Sunday, 20 March 2016

Speak of the Devil - Daredevil Season 2 Review

Coming hot off the heels of it's first season, and of the first season of Jessica Jones, Daredevil's second season had some pretty big shoes to fill. I love pretty much everything about the MCU at the moment, and to me, these two series' have been the cream of the crop, so I had quite high hopes. Fortunately for me, Daredevil came back this weekend firing on all cylinders, and delivered an action packed and superbly made second outing. Here's your spoiler warning, because below I'll be talking all about the second Season.

Yes I was struck with the curse of the Netflix binge. In releasing all 13 episodes at once, what choice did I have other than to do little else for the next two days but watch the whole season. When I finished the last episode, I looked at the time and it read 5:21 am. Very few other shows have managed to grip me like Daredevil, and keep me going until it was over.

The first thing I noticed about it - before I even started watching the first episode - was how the rating in the corner had been changed from a 15, to an 18, so straight from the get-go I was looking for anything that might warrant such a change. It started off pretty tame, and whilst not exactly being suitable for cartoon network, didn't do a whole lot more than Season 1. It wasn't long however, before eyes were being gouged, head's smashed, throats slit and faces blown off with shotguns, all with fairly graphic results. Season 1 wasn't exactly family friendly viewing - Fisk crushing a guy's head with a car door springs to mind - but Season 2 steps it up to a whole other level.

This is thanks in no small part to Jon Bernthal's Punisher - a man with the ideals of Daredevil, but none of the morals. If Daredevil catches you committing a crime, you get roughed up pretty bad. If Frank Castle catches you...well you end up jammed on a meathook and left to bleed to death. It ain't pretty. One scene in particular features a brutal fight between Frank and the inmates of a prison. A narrow hallway, plenty of sharp instruments and lots of bloodshed.

It's here that Daredevil stands out. It isn't afraid to go to the dark places that others in the MCU daren't tread. I found it strange thinking that this dark, gritty world exists in the same universe as Agent Carter, or Iron Man, and it also makes me curious as to how it would fit together - should Daredevil and the rest of the Defenders ever make it past Netflix and into the movies. At some points it almost felt like this season tried to one-up Jessica Jones, who's dark storyline itself seemed to one-up Daredevil's first season.

Jon Bernthal was a solid addition to the cast. He delivered a superb performance as the Punisher, and despite most of the promotional material focused on him as the big bad for this season, his "villain" arc was wrapped up in the first four episodes. At first I was a little disappointed, but when I saw what happened next I was glad they didn't spend too much time on him as the bad guy. He was pushed into the limelight in the very first episode, and by the end we'd already had our first confrontation. By episode 4, Frank was caught, and what followed was far more compelling and interesting than a simple "hero vs villain" story. Frank's relationship with Karen and semi-redemptive arc had me invested from start to finish. This season focused heavily on Matt's refusal to take a life, and Frank worked as a sort of Anti-Matt, who's willing to do the things Matt won't.

Elodie Yung also danced onto the scene as the deadly yet loveable Elektra. Similar to Frank, she was the devil on Matt's shoulder (no pun intended), quite literally in one scene, as she urged him to slit the throat of the man who killed his father. In turn, Matt played the angel on her shoulder, urging her to adopt his "no-killing" style of justice, but having been raised from a young (or Yung - pun intended that time) age to be a ruthless killing machine, her temper was not easy to control. Yung brought a dazzling charisma to the role, and after seeing both characters portrayed horribly in their respective movies, it was nice to see this duo done right. Every word out of Yung's mouth sizzled with a sort of sadistic glee that a character like Elektra should have.

Obviously, with the appearance of Elektra (and eventually Stick), the mystery of the Hand and Stick's war deepened. This is another reason it was good to wrap up the Punisher storyline early. It gave the show space to explore the Hand, the War, and the "Black Sky" - some sort of mystical, all powerful weapon that would allow them ultimate power. The back half of the season leaned more heavily into the supernatural, with an undying Nobu serving as the final showdown, and some seriously creepy possessed, zombie kids. It's unclear just how supernatural this show is willing to go, as nothing is explicitly stated to say "yes we have magic", but it's tipped just enough to peak our interest and keep us invested.

By the end of the season, Daredevil had lots of balls in the air, and it managed to juggle them neatly without anything feeling overcrowded. Frank and Karen were searching for "The Blacksmith" - a crime lord responsible for the brutal murder of Frank's family, Nelson and Murdock had completely broken down, forming a rift between Matt, Foggy and Karen, Claire returned and took a stand against her corrupt bosses, and of course we had Matt and Elektra fighting this war that Stick finally explained to us.

And boy what a fight it was.

Season 1 delivered some of the best fight sequences we've ever seen on a TV show. The choreography and camerawork were top notch, and the hallway fight in particular was a standout. Nobu's return brought with it a number of great one-on-one battles, and we even got a ramped up version of the hallway fight, as Matt battled his way down from the roof of a building full of angry biker thugs.

I think one of the main reasons the fight scenes are so good, is that all the combatants seem human. Sure they're acrobatic ninjas, but as the extended scenes go on - and I'm thinking of Season 1's hallway and Season 2's stairwell - Matt gets tired, he begins to get desperate and less polished. His moves go from spinning around to just punching people as hard as he can. He's an excellent fighter sure, but he's still just a man. He has his limits.

Daredevil's first season was some of the best superhero TV we've ever seen. Season 2 managed to live up to the expectations, bringing great action scenes, engaging characters brought to life by superb performances from the whole cast, and even possibly teasing what's to come in Iron Fist, with the reappearance of Madame Gao. Whilst the first season was a pretty by the numbers Superhero story - we knew Matt would end up in the red suit in a one-on-one showdown with Fisk - Season 2 broke the mold of what we expect from a superhero show. A heavy focus on Matt's morals, and how far he would go to avoid taking a life, as well as plenty of turns in the story to ensure we could never pinpoint where the characters would end up, all mix to make a fantastic, exciting season, that I could not stop watching until it's conclusion.

Plus, we got plenty of fan service in the form of references, name drops, and even a quick cameo from Carrie-Anne Moss reprising her role as Jeri Hogarth! Amazing!

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