If the overwhelming and surprising success of Deadpool has taught us anything, it's that there is a market and audience for "adult"-themed comic book hero fare. Gleefully violent, profane and wildly entertaining, Deadpool's rousing triumph has proven that R-rated movies can co-exist with the family-friendly flicks cultivated by Marvel Studios.
Look further, however, and you'll see that the stars began aligning with the massive launch of Marvel's TV universe on Netflix, starting with Daredevil. Initially met with cautious optimism, audiences were stunned by the brutality and gritty tone of the debut Marvel series. Memorable performances, extremely well-choreographed fight sequences and great portrayals not only removed the stink from the character caused by Daredevil's poorly received film version, but carried the show to almost instant renewal.
As season two of Daredevil premieres on Netflix later this week, the creative team looks to continue the hot streak established by the Marvel TV output so far and drive the universe closer to eventual unification in The Defenders.
One of the major draws to season two has been the inclusion of Frank Castle/the Punisher and the series wastes no time in debuting Jon Bernthal as the character. After a couple of failed big screen iterations, fans should be pleased with the unhinged and, ahem, punishing violence of Castle. His introduction isn't perfect, but the fact that audiences get initiated to the Punisher in action as opposed to yet another origin story is refreshing on its own. Bernthal aptly plays Castle, expressing the need to obliterate bad people so they can't hurt anyone again. The decision to allow Castle to explain his motivations through dialogue and a solid performance, rather than flashing back and showing it, is the best one made early on.
The hand-to-hand combat sequences remain brutal as the Punisher and Daredevil (Charlie Cox) duke it out several times over the first few episodes, a fundamental disagreement on how to keep the streets of Hell's Kitchen clean leaving the two at odds. Trying to recapture the feel of one of the best scenes on television last year (a single take fight scene reminiscent of Chan-Wook Park's Oldboy), one of the episodes contains a scene of Daredevil wasting an entire gang. It's more creatively shot, utilizing a constantly moving camera down a flight of stairs, but it doesn't quite match the magic seen in season one.
The biggest revelation of the freshman season of Daredevil was the character of Wilson Fisk and his portrayal by Vincent D'Onofrio. As a mix of unpredictable, merciless and vulnerable, it was a staggeringly good performance of a ruthless character that was scarier and more effective than any villain Marvel has ever put on the big screen. While the Punisher is certainly frightening in his own right, his role seems more that of an adversary than the ominous omnipresence of Fisk in season one. He's dangerous, but he carries nowhere near the sheer terror, unpredictability and dread that hung over the first season like a dark cloud.
Unfortunately, any scenes in the early goings on that don't involve the Punisher seem to drag a little. There are certainly some interesting moments with Matt Murdock's associate Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson); especially seeing Foggy show his verbal gymnastics skills. The rest of the runtime of the early episodes, however, are bogged down with generic gang turf wars and side characters that don't really inspire much interest.
Fans of the first season will be happy to know that nothing about Daredevil's content has been sanitized. The violence is graphic, the language is salty and the mood is dark. The dialogue and plot devices can occasionally be a tad generic, but fans should be satisfied by the early output of episodes.
Daredevil begins streaming on Netflix Friday, March 18.
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