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Friday, March 11, 2016

Daredevil Season 2 Trailer Round-Up

Edited by Robert Beach

In exactly one week’s time, Netflix and Marvel will join forces for the third time to bring us the highly anticipated second season of Daredevil. So far, Marvel’s Netflix offerings have been pretty solid ranging from the enjoyable, if moderately overrated, Daredevil season 1 to the exceptional knockout that was Jessica Jones. Both serve as a major point of contrast to the often less-than-stellar Marvel network shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or Agent Carter. 

However, it’s also pretty clear Marvel was initially planning to put together a second Daredevil season this quickly as most of their Netflix wheels turn pretty hard towards the Defenders crossover.  Daredevil season 2 as a quasi-last minute “give the most popular guy a sequel while we work on the next 2 pre-crossover things” lands it in the same bin of creation that gave us Iron Man 2. Given that, I’ve compiled all the pertinent advertising media and rumors so…let’s talk about Daredevil season 2.

A lot of the early imagery for Daredevil season 2 has drawn from the Catholic symbolism and iconography that always skirted the best stories in Daredevil’s roster. Stuff like the chapel design and baroque style of illustration play well to Matt’s identity as the preeminent catholic superhero as well as emphasizing the only really interesting aspect of his personality. 

Despite all the pretty imagery and well-realized stylistic affects, I actually don’t think the catholic iconography is being deployed correctly here. There are elements that work certainly, but by in large they feel like all style and no substance, which was a pretty consistent problem with Daredevil season 1. 

Even as stylistic flourishes the Catholicism of these early trailers and posters, it could’ve been more evocative. I think the big problem is a clash of aesthetics; this style of artwork and format speak to something grand and mythic, but that’s NOT what Netflix’s Daredevil is about. Daredevil here is not the larger-than-life mythic hero of Captain America or Superman. He’s just a guy who can take on hell of a beating in a pretty ugly red suit. 

It also doesn’t help that all Matt’s comments about his faith revolve around guilt and sin while the iconography and framing don’t back that up. Maybe if this all came down harder on the idea that the Punisher is sinful (his mission requires the mortal sin of murder), that might’ve been more effect but as is it’s just no working for me. 

Speaking of the Punisher, he’s looking pretty fun if not exactly perfect. Jon Bernthal is a fine actor and a perfect choice for this more hardcore take on the Punisher. Bernthal just naturally looks like the kind of guy who might snap and kill you at a moments notice, so he fits for the vision of Punisher that might shoot a hero or the like. I’m not sure the stuff with him quoting the children’s book really works as well as they intended it too, but as is, he’s at the very least intimidating. 

Actually, the children’s book is a big indicator of one of the major problems in these trailers, namely a real disconnect between the style and the substance. It’d be one thing if Daredevil was just angling for style; that’s essentially what season 1 did, but season 2 is also trying to be about something on some fundamental level, most specifically the clash of values between Daredevil and Punisher. 

The problem is that all the sleazy grime and traumatic plot points that inform Frank Castle don't register as part of a greater theme or cohesion. Like if the show wants to be all about a clash of methodology and value, why don’t the informing aesthetics of Punisher and Daredevil clash?

What’s more, I’m not terribly keen on casting Punisher as a Killing Joke-era Joker to Daredevil’s Batman, which exactly what his line about “one bad day” is in reference to. Overall, Punisher seems like the right character used in the wrong way. Far too often, stories about ‘the vigilante who kills’ going up against the main hero go off the rails because they don’t understand how to create a real sense of dichotomy. There’s the assumption that the audience WILL side the hero, regardless of anything else, so the killer vigilante can just be this rampaging maniac that needs no humanity or heroism. 

The best versions of this story realize that you need to make an audience unsure of who to root for, willing to consider maybe killing these crooks is the answer, and that’s just not there in this Daredevil trailer. The big problem is how much this portrayal of Punisher has missed the most important part of his identity, so fundamental it’s in his name: he is punishment. If he’s just going up against generic mob thugs there is no catharsis in his actions for the audience. There’s no ambiguity here, just a pretty transparent bad guy for Daredevil to stop. 

However, I have heard the Punisher stuff has all been something of a misdirection. He’s certainly in the show, but early reviews have suggested he’s not the major element but a side-plot to the main conflict with Elektra (Daredevil’s old girlfriend) and the evil Ninja clan the Hand. I don’t much care for The Hand at the best of times, so it's not particularly encouraging. By the same token, throwing Daredevil up against a horde of ninjas is hardly a bad thing. 

What is a bad thing is Elektra’s interpretation here. Aside from just looking really dull (bad costume design still hovers over the show like a bad smell), Elektra just seems too much like Catwoman in this interpretation and in the worst possible ways. Specifically, Elektra seems to be played as a playful and flirtatious interest in Daredevil with her own ulterior motives, all of which seems really taxing and go nowhere. 

The weirdest thing about these trailers so far is how little Daredevil is actually in them. The emphasis so far has almost entirely been on Punisher and the Hand, which makes sense from the metric of marketing the upcoming Defenders crossover. But it doesn’t really work for telling us about what Matt Murdock will be doing in the series at hand. 

We’ve seen some indication of his worsening relationship with close friend Foggy Nelson as well as a blossoming romance with Karen Page. Though Murdock mostly seems like a passive character this time around. All the trailers feature him reacting to Punisher or being drawn into Elektra’s conflict, not really blazing his own trail. 

Again, this feels a lot like Iron Man 2 where we’re just seeing the hero thrown into a spin cycle of other conflicts to buffer him about and remind people of the upcoming crossover. This makes even more sense if it turns out the Punisher spin-off is in the works and he’s set to appear alongside the Defenders. Or, conversely, if the Hand end up the big bads of Defenders, it affords them some major screen time here makes sense. 

This is all coming off a lot more negative than I meant it to. I like Daredevil, the character and the original show, and I want this new season to be good. I like the Punisher, and I’m thoroughly interested in what’s going to happen to this gritty urban corner of the Marvel cinematic universe. Additionally, most of this I’m just extrapolating from the trailers, so it’s thoroughly possible that when the series actually premieres things will be much better. 

As for right now, Daredevil season 2 looks to pretty much just be more of season 1: mixed bag of visuals, style over substance, and a dull lead being buoyed by a more talented supporting cast. Here’s hoping for better when it finally premiers.

Daredevil Season 2 is set to premiere on March 18, 2016

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