REVIEW: Daredevil Season 3 is Near Perfection

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Daredevil Season 3

Released on October 19th from showrunner Erik Oleson, the 13-episode Daredevil season 3 picks up Matt Murdock’s story where it left off in The Defenders. With Bullseye announced in the trailer, and Wilson Fisk coming back in a big white-suited way, fans of the Marvel Netflix Universe had high expectations for Daredevil Season 3 and It didn’t disappoint. This season focuses on Matt Murdock not coming back. Specifically, Matt is dealing with his demons from childhood, those he couldn’t save, and the realities unfolding around him but he rarely comes out from under his mask. We watch Fisk rise again, the status of Daredevil fall, and explore the psyches of all involved.

There is so much more I want to say but can’t without spoiling the show. I will say, I want every single one of you reading this right now to watch the season. From characters to fight choreography, and everything in between, this season delivered. By grounding the story in a specific kind of Catholic guilt and shame while also showing Matt abandon that part of him, we explore the dark pieces in each character on-screen and if there is none, we see how the darkness can take advantage of them.

The main characters of Daredevil Season 3 are the same, Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson), Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio), Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), with two new additions Benjamin ‘Dex’ Poindexter (Wilson Bethel) and Rahul ‘Ray’ Nadeem (Jay Ali), both FBI agents. This season excels in setting the relationships up between each and every character. Every character has a motive for their actions and every action has a consequence.

It’s hard to get into talking about characters without spoilers, but the newcomers to the series play their roles well and bring them to life. Ray Nadeem is a hardworking family man and someone who truly wants to do what is right even when his life on the line. His love and fear are acted so well that you fall for him. You root for his family, you root for him. All the while knowing it is for naught while the grasp of the Kingpin grows. It’s through Nadeem that we have some of the most emotional moments of the season.

As an actor Ali’s on-screen chemistry with every member of the cast is undeniable. As he interviews, fights, or confronts different characters he is never once overshadowed, something that happens when some other characters, specifically Page, sharing screen-time with Fisk and even Matt. From intimidating, to FBI agent, to loving father, to a man with a target on his back, Nadeem he exhibits every emotion that makes an empathetic audience member feel his character.

On the darker side of things is Dex, brought to life by Wilson Bethel. Dex is a person can fake his way through life with a monster wriggling beneath the surface. Like other villains introduced in the different Marvel Netflix series, Dex isn’t already an established villain. Daredevil Season 3 is his origin story and it’s one that will make you uncomfortable through retellings and audio.

The actor himself is quite capable of portraying the depth of the character’s psychopathy, however, the writing around the character’s mental health issues is a little clunky in the beginning. With other series like Jessica Jones and The Punisher covering issues of mental health and with Matt dealing with his own demons and hallucinations this season, the writing around Dex’s mental health isn’t nearly as polished as what we know the writers to be capable of. Ultimately, as his past unfolds, it does not connect well to his present, leaving the viewer with more questions that feel like plot holes rather than mystery.

But once we’re over that hump and the monster comes out, it’s a new ballgame and Dex becomes one of the best on-screen villains in the Marvel Netflix canon. His aggression and mental break are acted extremely well and the fight scenes he is involved in bringing the comic book character of Bullseye to life in a way attempted but not executed in the past. Rosary beads, light fixtures, office supplies, the versatility of his power is emphasized and the ability of the set designers to turn everything and anything into a weapon makes his showdowns with Matt ones that you could watch on repeat.

Daredevil Season 3

Although Daredevil Season 3shattered my high expectations with its character development there are still issues with one character, Karen Page. Since the death of Ben Urich in season one, I have been waiting for this character to come into her own, earn Urich’s office, so to speak. But instead, we see a character who shoots from the hip, always. Regardless of who she may get killed because of it. Sadly, this season doesn’t fix that, even with the half-of-an episode dedicated to exploring her background. In fact, Foggy receives less screen time but more development in his campaigning and family interactions. It seemed that in spite of trying to move Karen to a different place and allowing the audience to see her trajectory and perhaps try to tie in an element of Frank Miller’s “Born Again” arc, instead, we end up seeing Karen in the same spot. Only now, I disliked her more given her history and I ask myself, will she ever not be selfish?

When it comes to most well-written as well as the best-acted characters on-screen, those titles go to our hero and our villain, Matt Murdock, and Wilson Fisk. Up until I completed season three, I held David Tennant’s performance as the Purple Man in Jessica Jones season one as the best of all the Marvel Netflix shows but from the first moment, the towering Vincent D’Onofrio comes on-screen this season Tennant became a runner-up. Not only does he look like the Kingpin was plucked from the comic book pages but the power he exudes in silence is something that few actors can do.

Since season one, Fisk has been a man of few words. But as D’Onofrio’s portrayal in season three highlights, when he speaks the world around him shakes. He is involved in a number of fights and with a “power-set” that means he is just super strong it’s easy to get lost in the mix against someone like Matt or Dex who are highly trained and mobile fighters, like what happened with Mike Coulter’s Luke Cage and Kristen Ritter’s Jessica Jones when sharing fight time with Charlie Cox in The Defenders. That being said, D’Onofrio is not lost in the mix, he is stirring it. He acts through every punch, every single body slam, and every bone break, he is a powerful and yet extremely emotional. His face isn’t blank, his hits are not silent, it’s difficult to explain but watch him, you feel his fight.

But beyond the skull-crushing intimidating man who the Kingpin is, it is all driven from emotion. Emotions like anger, joy, fear, and most of all love are the base for every decision he makes. The ability of the writers to make Fisk, a symbol of absolute and resolute control and power a man of vulnerability is remarkable and deserves to be commended.

