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: ‘Iron Fist’ – Season 2 Premiere

It’s time for round 2 with the new season of Marvel’s ‘Iron Fist’…

Iron Fist 2-01

Finn Jones returns for season 2 of Marvel’s ‘Iron Fist’ (image credit: Marvel/Netflix, used for illustrative purposes only).

Spoiler-free review

Starring:  Finn Jones, Jessica Henwick, Jessica Stroup, Tom Pelphry, Sacha Dhawan, Alice Eve

Series created by:  Scott Buck (Iron Fist created by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane)

Written by:  M. Raven Metzner / episode directed by:  David Dobkin

What’s it about?

As criminal gangs disrupt the peace in New York, Danny Rand is faced with an old acquaintance and a possible threat to his standing as the Immortal Iron Fist…

Episode review

After a first season that was met with a fairly lukewarm reception, Marvel’s Iron Fist returns for a second go.  Following the events of The Defenders and season 2 of Luke Cage, “The Fury of Iron Fist” finds Danny Rand choosing to live a simpler life, leaving the day-to-day business of Rand Enterprises to those who are more interested in corporate affairs.  More at ease with his role as the Immortal Iron Fist, Danny continues to use his abilities to defend the innocent and uphold Matt Murdock’s plea to keep New York safe.  Colleen too, chooses to lead a more moral and purposeful existence as she helps out at a local community centre.  However, with the rise of gang warfare and the return of Davos, any peace that Danny and Colleen have established could be about to be unravelled.

Season 1 of Iron Fist was not anywhere near as bad as most would lead you to believe, whilst the story may have felt a little stretched and the focus on corporate drama a little generic and unsatisfying it still had its moments with an intriguing if familiar origin story.  With The Defenders, there was some positive growth in the character of Danny Rand with better writing and a more confident and assured performance from Finn Jones (and Jones’ cameo in season 2 of Luke Cage was a highlight).  This continues here as the series gains a new showrunner and a desire to make a fresh start.

“The Fury of Iron Fist” is very much an opening chapter with a fairly slow beginning that’s mostly set-up and puts the pieces in place whilst familiarising viewers with the world and characters of Iron Fist.  There’s some action sprinkled in, with slick and well-choreographed fight scenes that pack a more brutal punch than what we’ve seen previously in this series.  Finn Jones and Jessica Henwick are both solid and there’s great chemistry between them and are assuredly the heart and soul of the series.

The return of Davos adds a thick layer of tension as he feels Danny is avoiding his truer responsibilities as the champion protector of K’un Lun.  There’s still a bit of generic soap drama with Ward and Joy but it may turn out more interesting this time around – especially in regards to Joy, seen as she’s in cohorts with Davos.

The most intriguing aspect though is the introduction of Alice Eve as Mary, a character who seems sweet but has something strange and unsettling going on behind closed doors.  If you’re a Marvel Comics reader then you’ll pretty much know what is going in and it’ll be interesting to see how things unfold.

With the main players established, the story foundations in place and a tighter run of ten episodes that may be of benefit, season 2 of Iron Fist has potential.

The bottom line:  the new season of Iron Fist gets off to a slow but promising start that may placate criticisms of the first season.

All 10 episodes of Iron Fist season 2 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’.

TV Review: Marvel’s ‘Iron Fist’ S1 EP1 “Snow Gives Way”

The final Defender is unleashed in the latest Marvel Comics-based Netflix Original…

Starring:  Finn Jones, Jessica Henwick, Jessica Stroup, Tom Pelphry, David Wenham

Series created by:  Scott Buck (Iron Fist created by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane)

Written by:  Scott Buck / Episode directed by:  John Dahl

What’s it about?

Fifteen years after surviving a plane crash in the Himalayas, Danny Rand returns home with new abilities and in search of a purpose…

Episode review

Launched on a wave of largely negative pre-release reviews, the premiere season of Marvel’s Iron Fist arrives on Netflix establishing the final member of the line-up for the Defenders.  Much like Luke Cage, “Snow Gives Way” presents us with a slow yet intriguing start to the series.

As Danny Rand, Finn Jones (Game of Thrones) makes for a likeable lead, a dishevelled, humble drifter with signs of an inner strength and a wise, shrewd perspective beyond his years.  Rand’s backstory is teased via a series of flashbacks where events from his childhood and a tragic plane crash in the Himalayas are revealed.

