Sequels often have what is arguably a more difficult job than the material that came before. Higher expectations and established criteria for sharp-eyed fans to keep watch for and demand of the successor to their now-beloved classic, regardless of medium. More pressure placed on the creators to ensure their newest creation is up to par, and an increasingly thin line to tread between staying true to the heart of the project without boxing themselves inside imaginary boundaries and coming across as stagnant, afraid of change. Some sequels are heralded as better than the original, like The Empire Strikes Back or Terminator 2. Others simply lack the charm and originality of the first in the series, and are forgotten almost entirely by the general public. Watched Aladdin II lately?
It’s fortunate for everyone with that friend or family member we pray isn’t changing their password any time soon, then, that Daredevil season 2 is every bit as formidable as the stellar debut season of Marvel’s first Netflix-exclusive series. From gorgeous cinematography and lighting to expertly choreographed fight scenes, these 12 hours are both a return to form and an expansion on what made the first baker’s dozen episodes so loveable, with plenty of raised stakes and surprises in store too.
Not the least of these new additions is Jon Bernthal’s portrayal of Frank Castle, better known to the world as The Punisher. None of the toothless antics of the eponymous 2004 film are present: this Punisher is as captivating as he is lethal, with an emotionally powerful blend of brutality and emotional depth that’s rarely seen in a trench coat-wearing, bullet-spraying ex-Marine with a big skull on his chest. As the story unfolds, we see The Punisher go from being characterised as bullets riddling glass and rapid-fire thunder, to getting to know the tragic backstory of the human being driven to the edge by one bad day. Despite the unlikely efficiency and fantasy ultra violence on display, the viewer is compelled to root for the man who lost everything and made it his mission to return the favour, but only to those who were viewed as evil.
Extreme justice carried out by extreme means ends up resonating heavily with the tumultuous life of Matt Murdock as well, as internal and interpersonal conflict between dear friends and spectres of years past find The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen feeling forced to choose between love and violence to protect his city, and the moral boundaries that define Daredevil and The Punisher make for some of this season’s most compelling scenes. Simultaneously, the mysterious, endless legion of evil known as The Hand make for a truly dangerous feeling adversary, and push the limits of what Daredevil is capable of.
Another well-loved Marvel character getting a second shot at live action is Elektra, with whom Matt Murdock shares a complicated history. I won’t spoil all the details, but we get to see a lot of formative experiences that shaped the Daredevil character in flashbacks between Matt and Elektra, and how Stick is a binding force between the two.
The only gripe I have about this new season is that a lot of tension between primary characters, Matt, Foggy, and Karen is created only by frustrating or nonexistent dialogue; situations that have easy solutions, but are left unresolved by sometimes uncharacteristic stubbornness or pride. Still, this season is absolutely thrilling, and exquisitely presented. Marvel’s Daredevil earns its place among the best shows in 2016’s onslaught of top-tier television, and fights fist and sai to prove that being derivative of a comic book property doesn’t at all mean a live action drama can’t be one of the most gripping things you’ll ever watch.