I’m not a massive fan of the Marvel cinematic universe, I know this will sound like heresy to some, but to me they’ve become stale overhyped juggernauts, stuck in a creative rut. I find the tone too light at times, there’s no real sense of threat as you know all your favourite heroes will come good in the end. Granted, this looks like it might all change with Captain America: Civil War, which is the first one of their films that I’ve been excited about for a while. I gave Daredevil a try on Netflix, Daredevil was different.
Daredevil follows the story of Matt Murdoch, blinded in an accident as a child which heightened his other senses to such a degree that he could essentially see without the use of his eyes. Lawyer by day helping the disadvantaged, vigilante by night with the same objective in mind.
The first season introduced us to Matt and his journey to become the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen, this was a much darker and grittier Marvel. Not afraid to show the brutality of the underbelly of it’s universe, away from the otherworldliness of Thor and outside of the glamour and excess of Tony Stark. Daredevil is looking out for the little guy, me or you. It’s much more grounded in reality than the films, this is only to a degree however, I’m pretty sure there’s not really immortal Ninjas terrorising the streets of New York!
It’s not just the story lines and characters that are darker, it’s also the look of the show. A lot of scenes are set at night rather than in the cold light of day, with Matt using the dark to his advantage against the scum that’s taking over his beloved city. The city streets are painted in orange and teal a pretty played out combination at this point, but it feels more like a stylistic choice on merit rather than the default option.It adds to the feeling that the streets of Hell’s Kitchen are a dangerous place, rundown and seedy begging for relief from the ills that have befallen it. The streets and houses once filled with hopes and dreams now hold only despair and defeat.
Probably due to the fact it’s a TV budget, Matt’s blindness is never made to be a massive gimmick, with effect shots showing him seeing in some sort of sonar! There’s a bit of slow motion here and there, with a tilt shift effect applied to some shots to show the limitation of his heightened senses. it’s not showy but very effective, it doesn’t make a big deal of it and take you out of the moment.
At the start of season two we’re with back with the now fully costumed Daredevil on the streets of Hell’s Kitchen. One of my gripes with the first season was the amount of time it took for Matt to suit up. It was done extremely well with Melvin producing the suit for him, rather than him magically appearing wearing his iconic devil costume, it just felt that they were holding it back just to make sure you watched until the very end.
King Pin is in prison, the Yakuza have fled the city and the law firm of Nelson and Murdock is very much up and running, albeit their main form of payment is in the form of food rather than money! Matt is still cleaning up the streets little by little, but there’s someone new in town, not afraid to wipe out swathes of criminals at a time, in the most brutal ways possible. Daredevil just got a whole lot darker with the addition of The Punisher
The first two episodes are explosive with Daredevil meeting Frank Castle. Frank takes out a meeting of Irish gang members in a hail of bullets and blood, he strikes with military precision. This leads Matt to hunt him down, after he and Foggy agree to represent Grotto who managed to survive the attack on the Irish.
Daredevil’s success on the streets of Hell’s Kitchen has inspired others to become vigilantes, Frank isn’t the first after Matt to take on the job of cleaning up the streets, but he’s definitely the most effective. Dead eyed and square jawed, this Punisher is different from the one portrayed in the two films so far, punching straight through the heads of nameless goons and taking on camp melodramatic villains. This is a much more cold and calculated Punisher, turning his pain and anger against those responsible for the death of his family.
Their first showdown occurs on the roof of the hospital that Grotto’s been admitted to after the hit on the Irish, with The Punisher getting the upper hand, not for the last time. The pace slows down a bit for episode three with Matt taken captive by Frank. the tension during these scenes is cranked up to 11, the two men’s ideologies clashing. Matt has hope that people always have a shot of redemption, they need to be given the chance to change. Frank’s lost all hope, bad people stay bad, they need to be eliminated for the world to be a better place. The episode ends with an Oldboy inspired fight through corridors and down stairways with Matt taking more and more punishment. It illustrates perfectly the differences between the two men, Frank would’ve put them down for good, Matt knocks them down to get back up.