With the Rand family being declared dead during Danny’s absence, Rand Enterprises has come under the management of siblings Ward and Joy Meachum (Tom Pelphrey and Jessica Stroup, respectively) who are in disbelief that this stranger could be their long-lost friend, Ward in particular only interested in protecting his hold on the company.

With a focus on personal strife and corporate conspiracy, the script by showrunner Scott Buck (Dexter) does tend to evoke shades of Dallas but despite those soap opera-like elements being a little generic it does help to build character and plot.  There’s also room for some comic book Kung-Fu action and whilst lacking the edge and brutality of Daredevil it has a grace and skill to it that goes hand in hand with the character’s philosophy and martial arts mastery.  Another highlight is the introduction of dojo-master Colleen Wing, played by Jessica Henwick, who gets to have some fun interplay with Jones in a couple of key scenes that help to define both characters and hints toward a developing camaraderie.

It’s fair to say that the origin story presented in Iron Fist isn’t the most original, already familiar to viewers through the likes of Batman Begins and Arrow but Finn Jones turns in an enjoyable performance and the mystery surrounding Danny Rand’s absence, eventual return and his path to heroism has potential for, at the very least, entertaining viewing…but hopefully something a bit more.

The bottom line:  Despite a slow start, there are still signs that Iron Fist could develop into another enjoyable Marvel series for Netflix.

All 13 episodes of Iron Fist season 1 are available to stream now via Netflix.  The Defenders is due for release in the summer.

The way of the warrior? Finn Jones is Danny Rand in Marvel’s ‘Iron Fist’.

First Impressions: ‘Daredevil’ (Netflix Original Series)

Yesterday saw the long awaited worldwide release of the Netflix Daredevil series and having viewed the first two episodes, titled “Into the Ring” and “Cut Man” – both written by series creator and executive producer Drew Goddard (who exited as showrunner to pursue Sony’s now defunct Sinister Six feature film) – I can safely report that, so far at least, it’s yet another hit for Marvel.  Being a huge fan of the horned defender of Hell’s Kitchen there is a level of bias (there’s even a place for the maligned Ben Affleck film from 2003 in my books) yet beyond the series perfectly capturing the essence of the character and drawing heavily from the very best of the source material, viewers will find that Daredevil is well scripted, well cast and beautifully realised.

Drawing heavily on iconic and fan favourite comic book runs by writers Frank Miller, Brian Michael Bendis and Ed Brubaker (working with legendary artists Klaus Janson, David Mazzucchelli, Alex Maleev and Michael Lark), Daredevil is exactly as it should be – dark, gritty and brutal yet not without heart and a smattering of humour (reminiscent of Mark Waid’s current tenure).  Boardwalk Empire’s Charlie Cox looks, sounds and feels the part as blind attorney Matt Murdock  – a tortured soul whose tragic back story is presented through a series of flashbacks and is ably supported by law partner Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) and secretary Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), who provides ‘Murdock and Nelson’ with their first case.  “Cut Man” also introduces us to another citizen of Hell’s Kitchen – Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple, the woman who will patch and dress the wounds Murdock sustains in his fight against the criminal underworld.

Murdock’s night time pursuits (beautifully shot by cinematographer Matthew J. Lloyd) as the vigilante who will become known as ‘Daredevil’ fulfil the brutal element of the series.  Not being hindered by the constraints of television censorship, Daredevil is not family entertainment and handles the bone-cracking violence (and general adult themes) appropriately.  It’s certainly not gratuitous, but, appropriate.

I’m very much looking forward to the full reveal of Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk (aka ‘Kingpin’), who is teased during the premiere episode and the further development of the Murdock/Nelson/Page ensemble and the evolution of Murdock’s Daredevil persona – especially the costume that Murdock teases is “a work in progress”.

Daredevil is the first of five Marvel/Netflix Original Series with A.K.A. Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist due to follow, culminating in a crossover for Marvel’s street-level heroes in a Defenders limited series.  If the quality of Daredevil is anything to go by then these are exciting times to be a Marvel fan and indeed, a Netflix subscriber.

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

Charlie Cox is perfectly cast as the defender of Hell's Kitchen in the gritty and brutal Netflix Original Series 'Daredevil'.

Charlie Cox is perfectly cast as Marvel Comics’ defender of Hell’s Kitchen in the gritty and brutal Netflix Original Series ‘Daredevil’.