Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Daredevil Season 2 review


    Yeah, I know, this is like a year too late but the benefit of Netflix is you can catch up any time you want. I also have an aversion to doing reviews of really good popular programming because, honestly, what's the point? I mean, basically everyone knows Daredevil was some of the best programming Netflix did and it's not like I was going to bring in a whole new audience.

    This is sad, too, because I love Daredevil. I also love Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist which means that I'm in a somewhat Golden Age of Television where the characters I never thought would be on TV suddenly are. I mean, seriously, Colleen Wing is now a major character known by millions. At this point, I fully believe Shang-Chi the Master of Kung Fu could show up and it's a real possibility!

Cox does an amazing job bringing together Matt Murdock as a 3 dimensional character.
    Thinking about that inspired me to take the month of September and use it to catch up on my superhero reviewing because I realize there is something I can contribute to discussing these shows I'm horribly out of date on--specifically, that I am a fan of the original street level Heroes for Hire as well as Frank Miller's Daredevil. I can add my own perspective on the adaptation of the work and what they did right and what they did wrong. So what did they do right? Everything but Elektra. What did they do wrong? Well, Elektra.

    The premise of the season can basically be summarized as coming in two parts: 1. The conflict between Daredevil and the Punisher. 2. Daredevil's conflict with the Hand and his ex-girlfriend Elektra. One story deals with issues of justice, vigilantism, redemption, vengeance as well as the fallout from traumatic events. The other deals with ninjas. The thing is, the latter is fully able to coast on the former but gets saddled with the problem of also the TV trope "Romantic Plot Tumor."

Bernthal does an amazing job making Castle a likable, engaging, and dynamic character.
    For those unfamiliar with the concept of a Romantic Plot Tumor, it's a TV trope which basically amounts to the idea of something extremely interesting and dramatic getting dragged down by the attempts to force an artificial romance plot into events. An example would be, say, if Spiderman was trying to figure out how to stop Doctor Octopus from blowing up New York only to devote large page time to his current troubles with Mary Jane. You know, back before the Devil stole his marriage.

    Sometimes these kind of relationship melodramas work extremely well. Sam Raimi's Spiderman movies work best when Mary Jane and Peter are people we root for. They also work the worst when the author shoves stupid drama into their lives like her being upset over getting fired from her theater job to the point she ignores her boyfriend has people shoot at him every day. What does this have to do with Daredevil? Well, in a very real way, they screwed up much of this season by forgetting Elektra is the world's greatest assassin on a mission of vengeance and making her Matt's obnoxious rich ex.

One of the best scenes in the show is the three of them attending a funeral for a client.
    It's difficult to convey just how tone deaf the writing and characterization of this is. Elektra was, for a shining brief moment in the 1980s, one of the most popular female characters in comics. She was vicious, brutal, and tragic. A character who played well off Matt Murdock because she carried every bit as much baggage as himself but was much further down the rabbit hole of becoming a monster. Contrasting her, Matt, and Frank Castle seems like it would be a great story idea.

    Unfortunately, one writer seems to have had a terrible break up because the story follows Elektra being played as a whiny spoiled brat who is annoyed Matt doesn't want to go clubbing with her. Except, replace clubbing with murdering ninjas. It is like no version of Elektra I've ever seen and drags down every scene with her in it. Elodie Young is perfectly capable as an actress but if the story ever had to be, "Should Matt be with the dark haired exciting rich girl or blonde boring nice girl?" then someone is doing it wrong because that's Archie not Daredevil. It's kind of fascinating that Jennifer Garner (a woman better suited to play Karen Page does not exist) did a better job with better material.

Elodie Young has a lot of talent. Just not with the character.
    Anyway, enough complaining about the show's bad handling of Elektra. The rest of the season is note perfect. It's an examination of how Matt Murdock adjusts from being a fairly ineffectual (but emotionally satisfying) guy who beats up criminals to being the guy who took down the Kingpin as well as a local legend. As mentioned, along the way, Matt ends up encountering the Punisher and discovers he's someone who is both admirable as well as horrifying. He also ends up being the Punisher's lawyer as he discovers a criminal conspiracy to frame him. This is while the Hand has grown in power behind the scenes, rebuilding its empire in the city while also preparing for some powerful supernatural ritual.