There’s still good in Frank, he does the wrong thing for the right reasons. He’s tormented by the death of his family and the manner in which it happened, caught in the crossfire of a drug deal gone wrong. He blames himself for their deaths, this sense of guilt and need for vengeance mould him into The Punisher. There’s no flashbacks for Frank, we get a slow release of information about his past. One scene does this brilliantly, Matt asks Frank about the rhyme he’s says before pulling the trigger. It’s from a book his daughter liked him to read to her, he refused to read it the night before her death and never got the chance to keep his promise, to read it the next day. It’s an emotionally devastating scene that gives us such an insight into Franks state of mind and past as a loving family man.
Then Elektra shows up. This kills all the energy and tension that’s been built up at the beginning of the season. We see flashbacks of how she and Matt met at college, this serves less to show us who Elektra is but is more about who Matt is and how his moral compass has been in place for a very long time. Even faced with the man who murdered his father he calls the police rather than take matters into his own hands. After the way we were introduced to Frank and slowly given bits of pieces of information about his past, this feels generic and dull. All the effort seems to have been put into The Punisher, with the character of Elektra being an after thought, just a narrative roadblock for Matt. The show definitely works better when it concentrates on The Punisher and Daredevil.
Elektra comes to Matt with news that the Yakuza never left New York and have been plotting in the shadows planning their comeback to take over the city, using a company Roxxon as a front. The scenes with Elektra are like something out of a James Bond film, infiltrating buildings dressed to the nines at high class corporate parties, thwarting high tech security systems and taking out hapless guards. All in the search of a macguffin, they never find the information they’re looking for on any of these excursions.
We do get to find out more about Elektra later on in the series, she becomes a much more interesting character when she’s out on her own. This frees up the narrative and propels it forward again, it’s almost as if the writers had come up with the beginning and end, but weren’t quite sure what to put in the middle. We find out who she is and her links to Matt he’s unaware of at first, that they were both trained by Stick to fight the war that will save the world.
At the beginning of season two some characters seem to be stuck in stasis, Karen is still going off on her own getting herself into trouble, Foggy worrying about Matt’s dual lives and what he’s getting himself into. It looks like the season will be two strands following Matt and Frank, then three with the addition of Elektra, but the characters of Foggy and Karen throughout the episodes are given room to breathe and break out on their own. Foggy’s performance in court gives him the confidence he can do this on his own, he gets more to do than just worry about Matt. Karen’s wanderings start to have more meaning, it’s not just a device for her to be saved by Daredevil. She unearths a lot of the information about Frank’s past and uncovers the corruption at the district attorneys office.
Daredevil has two major themes running through both of the seasons so far, the character’s conviction in what the believe is right and the inherent corruption in society. Wilson Fisk in season one believes that his way is right to improve the city, so do Frank and Matt. This makes them much more interesting and sympathetic, there human. Even someone as despicable as Fisk you can to a certain extent admire, in his mind he truly believes he’s going to make Hell’s Kitchen a better place. The system is broken in this world, criminals doing business freely, officials pocketing bribes and covering up their mistakes. If we stand up and be counted this can be changed, it only takes a few people making sacrifices to change the situation.
The addition of The Punisher makes season two tick, ratcheting up the tension and violence, but at times especially when Elektra is introduced, it becomes overcrowded and bogged down with so many narrative strands. Luckily these are all brought together by the end of the season giving a satisfying conclusion, but leaving enough hanging to leave me wanting more.
My hopes for season three are that it’s all about Matt, Foggy and Karen. I’m really excited to see where these characters go after the events of season two. As for The Punisher and Elektra, give them their own shows! Frank Castle is to big and bold a character to be contained in a show where he’d play second fiddle. Elektra was way more interesting when she broke off from Matt, I’d like to see her globetrotting adventures, taking on The Hand wherever they show up and to learn more about her.