Saturday, March 19, 2016

REVIEW: 'Daredevil' - Matt Battles a New and Lethal Threat that Descends Upon Hell's Kitchen in 'Bang'

Netflix's Daredevil - Episode 2.01 "Bang"

Hell's Kitchen has calmed, but it's not out of the fire yet. When an unknown vigilante begins to take the fight to the streets in a big and bloody way, Matt Murdock must don the mask of Daredevil to stop him before innocent people end up in the crossfire.

Daredevil had a solid first season. It laid the foundation for how the Marvel shows on Netflix would be different than anything else the company has done. It started out strong and then Jessica Jones was able to build on that momentum. The first season of Daredevil had its fair share of problems. Vincent D'Onofrio's performance as Wilson Fisk was electrifying and magnificent but the end of that particular story arc was a mess that didn't really come together in a rewarding way. And now, the show enters its second season without D'Onofrio. Fisk's presence is still felt heavily in this first episode. But it's not as meaningful as it was when he was causing problems for Matt and the rest of Hell's Kitchen last season. So the show's biggest task right now is finding a new story arc that can be just as compelling to watch.

Naming the first episode of the season "Bang" would imply that it is a very action-heavy episode that kicks off with the new story in a big and grand way. That's certainly true in a number of key moments that revolve around the season's new big bad - who is still unnamed but is being played by Walking Dead alum Jon Bernthal. And yet, the episode as a whole eases the viewer back into the mindset of what the atmosphere and tone of this show really is. However, that creates a number of sluggish moments that really don't work all that well even though the show is subverting those expectations and not going for the broad characterizations it initially appears to be. It just makes for a frustrating first episode that is a little bit more difficult to get into than what the show probably wants.

"Bang" opens with Daredevil once again at the top of Hell's Kitchen looking out for the citizens below. The action then follows him as he stops a gang of criminals who have pulled off a robbery and are hurting innocent citizens as they flee the police. It's a great action set piece. And yet, the show deliberately keeps the focus on the characters on all sides of this conflict - the criminals, the police and the bystanders - and not on Daredevil himself. He's simply the man in the shadows serving his own style of justice on these criminals. But why? It's to show that Matt really has become the guardian angel - or devil - of Hell's Kitchen. The community is mystified by his actions. But no one is actively out to stop him. He's just being allowed to be this vigilante because he produces results that the police cannot. But the audience already knows that this vigilante is Daredevil. So it's stylistically a device that drags on a little too long. It's clear that it's Daredevil taking out these bad guys. It's cool but keeping the focus away from him does lesson the effectiveness of the action moments. The final confrontation isn't even seen. Daredevil traps the final criminal in a church only for the camera to cut to the police outside coming in to see the criminal knocked out and the girl safe because of Daredevil. It's a formulaic sequence that has been seen a number of times. This instance didn't really do enough to distinguish itself as something reflective of what this show is capable of doing.

Following that night out, it was nice to see Matt and Foggy walking to work and actually being friendly with each other once again. There is still this tension between them but they are still putting up the illusion that they both don't know what Matt does at night. Of course, that's impossible to not notice or talk about now. Foggy knows the truth and needs to address it. But all the time spent with Matt as a lawyer in this episode only underlines the new stresses at the firm this season. They have grown their clientele since last season. They have gotten a little more famous because of their part in taking down Fisk. But it's hardly a successful business. They largely get paid in bananas and baked goods. Moreover, the show is very pointed in saying that Foggy and Karen are over as a potential couple and now the focus should be on Matt and Karen. And that's a dynamic that feels very forced and hard to watch across the premiere.

