Marvel’s “Daredevil” series, which premiered on Netflix in the spring of last year, was a huge success for the already monolithic entertainment franchise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In many ways, it was comparable to 2008’s “Iron Man”, a fresh take on the superhero genre that opened up an entirely new universe ripe for expansion. But where “Iron Man” found its footing in blending action and comedy with comic book zaniness, “Daredevil” instead embraced the darker, grittier aspects of the Marvel universe (taking notes from Frank Miller’s seminal run on the titular character). This meant that while Marvel’s big screen ventures continued to follow “Iron Man’s” example of quick banter and action sequences straight out of a comic book spread, “Daredevil” provided a blueprint of realistic and mature storylines with violence that pulls no punches.
Last fall’s “Jessica Jones” is a shining example of this, with a dark and sexually charged storyline that featured a strong female cast and a cruel, disturbing villain in the Purple Man. In addition, Marvel has already ordered two more original series, “Luke Cage” and “Iron Fist.” However, before those come out, “Daredevil” is the first of the Marvel Netflix series to receive a second season, proving that these shows may have real staying power.
The second season of “Daredevil” picks up several months after the first, with Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) in prison, and Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) firmly established as the “Devil of Hell’s Kitchen”. This relative peace is shattered by the introduction of a new vigilante, Frank Castle, also known as the Punisher, played by “The Walking Dead’s” Jon Bernthal. Where Daredevil simply beats criminals into unconsciousness through martial arts and good old-fashioned fisticuffs, Frank takes a much more lethal approach: killing every single criminal he finds with extreme prejudice. This, of course, puts him on a collision course with Daredevil and sets up a clash of ideals about how best to pursue justice. This arc makes for quite possibly the best 4 episodes of either season, giving an amazing introduction to the character of Frank Castle, and allowing for fantastic performances from both Cox and Bernthal.
While the Punisher in comic books is usually portrayed as more of a cold, emotionless angel of death, Bernthal’s Frank Castle has his anger constantly seething just beneath the surface, and bubbling up when confronted by a threat. This comes through in the pivotal scene of the third episode, which was adapted from an issue of Marvel’s “Punisher MAX” comic series: Daredevil is chained to a brick wall with a gun taped to his hand, and is forced to choose between shooting Frank Castle before he can kill another criminal, or letting said criminal die. It’s one of the best-acted scenes in the season and showcases the dichotomy of views these two men take. In addition, it’s followed up by one of the best fight scenes this season, a callback to the continuous-shot hallway sequence from the beginning of season one. As such, the arc ends on an incredibly somber note in this amazing scene by Bernthal, who is definitely the breakout star of this season.
As the first arc ends, it is immediately succeeded by the bulk of the season’s storyline with the introduction of Elektra Natchios and the shadowy organization known as The Hand. Elektra is introduced as the femme fatale for the series while The Hand provides a large portion of the faceless mooks for Daredevil and Elektra to plow through for the rest of the season. The problem with this storyline is that it lacks the focus the earlier arc with Punisher had, especially since it runs side by side with the continuation of Frank’s story. The Hand’s goals are somewhat nebulous, trying to find and use some sort of ancient weapon called the Black Sky, which is never really expanded upon in any meaningful way aside from an 11th-hour character twist. That being said, they do their jobs as competent villains and provide interesting challenges for Daredevil to overcome, as well as the return of some of the more interesting characters from the first season, like Matt’s old master Stick.
While the fights against The Hand ninja are certainly well-choreographed and fun to watch, they do fall into an old trope commonly referred to on the Internet as the “Conservation of Ninjutsu”. Essentially, a single ninja is a huge threat against Daredevil and proves a life-or-death challenge to overcome, but a group of ninja are little more than punching bags for the protagonists to show off on. It becomes a little ridiculous as the season continues, especially near the last few episodes. Elektra herself could stand to have a little more development, although there, at least. a few flashbacks which give some insight into her character and backstory.
Comparing the second season of “Daredevil” to the first is actually quite difficult to do, as they had very different styles of storytelling. The first season was a very focused arc centered entirely on the conflict between Daredevil and Wilson Fisk while the second season tried to balance multiple new characters and interests, while also splitting the episodes up into self-contained arcs (at least for the first four episodes). While it could be argued that the first season had better character work overall, Daredevil’s sophomore effort introduced multiple new characters and managed to make the audience invested in their stories for the most part. In addition, the action and fight scenes are definitely improved and more prevalent than the first season, which provides a lot more straightforward entertainment for the viewer. While the antagonist(s) are much more ambiguous and certainly not as well-developed as D’Onofrio’s Fisk, they still prove to be a fun enemy for Daredevil to come up against, and the addition of Jon Bernthal as the Punisher elevates the show to new heights whenever he is on screen. The new season is absolutely worth a watch, although there will probably be a lot of debate in the coming months over which season was better overall.
Photo courtesy of Netflix