Three seasons into Marvel’s Netflix Defenders experiment, and there’s still an air of uncertainty to its structure. The success of Daredevil quickly bought it a second season (outside of the initial 60 episodes negotiated between Marvel and the streaming giant), but there’s no telling if we can expect a third, or if the Defenders miniseries itself would take precedence.

The first season of Daredevil spent near of its entire run building to a final conflict between Wilson Fisk and a costumed Matt Murdock, often keeping the two separate in a manner that robbed that final street fight of some of its gravity. Season 2, on the other hand, seems to have learned the best of both lessons from both Season 1 and Netflix’s other Marvel series, Jessica Jones, placing its most compelling imagery front and center straightaway, but still taking time to pick apart the characters beneath them, rather than shout platitudes about saving the city. Season 2’s battle between Daredevil and The Punisher roots itself in collateral damage moreso than conflicted ideology, even as it takes time to split the merits of vigilantism.

There’s a great deal that Daredevil Season 2 promotion isn’t telling you just yet.

In the one corner, Matt’s nightly ritual contributes to a legal practice still very much in financial peril after all the publicity from taking down Wilson Fisk, while his best friend flies into a justifiable panic every time Matt misses a phone call. In the other, Frank Castle arrives as an unapologetic Terminator willing to shoot up a hospital in pursuit of a midlevel thug, but insists no civilian faces any real danger from his wrath. A silent brute reveling in comparisons to a one-man army, who scoffs at the idea of PTSD influencing his actions as an insult to the soldiers he served with.

Season 2 should feel familiar to fans of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight, just as the first Daredevil run traded in some of that same street-level aesthetic. We open with violent crime still permeating Hell’s Kitchen, but very much in the shadow of a feared protector who leaves police dumbfounded, and smirks at his success from the rooftops above. There’s a rash of new mobsters looking to fill the void and capitalize on the so-called Devil’s efforts, soon equally awestruck by an unstable new player who’d blow apart the city just as soon as protect status quo. Frank Castle even shares a begrudging kinship with fellow vigilante “Red,” even if his half-measures offer only a temporary stopgap.

Daredevil Season 2 Review

It shouldn’t present any surprise that Jon Bernthal utterly kills (murders, blows away, etc.) it in the role, turning on a dime from terrifying to relatable, and underscoring the comic Punisher’s scowling machismo with a sense of terrible burden. There’s a great deal that Daredevil’s Season 2 promotion isn’t telling you just yet, both by the structure of the season and Frank Castle’s position within, that an actor of Jon Bernthal’s caliber proves paramount. Daredevil needs a Punisher equal parts violently opposed to Matt’s assertion of justice, capable of carrying an entire episode with only one word, and pitiably sorrowed by a graveside recollection of his daughter’s nursery rhyme. Castle can’t dissociate his identity with a mask, nor would he, and that’s the contrast driving the pair. It isn’t Matt’s methodology in question this time out; it’s the impact his anonymity has on the world around him, whether police made ineffectual by a lawless brigand, or a personal life in tatters.

That interpersonal strife makes a timely return in the form of Elektra Natchios, a wealthy, sociopathic heiress from Matt’s college years on a mission to stoke their unflickering chemistry, as scintillating now as then (granted, as the season will demonstrate, Charlie Cox could romance a houseplant with equal aplomb). Elodie Yung is perfectly cast for the part, not solely by her physical prowess and the thrill of seeing her and Matt fight side-by-side toward a new direction for the season, but also to flesh out what drove them apart to begin with. Elektra seems almost to get off on embracing one’s inner darkness, a sinful flirtation at odds with Matt’s moral compass that Charlie Cox makes a tremendous showing of, floppy flashback hair and all.

Daredevil Season 2 Review

Still, what makes Daredevil Season 2 more effective than its predecessor is the improved spotlight for Foggy and Karen, perhaps better served by the reduction of supporting cast like Rosario Dawson (whose role has understandably been spread amongst the other series) and the sorely-missed Vondie Curtis-Hall. Season 2 holds back most of its legal proceedings for a later point, but wrings a tremendous strain out of Foggy knowing Matt’s secret, and confidently emphasizes Foggy’s legal prowess against a rival D.A., moreso than his comic relief. Karen too finds much more agency outside Season 1’s early damsel role, placing a love interest angle firmly behind her investigation of the Punisher, to the point one character notes that Ben Urich must be smiling down on her gumption. So many superhero series struggle to draw its supporting characters as compellingly as the action*, and Daredevil’s particular blend of set piece and legal thriller feels inescapably original.

*I hesitate to discuss the nitty-gritty of this season’s action sequences, if only that Season 1 should give you a rough idea of the fighting styles and camera work to expect. The Punisher’s military precision offers an interesting contrast with Matt’s more acrobatic bent, even if Matt’s armored suit does remove a bit of the danger this time out. As you’ve probably heard, an early episode indeed sets out to top the hallway fight from Season 1, upping the technical factor significantly, but in the process losing some of the exhaustion that made the first fight so memorable.

Daredevil Season 2 Review

A whopping seven episodes went out to critics ahead of Season 2’s March 18 debut, impressive considering the trailers still leave a great deal to explore, and may not follow the structure we anticipate. The progression feels much cleaner this time around, moving almost in acts more than back and forth victories between Matt and Fisk (with the odd Stick diversion). Even the aim feels that much more cohesive, to start in a place of Matt, Foggy and Karen all confident in their new roles, but wrestling with the consequence of their choice to always help the helpless.

There’s a dark, confident intensity at work to realizing all of these characters onscreen together, and it’s a miracle that Daredevil can invest in its leads as well as the ten-story brawl between them.

Marvel’s Daredevil Season 2 will debut all 13 episodes for streaming on Netflix on Friday, March 18 at 12:00 A.M. PST / 3:00 A.M. EST.

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