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Daredevil – The Man in the Box (Review)

This month, we’re doing daily reviews of the second season of Daredevil. Check back daily for the latest review.

Throughout the second season of Daredevil, major characters debate the nature of Frank Castle.

In Bang, Frank Castle is introduced as a force of nature; he is presented akin to an old horror movie monster. In New York’s Finest, Frank tries to argue his case with Matt; Frank suggests that he simply offers a more permanent variation of the justice that Matt dispense. Indeed, Regrets Only seems to suggest that Karen has a more sympathetic perspective on Frank; Foggy dismisses him as obviously insane. In Semper Fidelis, Matt and Karen argue about whether Frank could be considered a hero.

"You should put that on a t-shirt or something."

“You should put that on a t-shirt or something.”

As the second season of Daredevil marches on, the series continues to offer excuses and justifications for what Frank does. The show goes out of its way to avoid any potentially challenging read of Frank Castle, tying everything neatly back to the death of his family. Guilty as Sin implies that Frank is a victim of “sympathetic storming” that keeps the death of his family constantly fresh in his mind. Seven Minutes in Heaven makes it clear that Frank still has a lot killing to do to avenge his family. Frank is presented as a brutal avenger, rather than a violent serial killer.

However, as the second season of Daredevil enters its final act, the show tips its hand. The Man in the Box makes it clear that Frank Castle is not an anti-villain. He is not even an anti-hero. Frank Castle is a straight-up hero. As the show moves into its final stretch, it becomes clear that the production team have crafted a thirteen-episode superhero origin story for Frank Castle. That gets to the root of the problems in his characterisation.

Sai.

Sai.

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Daredevil – Seven Minutes in Heaven (Review)

This month, we’re doing daily reviews of the second season of Daredevil. Check back daily for the latest review.

The relationship between the first and second seasons of Daredevil is quite complicated.

There is an obvious reason for this. The show’s production team changed between the first and second season, with the role of executive producer shifting from Steven DeKnight to Marco Ramirez and Doug Petrie. As a result, there is a clear change in emphasis and storytelling style; much like there was a shift from the two episodes overseen by Drew Goddard at the start of the first season to the later episodes overseen by DeKnight. Different producers bring a different perspective to their material. It is only natural.

"None of you seem to understand. I'm not locked in here with you... you're locked in here with me!"

“None of you seem to understand. I’m not locked in here with you… you’re locked in here with me!”

So there are major differences in the content and themes of the first and second season. Recurring elements that had been important to DeKnight are shuffled in the background to afford attention to aspects that intrigue Petrie and Ramirez. Matt’s Catholicism is less important than it was; Matt’s career as a lawyer is more central than it had been. Even the structural emphasis of the season shifts. DeKnight put Matt Murdock and Wilson Fisk on a collision course. Petrie and Ramirez prefer to have their characters running in parallel.

That said, there are moments when the first season bubbles through. There are strange thematic links that pop up from time to time, but are truncated or brushed aside. More striking, however, is how closely Ramirez and Petrie hew to the structural elements of the first season. In many ways, this is not surprising. One of the most consistently intriguing aspects of the second season is the energy that it expends on structure rather than plot or character. That is particularly true with Seven Minutes in Heaven.

A Punishing schedule...

Orange is the new dead.

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Daredevil – Daredevil (Review)

To celebrate the launch of Marvel’s Daredevil and the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, we are reviewing all thirteen episodes of the first season of Marvel and Netflix’s Daredevil. Check back daily for the latest review.

In a way, the biggest problem with origin stories is that you know where they have to end up.

It is easy enough to predict the ending of the first season of Daredevil. Matt Murdock is the costumed superhero who dresses up as a devil to fight crime in Hell’s Kitchen. He practices law with his best friend at “Nelson and Murdock.” Wilson Fisk has embraced his identity as a supercriminal in his own right. His plans to redevelop Hell’s Kitchen are soundly defeated. Evidence is put in the hands of the authorities, allowing our heroes to be exonerated and our villains to be identified.

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It is a very clear arc, because it has to end somewhere close to where every Daredevil story begins. Indeed, even the title of the episode alludes to that. This is the point at which Matt Murdock ceases to be “the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen” or “the Man in the Mask.” This is the point at which he formally adopts the name “Daredevil.” This is the point at which he puts on a live action version of his iconic costume. This is the point at which the show stops being a Daredevil origin story and becomes just a Daredevil story.

So it makes sense that Daredevil feels a little bit anticlimactic and a little bit overly familiar. The episode doesn’t fight the pull of gravity that draws it towards the inevitable status quo. Despite the shock at the end of The Ones We Leave Behind, the season finalé offers no real shock or twist or subversion. It is exactly what it claims to be. It is functional, efficient and clean. It is not a bad ending by any means. In fact, it is quite satisfying. At the same time, it does feel just a little too tidy and neat for its own good.