    John Bernthal, previously most famous for playing meathead Shane on The Walking Dead, pretty much establishes himself as one of the most charismatic actors in the Netflx MCU. He's easily the best incarnation of Frank Castle we've seen and manages to elevate the character beyond many of the comic incarnations. Bernthal's Punisher is probably the first who might genuinely dislike killing criminals and not derive that much satisfaction from his actions. Killing wears on this version of Frank Castle but he feels compelled to do it because life just sucks that much in Hell's Kitchen. It's a less superhuman interpretation of the character and one who actually manages to remain sympathetic while still embodying a lot of stereotypes of the Mach Bolan era which spawned him.

Another picture of Deborah Ann Woll because why not?
    Deborah Ann Woll's Karen Page is a character which was irresistibly charming (aided by her actress being already so) in Daredevil's Season One but gets to sink her teeth into meatier stories with the second season. Karen Page is many things but stupid is not one of them and watching her take the lead on Frank Castle's case is impressive. She's a woman torn between her conscience as well as the fact she's a little easier on killing people than Matt makes for an interesting dynamic.

    Charlie Cox, himself, is a bit uneven in the season and his performance largely depends on who he is playing off of. With Bernthal or Woll, he's extremely good, but there's other characters where he comes across as wishy-washy or immature. I won't name names but I think this review implied who I think qualifies. Basically, I enjoyed watching Daredevil try and fail to balance his two lives while thinking they could have focused a bit more on Castle's trial. The show acts like Matt's life as a lawyer is immaterial to him and I think it would have been better to strike more of a balance.

The Hand are the best. NINJAS! NINJAS! NINJAS!
    I'm a huge fan of the Hand and I'm glad they got a beefed up role in the second season. Nobu coming back from the dead not only frees Matt from having killed someone (albeit in self-defense) but also makes use of one of the best elements of their lore. I will say, though, I'm not a big fan of the "Black Sky" plot because it's completely invented for the show and has no relationship the comics. The nature of the Hand's "Chosen One" is nebulous and confusing with it unclear if the show knows what it's about.

    In conclusion, Season 2 is an excellent follow up to the original and makes me excited for Season 3 which seems like it will be an adaptation of Born Again. I felt they botched the handling of Elektra and the Hand in general but I was always going to be a difficult to please. It is gritty, intelligently written television with spectacular fight scenes. Despite this, I will say the Punisher section of the season is easily the best and works as a great introduction for the character into the MCU.

8.5/10

3 comments:

  1. Makes more sense if you replace Nobu with Bullseye working for The Blacksmith.

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    1. I admit, I like my Bullseye ax-crazy to the point of the Joker only not really as funny. He's the kind of character which he needs to be not diluted by sharing the season with others. I'm assuming that will be the case with Born Again but I'm not sure, "I throw things really well and that's actually terrifying" is something they can pull off with DD. They were afraid of using the Iron Fist after all.

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  2. Ah Daredevil season 2, a season where at it's best it's brilliant TV (Frank stuff stole the show for me, Fisk's brief appearance, Nelson and Murdock getting to do their jobs a lot more than in season one).

    Along with the nuance take on vigilantism and the lines of crossing stuff.

    Just a shame it's bogged down by some really glaring stuff, All Elektra plotline and the love stuff that really didn't need to be there, the way the hand got portrayed felt very jarring to the gritty tone the Netflix shows take. Pulling me out of the show (something Diamondback in Luke Cage did as well with how comic booky he was).

    Too many plotlines being shunted into the season, which meant some of it like nelson and matt's friendship breaking down wasn't given the room it needed to truly breath.

    Everything about the blacksmith felt superfluous to the season and killing off of Nobu ended up impacting the defenders in a negative way.

    Even Frank stuff in the second half felt at times a backdoor to his own show and the hand plot to the defenders show.

    A great follow up to season one of Daredevil, just a shame about it's flaws.

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