Season Two of Daredevil is Best When at its Most Brutal

Marvel’s Daredevil may belong to a “shared universe” with Marvel’s Avengers and Guardians of The Galaxy films, but it would be hard to argue that it exists in the same “world” as those breezy popcorn flicks. Bones crunch, arteries gush, and little is left to the imagination in the season two of Daredevil, which makes reference the events of The Avengers, but seems totally removed the fun-but-weightless Superhuman on Alien/Robot violence of those films.

Season two picks up where season one left off, with Matt Murdock, the titular crime-fighter, patrolling Hell’s Kitchen in fancy new red duds by night, and reunited with partner Franklin “Foggy” Nelson, and legal assistant Karen Page at the law firm of Nelson & Murdock by day. The former is more compelling than the latter. Time spent in the law offices of Nelson & Murdock is a bit of a slog. Foggy, the doughy, dorky, “funny” sidekick who struggles with the ladies is clearly a kind of comic-fan avatar and gets too much time on screen in a plotline of limited interest, working through the frustrations of sharing a legal practice with a superhero, while working up a courtroom defense a murderous psychopath. Deborah Ann Woll fares only a little better as Karen, who spends much of the season investigating the conspiracy surrounding said psychopath’s case, and working out her feelings for her haunted, hunky boss who often shows up late for work with unexplained facial bruises.

The aforementioned psychopath is, of course, Frank Castle, aka The Punisher, who provides the season’s most interesting plotline. Actor Jon Bernthal surpasses the low bar set by Dolph Lundgren, Thomas Jane, and Ray Stevenson to become the best version of the Punisher yet dedicated to screen.  Where the Punisher films have been celebrations of deadly vigilante justice, Daredevil’s version is more nuanced and compelling, Castle is, while legitimately aggrieved, not a good guy. Much of the season’s tension is derived from Murdock’s decision to remain a nonlethal crime-fighter rather than adopt Castle’s eye for an eye approach. Thankfully, Castle plotline is allotted plenty of screen-time, so much in fact, that one might could be fooled in to thinking that this season of Daredevil might serve as the origin story for a future spinoff featuring Bernthal’s Punisher. However, The Punisher isn’t the only spinoff-friendly character introduced this season, as Elodie Yung’s Elektra Natchios drops in a few episodes before the halfway point. Yung is the MVP this season, bringing some much needed fun, verve, and sexiness to the proceedings, as well as the second of the season’s major plotlines.  As it happens, Elektra and The Punisher, the twin major marketing tools for Daredevil’s second season turn out to be the season’s twin highlights. It would be a huge surprise if these characters don’t pop up elsewhere.

Where the season suffers the greatest is in its lack of a compelling villain. Last season benefitted from a soulful performance by Vincent D’onofrio as the sensitive, if violent, Wilson Fisk, a villain you could root for.  Now, Daredevil opts for a passel of criminal organizations, and plots involving the corning of New York’s heroin market and a great deal of ninjas. It is hard to describe exactly what the plot or who the villain is, but when Fisk shows up for a couple episodes, the show really picks up steam, it’s too bad he’s not around longer.

Where the show excels is in its action, the actual fighting of crime. There is a tangibility and, as previously mentioned, a brutality to the fight scenes in Daredevil that do not exist elsewhere in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, much to the show’s benefit. The most notable example is a one on eight brawl in a prison hallway, which may rank as an all-time great fight scene amongst those who can stomach the visceral shankings. Hopefully in future seasons of the show the plotting will catch up to the pace and excitement of the choreography.

So far, Daredevil is half of a great show. The action crackles, the characters are compelling (except for Foggy, sorry Foggy), and the Hell’s Kitchen setting is alive, but the plotting is muddy and it drags, the series may benefit from fewer episodes to keep the major set-pieces coming at a faster clip. The flagship for the streaming series that will someday come together in a Defenders  miniseries has not yet reached the heights of its superb sister-show Jessica Jones and would do to take a few notes regarding pacing. However, it’s generally fine and generally fun, and the Netflix branch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe will march onward, bloodied (there’s really a lot of blood in this show) but unbowed.  Luke Cage is next.

B-

 Marvel’s Daredevil –Season 2. Netflix

Format: 1 hour drama

Creator: Drew Goddard

Starring: Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann Woll, Jon Bernthal, Elodie Yung, Stephen Rider, Rosario Dawson, Vincent D’Onofrio, Scott Glenn

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