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Daredevil – Speak of the Devil (Review)

To celebrate the launch of Marvel’s Daredevil and the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, we are reviewing all thirteen episodes of the first season of Marvel and Netflix’s Daredevil. Check back daily for the latest review.

There is an interesting inherent contradiction baked in Daredevil, perhaps mirroring the conflicts within the show’s title character.

In many respects, Daredevil is utterly unlike anything else produced by Marvel Studios. It stands quite firmly apart from the studio’s style in projects like The Avengers or Thor or Guardians of the Galaxy or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The show is a lot more cynical and grounded. It is a lot more violent and gritty than anything else that the company has produced as part of their shared on-screen universe. It looks and feels quite distinct from the rest of the company’s output. It has a style and mood all of its own.

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However, for all that darkness and brooding, Daredevil is arguably the most familiar and traditional of superhero narratives produced by Marvel Studios. Matt Murdock might be more violent and brutal than any other major character in this shared universe, but he is also the most typical superhero. He is the only hero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to have a proper secret identity. He is also the only hero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to have a firm “no kill” rule.

This creates an absolutely fascinating conflict within the structure of the show, as Daredevil manages the wonderful task of being both the most typical and the most atypical of the Marvel Studio productions.

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Daredevil – Shadows in the Glass (Review)

To celebrate the launch of Marvel’s Daredevil and the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, we are reviewing all thirteen episodes of the first season of Marvel and Netflix’s Daredevil. Check back daily for the latest review.

Much like Stick, Shadows in the Glass emphasises the relatively episodic nature of Daredevil.

If Stick was “the mystical ninja tie-in episode”, then Shadows in the Glass is the obligatory “villain episode.” This is evident in the choice to open with a teaser dedicated to the morning routine of Wilson Fisk. It is a nice structural choice to repeat the sequence two more times, once at the midpoint and once towards the end. The second iteration of the sequence plays much the same as the first, but the third version plays out with both Wilson Fisk and Vanessa Marianna, suggesting that Fisk is no longer as alone as he claimed to be in Rabbit in a Snowstorm.

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Daredevil is a show that really does take advantage of its format to flesh out and develop the world of Matthew Murdock. It would have been easy to structure Daredevil as a simply thirteen-hour origin story with a reasonably high budget. However, the show capitalises on the extra space afforded to a thirteen-episode season. None of the Marvel films could afford to devote fifty minutes of character development to the antagonist, and even Loki has never been given as much narrative attention as Fisk. (Only Michael Fassbender’s Magneto can compete with Vincent D’Onofrio’s Fisk.)

Shadows in the Glass provides Wilson Fisk with a supervillain origin story very clearly designed to mirror that of Matt Murdock.

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Daredevil – Condemned (Review)

To celebrate the launch of Marvel’s Daredevil and the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, we are reviewing all thirteen episodes of the first season of Marvel and Netflix’s Daredevil. Check back daily for the latest review.

So, let’s talk about Frank Miller.

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Daredevil – World on Fire (Review)

To celebrate the launch of Marvel’s Daredevil and the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, we are reviewing all thirteen episodes of the first season of Marvel and Netflix’s Daredevil. Check back daily for the latest review.

Having paused to catch its breath – and properly introduce the character of Wilson Fisk – World on Fire and Condemned restore the season’s sense of forward moment. The clutter of the Russian mob is tidied away, allowing the series to throw Matt Murdock and Wilson Fisk into proper conflict with one another. It is no coincidence that Matt and Fisk first talk to one another in Condemned, the episode that brushes aside the last remnants of the Russian mob. World on Fire is largely about setting up all that, serving as a bridge from In the Blood into Condemned.

It is a testament to all involved that it works as well as it does. Charlie Cox is fantastic as a conflicted Matthew Murdock, Rosario Dawson does great work as Claire Temple. Once again, Deborah Ann Woll and Elden Henson are trapped in a somewhat generic subplot that exists to explain why Hell’s Kitchen might be worth saving in its current state. Vincent D’Onofrio and Ayelet Zurer continue to have an endearing chemistry, portraying a fairly convincing love story about power and justification – the show never seems confused about what Wilson Fisk and Vanessa Marianna see in one another.

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All the formal elements continue to work very well. The writing staff do an excellent job mirroring Matt and Claire with Vanessa and Fisk; one couple separated by the anger and drive of the protagonist, another intoxicated by those same qualities in the antagonist. Although it is easy to take the show’s camera and stunt work for granted after the climax of Cut Man, there is an impressive long shot in the middle of the episode that is executed beautifully as Matt intercepts a drug delivery to the Russians.

At the same time, there is something a little bit forced about the plotting and structure of World on Fire, which is largely a result of its transitional state. The first season often felt like it was spinning its wheels as it set Matt against the Russians – neither Anatoly nor Vladimir felt like fully-formed or fleshed out characters, in spite of the teaser to In the Blood. As a result, a lot of World on Fire feels like necessary housekeeping before the show can really get down to business.

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