This is a spoiler-free review – read on at the bottom for spoilery discussion of the first four episodes.
“Hell’s Kitchen is about to explode.”
The first season of Marvel’s Daredevil was initially intended to be a single season that would lead into three other Hell’s Kitchen-set Marvel shows (Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist), before grouping them all together in The Defenders, like a TV version of the first Iron Man, Thor and Captain America movies culminating in The Avengers. However, the first season of Daredevil proved phenomenally popular with both audiences and critics, so when Netflix announced an earlier-than-planned second season (jumping into the schedule between Jessica Jones and Luke Cage), expectations were naturally sky-high.
Thankfully, on the strength of the opening four episodes, the second season is off to a roaring start, introducing compelling new characters and exploring some weighty themes, punctuated with plenty of the pulse-pounding, visceral action sequences that characterised Season 1. The show also maintains a breakneck pace, plot-wise, which leaves you fascinated to see where the rest of the series will go.
The plot itself is relatively straightforward. Now equipped with a new battle-armour costume, blind lawyer Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) is spending every night dispensing vigilante justice on the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, while still managing to hold down a day job at the law firm he shares with Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) and Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll). However, it soon becomes clear that there’s another, bloodier vigilante on the streets, as someone has been slaughtering entire mob gangs.
When terrified, low-level criminal Grotto (McCaleb Burnett) comes to Nelson & Murdock seeking witness protection, Foggy and Karen attempt to help him, but find themselves clashing with ambitious D.A. Reyes (Michelle Hurd, crossing over from Jessica Jones), who has plans of her own. Meanwhile, Daredevil discovers that the vigilante – nicknamed The Punisher by the D.A’s office – is a man named Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) and he sets out to take him down, but their first encounter results in an unforeseen setback that could have serious consequences.
The first episode (Bang) pulls off a neat trick with pacing that cleverly plays against audience expectations, particularly if you’re a fan of other superhero shows such as Arrow, The Flash or Marvel’s Agent Carter. The usual template for a standard network programme is to parcel out the information regarding the season’s main antagonist over several episodes and initially, it looks like Bang is going to do the same thing, keeping Frank unseen or only fleetingly seen for the majority of the episode – only for the episode to suddenly bust out a terrific fight sequence that ends on a superb cliff-hanger. (The show has clearly been optimised for binge-watching, with nail-biting cliff-hangers to ensure you click that ‘Next episode’ button.)
With the characters connecting so early in the season’s run, the stage is set for an exploration of the show’s complex, meaty themes, specifically the nature and dangers of vigilantism and exactly what it means to be a hero. To that end, the show digs deep, suggesting that Daredevil’s example has lead directly to copycat vigilantism of a much deadlier nature, something that weighs particularly heavily on Murdock as he struggles to reason with Frank. Needless to say, the show gets a lot of great mileage out of the whole ‘We’re not so different, you and I’ set-up, with Frank pointing out: “You’re just one bad day away from being me.”
As for the action, the show-runners were clearly handed a memo that said ‘You know that single-take corridor fight in Season 1 Episod 2 that made everyone go crazy? Well, we’re going to have to top that…’ (To say any more would be churlish – come back after the show’s release for spoilers.) Can the rest of the series possibly maintain this level of excitement? We can’t wait to find out.
All episodes of Marvel’s Daredevil: Season 2 are available to watch exclusively on Netflix UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription.
Spoilers and further consideration
– Okay, so the fight scene above is SPECTACULAR, starting in a corridor – so that you think ‘Oh, right, they’re doing that corridor thing again’ – before taking the fight to a stairwell. Once again, it’s a lengthy sequence that’s all shot in a single take, but this time there’s a (presumably CGI-enhanced) chain involved and Daredevil has an (empty) gun taped to his hand throughout. Oh, and just when you think it’s all over (pause for breath, single-take thing ends), there’s ANOTHER amazing fight scene. Wow. Just… wow.
– In among all the darkness and violence, the show still retains its strong sense of humour, notably in a running joke about Daredevil’s costume (“It’s not underwear, Foggy”) and pretty much everything Foggy says (“You can trust us – we’re lawyers”).
– One intriguing plot element has Daredevil temporarily losing his powers (at the worst possible moment, naturally). That’s a familiar, comics-inspired plot that used to surface regularly, particularly in Marvel’s early days. The way it’s handled here is especially terrifying, heightened by the show’s exceptional sound design work and Cox’s note-perfect performance.
– As a comics fan, I was pleased to see the return of Daredevil costume designer Melvin Potter (aka The Gladiator), who seems to have developed a solid friendship with Daredevil at this point. He’s roped in here to fix Daredevil’s cracked helmet, but it looks very much like they could be setting him up for future villain status with the suggestion that Daredevil has promised to protect Melvin and Betsy (his future failure to deliver on that promise could well push Melvin over the edge). There’s also a neat fan-pleasing moment where he picks up a circular saw blade and is about to throw it.
– I liked how Daredevil spent the majority of episode 3 in chains on a rooftop, while the pair of them bonded over vigilantism, etc.
– Rosario Dawson’s Nurse Claire also makes an appearance in S3, but she seems to be there mainly to drop hints about the upcoming Luke Cage show. Either way, she pretty much rules herself out as a potential love interest this season.
– Speaking of love interests, it seems that the show is going ahead with a Matt / Karen romance after all, despite the promising relationship between Foggy and Karen last season. To be fair, the chemistry between Cox and Woll is off the scale here and the show makes great use of Matt’s heightened senses in the scenes where they’re together.
– “Where’s Elektra?” I hear you ask. Don’t worry, Elektra-fans – she shows up as the cliff-hanger to Episode 4, right after Matt and Karen share their first kiss…