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Marvel's Daredevil

With the first season of Daredevil, Marvel thrust themselves into relatively unknown territory: that of designing television shows that not only fit into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (as prime-time predecessor Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. does), but are also extremely “adult-themed.”  No, you perverts, we’re not talking that kind of adult situations – although if you watched the first season of the second Marvel/Netflix offering, Jessica Jones, you probably questioned that a bit – but the show is extremely rough-and-tumble and pull-no-punches in its presentation of the grime and corruption of society and how “everyday” heroes/vigilantes have to tread the fine line between law and lawlessness in order to truly make a difference.  The first 13 episodes of Daredevil encapsulated that feeling to damn near perfection, and we’re happy to report that Season 2 not only picks up right where the madness left off, but actually manages to improve the gritty vibe via the fleshing out of existing characters and the introductions of several bad-ass new ones.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This review is an overview of the second season of Marvel’s Daredevil, and was kept intentionally free of any major episodic spoilers.  However, character traits and descriptions, as well as over-arching plot information relevant to this season, are discussed at length.

Right away, the show-runners establish their commitment to avoiding the classic TV trope of “change for change’s sake.”  The action opens on a typical night in Hell’s Kitchen, with Daredevil standing vigilant on the rooftops and ready to spring into action.  Even though the Kingpin has been put behind bars, that doesn’t mean that Matt Murdock’s work is over – far from it, in fact; as you may remember from science class, nature abhors a vacuum, and the sizable space that Wilson Fisk left in the underworld of crime is quickly being filled by a plethora of competing gangs and syndicates.

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Needless to say, Matt and his alter-ego are keeping busy – but he’s also causing some consternation with local law enforcement.  Yes, the police realize that technically, Daredevil is on their side, but as Sergeant Mahoney puts it during a conversation he has with DD early in the season, “you can’t help; you’re the problem.  Because of you… cops are no longer preventing crime, we’re just chasing it – mopping up the mess that you people leave in your wake.”

The general feeling of distrust is exponentially exacerbated when a new vigilante makes his presence known in Hell’s Kitchen.  The first four episodes of the season deal heavily with the introduction and intervention of The Punisher, who is arguably the most complex human character in the entire Marvel Universe.  Here in Daredevil, we see him taking out gangs with “military-grade precision” – he has a copious amount of firepower and both the knowledge and the will to use it as he sees fit.  And how he sees fit is in a very dark way, even for this already-gritty television experience: The Punisher prefers to serve as judge, jury, and executioner all rolled into one package.  If he believes you are guilty – then you will face your punishment (which is almost assuredly death), simple as that.

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While this is The Punisher’s first appearance into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the character has been given many opportunities to make the jump from the comic pages onto the big screen, with extremely mixed results – whether this is a result of the extremely nuanced nature of the character’s psyche and motivations or simply a case of “wrong place, wrong time” for Marvel’s previous attempts, it’s difficult to say.  A trio of feature films spaced out over the last 25 years have told the myriad versions of U.S. veteran and tortured family man Frank Castle.  In 1989, the first go included go-to action star of the day Dolph Lundgren in the title role, but this cinematic version seemed to go too overboard in their changes; Castle was a cop, not military, and much of his back-story was altered to the point that viewers still understood why he was angry but were unsure as to who he was targeting or why his approach was as it was.  In typical ’80s-movie fashion, Lundgren was put on a motorcycle and spewed one-liners like they were going out of style; needless to say, the film doesn’t hold up well in the test of time.  In 2004, the vigilante got another chance in theaters, this time portrayed by Thomas Jane and going up against long-time comic arch-enemy Jigsaw.  With the star power of Jane, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, and John Travolta, this version was moderately-well received by audiences, but the majority of fans felt that this version of Frank Castle was actually too watered-down; Jane, while dedicated to and effective in the role (so much so that he independently shot a short fan film afterwards entitled “Dirty Laundry,” available to watch on YouTube if you’re so inclined), just didn’t resonate well enough to be considered a “franchise” actor for the character.  Most recently in 2008, Ray Stevenson took on the character in Punisher: War Zone, and while most fans felt that this film was the experience that was the most true to the character, the film was not given a large theatrical release and never had the opportunity to resonate with wide-scale audiences.  Shortly after the release of War Zone, the Marvel Cinematic Universe began, and the Punisher was left to be a failed experiment.

