Multimedia lovers in Fresno and all over the world are lucky in that they have so many possible options to digest the media today. Movies and television and print media are tried and proven, but in recent years another, brand new medium has emerged to fight for dominance, the Internet. For instance, the arrival of Netflix, the online streaming service for media content that millions of people log in and subscribe to everyday. Not only has Netflix proven itself an effective place to find your favorite shows on TV today or from the past, but the service has drastically broadened its audience by offering its own, original content that viewers can find nowhere else many of these Netflix original shows even becoming critically acclaimed. For example: Marvel’s Daredevil.
Premiering last year as a thirteen episode season exclusive to Netflix subscribers, Daredevil, based on the comic book superhero created by Stan Lee and Bill Everett, is was the first is a series of live action comic book show produced by Marvel Studios that takes place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The first season of the show was an enormous success both with critics and with fans, many citing it as one of, if not the, best superhero show ever. Praise was given or the performances, the writing, the fight choreography, the deeply mature subject matter, and the unapologetic nature of its content thank in no small part to the significant lack in guidelines for Netflix content compared to normal network censors. The show was also a massive success with fans of the Daredevil comic books, praising it for its love and adherence to the source material and for the epic, mature scope of its storytelling and characterization. The show’s success allowed for Marvel to pursue production of further show based on some of their other, grittier characters that parent company Disney might deem too mature or too edgy for feature film exposure, such as last year’s Jessica Jones or their upcoming Luke Cage and Iron Fist series.
With the success of the first season, a follow up was greenlit quickly, much to the excitement of fans, including this examiner. And now, at last, all thirteen episodes of the second season have been released on Netflix for fans to binge watch at their leisure.
It has been months since blind defense attorney Matt Murdock, a.k.a the vigilante Daredevil (played by Charlie Cox), has cleaned up his neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen, New York by defeating the underworld Kingpin Wilson Fisk and putting him behind bars. Now Matt, his legal partner Foggy Nelson (played by Elden Henson), and their secretary and assistant Karen Page (played by Deborah Ann Woll) continue to work out of their small legal office in the Kitchen and struggle to get by on pro bono cases for clients that can barely afford to pay for their help. But things take a sudden, and very violent, turn when a former mob lacky comes to them for protection and doing so in a very desperate and terrified manner. It turns out that several of the cities most powerful gangs are being systematically wiped out in brutal execution style massacres by an unseen force, which most assume to be an army that attacks from the shadows unseen. As Foggy and Karen try to secure their new client’s safety, Mat dons his costume and hits the streets in search of these mass murderers that have claimed as least 30 lives and counting across the city.
As it turns out this new enemy is not an army but a single man, Frank Castle (played by Jon Bernthal), a former Marine and war hero who has seemingly went insane and has started using his incredibly deadly skill set to take the law into his own hands and wipe out the scum of New York with all of the same brutality and lack of mercy they use to make the innocent suffer everyday. This puts Frank in direct odds with Matt who, despite dressing up in a costume to brutally beat up criminals every night, nevertheless draws the line at willingly killing anyone. Through a series of encounters, Daredevil and Frank, whom the media has taken to calling “The Punisher,” engage in fierce battle with one another as gradually more and more of Frank’s background is unraveled and the source of all his anger and, arguable, insanity originates from, until finally the Punisher gets himself arrested and his killing spree is brought to a close…But that is not the end of Matt’s story for this season.
Soon after stopping the Punisher’s rampage, Matt receives a surprise visit from his old college flame Elektra Natchios (played by Élodie Yung), the Greek daughter of a wealthy businessman whom is herself a deadly master of martial arts and ninjutsu. Elektra and Matt had a passionate relationship years ago, but he broke up with her due to dark and troubled moments between both of them that crossed a line. But now, Elektra has come back into Matt’s life to get his help in dealing with rivals after her father’s company, but this quickly reveals itself to be a lie and in truth Elektra is involved in an apparent war with the Yakuza, and perhaps something even worse. With Elektra now messing up his life once again, and his legal team ironically finding themselves taking on the case to actually defend Frank Castle against a district attorney out for his blood in the trial of the century, Matt’s life has never been more complicated, or more dangerous once his estranged mentor Stick (played by Scot Glenn) enters the picture as well to reveal some devastating secrets and to finally get Matt ready for a secret war that he’d been training him to fight his whole life. And as if all of that wasn’t bad enough, all of this constant dividing his time may finally put too big a strain on his personal life and shake up his relationships in ways that they may never recover from.
