Written by Kate McCabe

Arts

Review: Daredevil Season Two

Netflix’s take on the Marvel superhero is back for another series. What did fan Kate McCabe make of it? Contains SPOILERS.

"How fun is it to see hundreds of ninjas running around New York’s rooftops?" All photos: Netflix.

“How fun is it to see hundreds of ninjas running around New York’s rooftops?” All photos: Netflix.

As soon as I felt his presence in Episode 1 of Netflix’s Daredevil‘s second season, my fears grew. The hundreds of bullets spraying into the gathering of Hell’s Kitchen’s Irish inhabitants warned me that he was here already and much earlier than I predicted. I was sure they’d string it out by at least three or four episodes.

But no, he made himself known in the loudest way possible right off the bat. Would The Punisher be too big to tackle as just a supporting character? Would he overshadow our hero? Was Matt Murdock about to play second fiddle to the bombastic charisma of Frank Castle? Ever since it had been revealed that he’d appear in this series, fans of the gun-toting ex-marine had been speculating and salivating. As was I.

After binge-watching the whole affair, I can say that my fears were not without merit. The Punisher’s shadow over the show looms large. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The Punisher, the beefy embodiment of extreme vigilantism, is both over the top and all too real. He is a throwback to the macho insta-justice archetypes of Dirty Harry and Paul Kersey. He’s both fantastic and entirely plausible in this era when men with guns do the unthinkable nearly every day in America.

By and large, every single time news of a shooting in the States emerges we (and when I say ‘we’, I mean the majority of my liberal-leaning friends and family) are all drawn into the spiral of shame, sadness and anger.

But would a country’s citizenry be so concerned about Second Amendment abuses if the person pulling the trigger only killed reprehensible targets? Not every person who questions America’s gun laws, after all, is against the death penalty.

The Punisher is a vigilante justice pornstar and NRA dreamsicle. He’s the fantasy the NRA pictured when they conjured up the ‘Good Guy with a Gun’ PR offensive and we quickly see him gain as many fans as detractors on the streets of Hell’s Kitchen.

“I’ve always thought Elektra was a bit of an asshole. And she is. But Élodie Yung made me hate her slightly less by the series’ end. I mean… she loves pie and jazz! We could hang.”

The less-exciting voice of reason in this debate is of course, by-the-book lawyer Matt Murdock. (As an aside… does DD have the most demanding day job of any superhero? Lawyer is your civilian identity? I have a hard enough time finding the hours to binge and review a TV show around my mundane desk-oriented day job. How are you going to prepare opening statements while dealing with hordes of reanimated ninjas?)

The show does a worthy job of exploring the arguments between the characters and highlighting the shortcomings of both of their methods. That violent conflict – not only with the criminal element but also with the boy scouts of the Marvel universe (Captain America, Spider-Man, etc…) – is the meat of so many of The Punisher’s best stories. That quandary of unchecked power also ties neatly into Marvel Studios’ upcoming film, Captain America: Civil War.

Marvel Comics excels at telling stories that make easy allegories of our current political climate and the question of whether or not vigilantes and superheroes should be regulated by the government is a juicy and delicious one. But perhaps these are questions best discussed in a future review…

Meanwhile, back in Daredevil, The Punisher isn’t the only fan favourite to be introduced in the latest season. Elektra is here. I’ve always thought Elektra was a bit of an asshole. And she is. But Élodie Yung made me hate her slightly less by the series’ end. I mean… she loves pie and jazz! We could hang. And at least she’s not a manic pixie dreamgirl. More of a confident stabby adult woman. By the way, though this series might not technically pass the Bechdel Test, the female characters are well-rounded individuals.

ElektraElektra’s presence highlights another important aspect of Daredevil’s world: Kung Fu mysticism. We got a taste of it with the introduction of his mentor, Stick, last season but it might not have prepared you for just exactly how ‘out there’ DD can get sometimes.

If you liked last season because the battles against organised crime and the machinations of The Kingpin made it feel gritty and grounded then this might be a test for you. Because this is where Daredevil goes down a much pulpier rabbit hole, chasing the MacGuffin of the ‘Black Sky’ and fighting enemies without heartbeats. Even I – an out and proud comic book junkie – found some of the plot twists a bit hard to take in my stride. And I’ve read it before.

Indeed, the series uses several memorable moments from the books as set pieces in the show. While this can provide the loyal fans among us with the joy of recognition, it also robs us of the thrill of the unknown. Having said that, seeing Matt chained up on a rooftop as he was in Garth Ennis’s run on The Punisher was pretty cool, but here’s hoping Marvel Studios uses this technique in careful measures.

“The Punisher is a vigilante justice pornstar and NRA dreamsicle. He’s the fantasy the NRA pictured when they conjured up the ‘Good Guy with a Gun’ PR offensive.”

From the opening hook of Murdock and Foggy Nelson taking the entirely unsympathetic ‘Grotto’ on as a client, a choice that was starkly recognisable as a plot device, this season certainly has its moments of fatigue-inducing exasperation.

Matt Murdock is still nursing the Catholic guilt angle (even his priest confidant gives a giant sigh when he won’t stop going on about his need for redemption). Foggy is still being mildly annoying until he eventually wears you down and you start laughing at his jokes. The pacing of the overarching story is perhaps a bit choppy and I’d still argue that the Netflix model needs to inject some ‘monster of the week’ type episodes into their series. You know, for fun!

However, these gripes aside, how fun is it to see hundreds of ninjas running around New York’s rooftops? The fight choreography this season, while perhaps not topping last year’s epic hallway throwdown is at least on par with it. That jail scene, the billy club, the final reveal in the last episode… Daredevil series two isn’t perfect but it’s darn good. I like what they’re building here at Netflix.

With a slew of references to last season, a couple of nods to Jessica Jones and some allusions to what might be in store, Netflix and Marvel Studios are doing a remarkable job bringing this little corner of the Marvel Universe to life.

@katemccabesays

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Written by Kate McCabe

Kate McCabe is an American comic living in Manchester. When not gigging as a standup, she improvises with ComedySportz Manchester, and contributes to local TV and radio including The Gay Agenda on Fab Radio.