TV Review: ‘Daredevil’ – Season 3 Premiere

The Devil is reborn as Netflix return to Hell’s Kitchen for a new season of Marvel’s ‘Daredevil’…

The Devil is back as Charlie Cox returns for season 3 of Marvel’s ‘Daredevil’ (image credit: Marvel/Netflix, used for illustrative purposes only).

 

Spoiler-free review

Starring:  Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson, Joanne Whalley, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jay Ali, Peter McRobbie

Series created by:  Drew Goddard (Daredevil created by Stan Lee and Bill Everett)

Written by:  Erik Oleson / episode directed by:  Marc Jobst

What’s it about?

Recovering after facing near death in his battle against the Hand, Matt Murdock decides that it’s time for the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen to return…

Episode review

Just as Netflix announce the unfortunate cancellation of Marvel shows Iron Fist and Luke Cage, their first hit series returns for its third season.  Daredevil is arguably the best of the Netflix/Marvel ventures and the premiere for its new season takes an expectedly slow-burn approach that is non-the-less an interesting beginning.

In the wake of The Defenders, the final moments of which we learnt that Matt Murdock somehow survived the devastation of his final battle with the Hand (and how he escaped death is revealed but not dwelt upon), “Resurrection” finds Murdock broken, worn down and in the care of Sister Maggie (Joanne Whalley) as he attempts to recover physically and spiritually.  His senses dulled and his soul crushed, it’s been a bumpy road for Murdock who feels he only has purpose as the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen and it’s time to emerge from the torment of his own personal damnation.

Charlie Cox, as always, is great and we feel every inch of Matt Murdock’s pain in mind and body.  Cox’s scenes with Joanne Whalley are a particular standout as Murdock bears his soul to the Sister who was a mother figure of sorts to the once young boy who had just lost his sight and his father.  There’s also guidance and support from Peter McRobbie’s Father Lantom which adds further dramatic layers to Murdock’s struggle.

Meanwhile, Karen and Foggy continue to deal with the aftermath of their ‘loss’ albeit in different ways – Karen holding on to the hope that Matt is alive and will return, whilst Foggy has chosen to accept that his best friend is gone and move on with his life as best as he can.  Although Deborah Ann Woll and Elden Henson don’t get a whole lot to do in this episode, both actors slip back into their roles with ease and are as effective as they’ve ever been.

Daredevil would of course not be the same without Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk and “Resurrection” makes room to revisit the deposed Kingpin, dejected as he continues to languish in prison.  D’Onofrio is reliably intense and it seems Fisk is being positioned for a powerful comeback that will undoubtedly once again draw battle lines on the streets of Hell’s Kitchen.

Visually it’s the usual high standard for Daredevil, the use of sound and lighting married with beautiful photography giving the series that cinematic quality we’ve come to expect and appreciate.  The fight choreography is also top-notch and is quite brutal, but with dramatic resonance – especially in those scenes in which Murdock submits himself to a sparring match in an attempt to re-focus his senses.

Ultimately it is a slow start, which is par for the course with the Marvel/Netflix series, but writer Erik Oleson (who replaces Marco Ramirez as showrunner) puts the pieces firmly in place and sets this latest chapter of Daredevil on a thematically interesting path.

The bottom line:  the latest season of Daredevil gets off to an interesting start with strong acting performances, engaging character work and rich visual aesthetics.

All 13 episodes of Daredevil season 3 are available to stream now via Netflix.

TV Review: ‘The Defenders’ Season 1

At long last, Netflix assembles Marvel’s street-level heroes…

 A note on spoilers : whilst this review doesn’t delve into major plot points there may be some light spoilers.

Starring:  Charlie Cox, Krysten Ritter, Mike Colter, Finn Jones, Elodie Yung, Jessica Henwick, Rosario Dawson, Scott Glenn, Simone Missick, Sigourney Weaver

Series created by:  Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez

What’s it about?

Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist unite to protect New York from the threat of the ancient order of The Hand…

Season review

Having established their core street-level heroes in their own individual series, Marvel and Netflix reach the culmination of their plans with the much anticipated team-up of Matt Murdock/Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Danny Rand/Iron Fist in The Defenders, a highly enjoyable – albeit not completely flawless – eight episode arc.

