By James Hancock March 18th, 2016
Movies like Captain America: The Civil War might receive the lion’s share of attention when it comes to the MCU, but Season 2 of Daredevil is a show that in my opinion is the essence of how the serialized storytelling of comic books should be adapted to the screen. A dramatic improvement over the previous season (one that I did enjoy thoroughly), Season 2 of Daredevil strips away so much of the unnecessary subplots and distractions that bogged down Season 1 and gives us a pure, undiluted, censorship-free superhero extravaganza starring some of the most interesting characters ever featured in the pages of Marvel Comics. I was barely old enough to read in the early 1980s when I first became completely obsessed with Marvel. At the time, a writer/artist named Frank Miller along with his partner in crime Klaus Janson had turned Daredevil into the coolest Marvel comic on the rack. Their stories featured a sprawling violent epic where New York City resembled a hellish landscape populated with ninjas, gangsters, assassins and the handful of vigilantes struggling to prevent the city from descending into a perpetual nightmare. It was an era that has come to define the character of Daredevil to this day and so much of the spirit of that period has been successfully adapted into the latest season of the show. What I loved most about this season was that there was not a single shot, detail or dramatic beat that felt untrue to the world of Daredevil as I understand it. This is not to say that the show is pure fan service, after all the showrunners are telling their own story their own way, but in an era where so many filmmakers second guess what has made these characters endure for so many decades it is a relief to see a show that completely puts its faith in the brilliant stories that drew readers to the character in the first place.
***massive spoilers ahead***
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably already binge-watched the show and are eager to savor all the details that made this season a success. You already know the plot and the characters, and if you don’t then shame on you. Go watch the show so I don’t have to waste time or energy summarizing the story. Now that I have gotten the preliminaries out of the way, I can dig into the details. Let’s start with Daredevil’s costume, one that might be the coolest of any superhero franchise on film or television ongoing at this time. I was a little worried about the costume at the end of Season 1, but as we saw in the previous season, DD’s costume is a perpetual work in progress and with the help of the character Melvin Potter (who comic readers will recognize as Gladiator), DD’s costume is both functional and striking in design in particular the mask which somehow manages to be incredibly expressive in spite of covering Charlie Cox’s eyes in opaque red glass. In episode 13 of Season 2 I basically had a geek orgasm so intense it made my ears ring when I saw Melvin present DD with a finished Billy Club straight out of the comics, one that works as his classic grappling hook as well as a tool that can be converted/extended into a variety of different weapons. While the show remains totally rooted in the gritty realism that makes the show work, I was nerding out shamelessly every time I saw Daredevil bouncing his Billy Club off the skulls of his opponents, smashing out lights that would only aid his adversaries against him or just snatching the club from the air with ease without missing a beat with whomever he was exchanging punches and kicks. The same approach extends to Elektra and the Punisher both of whom benefit from wardrobes that evolve alongside their character over the course of the show. I loved how the Punisher’s logo initially was used with such restraint restricted to shots of his x-rays from the bullet he took to the head. But it was inevitable that he would eventually gear up completely and I was pumping my fist in the air when I finally saw his classic skull emblazoned across a suit of body armor.
But all love for the costumes and toys aside, the ensemble cast is what really makes this season work. The story of Daredevil has never been just about his ongoing solo adventures but rather about the incredible heroes, villains and regular New Yorkers he interacts with on a daily basis. Apart from the absence of Daredevil’s classic nemesis Bullseye, every notable recurring character or faction that I would want to see in a Daredevil story is here including Karen Page, Stick, Elektra, Turk, Foggy Nelson, the Punisher, The Hand, and in a delightful twist that I did not expect at all Wilson Fisk aka the Kingpin of Crime. In a feature film, it is an incredible challenge to juggle such a large cast and give each persona their moment to shine, but in the 13 episodes of this season I felt like every character was able to enjoy their own fascinating arc. Episode 9 is fucking phenomenal where we see Wilson Fisk assuming control over the prison where he has been locked away. After a fascinating face-off, Fisk eventually recruits the help of the Punisher to eliminate a rival in a different cell block only to betray Frank Castle once he has served his purpose. It is the kind of classic, vicious scenario that keeps me coming back to comics every Wednesday when new issues hit the stands. Frank Castle gets his own brilliant hallway sequence (in a show that is rapidly becoming famous for them) as he rips into an entire cell block with ruthless intensity in a way that Daredevil’s ethics would never allow.
