“Daredevil” – Season 2

Marvel’s sophomoric efforts have a trend – the first installment is superb, but their successor is simply entertaining. Season 2 of “Daredevil” falls under this category, but it’s still worth watching!

Season 2 takes place roughly eight months after Daredevil/Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) turned Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) into the police. Daredevil now has a reputation as a vicious vigilante and protector of Hell’s Kitchen, until there’s a new player in town (actually players).

We have former war veteran, Frank Castle/The Punisher (Jon Bernthal) waging war on a biker gang, the Irish mob, and a Mexican cartel simultaneously. Then we have Elektra Natchios (Elodie Young), Murdock’s former lover and a deadly femme fatale seeking Murdock’s help in a war of her own.

The best way to describe “Daredevil” this season is Marvel’s take on “The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly”. We have Daredevil (the good) trying to establish a moral code in fighting crime. Elektra (the bad) fights her war her way, using and killing people in the process. Then there’s The Punisher  (the ugly), who straight up murders criminals in often hardcore fashion.

SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!

The action is non-stop this season and we get some of the most innovative and badass action sequences all year. You thought the hallway fight in season 1 was great? Wait until you see a hallway/stairway fight in episode 3! This fight, Punisher’s darkly funny shotgun spree in a chop shop and brutal fight in a prison cell block, and all of the battles between Daredevil, Elektra, and The Hand (the season’s main bad guys) will leave action lovers satisfied.

Viewers who aren’t into violence may not enjoy this season since the graphic violence has increased greatly. That’s where some of the flaws start to show. This season’s more focused on hardcore violence than on the complexity of Murdock’s quest.

Elektra and Punisher serve as good foils to Murdock, and we get some great debates of self-righteousness between the three parties, but there are more fights than character-driven scenes. It can come off repetitive at times.

The triple-protagonist narrative this season also causes some tone inconsistencies with Punisher’s story acting as a dark revenge thriller and Elektra’s as a stylized martial arts film. Depending on it being a Punisher episode or an Elektra episode, the style often switches.

Nobu (the ninja assassin from season 1) is our main antagonist this season, and he’s nowhere near as compelling as Fisk. That doesn’t mean Fisk is absent entirely since episode 9 is a Kingpin-centered episode.

The season’s strongest aspects are the development of our original cast, and its acting. Foggy (Elden Henson) and Karen (Deborah Ann Woll) are more mature and given more to do this season, often acting as secondary protagonists. Cox now portrays Murdock as an increasingly arrogant and broken man, growing darker in each episode. D’Onofrio is even more sinister in the two episodes he has.

This season’s star is Bernthal. He is menacing and expressive, bringing depth to a morbid and one-note character. He has Thomas Jane and Ray Stevenson beat in Punisher portrayals, and I can’t wait until he gets his own Netflix show.

As over-stuffed as “Daredevil” – Season 2 is, I still kind of loved it for its few emotional moments and its selected action sequences. Let’s see what happens with season 3!

Grade: B+

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“True Detective” – Season 2

DISCLAIMER – I mainly review movies, but I make an exception for mini-series such as “True Detective” since they’re essentially longer movies.

I wish I could say “True Detective” was as brilliant this year as last year. If you guys haven’t seen season one, it featured Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as Southern detectives investigating a ritualistic murder in the backwoods of Louisiana. It was unpredictable, artistic, innovative, and featured the best work from both Harrelson and McConaughey.

This season trades in mythical Louisiana swamps and backwoods for an industrial and deteriorating city outside Los Angeles. Colin Farrell is the corrupt alcoholic detective, Ray Velcoro, Rachel MacAdams is the debauched Sheriff’s Department investigator, Ani Bezzerides, and Taylor Kitsch is the traumatized ex-soldier Highway Patrolman, Paul Woodraugh. They’re assembled together to investigate the murder of a businessman linked to European gangsters and a reformed criminal-turned-businessman named Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn).

Each of the detectives are in the case for different reasons. Ray is pressured by his more crooked superiors and Frank (Ray is Frank’s enforcer) to solve the murder and cover up his department’s involvement, Ani is put in charge due to rank, and Paul is enlisted to avoid a scandal involving a young actress. Trust issues ensue among the four characters as they uncover shady business deals, a mob-hosted sex party, and the truth behind a rare bag of diamonds.

Let’s start with the positives of “True Detective” this season – Rachel MacAdams delivers a raw and badass performance, Taylor Kitsch proves he’s one of the most dedicated actors of his generation, and the soundtrack packs a deeper narrative.

Singer Lera Lynn wrote and performed several songs for this season and each song tells us something about the characters and the world they’re in. T-Bone Burnett returns as head composer with a synthesizer-heavy score that emphasizes the Neo-Noir style.

This season also features some of the craziest and bloody gunfights I’ve seen in any TV show or movie, including one in episode 4 that’s strongly reminiscent of Michael Mann’s “Heat” (1995). However, this is where criticisms come in. The shootouts escalate out of nowhere and seem like Pizzolatto’s trying to outdo season 1’s craziest moments.

Let’s talk Colin Farrell and Vince Vaughn here – they’re both clearly trying to deliver this season and both actors have some solid moments this season, but they’re both given the show’s worst dialogue that’s on par with “Star Wars: Episode I” level of quality. “Don’t do anything out of hunger, even eat.” –Vince Vaughn as Frank.

“Twelve years old my ass… fuck you.” –Colin Farrell as Ray.

Yeah, I’m just as flabbergasted as you are. The show also suffers from several genre cliches, pacing issues, and uncertainties with direction. The pacing and direction is likely attributed to the show having several different directors this season, as opposed to last (Cary Fukanaga directed all of season one).

The cliches are all painful and overdone with Ray as the cop who’s embraced corruption (like Russell Crowe and Kevin Spacey in “LA Confidential (1997)) and Ani portrayed as a sexually troubled cop with a dysfunctional family (this has been seen with too many female detective characters to name).

SPOILER ALERT – It was no shock that these two would somehow fall for each other abruptly by the end.

MORE SPOILERS

The way Pizzolatto portrays women and homosexuals is tasteless and amateur here. Ani and her sister are both kinky due to a traumatic encounter in their childhood? Paul is a closeted homosexual with an incestuous mother? Frank’s wife does nothing but act concern for him? This all looks like Pizzolatto read half a page of a human sexuality textbook and wrote his few notes into the script.

The biggest disappointment though is the ending. The revelation of the killer isn’t epic or shocking, but rather anti-climactic and quickly resolved before turning back to the corruption story. I wanted to know more about the killer, dammit!

I mean, I’m all for trying something new with anthologies, but execution matters. This just wasn’t well executed as it could have been.

Grade: C