As you can likely tell from that plot summary, there are a lot of plot threads going on this season. This is a noticeable departure from what we got in season one which, while involving many different characters and serving as an intricate crime drama, you watched it and you could pretty much guess where it was all leading to: Matt finally donning the iconic red suit and having his final fist fight with Fisk. But this season, things are not as clean cut. We primarily have two competing story arcs balancing each other out for Matt to deal with at the same time all the while his personal life falls apart around him. Because of this, events are less linear and harder to predict and you are left constantly guessing where the story is going to go and how all of these different threads are going to come together.
The big draw that Marvel pushed to get fans excited for this season was the introduction of two major characters from the comics that they have been dying to see brought into the MCU: the Punisher and Elektra. Both characters that have long been fan favorites with their own series and both with long histories connected to Daredevil (one more closely than the other, more of that later), their appearance in this show was a big deal not only for further embracing the full comic book mythology into the series, but because the less restricted nature of the Netflix medium allows for a virtually unrestrained and gory portrayal of these two very, very violent characters whom would normally be censored in other formats as they have in the past.
Lets start with the Punisher. Frank Castle has a long history in the MCU and from the beginning he has made his mark not as a superhero at all but as a hard-edged, unapologetic, gun-wielding antihero. He started out as a Marine and a war hero who received top-of-the-line training in multiple fields of combat becoming the best of the best. He was happily married with children until one horrific day where the Castles stumbled upon a mob execution and Frank’s entire family was senselessly gunned down while he miraculously survived. The traumatic experience snapped Frank’s mind and turned him into a vengeful vigilante determined to wipe out those who killed him family with the same brutality that criminals use themselves. When he got his vengeance, Frank’s crusade would not stop and he swore to wiping out all crime with equal force, thus beginning a never-ending one man war that has brought him into conflict with the law and, yes, many of Marvel universe’s greatest superheroes, including Daredevil whom has no appreciation or tolerance for the Punisher’s methods.
Despite being such a graphic and mature character (or more likely because of those things), the Punisher is among the most recognizable character s in the Marvel universe, one that has seen plenty of portrayal in other media before, including a drastically censored version on the 90s Spider-Man cartoon of all places. But besides that, the character has already been adapted into live action film three times, each time as a stand alone film that and each time played by a different actor, from Dolph Lundgren, to Thomas Jane, to Ray Stevenson. All of these films have received negative reviews and mixed reception from fans–cult appreciation at best, outright bashing at worst.
Jon Bernthal is now the fourth actor to portrayal Frank Castle in live action and while I personally don’t think his face bears the strongest resemblance to the Frank Castle I know from the comics, that point is irrelevant because he delivers by far the most complete and satisfying performance. A lot of that is helped by the way the show chooses to tell his story. When we are first introduced to Frank, he is clearly presented as a crazed, murderous villain, one who kills criminals without mercy and who does not hesitate to shoot back when Daredevil gets in his way. That “Bang!” he says as he take that near fatal head shot says it all! As the season progresses however, we are allowed to get deeper into Frank’s head as we get to know his philosophy; he has seen the true ugly side of life and does not believe that the law or the many costumes “heroes” that have popped up in this world (Iron Man, Captain America, Spider-Man, etc) are doing enough because they don’t kill. While those heroes are dealing with super powered aliens and robots and over-the-top crime syndicates like Hydra, Frank and Matt are the ones hitting the streets and getting their hands dirty dealing with the real scum that festers in their city. The difference is that while Daredevil technically goes outside the law to bring criminals to justice, he draws the line at killing, as most superheroes do, while the Punisher is all about killing because he feels that it is the only way to end the problem for good. This classic conflict of philosophy has always been at the heart of these men’s heated dislike for one another and I am happy that we get to see that be a focus here.
But Frank is not just some man with an extreme point-of-view doing what his does for no reason, the show unfolds and goes out of its way to make it clear that this is a scarred, damaged man that had something horrible happen to him and that he is as much a victim as a criminal, even if his actions are so graphic and unapologetic that we have trouble deciding if we even like him; we certainly can’t label him as a hero, and frankly, I doubt that Frank himself would consider himself a hero either. He kind of reminds me of the Comedian from Watchmen in that regard, except that the Punisher actually does have some sort of moral code driving his actions, limited though it may be. We see this more sympathetic side of him come out the strongest in his unfolding relationship with Karen, who takes up the job of investigating his case and uncovering a deeply-rooted conspiracy and cover up of what happened the his family that night int he park. It becomes more complex and political than I remember it being int he comics, but that serves well for this adaptation and makes the drama more engaging. I freely say that, as a Marvel fan, seeing Frank Castle get captured and standing trial for mass murder as if he were Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer was very thrilling to see played out.