There are multiple times, always revolving around Vanessa, the love his life, where there seems tears are forming in his eyes. Everything he has done and will do is out of love of her. Now in his iconic white suit, I expected him to become invulnerable, as Michael Clark Duncan’s rendition of the character was, but he isn’t and I’m thankful for that. How many supervillains keep love at the center of what they do? Not many.

It’s for this reason that I believe the showrunner chose to finally break from the two-villain formula every other series and season has gone with. Usually, in these series, the villain changes with a few episodes left and the writing loses steam. Or you realize that one of the villains is just a front for another. Throughout Daredevil Season 3, Fisk is at the center of it all. Every choice, move, fight, and murder revolves around him. With Bullseye added, it could have easily come down to the bait and switch once again, but I’m glad it didn’t.

Daredevil Season 3

When we move away from the villain and to our hero, we find one of the equal complexities. Gone is the confident Matt Murdock, the devil of Hell’s Kitchen whose path was directed towards stopping all crime. The suit is gone and his black mask and clothes have replaced it. As he begins to recover from the injuries he sustained in The Defenders, he has to learn to be himself again. Although he has a one-track mind at stopping and ending Fisk, he is also a man who has to learn how to live again. Although there isn’t much talk about Elektra, it is clear he is trying to figure out how to continue living after accepting death.

The man without fear’s spirit is broken and as the show continues, the difficulties that come from his own insecurities, his childhood, and his parents all bubble to the surface. In spite of heavy screen time from Foggy and Karen and their own subplots, Matt shares little screen time with them, mostly because he wants to let Matt die. This is the most interesting we’ve seen Matt and ultimately Cox is an actor who pulls off this character.

Specifically, he isn’t his suit, so he isn’t Daredevil, he also doesn’t present himself as the Devil until the end of the season. But he also isn’t Matt Murdock. For the majority of the season, the character lives between the two, finding his way. Repenting for sins. And ultimately reaching salvation. Although Cox’s acting ability should be praised, it’s really his athleticism and dedication to fight choreography that makes me admire him.

Since season one, Daredevil has redefined fight choreography in a television show and with its use of small spaces. Cox’s dedication to fight training has allowed the show to up the bar on fight scenes in such a way that puts them with those from feature-film productions. Season three is no different. One way they have done this is through the use of one-shot scenes, most notably the three-minute-plus scene in the hallway of the second episode of the first season. But what does that mean, and why is it hard?

It’s simple, most scenes feature multiple cuts using multiple cameras to get different angles, and ultimately help hide imperfections in stunt double swap outs or execution of the choreography. When shooting with one camera continuously you lose your ability to cut pieces that don’t work. If one small piece of the footage doesn’t work, the entire thing doesn’t work. In episode four Daredevil Season 3, titled “Blindsided,” the director of the episode Alex Garcia Lopez filmed a one-shot 11-minute fight scene which led to not only Matt Murdock reminding us why he is Devil but also moved the story along.

What makes this specific scene intense isn’t only the length, but also the fact that there is no mask involved. Shooting fight scenes without masks can make it hard on the actor and really lower the quality of the show’s stunt work, by relying so much on the actor. This was one of the largest problems with the now-canceled Iron Fist fight scenes in season one. But like the hallway scene before it, Cox trained and rehearsed and dedicated himself to the fighting as much as the acting and it paid off. Although his stunt double Chris Brewster does do some of the choreography in the scene, Cox’s ability to match his movements and switch out seamlessly shows a stunt team that deserves to be praised to the moon and back for their work. In fact, there were moments throughout the series that I thought back to some of my favorite one-shots in martial arts movie history.

Beyond the genius camera work, it’s important to point out how the show’s use of fight scenes never detracts from the narrative of the episode or the season as a whole. It never feels like Matt is just randomly wailing on people and ultimately the amount of detail put into the scenes and the interactions between the fighters make these vital to the story. When confronted with Bullseye for the first time Matt has to adapt his own style of fighting to his.

From a highly acrobatic style that moves in then retreats, we see Matt shift to more of a brawler. Using Muay Thai ropes, perhaps my favorite look from anyone this entire season, he has to get in and deal as much damage as possible and he specifically utilized more boxing, because the more space between him and Bullseye means the more likely he is to be hurt. The best thing about this is that the show gives us this exposition in a seamless way that pulls us in instead of delivering a dry breakdown of fighting styles.

The fight choreography is one of the biggest high points of the series and season three raised the bar higher. This is thanks to the work of Brewster not only as Cox’s stunt double but also as the fight choreographer Daredevil Season 3 with his stunt team made up of RJ Wolfe, Evan Taylor, and Aaron Joshua. We can thank him and the stunt team for an 11-minute YouTube clip that we will now compare all other one-shots too. The stunt work on the show remains untouchable from other superhero shows.

Although Daredevil Season 3 is less-like Miller’s “Born Again” arc than many fans accepted, it’s still hit. There are elements of that story but mixed in with enough of the devil we know from the first two seasons to make it seem like a natural evolution of the story. There is so much that made Daredevil Season 3 great that I believe it deserves a rewatch. When looking at the season in the midst of Luke Cage and Iron Fist getting canceled, I hope this series doesn’t go anywhere. And with the caliber of acting, writing, and stunt talent I don’t think it will.

Daredevil Season 3
  • 9.5/10
    Rating - 9.5/10
9.5/10

TL;DR

Although Daredevil Season 3 is less-like Miller’s “Born Again” arc than many fans accepted, it’s still hit. There are elements of that story but mixed in with enough of the devil we know from the first two seasons to make it seem like a natural evolution of the story. There is so much that made Daredevil Season 3 great that I believe it deserves a rewatch.