Despite an uneven second season, Daredevil remains the most engaging of Marvel’s adapted characters.
Showrunners: Doug Petrie, Marco Ramirez
Starring: Charlie Cox, Elden Henson, Deborah Ann Woll, Jon Bernthal, Elodie Yung, Vincent D’Onofrio
Given the saturation of superhero fare on screen at the moment, whether it be in the cinema or on the TV, audiences would have been forgiven for maybe giving Netflix’s Daredevil a miss on its initial release, particularly given that character’s previous live action outing was the much maligned 2003 film starring Ben Affleck.
But the first season of Daredevil turned out to be something rather special. While far from humourless, it was surprisingly gritty and violent, playing down the superhero stuff in favour of an engrossing tale of mobsters and murder – albeit one where the main character was a blind man with a predilection for bare-knuckle vigilante justice.
Hugely enjoyable, it was a deserved hit, and anticipation for the second season bordered on the feverish amongst both Marvel fans and those normally more averse to comic book adaptations.
Things certainly start well. The opening episode of season two finds Matthew Murdock (Charlie Cox), Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) and Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) struggling to keep their legal firm afloat, a matter complicated by Murdock’s continued secret midnight moonlighting as the masked hero Daredevil. To add to his troubles, there’s a new vigilante on the streets (The Walking Dead alumnus Jon Bernthal) who is carving a bloody swathe through New York’s gangster population. The press have named him the Punisher.
The homicidal Punisher offers a neat counterpoint to Murdock’s more moderate tactics. Whereas Daredevil avoids killing his foes, the Punisher has no such qualms and his methods often veer into outright sadism (one scene sees him mounting still-breathing Cartel members on meat-hooks).
Daredevil sees him as a murderer; the Punisher sees Daredevil as a weakling who trades in half-measures and lacks the will to do things properly. The two characters complement each other nicely; they’re yin and yang, in many ways very different and yet still quite alike.
Given the build-up and how well Daredevil and the Punisher play off each other, it’s therefore somewhat odd that the two characters so rarely interact after the opening few episodes. While Nelson and Page dig into the truth behind the Punisher’s rampage, Murdock rather abruptly turns his attentions elsewhere, hunting down the Yakuza with assassin and heiress Elektra (Elodie Yung).
And here’s where things get problematic. The violence of the Punisher’s storyline, not least an extraordinarily vicious prison brawl, sits uneasily alongside the campier, more cartoonish Elektra subplot, which includes an army of ninjas, ancient prophecies, and a plot to develop the key to immortality.
At times the two plot strands feel like they’re from almost entirely different shows. By the end Elektra’s storyline has become a convoluted mess and Daredevil ends up getting entirely upstaged in his own show by Bernthal’s interloper.
It doesn’t help that the primary antagonist, a returning character who wasn’t particularly interesting to begin with, isn’t a patch on the first season’ lead baddie Wilson Fisk. Instead, he’s a cardboard cut-out, a derivative evil-doer shorn of anything in the way of depth.
It’s even more of a nasty surprise to find that you don’t think much of the hero either. Murdock, so likeable in the first season, has transformed this time around into a genuinely unpleasant person – a whiny, entitled, tantrum-prone martyr who treats his friends with an utter lack of respect.
At times, flashes of his previous, more sympathetic character shine through, not least in his genuinely sweet burgeoning romance with Karen. It’s just a shame this doesn’t happen more; too often he’s a cold shell of a character who’s frustratingly difficult to care about.
Thankfully the rest of the principal cast are, for the most part, excellent. The returning Woll and Henson are consistently enjoyable on-screen presences, and their expanded roles are welcome. Among the newcomers, Bernthal lends his psychotic character a human edge, much as he did with Shane in The Walking Dead. Yung is likewise perfectly cast as the seductive, sardonic Elektra. It’s a shame we don’t see more of the ever-brilliant Rosario Dawson, and Vondie Curtis-Hall, such a stand-out in the first season, is sorely missed, but on the acting front at least Daredevil fans can consider themselves well served.
Likewise, the fight scenes are as thrilling as ever. True, the regularity with which main characters greet each other by exchanging blows occasionally verges on the parodical. One sparring session even ends in a sex scene, seemingly indicating that there is no form of human interaction these characters will not first precede with a few roundhouse kicks and judo throws.
But it’s hard to care when the fisticuffs are this well choreographed. A silhouetted encounter on the other side of a frosted window is a highlight, and there’s a jaw-dropping showdown set in a stairwell, cleverly edited to look like one long, continuous shot.
One last quibble: it’s one thing to fully incorporate a character from the Marvel stable into Daredevil, as they have done with the Punisher. But, as is becoming irritatingly common in Marvel fare, the series is peppered with references to other shows and films from the studio, among them Jessica Jones and The Avengers.
Whereas before these hints and nudges could be explained away as fan service, now it just feels like advertising, a reminder that Daredevil is part of a much wider franchise out of which Marvel is keen to squeeze every last penny. It’s a relatively minor issue, but just for once it would be nice if Marvel would let one of their pieces stand on its own.
Daredevil‘s second season is, then, not the revelation its predecessor was; its plot is patchy, it lacks a sympathetic main character and an engaging villain, and it’s tonally all over the place. It can be a frustrating experience, but even still it remains capable of moments of absolute brilliance. There are plenty of superheroes out there at the moment, but for now at least Daredevil is still king of them all, even if the crown is starting to slip.
This article was originally published on badcantina.com
Images from Netflix