March kicks off a season of big-time showdowns, grudge matches and maybe a few team-ups. Infamous as the month when Brutus betrayed Caesar, March will get even more epic because Batman will take on Superman on the big screen, Daredevil will get company in Hell's Kitchen in the form of The Punisher on Netflix, and The Flash shall race on over to CBS to meet Supergirl. And, of course, just a few weeks after this kickoff, we'll see a breakdown in the friendship between Captain America and Iron Man in Marvel's Civil War movie. Because we love seeing a good battle between titans, we've dedicated March to versus. Over the next four weeks, check this space for stories on title fights in superhero stories, horror, science and more!
Editor's Note: This review takes a top-level look at the first seven episodes of Daredevil Season 2. We'll be rolling out individual episode recaps over the next week, as well, so stay tuned for that and an in-depth look at the further adventures of the Man Without Fear.
The wait is finally over, and the eagerly-anticipated second season of Marvel's Daredevil has arrived. If you're not already watching it, head on over to Netflix and get started. It's OK, we'll wait. Still here? Good, because Blastr's Aaron Sagers and Trent Moore have taken a deep dive into the good, bad and bloody that makes up Matt Murdock's return (well, at least the first seven episodes made available for review). From Jon Bernthal's Punisher, to the new-look spin on Elektra, we break down all the major topics here. Fair warning: There are spoilers for the first seven episodes of Season 2. Quite a few of them, actually.
Daredevil vs. The Punisher
Trent: The Punisher. In the MCU. Played by the closest thing to the living embodiment of Frank Castle, aka The Walking Dead alum Jon Bernthal. This was obviously the big selling point coming into Daredevil Season 2, and it doesn’t disappoint. At all.
Frank Castle’s presence looms large over the first seven episodes of Season 2, and the creative team does an excellent job of introducing him — almost out of frame, but hanging over it like a long, black shadow — as we see the impact he has on Hell’s Kitchen. The Kingpin was often a grisly, visceral villain in Season 1; but The Punisher is something else. He’s ruthless and unwavering as he unloads on the criminal factions he sentences to death. He cuts through criminals like tissue paper, refusing to see the grey area Matt Murdock has grown to inhabit over the course of the first season. He’s a vigilante, yes, but he doesn’t kill — and he can still see the good that lies in the heart of even the worst dirtbag.
Aaron: From the moment they first announced Bernthal would be Frank, I knew we were in for an exceptional realization of The Punisher. I am constantly intrigued by the actor’s performances. He so often portrays a brawler, a raw tough guy, but he infuses those characters with a lot of tormented layers. That is what was needed for Frank Castle, and what Bernthal delivers. Frank appears as a killing machine, and master tactician, but the guy is damaged and messed up on the inside. Bernthal effectively conveys that this man has become this killing machine because his humanity was executed along with his family.
While I know some people will say that rooftop dialogue in Episode 3 goes on for too long, I really think it plays out perfectly. We learn a lot about Castle, but also more about Charlie Cox’s Matt Murdock. Frank forces Matt to think about his own morality, and the choices he has made (or hasn’t made) as Daredevil. The episode-long sparring unfolds like a two-man stage show about super heroes. The best part is that Frank took the firing pin out of the gun taped to Matt’s hands, not because he was trying to save his own life, but because he didn’t want to turn DD into a killer.
Plus, I love that they took much inspiration from “The Devil By The Horns” story in The Punisher #3 (2000) by Garth Ennis.
Trent: No scene better encapsulates the opposite sides of this vigilante coin as the scene the two share on a rooftop (which has already been revealed in the official photos for Season 2). This scene gives the two characters room to breathe, as they trade fists for words as the sparring continues. Seriously, I would watch an entire season of these two guys just hanging out on a rooftop. The tension is palpable, and comic fans get a deep dive into the psyche of two of Marvel’s most “real,” street-level characters. Punisher sees the world in absolutes, but once you get to know the motivations behind his mission, his perspective at least makes some sense (in its own twisted way).
Aaron: Although the scene in the graveyard is a close second as far as a highlight with these two. After teaming up to aid in Frank’s escape, the two men come to a greater understanding, and maybe respect, for one another. Once the Frank Castle scenes shift to his incarceration, and his interaction with Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), we see Frank as something more...contained. He is polite with his use of “ma’am,” and it’s unsettling seeing him just strapped down – as if he could choose to get out if/when he wants, but is allowing things to play out for the moment.