The audience becomes aware that Foggy no longer has feelings for Karen because he gets to brag to Matt about his dance moves and how they landed a girl for a one night stand. That's the life he is living. It shows that he has moved past this crush on his close work friend. And yet, Foggy and Karen's dynamic had its significant moments in the first season. So, it's just so weird to see the show downplay it so easily in this first episode back. And then, it immediately moves forward with Matt and Karen becoming closer as friends. It's a big deal that Matt decides to spend one night out with his friends at Josie's instead of looking over the city as Daredevil. That's an action that has major complications later on. But when he's at Josie's, it's a sequence solely about showing the building feelings between the two of them. That has always been present in their dynamic. Nothing has ever happened because of it. But that's largely because they rarely spend one-on-one time with each other. Here, it happens right away as they play pool. Matt knows exactly how to play and is quite good at it - which he shows Foggy later on. So, it's a facade to keep up his blind reality. And yet, he is also keenly aware of just how close Karen gets to him. That will be important later on this season, I suppose. But here, it feels way too forced in order to declare it's importance to the audience.

While all of this is happening, the Irish gang is planning on how to take over control of the city once again. With Fisk gone, it has created a power vacuum in Hell's Kitchen. Everyone seems to be making a play to control the drug trade and ruin this city. And yet, the scene with the Irish gangsters feels all too familiar and drags on for far too long. Scenes just like that one where one guy talks on and on about taking the city back while also getting ready to kill the guy who betrayed them earlier have been seen many times in this medium. This instance didn't change the foundation of it at all. So, nothing about it felt special until the gunfire started. Once again, it's a sequence that deliberately only shows the conflict from one perspective. The Irish gangsters all do their best to stop this onslaught on their meeting place. And yet, they fail. Only one guy survives to tell the tale of this experience. It's a brutality that the show fully embraces. Later on, a shot even starts with a detective looking through the hole of a dead man's body.

That action starts the big conflict for the season. Everyone assumes it's a new player in town who is equipped with a paramilitary unit of highly specialized weapons. But instead, it's just one man who is the cause of this destruction. That's impressive. It shows just how seriously everyone should take this new threat to the city. But it's also significant that he's only targeting criminals organizations searching for power in Hell's Kitchen. Matt and Foggy are desperate to find information. With Foggy, that just leads to comical results where he goes to the Dogs of Hell bike club (another very stereotypical organization) only to get kicked out eventually. That's another sequence that drags on past the point of genuine interest - for very little information too. Matt is much more successful in learning about this new vigilante operating in the city. That leads to an exciting final confrontation between the two. It's an action sequence that finally shows both sides of the conflict being able to land punches. Daredevil has his skill set and so does this new foe. It's a fight that has an unexpected ending too. A gun is pulled which sends Matt flinging out of a window. That's a tense ending that makes me what to start the next episode immediately. But the episode leading up to that fact really wasn't all that great or indicative of what the show is trying to do this season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Bang" was written by Douglas Petrie & Marco Ramirez and directed by Phil Abraham.
  • Any new thoughts on Daredevil's new and improved costume? I'm still not sure about it. I understand that it offers him more protection than his simple outfit last season. But it still looks a little too ridiculous to quite work. The show even acknowledges that a little when Matt says that it's not a very comfortable suit. It's just hard to understand what the takeaway of that should be though.
  • Once again, Karen quickly finds a target on her back. It was annoying that Karen was placed in danger many times over the first season. And now, the new season immediately starts with her in danger as she and the new client try to escape the madman gunning for them in the middle of a hospital.
  • It was very fitting that the first action sequence of the premiere ends in a church. It indicates that Matt's faith will still be a huge proponent of the character. But it wasn't exactly subtle about that fact either.
  • Hopefully, the attack of the Irish mob means the end of stereotypical criminal organizations this season. So far, the show has shown criminal elements from the Irish, Russian, Chinese and Japanese. All have been very broadly defined and play into familiar characteristics. When it gets more personal to the characters, nuance can be found. But it still leads to some awkward beginnings. 

As noted in previous reviews from this series, every episodic review was written without having seen any succeeding episodes. Similarly, it would be much appreciated if in the comments, the conversation would only revolve around the show up to this point in its run.