Monday, 18 April 2016

Verdict: Marvel's Daredevil Season 2

The Devil of Hell's Kitchen is back for a second season of action-packed brawling on the bloodied streets of New York. How does this latest string of episodes stack up? This is my review...

Joining Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) this season are two equally iconic Marvel characters - The Punisher (Jon Bernthal) and Elektra (Elodie Yung). All three have staggered through muddled film adaptations in the past, but as the first season of Daredevil proved last year - Netflix can bring a new lease of life.

This trend continues into the shows second season - both Punisher and Elektra slot into the existing universe with ease, even if their separate storylines aren't as single-minded and focused as Wilson Fisk's was last year.

First off, let's talk about Punisher. Frank Castle is a beloved comicbook character who has been butchered on the big screen before, but this time they've got him right. Played by Walking Dead alumni Jon Bernthal, Punisher is a hard-as-nails and morally-abject addition who operates in stark contrast to Daredevil's more heroic code of honour.

The first four episodes concern themselves almost entirely with Punisher, thrusting us straight into the action as Castle wrecks havoc on the numerous gangs the plague Hell's Kitchen. All four are pretty much perfect; looking back, I don't think I blinked or dared breath for almost the entirety of their runtime. Bernthal is captivating as Frank Castle; his anger and will to win is underscored by tragedy and sorrow, an aspect that gives him depth and a compelling angle - even if we don't agree with his methods, you can still sympathize with where he is coming from.

The greatest strength of Daredevil, and the connected Marvel universe as a whole, is that the show isn't concerned with weekly villains. Each episode doesn't have to introduce, confront and defeat an enemy in the same way that The Flash or Arrow do. The pace is much slower and allows for prolonged stints of discussion and character development - take Episode 3, 'New York's Finest', for example. After two intense bouts of physicality, Daredevil and the Punisher settle in to discuss morality, vigilantism and each of their own personal brand of justice. The show gives us thrilling and compelling reasons to keep watching from both ends of the spectrum.

Charlie Cox continues to excel as both Matt Murdock and Daredevil; in the former he balances quiet confidence, humour and intelligence, whilst in the latter he brings a push/pull of guilt and thrill-seeking. Even in the most action-packed of sequences, Cox will often inject a slight smirk to show the adrenaline and excitement his character feels, which again offers us an amusing and interesting insight into a complex character.

The handling of Matt and Karen's blossoming romance was brilliant, particularly in Episode 5, 'Kinbaku'. It's much more character-driven than preceding chapters, but I really enjoyed seeing that dynamic built up in a natural way - that scene on the stairs was both the cutest and sexiest thing I've seen in a long time. Plus, it made their eventual distancing towards the end of the season especially gut-wrenching.

Elodie Yung made for a worthwhile addition to the cast, even if I wasn't 100% bowled over by her performance. In a show that often exercises restraint, Yung often appeared to be overacting her part, accentuating her crisp accent and generally chewing the scenery for all its worth. It's not necessarily a bad thing, just an observation that struck me - along with how drop-dead gorgeous Yung is. Holy moly, they even had the audacity to dress her tight leather pants. Anyway, her character introduced a new female dynamic to the show and all her fight choreography was handled well too. You got the sense that the show-runners had taken the time to differentiate her fighting style from Matt's in a tangible way.

Her storyline didn't slot into the overall narrative as seamlessly as Frank's, but I can't picture how the season would've worked without her. There simply wasn't enough meat to string either Frank or Elektra's storyline out across all 13 episodes, and without Elektra's presence they wouldn't have been able to introduce the Hand or the Black Sky either. It might not have been as seamless as Season 1, but the narrative still worked as a whole.

Vincent D'Onofrio's brief reprisal of Wilson Fisk made for an exciting interlude during the mid-point of the season, whilst Rosario Dawson returned to play a pivotal role towards the end. The larger pieces of the puzzle also fell into place as Carrie Ann Moss dropped by to tie this season together with Jessica Jones, whilst Elden Henson's supporting character Foggy began to forge a path of his own.

The action in this second season is ambitious stuff that really demands your attention; an astounding hallway fight in Episode 3 is the highlight but the choreography and direction is consistently excellent, from a prison brawl in Episode 9 'Seven Minutes in Heaven' to the climactic rooftop scrum in the final episode.

I liked the way that the show shifted the status quo in the final few chapters; Daredevil certainly doesn't spin its wheels and Season 3 promises new challenges, enemies and storylines that continue to further the three-dimensional characters and universe at large.

Best episodes: New York's Finest, Penny and Dime, Seven Minutes in Heaven, A Cold Day in Hell's Kitchen

What were your thoughts on Season 2 of Marvel's Daredevil? Let's get talking in the comments section down below!

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