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Friday, March 25, 2016

Television Review: #Daredevil Season 2

Netflix scores high marks for their sophomore superhero series.

Review by Matt Cummings

Ask anyone these days if we're suffering from too much superhero stuff (television, movies, t-shirts, images on soup), and you're likely to get a wide variety of answers. The truth is, Hollywood is still trying to figure this thing out itself, falling loudly in some cases (see Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice). Even Netlfix has failed (see the boring Jessica Jones). But if there's one thing being done right, it's Daredevil, as season 2's entry has proven with its terrific storytelling, stellar performances, and visceral action.

Set a few months after the events of last season, Lawyer Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) and his partner Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) have been growing their law firm with an eclectic mix of clients. But that's all about to change when a shadowy figure begins to murder rival gangs, leaving destruction in his wake. Determined to protect Hell's Kitchen from collateral damage, Daredevil sets out to identify the culprit, who some have termed The Punisher (Jon Bernthal). But soon Daredevil gets more than he bargained for, as the two clash over ideologies. Faced with a murderous psychopath who won't stop until his family is avenged, Murdock must walk a fine line even as his personal life begins to come apart as a result of his night job.

Simply put, Daredevil is a terrific spectacle of murder and graying loyalties. It deftly pursues the truth about vengeance, that violence spawns more violence and that the line between it and pursuing justice is razor thin. The answers about what happens when people are pushed to their limits isn't comforting, but that's the point here. But it takes great actors to move beyond the mayhem and add a human element to the discussion, which Creator Drew Goddard deftly achieves with one of the best on television.

Bernthal turns in a mesmerizing performance as Frank Castle/The Punisher, allowing the grief over his dead family to spill out onto the screen. We actually feel for him as he describes to Daredevil the plight which has brought them together. This is expertly displayed throughout the series, particularly in an episode in which Punisher engages in a bit of philosophizing with Daredevil, who is chained to a chimney. That sequence is better than any dialogue in the lumbering BvS, clearly spelling out each side's beliefs with some masterful banter courtesy from Goddard and his writing team.

Cox's performance has seen the greatest improvement: he's more relaxed (and therefore more confident) in the role, but he's still eclipsed by some of the best performances on television, including Bernthal and a familiar face from Season 1. His love interest (Deborah Ann Woll) and Henson are solidly great in every episode. They form the decent side of Murdock's conscience, passionate about their defense of The Punisher but wary of his intentions when he escapes prison. But just when you think this series is settling down for a predictable conclusion, Elodie Young arrives as the stunningly feisty Elektra, whom Murdock shares a deep history. And once again, it spawns a worthy discussion over whether humans can pursue justice without losing themselves in the process. For Elektra and Punisher, that answer is a solid no, each wrapped in their own desires for violence and ready to rationalize their way through each act.

For a series that's not directed by the same person each time, Goddard executes the world Daredevil with tremendous results. There's only a few times when things don't quite work as well as you'd like, but that's squashed by the best action sequences on television today. It's rough and tumble throughout, but hardly ever feels overly orchestrated. Still, it's messy enough that I'd encourage you not to show kids under 13, as there's plenty of headshots, blood, and other nasty ways our characters dispense justice or punishment.

If there's one issue I have with the series is Netflix's insistence to not directly associate themselves with the Cinematic Universe. Every time there's a chance for name-dropping, we get frustratingly limited references to The Incident (the NY attack from 2012's The Avengers) and never, ever any mention of those characters. It's unknown why this is happening, but let's see it end soon. Jessica Jones featured a distant Stark/Avengers Tower; why not extend at least that courtesy to Daredevil? But when you have a series this visceral and powerfully small-scale, it's a minor point. Daredevil Season 2 easily establishes itself as top dog in a growing television universe that still can't largely get it right. Unlike other series that are totally binge-worthy, I'd advise taking your time here, as these 13 episodes should be savored, just like the fine cuts of steak enjoyed by a character in the show. It's a delicious meal that demands your attention and threatens to break your face if you don't. Message received - just let my family live...

Daredevil Season 2 is playing on Netflix.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.


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