I should also point out that this conflict we see between Daredevil and the Punisher is the first example of what is going to be a trend in superhero media this year, heroes battling one another. Sure, the Punisher may or may not be a hero to you depending on who you are, but he is usually the protagonist character within his own stories and here we see him at odds not just with the mob but with street superhero Daredevil. This theme will continue this hear with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and with Captain America: Civil War. I find it curious that so many parties behind the making of these films and shows were on the same creative wavelength this year and I’m not sure what that says about the trends of comic book adaptations today, but it is an interesting coincidence if nothing else.
The other major new character introduced this season is Elektra. Teased briefly during a flashback scene in season one, this character has long been a hugely important part of Matt Murdock’s life as his occasional opponent and, more importantly, his most passionate love interest. Created by Frank Miller during his legendary run on the comics, Elektra is a perfect mix of lethal and playful and the perfect foil for Daredevil. She is a beautiful, sexy assassin who does not hesitate to kill, which puts her at odds with Matt’s no killing code, and yet the attraction between them is undeniable. She makes him feel more alive than anyone else does, which is why it is unfortunate that she goes too far and, in ways that I will not spoil, crosses a line to make her lover happen that destroys their romance.
When Elektra seemingly randomly reenters Matt’s life he is not at all happy to see her and for good reason as we find out rather quickly. But the scenes we get between them, including the flashbacks to younger times, speak for themselves and Élodie Yung does a terrific job of making the character fun but also dangerous and, as we gradually discover, a bit twisted. We have seen the character in live action twice before when Jennifer Garner played here in the 2003 Daredevil movie and the 2005 Elektra spinoff, but Yung’s portrayal is far more accurate to the actual character, both in her complicated relationship with Matt and as a the deadly assassin we all know. Yung is quick to sell us on the lethal ninja side of the character as we see her go into battle alongside and also against Daredevil. She is an id for Matt Murdock and when she enters the story a major missing piece of this mythology is filled up in a satisfying and entertaining way.
It is also with Elektra’s appearance that we get into a different tone for the season, in contrast to the grim, gritty urban crime of the Punisher story line. You see, as comic fans will know, Elektra has a long history with a certain ninja group that has dabbled in more supernatural aspect of the Marvel universe and those elements have reared their head in past Marvel shows, so with that knowledge it makes sense to see it explored more deeply here; it should also serve as a decent transition to the supernatural elements we will surely be getting in the Iron Fist series down the line. The return of Stick and a memorable antagonist from the first season goes hand-in-hand with Elektra’s arrival as both she and Matt unravel their destinies together with Hell’s Kitchen as their battleground and even though fans will probably be able to predict the way her arc ultimately goes (which does deviate somewhat from the comics in ways that I unfortunately cannot spoil), her and Matt’s story will likely have viewers entranced and constantly guessing to see what happens next.
But what about the returning characters? Well, I am happy to say that many of the season one characters come back and they are once again in terrific form. Matt is still the same troubled hero we had last time, not fully embraced in his Daredevil identity. But as is all too often the case in his life, Matt’s costumed lifestyle cannot help but bleed into his personally life, no matter how hard he works to keep the two lives separate. This is best reflected in his friendship with Foggy, who learned Matt’s secret in one of the best episodes o the first season and this time that tension keeps growing and growing until it finally boils over in the worst way. Foggy himself, a likable standout last time, gets to grow up more and show how good of a lawyer he can really be, whether he has Matt at his side or not. I liked that since it gave Foggy even more ammo to make his case against Matt than he already had. Likewise, his relationship with Karen becomes more involved as the obvious attraction between them starts to blossom, only for his double life to put a wedge between them. It keeps getting worse as it finally leads to a bittersweet, and sad closure to the friendship between these three characters that, hopefully, we will get to see how, or if, it evolves in a third season.
One frequent criticism I have seen of this season is that it lacks a kind of commanding performance like what Vincent D’Onofrio gave on last time (an ironic thing to say for reasons I cannot reveal). I can see their point, but I thin a big reason for this is because unlike last year this season is more ambiguous as to the identity of its antagonist. Last time, Fisk was clearly the bad guy; yes you had the other mobs and the Madame Gao and the Yakuza, but in the end you know that Fisk was the be all, end all. Here, the show has a couple of different villains that you have to guess who to hang the arch nemesis hat on. When the seaon opens it paints the Punisher as a straight up psychotic villain, but anyone who knows the comics knows that this ins not going to last. Then when Elektra appears we get the Yakuza back. Then Stick appears and we do get, essentially, our biggest and more powerful villains whom I will not reveal, but fan of the Daredevil and Elektra mythology can probably guess about a certain mythical ninja cult that runs around the Marvel universe. And as if all that wasn’t enough, there is also an antagonistic D.A. that we find ourselves suspicious of and ultimately a character who is called “the Blacksmith.” Its a big web of misleads and reveals that I am impressed works as well as it does.
