and was blown away with what it had to offer to both fans and the broader spectrum of the ever-growing Marvel Cinematic Universe. Really more serial crime drama than superhero show, the Steven DeKnight-run program is a tour through the darkest streets of Hell’s Kitchen in New York, and the painful-yet-fascinating tale of a blind lawyer who seeks justice by any means necessary with the power of exceptionally powerful senses. Armed with a cadre of awesome performances and tight arcs that constantly build on the compounding narrative, it's intense, beautiful, and feels surprisingly fresh.

Dark and hardcore as Daredevil can be at times, what prevents it from being overwhelming (even in a binge watch) is the utterly fantastic lineup of charismatic and interesting characters – not to mention the performances making them shine. Leading the pack, of course, is Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock, a young lawyer who was blinded at a young age by a radioactive chemical and moonlights as a vigilante keeping crime and corruption out of his native corner of New York City. As Murdock, he is effortlessly charming, finds home in the courtroom, and has chemistry with every supporting character – but it’s the moments where he dons his all-black costume and kicks some ass that he stands out as truly amazing. The choreography is also stunning, and Cox entirely sells himself as a “fight-til-I’m-raw” brawler (inspired by the fighting style of his character’s boxer father).

But Murdock is also surrounded by interesting personalities in both of his worlds. As the titular hero’s law partner and best friend Foggy Nelson, Elden Henson is affable and the perfect level of goofy. Deborah Ann Woll’s Karen Page finds herself drawn into Murdock’s world through tragedy, but reveals herself to be intensely courageous and entertainingly headstrong. As lead antagonist Wilson Fisk a.k.a. The Kingpin, Vincent D’onofrio puts on a wonderfully affectatious performance that shows a skilled balance between weakness and strength. Each of these characters is demonstrably captivating from the very first moment they show up, and it’s terribly exciting to think of the directions that the series will take them.

Though it’s definitely set firmly in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – with the alien invasion seen in The Avengers regularly referenced in dialogue about New York - Daredevil really looks unlike anything we’ve seen from Marvel thus far. The color palette fits firmly with the tone, with blacks and dark reds being favorited in the overall aesthetic. Even the camera work is uniquely stylish. The show seems to encourage directors to use long, one-shot takes, and they gloriously capture the punishment that the titular hero both doles out and receives. The final sequence of the second episode is particularly mesmerizing, and I imagine that many viewers will want to rewatch it several times before hungrily moving on to the third.

There naturally looms the possibility that something could go horribly wrong quality-wise in the final eight episodes of Daredevil’s first season, but the first five lay down such an epically gripping and shocking foundation that it’s truly hard to imagine things taking a negative turn. It’s smart, entertaining, and has moments so shocking that you’ll have to repress screams. Suffice it to say, Marvel and Netflix have another big winner on their respective plates.

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Daredevil’s entire first season will debut on Netflix on Friday April 10th.

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