By Noel Vera

Daredevil Season 2

(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 does do a few guest appearances); some of 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 at each other; no one will know the difference.

“SOME OF the fight scenes — not all — are better lit, somewhat…

Elektra (Elodie Yung) is an obligatory character the writers had 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 and Zack Snyder). Yung does rom-com banter well enough, is easy on the eyes, best of all can kickass as good if not better than Charlie Cox’s Matthew Murdock — perhaps her finest moment significantly is their flirtation in the boxing ring.

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

The series attempts to top Park Chan Wook’s hallway fight sequence (from the 2003 film Old Boy).”

That’s half the series; maybe the biggest problem of the series is the fact that they belong to that Universe thing — y’know this grand story line involving some wrinkly-jawed bad guy (as I’ve mentioned before, a sorry rip-off of Jack Kirby’s Darkseid) and a 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, an easy prop to carry round). The characters in Daredevil allude to this story line, either calling one of the major battles “The Incident” or referring to cities: New York, the fictional Sokovia (actually its capital Novi Grad, but for some reason people mention the country not the city) the implication being that’s the major thread and what’s happening in the Netflix series is a sideline, the opposite of where things really stand: the bland stuff involves superheroes in standard-issue Hollywood megaproductions, while the more interesting stuff can be found in the smaller-scale stories.

That’s what the series gets wrong; what it gets right is the care and detail invested in the supporting characters: Elden Henson’s Foggy Nelson, Deborah Ann Woll’s Karen Page, Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple, the aformentioned Fisk. Lights aren’t switched off when Murdock is 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 the superhero equivalent of Law and Order). We care that Foggy is still in love with Karen, that Karen is hugely attracted to Matt, and Matt ditto — only Elektra keeps distracting him from his true and correct romantic goal (boxing ring hanky-panky notwithstanding). The real tragedy of the series isn’t Elektra’s death but the closing of the firm; the series does its best to play up the Sturm und Drang of the former, but you can’t help but care for the latter more.

The series attempts to top Park Chan Wook’s hallway fight sequence (from the 2003 film Old Boy).”

Oh and some of the fight scenes — not all — are better lit, somewhat. I’ll cite the aforementioned boxing ring fight/flirtation and add a stairwell sequence that goes on for a fairly long time, which is 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 sequence (doesn’t happen; the former’s lacks the latter’s wit and elegance).

What the series gets right most of all is Frank Castle. As played by Jon Bernthal he’s not a psychopath, or Karen insists that he isn’t; there’s a core of humanity under that gun-toting orifice-ripping exterior and it’s that core — the small stubborn kernel buried deep underneath — that makes him so 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 hurt, and aching to share his pain.

The series attempts to top Park Chan Wook’s hallway fight sequence (from the 2003 film Old Boy).”

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 surrounded by a monstrous carapace of muscle and fat, Castle is a loving father hemmed in at all sides by ghosts (ghosts he’s slowly starting to forget, much to his Woll’s Karen makes a wonderful foil to Bernthal’s Frank; as legal assistant turned investigative reporter (she’s the strongest single character in recent superhero movies — and, yes, I’ve seen Jessica Jones, Netflix’s other series — her strength derived from force of will and not super powers) she’s both sympathetic witness and moral compass, faithfully charting Frank’s progress from utter despair back to near-humanity, only at last moment to veer past the point-of-no-return. Their scenes together are the finest in the series, both intimate and sexy without saying or even acknowledging a thing; they’re so good you want to ask yourself: “Dare who?”

When Frank’s story line is resolved, the energy plummets to zero; bring in the standard-issue army of ninjas, the usual apocalyptic final battle, the supposedly wrenching tragic death; worse, bring in Castle — in full costume now — making a purely gratuitous guest appearance picking off the stray bad guy. Cue music, roll credits. Snore. Hopefully the guy can get his own series, and it can be as good as what we have here.