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Respect for faith sets 'Daredevil' apart


April 24, 2015

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I’m going to say some nice things about Marvel’s “Daredevil” TV series for Netflix, and I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea.

This show is not for everyone.

It’s rated TV-MA, which is the television equivalent of an R rating. It’s not sexually explicit. Language-wise, the show avoids the dreaded R-rated profanity, but does say a whole lot of lesser stuff to make up for it.

The language, however, is secondary. “Daredevil” earns its TV-MA label almost entirely because of violence.

While most of the action sequences would be at home in one of the PG-13 Marvel superhero movies, there are a handful of moments that definitely cross the line into R-rated territory. There’s one sequence where the bad guy gets his vengeance for being embarrassed on a dinner date — and it's as brutal as anything I’ve ever seen on any screen, large or small.

So, again, I don’t want anyone reading this to stumble onto "Daredevil" on my recommendation without understanding what it is they’re going to watch.

With that said, let me tell you why I found elements of “Daredevil” to be remarkable, even uplifting.

First, some background. Daredevil is the masked alias of Matt Murdock, an attorney who was blinded by chemicals in an accident as a boy. In a cliche of comic book science, the chemicals take Matt Murdock’s sight but enhance all of his other senses to superhuman levels, thereby allowing him to compensate for his lack of vision. There are other elements of his backstory that are significant to understanding who he is and why he fights crime, but one of the things that sets Daredevil apart from other masked heroes is that Matt Murdock is a faithful, practicing Catholic.

That doesn’t happen in popular culture very often.

Hollywood usually employs religion as either a villain or a punchline. The Roman Catholic Church is generally portrayed as a corrupt oligarchy a la “The Da Vinci Code,” and religious people of any stripe are usually portrayed as either dupes or hypocrites, if they’re even mentioned at all. To have a protagonist, then, who is both heroic and intelligent and also devoutly religious is extraordinarily rare.

What makes this even more notable is that his religion is not presented as some kind of character flaw. Matt Murdock’s relationship with his priest and confessor is depicted as a positive thing. The priest provides solid counsel based on Catholic traditions that helps Matt to avoid actions that would, according to Catholic doctrine, jeopardize his eternal soul. There’s a lengthy discussion about the nature of evil and the reality of Satan that is far smarter and more theologically sound than anything else ever shown in any entertainment venue. I found that both surprising and refreshing.

Religion, for these characters, is just another part of life, the same as it is for millions of faithful people everywhere. Unfortunately, Hollywood has taken great pains over the years to excise this element of the human experience from most of its products. A visitor from Mars who had to learn about humanity solely from the movies would conclude that religion isn’t a big deal on this planet, when precisely the opposite is true.

Again, I don’t want to be misunderstood. “Daredevil” is more about beating up bad guys than anything else, and it’s hardly a substitute for Sunday school. No one would find it preachy or didactic, although the violence is so explicit that it may end up alienating much of its audience.

But the fact that the good guy also goes to church is definitely a step in the right direction.

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