One thing I did not like, however, was The Punisher shooting up the hospital in pursuit of Grotto (Episode 1). Although it is established later that he was careful not to harm innocents, the characterization in this scene portrayed Frank as too much of a brute. He wasn’t being surgical so much as just blowing the hell out of the place. But I think this was a rare misstep in the first seven episodes.
Daredevil vs. Elektra
Aaron: Dangerous, mischievous, smart, sexy...Elodie Yung has successfully rehabilitated the character of Elektra and accomplished the goal of (almost) wiping away the bad taste of that movie. I enjoy that Elektra toys a bit with Matt, easily pulling him into her battles. And while they make a great pair, she’s also more-than-capable of dishing out pain on her own. I get the sense that she would pursue her own ends with Roxxon and the Yakuza regardless of whether she could recruit Matt into the fight. But that scene where Matt confronts her in her penthouse, and she casually begins changing into her fighting outfit as the Yakuza approach – and then she opens the bag with his DD costume? That was one of the sexier super hero scenes I’ve seen play out – although the fight between her and Matt in the boxing gym comes close.
Trent: Considering the cinematic abomination that was the 2005 Elektra film, the bar was set relatively low for the latest live action take on Frank Miller’s femme fatale. But, Élodie Yung does an amazing job of bringing the mysterious, badass sexiness that is Elektra to life — and they find a way to fit her into the narrative that actually feels natural. Yung brings the necessary physicality to the role, and truly looks like she can hold her own in the show’s (myriad!) fight scenes.
Instead of trying to shoehorn in the introduction of this iconic character to the Daredevil canon, the creative team instead opted to reintroduce her — revealing Matt already met Elektra in college (a tidbit already teased with a not-so-throwaway line in Season 1). Luckily, Charlie Cox can still look college-age if he shaves off the scruff, so some well-timed flashbacks helps fill in the gaps of their relationship, as we dive headfirst into the iconic Daredevil/Elektra dynamic without having to spend several episodes laying the groundwork. The MCU has always been a living, breathing universe — and we’re just catching up on a story that started long before Season 1 actually aired.
Aaron: I certainly agree that this gives more depth to the Netflix corner of the MCU. The story thus far has not laid all the cards out in terms of how Elektra got to this point, and her origins in the show certainly extend beyond a rich girl taking martial arts classes. I’m intrigued to learn more, and I like that we have a bit of mystery with her. But can we please get to her using sai, soon? And let’s stop calling them the Yakuza, and introduce these guys as The Hand!
Daredevil vs. Fight Scenes
Trent: We’ll go ahead and get this out of the way: The first season of Daredevil features one of the best fight scenes ever put to film via the brutal, lengthy, tracking one-shot “Hallway Fight Scene.” The rest of the fight scenes aren’t too bad, either, so the bar was obviously set very high for Season 2. Thankfully, it does not disappoint
The transition to the new Daredevil suit does change up the look of the fights, but the directors and choreographers do an excellent job of using the otherworldliness of the Daredevil suit as an advantage. Yes, it feels more superhero-y in a sense, but this is still the same ol’ down and dirty Daredevil. It also includes its own spin on the hallway fight (keep an eye out for a stairwell), which doesn’t quite match the initial shock and awe, but still stands out as a brutal ballet.
Aaron: “Brutal ballet;” I like that. So, I can’t say I like the third episode stairwell fight with the Dogs of Hell as much as that hallway sequence in the first season, but I was certainly entertained. I was looking for seams and cuts more this round, and I thought it was missing some of the visceral rawness of the hallway fight. Plus, it strikes me as pretty ironic that DD is basically inflicting a lot of likely fatal injuries to these guys right after having an extended moral debate with The Punisher on the rooftop.
Still, this is great choreography. And this is a more fully-realized Daredevil, who is enjoying some of the benefits from spiffy new armor. More than, let’s say Christian Bale as Batman, I believe DD could be a real dude taking on this gang.
But I actually enjoy Daredevil and The Punisher’s escape from the Irish gang lair more. It felt grittier with the stakes feeling palpable; there was real risk there (Also, big kudos to Tony Curran from Doctor Who and Defiance for portraying an excellently nasty baddie in Episode 4 who got what was coming to him – even though I wish he’d stuck around longer.).
Additionally, I think the show has made great use of the Daredevil batons. Matt gets some sweet ricocheting action with them, and doles out a lot of pain without over relying on his sticks.
