There is something mystical and intriguing about a Catholic superhero wearing a devil mask. A blind vigilante acting in the dark, but with an intimate union with God. A man of law who has a deep faith in redemption and finds refuge and aid in Catholic morality. This is exactly why the Marvel Comics character of Matt Murdock / Daredevil, created in 1964 by Stan Lee and Bill Everett, evokes the deep and complex subtleties of the human soul. Most of all, it shows how crucial is the human counterpart behind the superhero mask.
In three seasons, Marvel’s Daredevil (or just Daredevil) – the Netflix show created by screenwriter, director, and producer Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods, The Martian, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Lost, The Good Place) and based on the fictional superhero – manages to tell it all in a strong and moving way.
“The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen”
It’s the present-day. Hell’s Kitchen, New York City. Blinded as a young boy by an accident that exposed him to radioactive substances that, however, gave him exceptional enhanced senses, Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) is a skilled lawyer. By day, he fights abuse and injustice in court. While, by night, he dons a mask and turns into the superhero known as Daredevil. Indeed, Matt uses his superhuman abilities to fight against the crime and corruption that loom over the streets of his neighborhood. With the help of his best friends and co-workers Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) and Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), he will come face to face with evil and dangerous enemies. These include crime lord Wilson Fisk / Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio); ex-Marine Frank Castle who’s become a vigilante called “The Punisher” (Jon Bernthal); ex-girlfriend and fearsome assassin Elektra (Élodie Yung); and psychopathic sniper Dex Poindexter (Wilson Bethel).
Daredevil is the first in a group of shows that are part of Marvel’s Netflix TV shows. These are four interconnected shows, all set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and based on characters from Marvel Comics. Specifically, they are Jessica Jones (2015), Luke Cage (2016), and Iron Fist (2017). All four shows culminate in the crossover miniseries The Defenders (2017). But there’s more. On the heels of the success of the character of Frank Castle / Punisher, Netflix created the spin-off show The Punisher (2017).
What it means to be a (Catholic) superhero
Despite his nickname “The Man Without Fear”, Daredevil shows over the course of the story arc how much the character is instead full of doubts and fears that make him more human than ever. And it is indeed Matt’s vulnerabilities that allow the viewer to be able to identify with him and project onto him their own personal background. Above all, Matt’s fears are closely tied to his being Catholic. It is no coincidence that his faith is a central theme in both the comics and the show. Matt is not only the son of a nun, but he himself has found refuge and salvation in God. Indeed, it is his faith that made him a superhero. This becomes explicit in the words he addresses to his confidant Father Lantom (Peter McRobbie) in an episode of the third season:
I thought that God let me hear the prayers so that I could answer. So that’s what I did. That’s what I was trying to do, was trying to help people.Matt Murdock / Daredevil (Charlie Cox)
The man of faith and the superhero are two inner worlds of Matt Murdock. Two different souls that he is always trying to keep in balance. A confirmation of this occurs in the discussion with the anti-hero Punisher. Daredevil follows a very strict moral code: he never kills anyone. He believes in hope, in the fact that there is good in everyone, and in redemption. He advocates everyone’s right to life. For all must be judged by the law and will be judged by God at some point. But, as Punisher tells him: “You know you’re one bad day away from being me.”
It is exactly in this line that the message of the show and the centrality of faith in its protagonist is explained to the viewer. Daredevil is a superhero with no healing powers. He is a modern martyr who bears the brunt of the pain and, in full awareness of the dangers, even goes so far as to sacrifice himself for a higher ideal. And it’s when he experiences a severe crisis of faith throughout Season Three that Punisher’s words gain even more meaning. For faith is what does not allow Daredevil to turn into what he has always fought for.
There are not many other religious superheroes. The best known for instance are Nightcrawler and Captain America. However, one thing is clear: faith in Daredevil has become an essential character trait and the driving force that moves the story forward. In particular, it was comic book writer Frank Miller who made the Catholic faith a key part of the superhero’s identity in his 1986 story arc Daredevil: Born Again. Later, filmmaker Kevin Smith also added Catholic themes in the story arc he wrote in 1999 titled Daredevil: Guardian Devil. Not surprisingly, Daredevil‘s third season draws inspiration in its tone and themes from these two story arcs.
On this thread, the ad campaign for the show’s second season also focused on religious imagery. To confirm this, the promotional posters for Daredevil‘s season two draw inspiration from great works of art by artists such as Caravaggio, Michelangelo, and Peter Paul Rubens, as explained in this article.
Three seasons. Three one-take fight scenes
One more element that makes Daredevil a high-quality show is its complex fight scenes. In particular, the show has made its trademark single-take fight scenes, that is, scenes with no cuts. Indeed, each season features a fight scene shot “seemingly” this way. To be fair, though, the fight scene from the first season (video below) and the one from the second season have been shot with the use of skillful tricks and hidden cuts in order to make them look like two uninterrupted takes.
However, the most arduous challenge came with the prison fight scene featured in the fourth episode of the third season. The episode’s director Alex Garcia Lopez shot for real a single-take scene of 10 minutes and 43 seconds. This is a scene choreographed to the finest detail and, unlike the other two, the action takes place in a larger space with long hallways and several rooms. A camera operator followed actor Charlie Cox with a Steadycam the whole time. Cox did eighty percent of the scene himself. The rest was accomplished using the so-called “Texas Switch”: a filmmaking technique in which an actor and his stuntman “invisibly” switch while the camera is still rolling. Also, Lopez drew inspiration from the scene shot by Alfonso Cuarón in Children of Men (2006), as he and season three showrunner Erik Oleson explained to Vulture, along with much more.
A possible future in the MCU
It looks like the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen is finally ready to put his red costume back on. Three years after the Netflix show ended, many rumors have been circulating online about a possible return of actor Charlie Cox as Daredevil in Phase Four of the MCU. And in December 2021 the rumors turned out to be true after Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige confirmed it. Indeed, Cox reprised his role as Matt Murdock with a cameo in Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021). But there is more. Cox is not the only one who is back. Vincent D’Onofrio also reprised the role of villain Wilson Fisk in the season finale of the Disney+ miniseries Hawkeye (2021).
In the meantime, while waiting to find out more details about the future of its characters, Daredevil fans just need to start a rewatch of the show.