The action choreography on the whole deserves high praise. While occasionally there were one too many cartwheel kicks or inexplicable flips, there was enough legitimate muay thai, brazilian jiu-jitsu, even a dash of capoeira to keep a mixed martial arts fan like myself happy. Episode 3 will surely go down in history for the fight scene alone that brings the episode to a close. Daredevil takes on a biker gang down the length of a hallway and into a stairwell below in a sequence that might be the best fight scene in any Marvel show or movie to date. The similar sequence that ended episode 2 in Season 1 is a dim shadow by comparison. Daredevil, Elektra, the Punisher, the Kingpin and their opponents all have their own unique styles of fighting, a stylistic choice that helps prevent the action from getting stale after watching this show for 13 straight hours (which is the only way to watch a Netflix show if one has any self respect). I could watch Daredevil throw down with ninjas indefinitely. The comic of Daredevil has always been about watching hordes of the Hand jumping across rooftops and scaling the sides of skyscrapers all while Daredevil barely keeps them at bay. As a kid in the early 1980s, I was the perfect target audience for the brief proliferation of ninjas both in comics and in movies and to my delight this season of Daredevil might have the honor of featuring more ninjas than any show or movie in history.
But beyond the action, the story has so much for fans to sink their teeth into. This is a story geared toward adults rather than the PG-13 sensibilities embraced by the Marvel movies. These characters act and sound like real New Yorkers and as someone who lives in New York and is nearly 40 years old, these are the kinds of characters I want to learn more about. They cuss, drink, fuck, and kill in ways that would never be acceptable in the big-budget Marvel films, although after the success of the R-rated Deadpool over at Fox perhaps we’ll see more superhero franchises going that route. But even without these carnal, visceral details, the story has a far more mature, bleak tone than most superhero movies would dare, especially when it comes to the tormented psyche of the Punisher and his ongoing war that will never end. Watching Nelson & Murdock go to trial defending Frank Castle was my one of my favorite plot twists, the kind of scenario the comics are all about. Jon Bernthal will definitely be expanding his fan base having nailed his performance of such a popular character and his following will increase even more so once Netflix and Marvel give the Punisher his own show.
There are also a few juicy easter eggs worth mentioning that hardcore Marvel fans will enjoy like seeing Carrie-Anne Moss from Jessica Jones show up as Hogarth to recruit Foggy Nelson to work at her law firm. Sadly Jessica Jones is only mentioned by name and unfortunately we’ll have to wait a little bit longer to see these Netflix characters crossing over into one another’s shows, something I hope will happen before their inevitable crossover show The Defenders. The big plot revelation/comic book easter egg for me this season was seeing Wilson Fisk become obsessed with Matt Murdock’s destruction, planting a very big seed that a story much like Frank Miller’s classic ‘Born Again’ storyline (Daredevil #227-233, 1986) could be in the works for Season 3 or 4. In my opinion, ‘Born Again’ is best Daredevil story ever written and that alone could become the best season of television ever made. All I know is that I am completely hooked on these Netflix-Marvel collaborations. Luckily we won’t have to wait long for the next. At the end of episode 13, we were treated to a teaser of Luke Cage due September 30th, and it is safe to say that Luke Cage will be yet another Marvel show that I look forward to watching in one sitting.
I could go on and on about all the little details that make this season work but I am getting dizzy with exhaustion and it is time to wrap this up. I just want to make one final shout out to Charlie Cox who is performing his part with more confidence than ever before and who might be the first actor in history who knows how to use a scary vigilante voice while in costume without sounding completely ridiculous. Charlie Cox embraces all the chaos, passion and rage that make Matt Murdock such a great character. At its core, this season is about what separates Daredevil from killers like the Punisher and Elektra and how he really is only one bad day away from crossing that line. With so many great new characters joining the show this season, I worried that Daredevil would be marginalized and lost in the shuffle but thankfully this is still very much the story of Matt Murdock. Daredevil has always been one of the most complex characters in Marvel Comics, a man whose life is all about the burden of his Irish Catholic guilt, the demands of his law firm, the insanely beautiful women in his life and the brutal punishment he endures patrolling the streets of Hell’s Kitchen. After many decades of reading and now watching his stories, I somehow still find myself hungry for more. Nothing would make me happier than a world where Netflix continues to tell Daredevil’s story for many years to come.
I am one of the Co-Hosts of Wrong Reel.