*This review contains spoilers for Season One and Two of Daredevil; if you haven’t had the chance to binge watch the series; stop reading here until you do.*
The character of Daredevil has had a few unsuccessful brushes with live action. In 1989, Matt Murdock appeared in The Trial of The Incredible Hulk played by Rex Brown, there was a brief ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ cameo from the Horned Devil in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, and of course who can forget (even though most of us certainly want to) Ben Affleck’s 2002 theatrical disaster co-starring Jennifer Garner as Elektra and the much missed Michael Clark Duncan as Wilson Fisk.
Marvel’s 2015 Netflix series finally got the character right, and as an added bonus it thankfully didn’t feature any Evanescence songs on its soundtrack. Daredevil was perfectly described to me by a friend of mine as “The Wire, but with a superhero.” And I couldn’t agree more. The show is a gritty tale of vigilante justice peppered with procedural drama and some of the best-choreographed fight scenes I’ve ever seen on television or film. The cast did an absolutely fantastic job, but the stand out for me was Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk, aka Kingpin; I’ve never been a big fan of the character in the comics, so I didn’t really have any excitement coming in when the character was revealed to be the main series protagonist, but when I heard the announcement that D’Onofrio was playing the part, my interest was piqued.
I was weary coming into Season Two for a few reasons, mostly the complete absence of the character of Wilson Fisk in any promotional spots and trailers, and also, to my knowledge, there was no word on D’Onofrio returning to the role; instead the focus shifted to Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle, aka The Punisher, and Elodie Yung as the beautiful and deadly assassin Elektra. I wasn’t familiar with Ms. Yung at all, but I downright loathed Jon Bernthal and rolled my eyes hard at the notion of him playing The Punisher. This was who was replacing the genius D’Onofrio? The guy who pissed me off and almost made me tune out of The Walking Dead a lot earlier than I actually ended up doing? Seriously, Bernthal as Shane Walsh was painful for me to suffer through, and the fact that they broke comic book canon and pushed him onto Season Two infuriated me beyond words.
Well, I have to admit that my hatred for Bernthal probably had more to do with the writing and character than his acting abilities, because he was fantastic as The Punisher. Forget Thomas Jane, forget Ray Stevenson (most of you probably did already, even though I thought he did a decent job), Jon Bernthal IS the definitive live action Punisher. As much as I loved The Kingpin as a villain, I loved The Punisher just as much, if not slightly more. His introduction to the series was brilliant, and his scenes with Charlie Cox (Matt Murdock/Daredevil) were some of the best scenes the series has seen so far. It’ll be a crime against humanity if Netflix doesn’t give Bernthal his own show to expand upon his take on Frank Castle.
Speaking of Charlie Cox, we might as well rundown the rest of the cast before we continue. Cox returns as the titular character, and he’s just as great as he was in Season One. Deborah Ann Woll is also back as Karen Page, and personally I love her in the role, but a lot of people I know think she’s whiny and they can’t wait for her to get the long goodbye. Elden Henson’s take on Matt/Daredevil’s best friend, Foggy Nelson, is more of a hit or miss situation with me personally. He plays the role like a nagging girlfriend at times, but when he’s doing his lawyer thing defending Frank Castle in court he really shines more than he ever did in the first season. Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple is back to stitch everyone up, but sadly her character doesn’t have much going on for her story wise in this season, and lastly for the returning cast, Scott Glenn’s character, Stick, is expanded on greatly in comparison to Season One, but it’s a double-edged sword; I’ll get to that more in a bit.
The general story is split into two separate parts; the first part is basically Daredevil vs. The Punisher. They both fight crime in Hell’s Kitchen, but their approach is extremely different; Daredevil breaks bones, The Punisher shoots people in the face. Daredevil believes in letting the justice system delve out punishment, and The Punisher believes that the system is broken and the only cures for what ails Hell’s Kitchen are bullets…lots, and lots of bullets. It goes deeper than that, I assure you, and like I said, some of the best scenes in the entire series up until this point are between Punisher and Daredevil waxing philosophically about who’s right and who’s wrong. You sympathize with Frank Castle, and you root for him very quickly, in my case even more so than Daredevil. Bernthal nails The Punisher’s attitude, conflict, and resolve with the kind of exceptional acting that absolutely deserves critical acclaim and awards. He’s an incredible actor, and I happily admit I was wrong about him.
The second half is where I begin to have gripes; there’s this derailing saga involving Elektra and Marvel’s infamous ninja clan, The Hand. Elodie Yung does a fine job with the character; it’s different from the Elektra I remember from the comics, but it’s fun and interesting. Elektra has some amazing fight scenes, and character-wise she’s solid, but her storyline is jumbled and messy. It feels like this second half of Season Two is full of missteps, mostly because it is a completely different tone than the first half. Once Elektra and The Hand switch into the main focus of the episodes, the Frank Castle stuff gets pushed aside, and honestly that was far more interesting than the crazy shift in tone that comes with an ancient war and zombie ninjas.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the concept of The Hand, and they’re effective villains in the comics, and they could have been just as effective here, but I feel like they deserved their own Season instead of being pushed into the forefront of Season Two. It just feels rushed, and the introduction of the supernatural elements into a show that really hadn’t shown any signs of supernatural activity is jarring and sudden. I feel especially bad for people who aren’t familiar with the source material, they probably thought they were getting a somewhat grounded superhero show and the next thing they know you have Stick rattling on about Elektra being a Black Sky and the dead Nobu (played by Peter Shinkoda) is back as an almost immortal zombie ninja. Again, I wish we could have just got a few hints that there was something supernatural going on, and I wish they would have saved the full-blown crazy stuff for Season Three. I wish the series would have remained focused on The Punisher, and I wish that storyline had a more competent resolution instead of the mess we ended up getting.
