While I’m not sure that “superhero fatigue” is really affecting audiences – the success of Avengers: Infinity War begs to differ – I do think that there’s been a certain lethargy setting in among Marvel’s Netflix series.
While the first series of Daredevil and Jessica Jones were unquestioned successes, a lot of their successors (including Iron Fist, Luke Cage and the Punisher) have felt a hard slog. Even Jessica Jones and Daredevil themselves had less-than-stellar second runs.
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So it’s a pleasant surprise to return to Daredevil for season three and find a stripped-back, focused crime story that once again grips from episode to episode.
Following the events of team-up series The Defenders, we rediscover Matt Murdock aka Daredevil (Charlie Cox) at his lowest ebb. Badly injured in body and spirit, he’s almost ready to give up on life – especially when his enhanced senses appear to have suffered permanent damage from his latest exploits.
Meanwhile, pals Foggy (Elden Henson) and Karen (Deborah Ann Woll) are trying to get on with their respective legal and journalism careers, though a new FBI investigation puts both their futures in jeopardy, and neither have fully accepted Matt’s apparent death.
It’s probably a good thing they don’t spend too long grieving anyway, because it’s not too long before Mr Murdock is back fighting crime in a mask. But something’s not quite clicking. He’s off his game, unable to take down bad guys like he used to, and losing interest in his civilian life.
“I’d rather die as the devil than live as Matt Murdock,” he tells concerned nun Maggie (Joanne Whalley). But can he come back to the light?
Overall, Daredevil season three (under the guidance of new showrunner Erik Oleson) does a good job of recognising what makes the series work – good fight choreography, the charm of the lead actors, grounded crime stories, plenty of comic-book easter eggs – and eschewing what doesn’t, particularly the fantasy elements (no more magic ninjas!) that some fans had found grating in the past.
And of course, the series also brings back one of its original highlights in kingpin of crime Wilson Fisk (played with calm menace by Vincent D’Onofrio), who after being put away in the first series manages to claw back some of his power and influence.
This time, Fisk’s not alone, because season two also finally introduces one of Daredevil’s most iconic villains. Wilson Bethel joins the action as FBI agent Benjamin “Dex” Poindexter, better known in the original comic-books as deadly, amoral marksman Bullseye, and his storyline is surprisingly compelling (his iconic costume also gets a fun nod).
Suffice to say, the Netflix version of Bullseye isn’t quite the supervillain fans know just yet: at the moment he’s just a troubled G-man with a knack for hitting the target. But his difficult childhood, brought to life in unconventional, almost theatrically-staged flashbacks, suggest his dark future, and makes him easy prey for the manipulations of Fisk.
Overall, the first half of season three is a strong return for a Man Without Fear.
It’s not perfect: the series still doesn’t have a strong handle on how Daredevil’s powers actually work (sometimes he seems all-powerful, sometimes he’s just a normal bloke being hit in the face).
Meanwhile, Wilson Fisk’s imprisonment storyline is a little muddled. Is he still pulling the strings, able to make phone calls to prisons and conduct business deals? Or is he being watched like a hawk and having agents deliver his food to him? The writers can’t quite seem to decide.
Still, these are minor quibbles, and when they come in a series that I genuinely wanted to keep watching, episode after episode, I’m more than happy to let them go.
Daredevil season three is streaming on Netflix now
This article was originally published on 12 October 2018