Like some of the other Marvel/Netflix shows, The Defenders gets off to a relatively slow start that’s somewhat burdened by its reintroduction of the principal characters in a manner that serves to both reacquaint established viewers with our heroes whilst striving to be accessible to those coming in fresh.  In terms of the latter it’s not entirely successful given that so much has happened to the individual characters in their respective series (particularly in the case of Daredevil who has two whole seasons worth of story) which supplies The Defenders with a pretty solid foundation for viewers who have already followed Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist.  It also presents a few initial narrative problems, the most cumbersome and disappointing being Luke Cage’s all-too quick and all-too convenient release from prison, which on the plus side does facilitate the introduction of Elden Henson’s Foggy Nelson into the story.

The series opener does most of the work of re-establishing the main players and their current status quo – Matt has locked away his billy club in favour of carrying out pro-bono legal work, Jessica is still hitting the bottle but has a weakness for those in need of help, Luke is dead-set on protecting the innocent and Danny, together with Colleen, continue to track and fight The Hand, the central threat of the Marvel/Netflix universe as seen in Daredevil and Iron Fist.  We’re also introduced to the current leader of that organisation – the mysterious ‘Alexandra’, played by screen icon (and Academy Award Nominee) Sigourney Weaver.  The artificially produced earthquake at the climax of “The H Word” provides suitably high stakes and a cause for our heroes to eventually unite against and Weaver is excellent in a role that’s atypical for an actor largely known for her more heroic turn as Lt. Ellen Ripley in the Alien films.  The writers provide Alexandra with a good measure of complexity yet there are moments when the character feels a little weak and never seems to fully develop into as powerful and formidable a foe as initially promised.

Where The Defenders doesn’t disappoint is when it comes to gathering the team itself, which happens organically without being forced or rushed and the dynamics of the group are explored wonderfully in the confines of a Chinese restaurant in “Royal Dragon”.  By having the main protagonists simply sit down at a table together we get to see some great chemistry on display, they’re a dysfunctional group for sure and there’s plenty of conflict in viewpoints but it all feels natural and there’s a sense that they all want to get on the same page and put aside any differences in order to battle against The Hand for the greater good.  “Royal Dragon” really sets things in motion, with the team galvanising as the series progresses and there’s a good dose of wry humour (Krysten Ritter on top form as she delivers Jessica’s sarcastic jibes) and plenty of light hearted put-downs, affording Mike Colter and Finn Jones the opportunity to build the budding friendship between Luke and Danny.

Overall, the focus on each of the principal cast is well-balanced (although Charlie Cox is arguably the standout) and Finn Jones certainly gets a chance to expand his character and placate those critical of Danny Rand’s characterisation in his own series with a definite sense of growth and a stronger positioning of him as the ‘Immortal Iron Fist’ as he finds himself being targeted as part of the enemy’s unfolding plans.

Supporting characters are served fittingly in accordance with the story.  Rosario Dawson’s role as Claire Temple is generally more prominent, which is understandable given here connective appearances in the other shows but there’s still a welcome presence (among some other familiar faces) from Simone Missick as Misty Knight and the superb Scott Glenn as Stick.  Of course, with The Hand presenting the threat in The Defenders and given the events of Daredevil season two we get to see Elektra’s rebirth as ultimate ‘weapon’ the Black Sky and Elodie Yung tackles this rather well, offsetting the brutality of a lethal assassin with emotional nuance as she grapples with her true identity.

The series features, like previous efforts, some slick and decently choreographed martial arts action (including another corridor fight sequence that can’t match those seen in Daredevil but is still a highlight non-the-less).  It does become a bit overly frantic at times and even difficult to follow in some of the darker scenes but for the most part, it delivers.

Structurally, there was always the fear that eight episodes would end up being too short a run.  Despite some occasional pacing issues, it actually works out just about right – in fact it’s also evidence that Marvel’s other Netflix series could benefit from slightly shorter episode counts, which really would have benefitted Luke Cage and Iron Fist.  Things slow down a little in the penultimate episode but The Defenders reaches an increasingly tense and satisfying climax in its finale (aptly titled “The Defenders”), with an epilogue that helps tie up loose ends whilst setting up the future course of Marvel’s Netflix universe.

