The superhero returns Friday on Netflix

By Tom Gliatto
Updated March 17, 2016 06:15 PM
Credit: Patrick Harbron/Netflix

PEOPLE Review: Marvel’s Daredevil Returns to Face a Punishing New Rival

Season 1 of Marvel’s Daredevil, Netflix’s crunchingly gritty superhero epic, set a new standard for the “origins” narrative: Charlie Cox‘s nascent Daredevil (by day, blind attorney Matt Murdock) emerged step by arduous painful step as he took down villain Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio). It was as realistic a vision as anyone could expect (or, if one hopes for such things, hope for) of the via dolorosa of caped crusaders, who by now we pretty much accept as being dogged by trauma and from time to time nearly pushed over the edge by trauma. It took 10 episodes for Daredevil to emerge as a properly formed hero, and even then his red uniform was already distressed. It looked about as resilient as Lady Gaga‘s prosciutto gown.

The first four episodes of season 2 show us a Daredevil who’s a marvel at martial arts but still something of a work in progress (the suit, for one thing, gets sent back to the tailor’s) and puzzled by the presence of a new vigilante in Hell’s Kitchen. In true comic book form, the Punisher (Jon Bernthal) is a sort of alternate or mirror image of Daredevil: He’s out to stop crime, too, except that he doesn’t see any need to bring in the cops or the courts. He’s an executioner who can work his way through a long list of gang members in a matter of seconds, connecting them all by violent, instant death.

It may occur to you that he should never have access to Linkedin.

The Punisher, aka Frank Castle, is a familiar Marvel character – he’s already been played in the movies by Dolph Lundgren, Thomas Jane and Ray Stevenson – with a backstory more anguished even than poor Daredevil’s. Bernthal (The Walking Dead) has a handsome pugilist profile, coal-smoked eyes and the correct posture of go-to-hell swagger and war fatigue. He’s very good.

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For that matter, he and Cox are both secure enough in their performances that we could have been spared a long, superfluous and deadly dull scene in which Daredevil argues the Punisher about justice and morality. This reveals nothing a viewer wouldn’t know. What about their views on gluten? (Daredevil also happens to be the Punisher’s prisoner at the moment, which would indicate to a screenwriter that he’s in no position to lecture anyone, friend or foe.)

But once that’s past, there are long, vivid fight scenes and battles, meticulously choreographed and composed of yellow back-alley light and shadow. They could be dances performed by Satan’s ballet de corps.

Which is probably the point.

Marvel’s Daredevil: season 2 launches on Netflix Friday.