Directed by: Phil Abraham, Marc Jobst, Peter Hoar, Floria Sigismondi, Andy Goddard, Ken Girotti, Michael Uppendahl, Stephen Surjik, Euros Lyn
Written by: Marco Ramirez, Douglas Petrie, Mark Verheiden, John C. Kelley, Lauren Schmidt Hissrich, Sneha Koorse, Luke Kalteux, Whit Anderson,
Starring: Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson, Jon Bernthal, Élodie Yung, Stephen Rider, Scott Glenn, Rosario Dawson, Vincent D’Onofrio
(Originally written for Youtube Mar 21 2016)
This week, instead of a movie, I’m reviewing season two of Marvel and Netflix’s Daredevil, because that’s what I watched this weekend, and it’s kind of up my alley of things, so what the heck?
Season two of Daredevil is an improvement in almost every way over the first season, which has not aged well over the past year, especially in comparison to the other Netflix Marvel project, Jessica Jones, which is still outclasses Daredevil in every way other than perhaps opening credits. But, Daredevil still does everything you’d expect it would from the first season, does it better, and even brings to screen a better character in Punisher than I thought could ever be possible.
Season two plays to the first season’s strengths, mainly its main cast and the action sequences, by leveraging its two new big character additions, The Punisher and Elektra, to incite plots that give Matt foils that make him question the validity of his vigilante crusade and no-kill rule; and give Foggy and Karen things to do that aren’t just following Matt’s footsteps.
The season begins with the introduction of Bernthal’s Frank Castle: the vet on a war path, seeking vengeance against the New York gangs that slaughtered his family. As we witness Frank shoot up a hospital while hunting for a gang-member that previously escaped his wrath, one can’t help but draw comparisons to the cruel efficiency of the Terminator. And while some of the show’s characters, and even some of its audience might grow to sympathize with Frank, Daredevil never makes him out to be cool, or lets us forget that The Punisher is a straight-up monstrous person. And both sides of this character are played incredibly well by Bernthal, who, in terms of straight-up impact, improves this season almost to the extent that Vincent D’Onofrio did in the previous one. Bernthal completely sells the cartoonishly single-minded Punisher as a real person, capable of both the remorseless murders he carries out, and of the deep loss he feels that drives him- a character whose lack of empathy comes from a purely emotional source.
His fight with Daredevil is actually resolved pretty quickly, within the first third of this season; and includes a whole episode where the two debate the virtues of their different styles of protecting the city. Daredevil sees Punisher as unhinged, while Punisher calls Daredevil a half-measure against crime, something that throws him off edge for the rest of the season. After that, the majority of his plot actually lies with Foggy and Karen, who become his defense attorneys.
While Foggy and Karen work on Frank’s legal case, which gives Foggy a chance to step out of Matt’s shadow by finding his own footing as a lawyer; and gives Karen the opportunity to find her own place in the show by uncovering the mystery behind the incident of the death of Frank’s family; Matt runs into Elektra who opens up the season’s second A-plot.
Elektra’s appearance marks Daredevil jumping headfirst into the more out-there elements of the comics, and introduces the Hand, a clan of ancient ninjas as the main villains of the second half of the season. And, besides bringing in the opportunity to fight ninjas and do other more exciting things, like an episode where Matt and Elektra team up to do some black-tie Bond-style spying; Elektra also challenges Matt to question whether he puts on the mask to defend the city or just because he enjoys jumping across rooftops and beating up goons.
Unfortunately, despite taking the plot into much more interesting territory, and being played with a white-hot sexuality and ferocity by Elodie Young; Eleckra barely has a character of her own. She’s magnetic from her first scene, and her chemistry with Cox’s Daredevil is explosive; but her motivations start off unclear and end up not even being her own. And, as everyone who knows the source-material knows how this story ends, it’s hard not to feel like her character was wasted.
The other strength of season one that season two plays on is the fight scenes; and needless to say, the notorious hallway fight from the first season is outdone by an even bigger and more complex extended fight that moves from a hallway and down a stairwell as Daredevil beats up an army of bikers with one hand duct-taped to a gun while the other is tied to a chain. And that’s not even the best fight this season. Daredevil pulls out all the stops throwing a literal army of ninjas at our heroes by the end of the season. The best fight scenes though belong to Punisher who earns his title in every skirmish his enemies are unfortunate enough to be in. Elektra, too has great choreography that combines Punisher’s decisive killer instinct with Daredevil’s training and efficiency. My one issue with the action in this season is that Daredevil still feels like it’s cheating by not visualizing exactly how Matt’s radar-vision works. At points it seems like the writers honestly have no idea how echolocation is supposed to work, at its worst moments, it makes Daredevil look completely incompetent.
This season is also improved by each episode, and the season overall having a much better structure than the previous one. By having two parallel plots going on at any given time, this season has less fat filling out its thirteen episode run-time; and is also allowed to tell each story at its own pace, comfortable in the fact that once its reached a stop or a lull in one story, it can just switch us to the other one. This is also helped by each main character having their own plots and arcs to go through, so it never feels like one character is forced to play catch-up with any of the others. Daredevil has his crime beat, Foggy steps up as the only actual lawyer between Nelson and Murdoch, and Karen finds her footing as an investigator by digging into Punisher’s past. This season’s story does kind of unwind a bit towards the end, with the ultimate conclusion to Punisher and Karen’s story in particular going out with a whimper; but I feel it’s more or less excusable when the journey there was this much fun.
There’s actually a lot I want to avoid talking about in this review, as I really do recommend you watch this for yourself and discover those moments as the show presents them. If you loved the first season, this is just a bigger, better version of that. If you had some issues, this one does a great job at playing to last season’s strengths while filling in many of the character and plot-related cracks. Daredevil still isn’t as perfect an adaptation as some of the other Marvel properties; but it’s still a hell of a good time.