The bottom line:  The Defenders is a reasonably enjoyable team-up event that successfully unites the street-level heroes of Marvel’s Netflix shows.

All 8 episodes of The Defenders season 1 are available to stream now via Netflix.

Defenders S1

Taking it to The Hand: Marvel’s street-level heroes assemble to save New York in ‘The Defenders’.

First Impressions: ‘Daredevil’ Season 2

This article contains light spoilers for season one of Daredevil as well as the first three episodes of season two (titled “Bang”, “Dogs to a Gunfight” and “New York’s Finest”).

The Marvel/Netflix Daredevil series has returned for its highly anticipated second season and based on the first three episodes it seems safe to say viewers (or at least those who haven’t already binged on the entire season by now) are in for another exhilarating ride.

Season two hits the ground running and wastes no time in neatly establishing the central characters (a skippable recap of key moments from the first season preceding episode one assists), their status quo and the escalating crime rate in the wake of Wilson Fisk’s fall from power.  The fledgling firm of Nelson and Murdock has no shortage of clients but very few who are able to pay legal bills with monetary currency, leaving the honourable and altruist lawyers with more fruit baskets and home baked pies than they can keep up with.  Matt continues his night time mission as protector of the innocent and vulnerable of New York’s Hell’s Kitchen and whilst Foggy has become more supportive of his best friend’s alter ego, he still bears a heavy dose of worry and concern and is becoming weary of covering up Murdock’s frequent absences and injuries to N&M’s faithful secretary, Karen Page.

It was great to see the growth of the ensemble of Charlie Cox, Elden Henson and Deborah Ann Woll and their respective characters throughout season one, the dramatic peaks and troughs of their relationships only making them stronger as a team, a family even.  Secrets are being kept from Karen only for her own protection but as the attraction between Matt and Karen continues to blossom there’s the potential for things to become even more complicated.

Charlie Cox slips back into the role of Matt Murdock/Daredevil with relative ease (as does Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page) but we are also reminded that Elden Henson’s ‘Foggy’ Nelson is an essential component of the series.  Considering the character could have easily become mere comic foil, Henson and the writers have delivered a well-rounded and compelling character that has deserved moments in the spotlight, from gutsy verbal jousting with a rival lawyer, to diffusing potentially lethal situations, the latter facilitating the return of ‘Night Nurse’ Clare Temple (Rosario Dawson).

With a power void left by the now imprisoned Wilson Fisk leading to the resurgence of various criminal gangs, DD has his work cut out for him yet these problems only mount when another vigilante rises, one who has fewer morale boundaries…enter Marvel Comics anti-hero the Punisher!  Last seen onscreen in woeful 2008 film adaptation Punisher: War Zone, Marvel’s Netflix universe is the right place to reintroduce the character and The Walking Dead’s Jon Bernthal is, likewise, a perfect fit for the role.  This is a no holds-barred and no punches pulled interpretation of the character.  A man on the edge and a literal one man army with a zero tolerance for crime and Bernthal brings all of those qualities powerfully to the fore.

The writers of Daredevil have wisely made the Punisher part of this season’s story from the outset and collided Daredevil’s and Punisher’s worlds quickly, their initial confrontation having great consequences for Murdock and culminating in some welcome moral debate in episode three that echoes classic Garth Ennis story “The Choice”, adding narrative depth in between the visceral action (which includes a sequence to top that infamous hallway fight from season one).

With the rest of the Punisher’s story to unfold and the impending introduction of iconic Daredevil character Elektra and a heightened sense of Matt Murdock’s vulnerabilities, the signs all clearly point to this being another great season of Daredevil, every inch as compelling and exciting as its first.

All thirteen episodes of Daredevil season two are available to stream now worldwide exclusively on Netflix.

Charlie Cox amkes an assured return as the 'Devil of Hell's Kitchen' in seaon two of the Netflix Original Series of Marvel's 'Daredevil'.

Charlie Cox makes an assured return as the ‘Devil of Hell’s Kitchen’ in season two of Marvel/Netflix’s ‘Daredevil’.