The signature scene of Netflix's new Marvel superhero series Daredevil comes at the tail end of the show's second episode, "Cut Man." Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) — a.k.a. Daredevil — bursts into the villains' den looking for a missing boy. From there, we're treated to a bone-crunching fight through the guts of a seedy New York City building.
Doors bust open. People get microwaves chucked at their heads. Bodies contort and twist with every punch. And it all happens in one, continuous shot.
The scene is a three-minute declaration that this superhero series came ready to play. Here's what makes it so good:
The wonder of the one-shot fight scene
The brilliance of this one-take scene is as much about the difficulty of nailing down the fight choreography as it is the final product. Daredevil's stunt coordinator, Philip J. Silvera, explained to the Observer that the scene was actually proposed as a challenge.
"Phil [director Phil Abraham] challenged us to do a pure one-shot, which really just brought a grounded real feeling to the whole thing," Silvera said. "We were able to slow down the fight and just have this raw, animalistic feeling happening."
Silvera explained that though there were no cuts used in the sequence, around eight stunt doubles took part in the scene. The doubles were swapped in and out during moments in the shot where the audience's view is obstructed:
"Every performer, the actors and the stunt doubles, were in there performing that fight full-on. I'd say there was a minimum of 105 beats, and they killed it," Silvera told the Observer.
Silvera and Abraham's challenge is just one part of the equation. Their balletic final product makes the payoff that much better. The movement of the fight is easy for the eye to follow. There's also a balanced and methodical use of shadow, color, and light. And there's a constant movement of the camera — shifting backward, forward, left, and right; resting on different planes; and forcing the audience to adjust to different depths and perspectives.
An homage to Oldboy and The Raid
Upon seeing this sequence, fans began pointing out two likely inspirations. The first is Park Chan-wook's 2003 film Oldboy. In that film, the hero, Oh Dae-su, travels back to a clandestine prison where he was held captive without explanation. He must fight through a mob to get deeper into the prison:
Though both of these sequences were shot in continuous takes, Oldboy 's sequence is very different. The most obvious contrast between the two is that Oldboy features a wider, more static shot — there's no movement like there is in Daredevil. We witness the action from the X-axis, slowly going from left to right. This plays up the sheer number of men Oh Dae-su must vanquish in order to get to his destination.
The other movie this sequence riffs on is The Raid: Redemption, a 2011 film from Gareth Evans. (Daredevil showrunner Steve DeKnight told EW that The Raid was one of his inspirations for the show's fight scenes.) The aesthetic is very similar to Daredevil's in that the hero, Rama, fights through a hallway, a contained space, with enemies popping out from every direction:
The Raid's fight scene is a bit more frenetic than Daredevil's, and it's not a true one-shot sequence, as there are a few jump cuts and closeups spliced in. But the two share a similar sense of design, movement, and action.
The hero has a "human" moment
There's one more moment that Daredevil and Oldboy share. The pivotal similarity between Daredevil and Oldboy is that both possess a scene where our hero is beaten, and seemingly down for the count. In Oldboy, Oh Dae-su is overcome by the numbers, stomped on, and just about left for dead. Daredevil's Matt Murdock succumbs to exhaustion.
Both heroes crumple to the floor like worn sleeping bags. Heroes aren't supposed to be this vulnerable, nor are they supposed to have limits. For a brief moment, they're totally exposed. A final punch could end their run.
But there's also a turn.
In this moment, when our heroes have nothing left and the odds are stacked against them, they each find the faintest glimmer of strength and hold on. They're bruised, battered, and exhausted, but they're not done yet. Matt Murdock and Oh Dae-su pick themselves up off the ground, determined to make it through this gauntlet, no matter what it takes.