Marvel's Daredevil has a lot of things going for it — but one thing that stands out is its visceral, thrilling fight scenes. These brawls aren't just visual splendour: they help convey Matt Murdock's evolution from Vigilante to Superhero. Join us as we take a spoiler-laden look at Daredevil's important fight scenes.
Seriously, big spoilers for the entire first season here, so turn back if you're not done!
Although this isn't the first action sequence with Matt in his ninja getup, this is the first of many brawls he finds himself in as he begins his crusade against the shadowy figures behind the Union Allied corruption scandal, and ultimately Fisk himself.
Daredevil implies that Matt has been going out and acting as a vigilante for a period of time before the series begins, it's hard not to look at this fight as one of Matt's first — how it begins gracefully in the shadows of Karen Page's apartment, with Matt deftly dodging the criminal's knife lunges, cartwheel kicks and wall-runs to show off, before descending into a brawl as things go sideways and the action transitions (rather violently, through Karen's window) to the street. That transition emphasises one key thing for all the fights going forward though: When Matt Murdock goes down, he doesn't easily get back up again.
Matt is a character who openly wears the strain of combat and taking a beating. When he gets back up, gone is the sleek, athletic dodges and twirls, replaced with sheer, sloppy brutality. Matt's swings are not precise; he gets hurled around, knocked down multiple times. He staggers, exhausted. The fight has transitioned from a skirmish into a full on brawl. (It's interesting to note in times like this, how often Matt emulates a boxer's stance — his father's influence coming through, amplified by him being stirred to rise again by his father's imploration to "go to work".) He doesn't even finish the fight on his feet, dominant. Instead, he ends it splayed out on the pavement gasping for breath. Daredevil reminds you early on that this character isn't like any movie superhero you've seen. He's a slugger.
This is the fight you've heard everyone raving about, and there's a good reason for that: the entire three-minute sequence is done in a single shot. Matt's first major battle with the Russian mob deals with the concept of Daredevil as an unstoppable force.
Unlike the rain fight, Matt is decidedly in control here. His movements are focused, precise and brutal. We see less of the boxer and more of the agility he learned from training under Stick on show, as he twirls around punches and spin kicks foes into submission. But the agility does nothing to remove the brutality of the scene, as men are hurled through doors, microwaves hurled at heads, and Matt leaves a squirming trail of men in his wake. He's only briefly accosted a few times in the entire sequence: for the rest he is powerful and in charge, a rare power fantasy for the show.
And yet, despite that dominance, the sequence humanizes Matt by showing the sheer exhaustion the fight has on him. He starts as you would expect a hero like Captain America or Thor to, at his peak, but as the battle goes on he slumps, tires further, to the point that the final punch is accompanied by him promptly falling to the floor for a brief respite before he picks himself back up again. Daredevil does such a fascinating job of portraying the fact that, unlike other Marvel heroes we've seen, Matt Murdock is very much a normal person, and the toll his heroics take on him is very clear.
There's also some wonderful symbolic imagery in the lighting here. The Hallway is darkly lit, a sickly yellow tone that is repeated throughout Daredevil's nighttime scenes, but the rooms to either side of it, where the Russians hang out, are starkly lit in white — and we barely see them. We hear Matt fighting in both rooms, but the camera stays focused on the hallway, in the shadows, and it is only there that we are allowed see Matt do his work. Powerful stuff, wrapped in the series' most visually arresting fight sequence.
And now we transition from a fight that is all about showing Matt Murdock in a position of strength to one of emotional weakness — the intense duel between him and his former mentor Stick. Up to this point in the show, Daredevil has made extensive points about Matt's vulnerability in fight scenes, and although that is on display here, it's also deeply symbolic of his emotional vulnerability as well.
The fight explodes because Matt learns that Stick killed the small child known as the "Black Sky" being imported by Nobu's Yakuza, and it's a rare time that we see Matt Murdock filled with rage. And it's very specifically not a Daredevil fight, but a Matt Murdock one: he is unmasked; we can see the anger on his face. The personal nature of the fight is reflected in its actual choreography as well. Matt begins, so full of anger, by turning not to Stick's techniques, but to boxing. And Stick handily thrashes him, exploiting Matt's compromised emotional standpoint (and harkening back to a moment from their training shown in flashbacks, where Stick tells the young Murdock to control his anger and channel it into the fight).
