Punisher Rising: A Daredevil Review
It’s been a long recess, but court is now back in session. The law firm of Nelson & Murdock is open for business, and the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen is ready to take back his city. So, fire up those Netflix accounts, forego all human contact for the next thirteen hours, and dive into the darker side of Marvel’s fare with season two of Daredevil.
Right out of the gate, season two throws us back into the action. Daredevil (Charlie Cox) chases a gang of robbers through the streets, picking them off from the shadows, one by one. After he takes down the last wrong doer and the police arrive at the scene, the camera pans toward the rooftops, with the show’s main theme rising in the background. Finally, as the music crescendos, the shot lands on Daredevil, stoic, as he surveys the city, reminding us why we fell in love with the series in the first place.
Episode one picks up several months after the season one finale. Nelson & Murdock is humming with clients, though not necessarily ones that pay, and we’re treated to a nice, brief re-introduction to the main cast. Re-introductions are rare for season two, and while the first four episodes mainly explore new arcs, the second third of the season really hits the ground running with continuing several story-lines from last season. If you’re a little fuzzy on any of the events from season one, or if you’re one of those brave souls who reads a review for a show they haven’t watched yet, it might be a good idea to take a look back at last season.
Unfortunately, the good times do not continue to roll for our protagonists, as they are quickly brought face to face with their next big threat, The Punisher. After two failed attempts at a Punisher film adaptation, (2004's The Punisher and 2008's reboot, Punisher: War Zone); fans wondered if such a complex character would ever be done justice on the big screen. Thomas Jane's portrayal in 2004 struck a chord in the hearts of fans, to the point that he even donned the mantle again for a short film that quickly went viral after its debut at San Diego Comic-Con. Unfortunately, the creative teams for both The Punisher and Punisher: War Zone lacked any discernible sense of the property, and both films fittingly missed the mark by a wide margin.
When word broke last June that Marvel had cast Jon Bernthal as the latest iteration of The Punisher for the second season of Daredevil, reactions were positive, though guarded. Bernthal rose to fame for his portrayal of the volatile Shane Walsh in AMC's The Walking Dead, and while fans believed he would bring the same explosiveness to the role of Frank Castle, as history has shown, the fit and talent of the actor isn’t always enough to compensate for a script that fails to capture the intricate ethos of the character.
Fortunately, Daredevil season two, easily puts these concerns to rest, and the Punisher arc is by far the highlight of the first four episodes and arguably of the entire season. Not only does Bernthal nail the nuance between Frank Castle's apparent psychosis and The Punisher's calculated and violent pursuit down the path of least resistance, but the narrative surrounding the MCU's most anti of anti-heroes matches this complexity, with a carefully laid web of clues that shrouds the character's background in mystery, and above all else, the execution of an ideological battle, between Daredevil and The Punisher, that feels neither contrived, nor without purpose. Top it all off with some truly gripping and well-choreographed action scenes, and you have a recipe for one of Marvel's finest character debuts to date.
The Daredevil-Punisher conflict ends up having quite the trickle down effect, as Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) and Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) get caught up in the legal side of the police investigation, giving us a number of wonderful moments for both characters. Particularly, I enjoyed the verbal sparring between Foggy and district attorney, Samantha Reyes. Reyes first appeared in the season finale of Jessica Jones, and serves as a nice nod to Daredevil's companion series, while also managing to establish herself as a compelling character in her own right. Karen fills the investigative vacuum left by Ben Urich's season one death. And, it's nice to see her transformation continue from damsel in distress to no nonsense gumshoe.
The character development falls a bit flat; however, when it comes to the interactions between Matt and Foggy. Foggy's concerns about his friend's dangerous hobby carry over from season one, though it's hard to imagine that in the time since the first season’s finale, he's yet to come to terms with Matt's Daredevil alter ego. What hurts this dynamic even further is the writers' and Henson's insistence on making this dissension come across as whiny as possible, undermining the character's likability with the audience. Yes, Foggy's reaction is probably realistic, but he comes across as just a tad bit hypocritical when he puts himself in relatively equal danger by visiting the Dogs of Hell bar, and confronting a rabid, armed gang member during his visit to Metro-General Hospital.
Luckily, the show does a better job with exploring the relationship between Matt and Karen. This romance angle was actually hinted at early on in season one, but was dropped almost immediately in favor of a Matt-Claire pairing. (Which, for the record is the ship I’m going down with). While Kare-Devil doesn't necessarily feel forced, there is a degree of abruptness to its introduction and execution that feels a bit weak narratively. However, their chemistry and our emotional investment in the characters is there, making this development both watchable, and at times even charming. It's clear by the end of episode four, however, where the writers intend on taking this arc. How they get there exactly remains to be seen.
Written by A Play On Nerds Contributor, Garrett Yoshitomi. You can find his tweets @garrettweets