Jon Bernthal was fantastic, but I wish we’d had more of The Kingpin. He does show up for two or three episodes, and his presence was a welcome surprise, but dammit, I needed more! I wish his presence could have been peppered throughout Season Two instead of giving him the spotlight for a meager two or three episode stint. There was room for D’Onofrio’s Kingpin, and I loved his interactions with Bernthal’s Punisher. His latest encounter with Cox’s Murdock was a series highlight for me as well. I hope he makes a proper return for Season Three; he’s too brilliant of a character to fall by the wayside.
Clancy Brown is thrown into the mix clumsily; as a matter of fact, the finale of Frank Castle’s story basically drops off once he faces off with Fisk in prison. Everything after is forgettable, as the story is now entirely focused on The Hand. Foggy and Karen are relegated to this boring storyline where they basically breakup from Matt Murdock, again like two scorned, nagging lovers. Matt and Karen briefly have a relationship in this season, and it ultimately goes nowhere; it’s also almost forgotten about immediately. Matt’s relationship with Elektra is nice and interesting, but again it’s just muddled with all of The Hand stuff happening. Again, I cannot stress this enough; The Hand stuff could have worked if it didn’t derail The Punisher’s storyline, and if it took more time and care to usher in the supernatural components it would have been far more enjoyable.
Let’s talk about the fight scenes; the hallway fight in Season One was amazing, but everything in this season raises the bar straight to the moon! I was blown away by a particular sequence involving Frank Castle getting ambushed in prison. Daredevil fighting ninjas also afforded us some amazing fight scenes, and his matches with Nobu were brilliant as well. The violence and grit are apropos, and it never feels gratuitous. In a lot of ways, the gore is a character in itself; it’s never gore for the sake of gore, it serves the purpose of reminding us that most of these actions have consequences…some even permanent. Charlie Cox and Jon Bernthal limp, get the wind knocked out of them, and bruise and bleed. From fight scene to fight scene their wounds are consistent; it’s a really nice touch that you don’t see a lot of in other shows.
Briefly, I feel I need to comment on the costume design; Daredevil’s new suit is way better than the one he was given at the end of Season One. It was cool to see the character of Melvin Potter (Gladiator for Season Three, please!) give him an upgrade that looked like it was pretty much pulled straight out of the comics; Daredevil’s iconic costume has never looked better! The Punisher does don the iconic Skull logo, but it’s at the very end. I would have loved to see him in it earlier, but I did like how they gave the character inspiration to adopt the Skull with his brutal x-ray. Elektra’s costume, in my opinion, was the weakest. I wish there would have been more to it, and even though Melvin gives her an upgrade as well, it seemed impractical (No sleeves?!?) and aside from it being red, it didn’t wow me like any of the others did. I also really enjoyed seeing Daredevil get his awesome billy clubs in this season; I was wondering when he’d finally start using his weapon of choice from the comics.
To wrap this review up, I have to admit I think Season One is the better season; Season One was more consistently solid. I loved everything about it. I loved every episode, every twist, every arc, etc. Season Two did have a lot of things that topped Season One…. but the things that worked really worked and the things that didn’t work REALLY didn’t work. This season had a lot of bad missteps that kind of sullied all the awesome stuff; the rush job introducing The Hand midway through the season, Clancy Brown’s terrible character reveal, The Punisher being sidelined, the last episode’s conclusion basically reducing Frank Castle to a brief and insulting cameo, and the way Nelson and Murdock’s friendship and business disintegrated were all really, really bad in my opinion. Still, despite the flaws Daredevil is way more enjoyable than pretty much all the other shows on television.
Despite its huge missteps, the things that worked in Daredevil’s second season work incredibly well. I can’t wait to see what Marvel and Netflix have up their sleeves next; bring on Luke Cage! Bring on Jessica Jones: Season Two! Bring on Iron Fist, The Defenders, give Bernthal his own The Punisher series, let’s have a She-Hulk series, Hawkeye, whatever! I’ll take it all. Netflix and Marvel are nailing their darker and graphic shows. Please, keep them coming!
- The Verdict
Daredevil: Season Two Is Brilliant, But Tragically Flawed
There was so much in Daredevil: Season Two that was better than anything in Season One, but when Daredevil: Season Two made some bad story choices it really brought the quality of the show down. This season had two very different storylines smashed together, and it would have helped a great deal if they were separated and given space to breathe. The acting is incredible, and everyone does their character justice. I could have used some more of D’Onofrio’s Kingpin, but hopefully he’ll be back in full swing in Season Three. Daredevil: Season Two was amazing, just not consistently so, and that made my viewing experience frustrating.