The fight takes a turn when Matt breaks out of Stick's chokehold, and it's only then that he becomes more acrobatic with his attacks — turning Stick's training against him, bettering him. It's a subtle transition, but symbolic of his growth from student to warrior.
And yet, Matt ends the fight in a boxer's stance. That little emotional defensiveness still shows through, as he angrily tells Stick to get out of his City. This fight was not Daredevil's most physically taxing encounter, but it was certainly its most emotionally taxing one for Matt.
Perhaps the most obvious thing to say about this particular fight is the obvious setup for the Ninja elements of the Daredevil comics for the show to pick up on in later seasons. Nobu is dressed in the red garb of the Hand Clan from the comics, an element introduced by Frank Miller in the 1980s, and the acrobatic aspect of Matt ducking and weaving around Nobu's deadly Kyoketsu Shoge is certainly meant to evoke not just the elements of the fighting style Matt uses himself, but hints for the likes of Elektra to come later down the line.
But it's not really the callbacks to Daredevil's comic book dalliances with Ninjas and the Far East that make this fight stand out — it's the fact the fight isn't a single sequence, but a framing device used throughout the episode, a mirror to its main plot. For the first time, the action becomes less about Matt's own character growth, but the arc of the story Daredevil tells itself.
"Speak of the Devil" comes in the wake of Fisk's public unveiling as a do-good philanthropist, as Matt implores Foggy and Karen to go up against him through the law (while he secretly hunts down leads to get at Fisk as a vigilante outside of it). The struggle Foggy and Karen go through during the episode, dealing with their client Mrs. Cardenas being murdered by one of Fisk's goons, desperately trying to find anything to discredit Fisk — it's mirrored in Matt's own brutal struggle fighting Nobu after he chases down a lead that Fisk is going to be at the Docks.
For every setback Foggy and Karen face, Matt takes a savage cut from Nobu's assault. Just as they find themselves without hope following Elena's death, Matt is thoroughly outclassed by Nobu. And just as Foggy laments that there's no chance they'll find Fisk, or beat him, Matt gains the upper hand and ignites and oil-covered Nobu, burning him to death... as Fisk enters the warehouse and proceeds to savage Matt before he escapes, bloodied and broken, out a window. The despair of our heroes in their two approaches to defeating Fisk — by the law or by vigilante justice — finally comes together in one bleak moment, as Matt stumbles back to his apartment to be discovered by Foggy.
Finally, we get the matchup we've waited for throughout the season. Matt Murdock has finally embraced the mantle of Daredevil, and unlike in their last encounter, this time he is ready to go up against Fisk.
And it shows. What has defined Daredevil's fight scenes so far is the willingness to show Matt's human side — his wounds, his tiring, the physical taxation it takes upon him. But now that he's embraced the idea of becoming a symbol, a thing to be feared, as he discussed with Father Lantom in "The path of the Righteous", we don't see that here. He still takes a beating from Fisk, but he does not show it so much — it's not until Fisk is down and out for the count that Matt allows himself a moment to show his pain and weariness. It's the final visual evolution we see in the fight scenes that makes him a vigilante no more, but a hero.
There's also a lot of interesting mirroring going on between Fisk and Matt's fighting style that comes to the fore here — they are different, radically so, but it's mirrored in interesting opposites. The agility of Matt comes through in his dodges. With Fisk, it's in a surprising burst of speed as he charges into the fray. Matt's escrima are countered by a crowbar from Fisk — the rapid punches of Daredevil combated by huge, slow swings and throws from Fisk. Just as the series itself dabbled with the similarities between Matt and Fisk, both men trying to make their city a better place, their fight styles intertwine and mirror in subtle ways.
I'd also like to make a quick note about the music during this fight, a rare comment considering the generally reserved nature of the show's soundtrack. The piano leitmotif of the opening credits was used a few times in Daredevil, usually at quiet, personal moments for Matt Murdock. But when he rallies from Fisk's assault here to deliver the final blows, it swells into thumping strings and guitar: Like Matt Murdock's evolution into Daredevil, it has become something more. Not the theme of a man, but of a Hero. Now that's a moment you can root for.
Daredevil as a series is steeped in character moments. It's in the long, lingering scenes, in its at times frustrating pace. But it's not just the scenes of people talking with each other that deliver the character and story, it's in the fights as well. We see Matt Murdock transition from Vigilante to Superhero both in and out of costume, and that evolution is most dramatic in these major fight scenes.
It's visual spectacle that actually means something for the characters involved and to the audience — and that's what makes it such a delight to watch.