Thursday, July 14, 2016

Daredevil Season 2 (Doug Petrie, Marco Ramirez)


(Warning: story and plot twists of the Netflix series discussed in detail)

Was Daredevil Season 2 an improvement over the first? Well yes and no.

Season 2 replaced Vincent D'Onofrio's Wilson Fisk with a shadowy (too shadowy) and rather bland supervillain (D'Onofrio's Fisk to be fair does do a few guest appearances); half the fight sequences are still too darkly lit--I suppose there's great choreography there if we could only see it, otherwise why bother? Just dim the lights and have the actors wave their swords in the air; no one will know. 

Elektra (Elodie Yung) is the obligatory comic-book character the writers are obligated to shoehorn in, a nod to the contributions of one Frank Miller who more than any single writer beside Stan Lee continues to distort the trajectory of comic books for better or worse, on print screen and cable (see Robert Rodriguez Zack Snyder)). Yung does rom-com banter well enough, is easy on the eyes, can best of all kick ass as well if not better than Charlie Cox's Matthew Murdock--significantly their finest moment together happens in a boxing ring where they fight and flirt at the same time. 

The problem with her character as conceived and written is that it's difficult to care for a spoiled rich beautiful woman who out of pure whim (far as we know) decides to become a psycho killer. Yes her backstory is eventually filled in--too little too late in my opinion--but the moment when we fall in love with her hard? Never happens.

That's half the series. Maybe the show's biggest problem is the fact that it belongs to that 'Universe' thing with its grand storyline involving some wrinkly-jawed thug (another sorry ripoff of Jack Kirby's Darkseid) and his rock-studded glove (at least Wagner had enough sense to make his MacGuffin a ring--aside from the dramatic contrast of so much power invested in so tiny an object it's an easy prop to carry round). The characters in Daredevil allude to 'The Incident' (a major battle) or mention the fictional Sokovia (capital Novi Grad, but for some reason people cite the country not  city) the implication being that's the major thread and what's happening in Netflix a sideline (opposite of where things really stand: the bland stuff involves standard-issue Hollywood megaproductions, while the more interesting stuff can be found in cable TV).  

That's what the series gets wrong; what it gets right is all the loving detail invested in the supporting characters: Elden Henson's Foggy Nelson, Deborah Ann Woll's Karen Page, Rosario Dawson's Claire Temple, the aforementioned Fisk. Your interest doesn't die when Murdock steps offstage; we come to care about Nelson & Murdock, the fledgling law firm that casts an outsized shadow over Hell's Kitchen and their surprisingly persuasive legal shenanigans (you might call the series Law and Order and Armored Tights). We care that Foggy is still in love with Karen, that Karen is hugely attracted to Matt, that Matt would ditto Karen only Elektra keeps pulling his gaze sideways from time to time. The series' real tragedy isn't Elektra's death but the firm's closing; the showrunners do their best to play up the former's sturm und drang but you can't help but care for the latter development more. 

Of the better-lit fights there's the aforementioned boxing ring plus a stairwell sequence that goes on for a fairly long stretch, was probably a total headache to stage and shoot (for one thing the camera floats down several floors) and is the series' umpteenth attempt to top Park Chan Wook's hallway fight (doesn't happen; the former lacks the latter's wit and elegance).

What the series gets right most is Frank Castle. As played by Jon Bernthal he's not a psychopath or Karen insists he isn't; there's a kernel of humanity under that gun-toting orifice-ripping exterior and it's that kernel--small stubborn buried deep deep down--that makes him fascinating. He's not so much angry as haunted, not so much vengeful as lost and floundering, not so much violent--in the sense of wanting to inflict damage on others--as wounded, and aching to share his pain. 

As sympathetic villain Castle tops Fisk. Where Fisk is an oversized arachnid spreading his web throughout the city Castle is more like an old scar--an attempt by time to heal a massive wound, throbbing with memory.  Where Fisk is a frightened boy shouldering a monstrous carapace of muscle and fat Castle is a loving father hemmed in at all sides by ghosts, ghosts he's starting to forget much to his dismay. 

Woll's Karen makes wonderful foil to Bernthal's Frank; as legal assistant turned investigative reporter (the strongest female character in recent superhero productions--and yes I've seen Netflix's other series--with her strength derived from force of will rather than super powers) she's both sympathetic witness and moral compass, faithfully charting Frank's progress from utter despair back to near-humanity, to plunge at the last moment past the point of no return. Their scenes together are the finest in the series, intimate and sexy without saying or even acknowledging a thing;  so good you want to ask yourself: "Dare who?"

When Frank's storyline is resolved the series' dramatic energy plummets; the showrunners bring in their standard-issue army of ninjas to wage the standard-issue apocalyptic final battle; worse bring in Castle--in full familiar costume now--for a purely gratuitous last-minute guest appearance picking off stray bad guys with his sniper rifle. Cue music, roll credits, snore. Hopefully Castle gets his own series, with as little involvement as possible with the larger Universe

First published in Businessworld 7.8.16

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