One thing I did not discuss in my season one review was that this show uses a lot of dark shadows and nighttime lighting. This is not a bad think at all as it goes with the mood and feel and is exactly what this subject matter needs. However for some viewers, such as those watching on a computer screen and not in HD, this can make the images sometimes hard to discern or make out. Also some of the dialogue might be a bit quiet to hear, but these things can be adjusted to suit the viewers needs.
Like last season, this is NOT a kids show! The violence in this season is very graphic, especially in relation to the Punisher. Frank Castle embarks on execution style murders, but with guns and with blades and he hold nothing back. Elektra holds no bars either, slicing a ninja’s neck right on camera. There is even, I think, a possible beheading by the end of the final episode as well. I encourage people to watch the show because its so good, but I do advise that parents think it over before they decide to let their children watch.
The fight choreography here I don’t think is quite as revolutionary as it was last season, but its still very, very well done. This shine the best in the scenes involving Daredevil, Elektra and the ninja cult they are up against this season. This is some serous practical work and for sharing a universe with movies that have to use so much CGI, it is excellent to see this Netflix Marvel shows embrace the practical, live action stunt approach instead.
Finally, the ultimate strength of Daredevil lies in the performances of its impressive cast. Charlie Cox continues to deliver a terrific performance as Matt Murdock, a.k.a. Daredevil, still bringing the same timing, grit, and charm to the role, this time getting to play with some different emotions and to showcase his more heroic side, as well as a increasing coldness to those that are supposed to be his closest friends. Deborah Ann Woll gets more to do than ever as Karen Page, playing the character with a new sense of strength and perseverance as she becomes the one most dedicated t proving that there is more to Frank Castle than people know. She also get to show off more of a romantic side, as well as a investigative reporter side that I really appreciated. Eddie Henson continues to be very enjoyable as Foggy Nelson, serving as the show’s primary comic relief but never to the point of obnoxiousness and actually with some drama and complexity of his own; still one of the most likable characters in the series. Jon Bernthal joins the cast as Frank Castle, a.k.a. the Punisher, and he may be the best live portrayal of he character we have had so far, giving him a real point of view and totally selling the ruthlessness of his crusade. He also brings a very New York-New Jersey vibe to the role with his look and his speech, swearing a lot and constantly using phrases like “You know” when he speaks, including during big emotional speeches. As I’ve said before, he does not have the most accurate Frank Castle look that I am used to, but he does deliver the best performance so far. Also joining the cast is Élodie Yung as Elektra Natchios, who is a terrific blend of both playfulness, like during her private, flirting scenes with Matt, and her lethal side that comes out in battle. Her chemistry with Cox is very effective and you can see why he is attracted to her, and also why he is so resentful of her in the present day. She also sells the torn dimensions of the character as she struggles with the different sides of herself that are at war with one another. Scott Glenn also returns as Stick, playing the part much like the same hard assed, on nonsense blind master he was last time but now getting his dimensions for fully explored and his duel nature better fleshed out, much to Matt and Elektra’s fury. Other performances include Stephen Rider as Blake Tower, Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple, Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk, a.k.a. the Kingpin, Royce Johnson as Brett Mahoney, Susan Varon as Josie, Michelle Hurd as Samantha Reyes, Marilyn Torres as Louisa Delgado, Geoffrey Cantor as Mitchell Ellison, Ron Nakahara as Hirochi, John Pirkis as Stan Gibson, Peter Shinkoda as Nobu Yoshioka, Rob Morgan as Turk Barrett, Matt Gerald as Melvin Potter, Peter McRobbie as Lantom, Amy Rutberg as Marci Stahl, Kevin Nagle as Roscoe Sweeney, Wai Ching Ho as Madame Gao, Suzanne H. Smart as Shirley Benson, and Carrie-Anne Moss as Jeri Hogarth.
Overall, Marvel’s Daredevil–Season Two may not be quite as good as last season, but it is still an engrossing and entertaining story that will keep you guessing with its many characters and the multiple twists and turns it takes. It takes these characters to darker and more uncertain places in addition to broadening the dark, dark corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as well as leaving some promising doors open for the future. This examiner gives it an enthusiastic four stars out of five!