Originally envisioned as a single season, preceding a mini-franchise of New York-based ‘street-level’ heroes including last November’s excellent Jessica Jones, such was the success of Daredevil that a second season was quickly commissioned, due to premiere this Friday 18 March. At a special preview of Season Two, CineVue caught up with the Daredevil himself, Charlie Cox, along with newcomers Elodie Yung, playing the enigmatic Elektra and John Bernthal, who depicts new the Big Bad, The Punisher. Cox, talkative, bright and dressed casually in a classic jeans and jacket combo, told us that at its core, the new season asks, “what is a hero? What makes a hero? Is one’s idea of a hero a moveable feast?” Cox explains that if we think of the first season as being the birth of a hero, this season finds Matt comfortable with his new life, but asks where you go from there.
For the drama to work, there needs to be conflict: superhero classics Spider-Man 2 and The Dark Knight both dealt with their heroes wanting to hang up their proverbial capes and spandex, so it’s interesting to hear about a hero that remains comfortable doing what he’s doing in the second go-around. “At the beginning of Season Two,” Cox goes on, “Murdock’s put to bed some of the concerns he had; he’s found a boundary. He’s said to himself, ‘if I don’t cross this line, then I’m good’”. In the two episodes that we’ve seen, that’s undoubtedly the case: Matt is confident and skilled, a far cry from the inexperienced character that occupied much of Season One. This is reflected in the frenetic, action-heavy early sequences, in contrast to the slow-burn feel of the first season. The dramatic stakes are higher, too, with Matt’s devilish antics putting a strain on his and Foggy’s relationship, not to mention unresolved tensions between the pair and Deborah Ann Woll’s character, Karen Page.
There’s no question where the real conflict arises: John Bernthal’s tooled-up, ultra-violent vigilante, The Punisher. Last season’s baddie, the menacing Kingpin, was complex and relatable – qualities also shared by Jessica Jones‘ ultra-creepy Kilgrave – but there was no doubt that these guys were villains, no matter how charismatic or engaging. This is where The Punisher, aka Frank Castle, differs: Bernthal suggests that the argument that the writers pose between Murdock and Castle is so captivating that it’s easy for the audience to switch their own allegiance. In fact, Cox lets slip that in episode three, Murdock and Castle discuss the very issue of the line between hero and villain. “If we did it as well as it was written”, Cox says, “you find yourself flip-flopping back and forth”.
It’s clear that Cox, Yung and Bernthal each harbour a passion for the show that comes from a genuine admiration for its writing and characters. In playing Castle, Bernthal has had to wrestle with the humanity of a character who has built up walls made of brutality and emotional atrophy: “it’s the opposite of being a human being to act without any form of consciousness, or regret, or to feel anything for your actions. When you have a character that is so rigidly building these walls around his actions, what’s interesting is when the humanity breaks through, from people that can break those walls, that can make him feel, make him regret. I think the writers presented that with Frank. If we did our job, some of that will shine through in the series. The place that you have to go to to play a character like this is very dark. It’s the other actors that find the humanity in my character. My job is to fight them”. And fight them he does: audiences can expect violent clashes between The Punisher and the criminals he’s hunting, with Daredevil and anyone else unfortunate enough to get in his way. In one scene that recalls the gun-store scene from The Terminator, after having illegally purchased equipment, Castle metes out a last-minute retribution against the store-owner for a single comment that crosses a very fine, Manichean moral line.
In this age of the fanboy critic, Daredevil and its ilk are often held to an impossible standard of absolute fidelity to the source material, but that doesn’t always make for compelling stories. For proof, Cox refers to the death of Ben Urich in Season One, a shock for fans of the comic accustomed to him being a long-standing fixture of the MCU and one of the best-judged emotional gut punches of the last season. “For our show to be thrilling and exciting and keep audiences on their toes, every now and again you need to put a spanner in the works”. But, Cox assures us, “if fans are thinking back to The Man Without Fear [Frank Miller’s seminal comic, by which the current series is heavily influenced], where Elektra was first invented, they’re going to be very happy”.
Christopher Machell | @MagnificenTramp