Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Top 3: Best Things About Daredevil Season 2 [Spoilers]

© Netflix | Source: ComicBookMovie

I know what you did last weekend. But don't fret, I won't hold you accountable for it. Why? Because I did exactly the same thing. The second season of Marvel's acclaimed Netflix series Daredevil is out for us to shamelessly binge-watch since 18 March and, by now, we should all be through with it. I mean, we're only human, right?

First reactions to the brandnew 13 episodes have been lukewarm at best, though. With the original showrunners Drew Goddard and Steven S. DeKnight gone and Vincent D'Onofrio's charismatic villain, the Kingpin, sidelined, many critics seem to have lost interest in the latest escapades of the vigilante in crimson spandex.

I, however, had a sheer blast watching the show, thinking that its few flaws and weaknesses simply cannot outdo the general thrill and excitement. So, what's to love? I tell you in my compilation of Top 3 Things About Daredevil Season 2.

3. The Karen-Matt-Elektra Love Triangle
© Netflix | Source: Crave Online & NewRockStars

Granted that this narrative device is as old as the hills, I still dig how it's put to use here. After having a brief romantic fling with nurse Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) in the first season, Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) - lawyer by day, Daredevil by night - now finds himself between two love interests. Number one is his legal assistant Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), a woman known for her kind nature and sense of justice. Their romance is sweet, pure and full of hearts and bubbles and candy cotton. Number two is his recently returned college darling Elektra Natchios (Eoldie Yung), a woman with sinister drives and a troubled past. Their romance is laden with sexual tension and profound shared experiences - not always of the good kind. What we have here is a beautifully Dorian Gray-ish set-up in which two opposite poles struggle for one man's soul. While Karen's (presumed) innocence gives Matt the chance to try and be his best version possible, Elektra allows him to embrace his vigilante nature and self-destructive tendencies. While for Matt it could be a fresh start with Karen, it's Elektra's acceptance that makes him feel good about his real self. 

Besides giving us some cute, lovey-dovey scenes on the one hand and some sizzlingly sexy ones on the other, this triangle opens up the possibility of digging deeper into the three characters involved. I love how Matt is incapable of choosing between the two ladies. Every time he feels closer to one of them, he simultaneously feels the loss of the other. He can never let one go completely. This has us witness Matt's struggle between the light and dark sides of his nature: his endorsement of the legal system and religious values vs. his need to roam the streets as a masked vigilante taking justice into his own hands, struggling with the question of how far he can go in punishing his enemies. I personally am of the persuasion that Elektra is the one for him. But since he now believes she's dead and we really don't know in which state of mind she'll return... Who knows.

Karen, as the embodiment of everything that's good in Matt's eyes, has her own struggle to deal with amidst all of this. We know from season 1 and a few hints here and there that she's not as pure as Matt would like her to be, having taken a man's life in self-defence and all. Now, she still struggles with her demons and finds herself not completely rejecting the Punisher's (Jon Bernthal) revengeful killing ways. I love the scene in which Karen speaks her mind to Matt and deconstructs the high pedestal he's put her on. 

Elektra, in the meantime, seeks to win Matt's love by abandoning her murderous desires - and barely succeeds. The show has done a marvellous job introducing her character as a perfectly complex woman who's not entirely evil and yet miles away from being good. Besides, Yung's performance endows Elektra with the necessary coolness and vulnerability to make her completely engaging.

To wrap this up, Matt's affection for the two women really isn't about them, it seems. It's much more about him. They appear like mere projects in which the goal is to keep the one pure and innocent, and to refine the other. The triangle gives us a close look into Matt's psyche and what we find there isn't always pleasant. There are quite a few moments in this season in which I just want to slap him in the face and tell him to get a grip. And that's what I love about this show and this narrative device in particular: it's not afraid to portray its characters as deeply flawed and, yes, unlikeable. And it raises questions without presenting easy answers. Human beings are complicated and not always proceeding on noble intentions. Or sometimes they can get lost following those good intents. Season 2 manages to show all this and still have me invested in the fate of its characters.

2. Jon Bernthal as The Punisher
© Netflix | Source: ComicBookMovie & Flickering Myth

Frank Castle a.k.a. The Punisher is much more than just another character to embody Matt's psychological struggle. Having lost his wife and two children in a shootout involving the police and multiple criminal gangs, he takes vigilantism to homicidal heights. Unlike Daredevil, he is out for blood and, once face to face with the enemy, mercy is something that never crosses his mind.

While, on the one hand, his presence naturally serves to make Daredevil question his own moral/religious code, The Punisher, right from the start, develops his own dynamics. Castle is deeply flawed, out of his mind, blinded by hatred and pain - and still he's probably one of the most beloved characters of the new season. What could have been a mere brute with a murderous agenda becomes a man of compelling ambivalence and heartfelt humanity in Jon Bernthal's capable hands. The underrated actor evokes a kind of sympathy that goes beyond the clichéd stereotype of the father unable to protect his loved ones. He brings subtle and honest emotions to the table and pairs them with repulsiveness, violence and ruthlessness. Just like Daredevil, we, the audience, are forced to face our inner demons: what does our moral code say about The Punisher? Can we condemn him? Do we applaud him?

On a different note, Castle's military background, that is his skills as a sniper and in single combat, is handy when it comes to sprucing up the screen with badass action fare. But here the character also walks a fascinatingly thin line between oozing coolness and conveying a brutal, frightening intensity.

Perfectly complex, emotional, physical, intense - this Punisher has won me over.

1. The Stairwell Fight Scene

A while ago, I already celebrated the Hallway Fight Scene from season 1 in our A Scene to Remember section. Now, the makers of Daredevil went out trying to top that for season 2. 

And. They. Did. 

In what appears to be a five-minute one-take sequence in episode 3 the camera follows Daredevil down a dimly lit stairwell while he tries to fight off a bunch of thugs. The whole thing had me drop my jaw. It's just thrilling and mind-blowing mayhem, yet precisely orchestrated and artistically staged. 

While this scene probably is the masterful standout, I'd like to take it as a representative of all the fantastic stunt work showcased within the entire series. Daredevil refrains from wearing out CGI effects. It much more relies on well-choreographed fights and skillful cinematography. It lives from the fact that it is not about flashy heroes in flashy costumes performing flashy tricks. It's about down-to-Earth characters facing real danger. Their brawls are exhausting and demanding. They're adrenaline-fuelled and cool to look at, yet scary - and they leave scars.

Matt Murdock's reality is a grim and threatening one, and this reality is evoked not only by the wonderful set and costume design, the sound department or the motivated ensemble cast. No, it's also thanks to the camera people and the extraordinary stuntmen and -women that the show is able to convey such a unique, gritty atmosphere. Kudos to that!

That's it. Let us know what you like best about Daredevil season 2 in the comments below.

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