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I approached Netflix’s Daredevil Season 2 with cautious excitement. The first season, despite lagging in spots, was a terrific representation of a comic-book character underserved by his previous on-screen representation (the Ben Affleck vehicle of 2003). The show boasted cinematic visuals, stylishly choreographed action set-pieces and thirteen episodes to fully explore its characters and establish a plot that was complex and engaging. It also featured one of the best comic-book on-screen villains ever in Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk. Menacing, violent but always interesting and at times, sympathetic, he was a wonderful adversary to the central amiable hero. How could a second season top that? Well having viewed the first six episodes of this season, I need not have worried. Netflix’s latest binge further cements the notion that, in a television landscape filled with comic-book based programming (Gotham, The Flash, Agents of Shield, Arrow, Agent Carter, Jessica Jones), Daredevil is the best of the bunch.
Following the incarceration of Fisk at the end of the first series, the blind lawyer by day and vigilante by night Matt Murdock (the great Charlie Cox) is the unknown hero the news are dubbing “The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen”. He never takes a life but he ensures who he targets get what they deserve (traditionally a beat-down followed by an arrest). However, Fisk’s arrest has left a power vacuum in the New York setting. The Irish mob, biker gangs and the Mexican cartel are trying to seize control. Yet, they are being massacred by a mysterious lone gunman nicknamed “The Punisher” (Jon Bernthal, Shane from The Walking Dead). He takes the step Murdock will not, he kills without remorse. This has the feds worried as they believe it won’t be long until the innocent get caught in the crossfire. Meanwhile, Murdock’s partners at his law-firm Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) and Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) are hired to get Grotto (McCaleb Burnett), the sole survivor of The Punisher’s latest actions, into witness protection. On top of this, Murdock’s ex, the dangerous femme fatale Elektra (Elodie Yung) reappears.
Perhaps Daredevil’s greatest strength is how dark it is in tone. It is a welcome departure from the bright and breezy nature of the recent Avengers films and their televisual counterparts. In the same way as Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight was inspired heavily by the crime-epic Heat, one can see the influence crime-drama has had on Daredevil. When The Punisher lectures Murdock on being just a “half-measure”, it reminds one of that brilliant speech Mike Ehrmantraut gave to Walter White in Breaking Bad’s third season. In regards to The Punisher, the show’s creators Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez appear to have drawn upon the look of Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle – the anti-hero vigilante at the centre of Taxi Driver.
If viewers thought that Daredevil could not top the amazing Oldboy-esque hallway scene from season one, they were wrong. The closing ten minutes of the third episode, “New York’s Finest”, delivers a deliriously dizzying action set-piece. In an apartment block, Murdock faces off hordes of angry bikers with just an unloaded pistol and a chain. It begins on one floor and then continues as the fight descends down multiple stairwells, in a scene which evokes memories of the, now iconic, tracking shot from True Detective’s first season.
In terms of the performances Cox is as charismatic as ever in the central role. However like the first season, he is overshadowed by another actor. Jon Bernthal is The Punisher fans have been waiting for. Like Daredevil, the character has been arguably misrepresented in his previous three film adaptations (although I love 2008’s Punisher: War Zone). Bernthal brings a unique blend of ruthless determination, heartbreak and charm to the role. The scene in the third episode, in which his conversation on a rooftop with Daredevil is interrupted by an old man, is indicative of this. He turns on the charisma in order to ensure the man everything is okay. He and the elderly gentleman bond over both being war veterans. Meanwhile The Punisher has a gun to the man’s head, out of sight, in case he witnesses something he should not.
The clash between the Murdock and The Punisher is also interesting. Although the idea of putting heroes on trial for their actions is nothing really new, this season contrasts Daredevil’s Catholic morality with The Punisher’s atheistic world view – stemming from his experiences fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. Like Jessica Jones (which exists in the same world as Daredevil), the show explores real-life issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder in a very compelling way.
If I had to nitpick, the Elektra story jars slightly with the gritty nature of The Punisher’s. Although Elodie Yung is perfection in the role, her plotline feels less original and rooted in reality – something which would not feel out of place in the far more frothy Agent Carter. However, it does serve to brighten the considerably grim tone so I understand its inclusion.
Verdict: The first six episodes of Daredevil’s second season are proof that there is still fresh blood in the superhero genre, despite over-saturation. Gritty, dark and exciting, it is essential viewing for comic-book fans or fans of crime dramas.
All Images via pr.netflix.com