Thankfully, the powers-that-be at Marvel wisely sought the character for inclusion into this season of Daredevil.  Frank Castle is a perfect fit into this imperfect world that has been created, and as a long-time Punisher fan, this reviewer is proud to report that Jon Bernthal delivers on his portrayal of the tortured soul in spades.  With an extremely effective presentation of a methodical killer with a painfully tragic backstory, Bernthal is equal parts unlikable but somehow understandable (if not outright relatable in an “Oh my God, what has happened to him is terrible, and I don’t know how I’d react either” type of way).  The scene in episode 4 where Frank Castle describes the reasons behind why he is who he is and what has happened to him to make him this way is, in a phrase, heart-wrenching.  Bernthal absolutely knocks this performance out of the park, and he easily had this reviewer sniffling his way through the end of the episode.  During the casting and shooting of this season, many people – myself included – had doubts about how much depth Bernthal could provide for this extremely complex character; like myself, most people will likely now admit that those concerns were unnecessary, and that Marvel has finally given audiences the version of The Punisher that we’ve been so direly waiting for.

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Just as soon as The Punisher’s storyline cools down for a bit mid-season, however, another Marvel character pops in to make life miserable for Matt Murdock: his former girlfriend and wily assassin Elektra.  Once again, credit the show-runners for providing viewers with enough background information to learn about who these new characters are without beating us over the head with hours of unnecessary back-story.  Elektra is another character with a storied past in the comic books; here, she is presented mostly true-to-form as a child of money and leisure who carefully chooses who she desires to associate with and continually tests them to ensure they stay worthy of her time and attention.  Elodie Young clearly revels in the opportunity to bring this character to life on-screen, and her interactions with Charlie Cox’s Matt Murdock are intense in their subtlety.  I dare say the audience learns more about Murdock – and indeed, watches himself learn about his own nature and morality as well – during these scenes than we did in the entire first season.

Of course, many familiar faces are back from the first season as well.  Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) continues to grow into her own as both a person and as a valued member of the Nelson & Murdock team.  She is clearly a character that can handle her own, and if you thought a lot of stuff happened to her in the first season – well, let’s just say that you should buckle up for another ride here in season 2.  We see her tricky romance with Matt Murdock start to bloom, and it has serious repercussions throughout the entire season.  Elden Henson is back to play Foggy Nelson, and to be completely honest, this show would not be the same without him.  He has quietly become one of the most integral pieces of making Daredevil a grounded, humanized show that audiences can actually relate to.  Henson, who has come a long way from his quack-quacking days in The Mighty Ducks, is a primary character in a show that’s clearly not about him, and that speaks volumes to his performance.  Rosario Dawson is back as well, continuing to be one of the primary threads that starts to draw together this Netflix version of the MCU; as “Night Nurse” Claire Temple, she sees the peripheral action of both the Daredevil universe as well as the events portrayed in Jessica Jones, and odds are good we’ll see her further connect the televised dots in the upcoming series Luke Cage and Iron Fist.

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Last but certainly not least, Cox kicks all kinds of ass as “the man with the horns.”  His portrayal of what is essentially two different characters in Matt Murdock and Daredevil is impressively detailed, and you get the feeling that he not only understands what Murdock wants to stand for, but he embraces the opportunity to show that good guys can be “good” through and through.  The amazing fighting scenes still come strong in this second season, too, if that’s a concern of yours; if you thought the first season’s production of “one long shot of a fight in a hallway with a bunch of dudes” was good, just wait ’til you get a load of the second season’s “one longer shot of a fight down an apartment-building stairwell with a bunch of dudes.”  You will not be left wanting.

Even with the addition of the new characters, there are times when this season feels much more “episodic” than the first season – not that that’s necessarily a bad thing.  In a “binge-streaming” experience like Netflix, it’s easy to forget sometimes that Daredevil is a TV show, and most TV shows are meant to be viewed in one-hour increments with a week or more in between the audience’s opportunity to consume new content.  Watching an entire season of Daredevil all at once (or, if you’re like most people, as quickly as you can over the stretch of several days while still tending to the responsibilities of your life) is somewhat akin to standing in front of an open fire hydrant with a red Solo cup and trying to catch all the water: you get overloaded and just can’t take it all in as effectively as you’d like.  In this reviewer’s humble opinion, going 2-4 episodes at a time and taking the time to truly enjoy and process what you’re being given is the ideal way to enjoy Daredevil, but hey, I’m not The Punisher, and I can’t force you to do anything.  No matter how you take it all in, though, one thing is for certain: Marvel continues to get it right with this second season of Daredevil, and audiences should most definitely approve.

Category: reviews, TV

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