Binge-watching hangover: Daredevil

Netflix released the new season of Daredevil on Friday.

It’s almost 5am on Monday morning as I write this and I can hear the birdsong outside. Of course, I spent a large portion of the weekend, especially Sunday evening, watching Daredevil.

As a fan of the comics, especially Frank Miller’s legendary take on the character I was eager to see how the TV show would handle Daredevil’s femme fatale Elektra and the mystical Ninja-collective adversary, the Hand.

In the comics Elektra was Matt’s elusive bad-girl girlfriend at college, and then later a cold blooded assassin. There was always something borderline mystical in both Matt’s and Elektra’s talent for violence, and that of their foul mouthed mentor, Stick.

The TV show failed to do a good job at conveying a mystical theme. Matt is sceptical of the mythical history of the Hand as blandly told to him by his mentor Stick. The Chaste – a band of good ninjas in the comics – comes across like a band of rent-a-goons in the show.

I think it’s because of the softening of Stick’s character for 90% of his airtime. Gone is the drunk, foul-mouthed violent mentor who ruthlessly pushes his young students to prepare and enlist them in his holy war. Instead we get a gentle, benevolent, softly spoken mentor who makes no attempt to disguise his affection and care for his students. It’s only very late in the day that Stick abruptly decides he needs to kill Elektra. A development that was unconvincing and abrupt.

A possible explanation for the general softening of Stick’s character and Matt’s skepticism of all things mystical, is the parallels one could draw between The Chaste and The Hand’s holy war, and that of religious fundamentalist terrorism. There is one scene in particular where the writers seem to be drawing comparisons between the Hand and terrorists. If this has been a main thrust of the narrative it could have been an interesting direction, but ultimately it just served to undermine everything in the story arc:

  • Matt and Elektra seem sceptical and unknowledgeable about the war they were apparently being prepared for as children
  • Stick seems to lack resolve for a man who would effectively be a wartime general.
  • The Chaste seem to be nowhere. It’s a war between The a Hand and 3 other people?
  • Matt, Elektra and Stick rarely looked like they were under serious threat by the legion of Hand ninja sent against them.

The fight scenes were something of a disappointment. You miss most of the choreography because the fight scenes are shot in the dark and in a manner that often hides the specifics of the fight. I understand the effect that is trying to be achieved, but what was cool and interesting in the short term(Batman Begins, a few episodes of Daredevil) gets old real fast – especially in a show with fight scenes between interesting adversaries. Contrast that to TV show Arrow’s silly, over the top fight scenes where every unrealistic move is clear to see. Yes, it’s obviously unrealistic, but it’s a lot more fun to clearly watch those elaborately choreographed fights, than to the obscured “realistic” style in Daredevil.

Highlights of season 2 included glimpses of Wilson “Kingpin” Fisk, and to my surprise, the introduction of Frank Castle, the Punisher. I have no love for the Punisher character, but they managed to do something interesting with the character here.

And yet…

It sounds like I really didn’t like season 2 of Daredevil, but that’s not true. I enjoyed watching it, and the character development of the main characters, their friendships and even their business partnership was solid. It’s a fun show, and I’m not one who wants TV adaptations to be slavish representations of the source material. I just wish some of the most intriguing aspects of the Daredevil story had got the kind of mythic, dangerous and fantastical representation they deserved.

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