Trent: Some of the best fights in the first part of the season easily revolve around, you guessed it, Daredevil vs. Punisher. Daredevil can certainly hold his own, but Punisher is basically a force of nature (not to mention he has no qualms about using a gun), which definitely sets those face-offs apart from anything the show has ever done before. It’s almost as compelling as seeing these two hang out chatting on a rooftop.
The People vs. Frank Castle
Aaron: There are few super heroes so intrinsically linked to their daytime careers as Matt Murdock/Daredevil is to his life as a defense attorney. Sure, Clark Kent is a reporter, but when he’s left that gig, he’s still basically the same Superman. Peter Parker is a Daily Bugle photographer (well, before he was a scientist, teacher, industrialist, etc.), but his job is less a part of his identity.
But beyond the whole “blind justice” thing, Matt really is a lawyer at his core. Similar to his beliefs as a Catholic, this is a defining trait. Therefore, it is great seeing him take on Frank’s case. However, it turns out, he’s not that good of a lawyer when he’s being distracted by his ex-girlfriend, Elektra.
I am looking forward to seeing Matt step it up, but am enjoying Foggy taking the lead. And the Frank Castle case is something right out of the comics; it makes perfect sense as a big case for Nelson, Murdock (and let’s admit it, Page) to dig their teeth into.
Trent: This is one of those semi-spoilery bits, but it’s worth touching on, just for the impact it’ll certainly have on the back half of the season. Where Season 1 seemed to flirt with but never fully invest in the courtroom side of Matt’s life, the development of Frank Castle’s case represents the perfect jumping-in point to see Matt (and Foggy, stud lawyer extraordinaire) actually get down to business.
They take The Punisher’s story in a unique direction, and find a way to dig deeper into his backstory and not string out the menacing baddie storyline beyond its expiration date. It’s a nice twist, and the perfect balancing act.
Daredevil vs. the MCU
Trent: It’s hard to believe just how far this street-level corner of the MCU has grown since the premiere of Daredevil’s first season. The fibers of this world are growing tighter, as Claire Temple’s return provides some connective tissue to the recent events involving Jessica Jones and Luke Cage (without being so heavy-handed as to distract a new viewer). The seeds are being planted for these characters to meet, and it seems Claire Temple could be the gateway to making all the pieces fit together.
We also get some nods to Roxxon Energy Corporation (Episode 5), a staple of the comic canon that has also been a major component in the prequel series Agent Carter over on ABC. Daredevil Season 2 looks to increase the shady corporation's role in the wider MCU, and it’ll be interesting to see where it goes next.
Aaron: Claire is becoming such an interesting player in this New York City populated by supers. It is starting to feel like the comics, where characters share much of the same space, and did run into each other frequently.
I was also so very pleased to see Roxxon become a player in the TV-verse. It reminds the viewer, without hitting them over the head, that, yes, this is also Agent Carter’s world. Beyond that, we also learn that Foggy’s gal pal Marcy works at Hogarth, Chao & Benowitz, the same law firm Jessica Jones freelances for. Also a bit of fan service that may pay off later is Matt’s Episode 3 hallucination of a nun, which comic readers will recognize.
Daredevil vs. the speculating journalists
Trent: The first seven episodes of Daredevil Season 2 include the geek-out moments fans have wanted ever since news of Bernthal’s casting broke, but they also use this character combination as a way to claw deeper into the character of Matt Murdock and hold the Punisher up as a mirror of sorts. It’s not just Punisher for the sake of Punisher, but it feels true to the journey Matt Murdock set himself on last year. The addition of Elektra only enriches the universe, and the support cast has more than enough side stories to keep them busy.
As for where things may go in the back half of the season? The Yakuza threat seems to still linger large, and Roxxon could possibly be a bigger piece of the puzzle. Though the Punisher story takes a twist, you just know he’ll have a larger role to play down the line. I can’t wait to see what it is.
Aaron: First off, wild speculation time: Things are about to get super mystical with that seemingly bottomless pit at the end of Episode 7. I think this leads to the Yakuza being revealed as The Hand, and that Madame Gao will re-emerge on the scene. Moreover, that will lead to the Iron Fist story (and hopefully Elektra’s sai!).
OK, maybe that’s a long shot. But I agree with you that The Punisher will be called into service alongside DD and Elektra to fight off the new threat.
Predictions aside, the first seven episodes of Daredevil Season 2 started out strong, and consistently improved. This corner of the MCU is nicely realized while connecting to the large universe. And the so-called “PG-16” or Rated-R leaning subject matter allows these three shadowy heroes to shine in a way that will likely thrill new and veteran fans.