Updated: Jul 19, 2019
By Derek May:
YIN: Daredevil (Season 3)
It’s been a while since we’ve seen Matt Murdock. We’ve known of his survival at having a building dropped on him at the end of The Defenders, but through second seasons of Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, we’ve not seen hide nor hair of The Man Without Fear. Given that we may have seen the last of Luke and Danny (they were both cancelled last month), I like to think that the extra time was taken to craft the best-possible storyline for our blind hero. And as far as I’m concerned, it was time well spent.
Daredevil came out swinging in its premier season, wiping the slate clean of Affleck and any remnants of cartoony cheese. To coin an overused phrase, it was “gritty,” providing a street-level “view” of the crime, corruption, and charisma of Hell’s Kitchen post “The Incident” with aliens and Avengers. It was artful and honest, its characters authentic and endearing, and set the tone, as well as the bar, for each show that followed. And while I personally enjoyed Daredevil’s second outing, some thought it was a step down, particularly as suffering from too much setup of things to come and a divisive characterization of Elektra. But in either case, season three (which premiered on Netflix on October 19) has been widely lauded as a return to form, and I couldn’t agree more.
It was that personal, street-level point of view and focus on character that really connected with people the first time round, and season three brings Murdock back down to, and even below, that earth. In archetypical hero’s journey fashion, Matt has been dropped into the very depths of hell following his auspicious survival. Washed up bloodied, broken, and barely breathing, he finds his way to back to his roots, at the very orphanage he grew up in, cared for by the very nun who raised him. Though his body begins to heal, his soul is shattered, and the arc of the season truly focuses on Matt coming to terms with who and what he is. New showrunner Erik Oleson masterfully runs Matt through the ringer, burying him physically in the bowels of a church and emotionally in a suicidal depression, railing against man, god, and himself. Loosely inspired my Frank Miller’s “Born Again” comic, Oleson works the story into the Marvel TV universe, adding a depth and nuance rarely seen, and beautifully executed.
One of my biggest issues with both Luke Cage and Iron Fist is that both shows focused far too much on the characters surrounding the hero, and not on the hero itself (one might argue Daredevil S2 suffered similarly). And while this season certainly gives each character their due along the way, the focus is, as it should be, on our titular hero. In Charlie Cox’s three years in the role, he’s succeeded in giving Matt a humanity and vulnerability, but also a seething, underlying rage kept simmering under the surface and under control. But now, finally, he’s able to let that out, mining more of the character’s issues with his religion, his family, and his sense of self. Cox traces a clear throughline across Matt’s journey, and rarely misses a step. But his greatest scenes undoubtedly stem from his collaboration with Joanne Whalley as Sister Maggie. Their repartee is not only witty and layered, but offer the most genuine philosophical discussions, without feeling preachy or heavy-handed. Their respectful but contentious relationship crackles, and as it evolves, becomes simply more and more fascinating.
I hadn’t seen Whalley in years (though apparently she’s been working steadily, per IMBD), and it look me a few episodes to even realize it was her! And I have to say, I really never thought she had it in her. While I enjoyed her movies of the 80s and 90s, I never pegged her as a particularly impressive actress. But she slapped me straight with her amazingly grounded performance, finding such a unique and skillful balance between hardass nun and empathetic soul. And while I’m not entirely sure she was told her character’s biggest reveal from the beginning, Whalley still manages to thread a seamless arc through a heartbreaking and emotional narrative.
The external threats come in the form of returning villain Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) and new addition Wilson Bethel as Benjamin “Dex” Poindexter. Fisk, limited in season 2, embodies that same return to season one. He uses his menacing intellect to orchestrate what amounts to a legal escape, and proceeds to masterfully set up his chess pieces in what feels like a quite inevitable checkmate—motivated in large part by the relationship with his love Vanessa, also established in S1. D’Onofrio, like Cox, imbues his character with that underlying and ever-present rage, and what separates hero from villain is quite often more about its judicious release than its existence. While season one kept Fisk to the shadows, season three provides a detailed exploration of his calculated menace and manipulation, proven in perhaps no better way than his turning of troubled-but-dutiful FBI agent Dex into the murderous lackey Bullseye.
Perhaps it’s a requirement for the show, but Bethel finds his own unique way of demonstrating the boiling rage and killer instinct that is fueled and nurtured by Fisk in a psychotic sort of father-son dynamic. And while it might seem to be treading old ground at this point, the fact that each of the three characters shares such an underlying issue is no coincidence. With Dex impersonating Daredevil several times, we can clearly see what might have been had Murdock let loose his own inner demons. The inevitable clash of the three, culminating in a climactic tri-brawl, holds much metaphorical significance without feeling exaggerated.
It might even be argued that Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) fits as a fourth to that trio, as her own demons come back to haunt her, and her buried rage and pain begins to surface. Not only are the consequences of her killing James Wesley from season 1 finally addressed, but the backstory of her experience with the life-changing death that led her to Matt and co., is given its due. Karen is caught in the middle of various extremes, dealing with Matt’s disappearance and resurrection, her desire to bring Fisk to justice, and the threat of her secrets being exposed. Woll continues her nuanced portrayal, jumping somewhat effortlessly between myriad emotions, sometimes within the same scene, and expressing much of the tension and fear of the show while still holding firm to Karen’s steadfast courage of convictions.
Our final heroes include stalwart Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) and newbie Jay Ali as FBI agent Ray Nadeem. Foggy presents the ever-true innocence in contrast to the too-often cynical and world-weary Matt and Karen. It would be so easy for that character to feel trite, but somehow Henson keeps him both affable and sincere. And as per usual, Foggy ends up proving that he’s more than blind optimism, offering a slew of heartfelt and compelling arguments to just about everyone else on the show. And this time, he gets to prove his chops when he steps into the line of fire as a defense against it, growing the character and accepting a place of equality, even leadership, amongst the group.
As for Nadeem, he could easily have been one character too many in a crowded series, but they manage to make him both vital and sympathetic. His arc never quite went the direction I expected, turning just shy of predictable, and served as a hapless but noble cog being manipulated by everyone, and yet somehow ends up getting the best of them all.
Even with all these characters to service, the overall feel of the show is one of less restriction. Without having to set up Elektra, the Hand, the Punisher, etc., the show is free to keep a tighter, yet breezier focus. The action is still plentiful between conversations, and feels rawer, dirtier—again, more akin to the first season.
It’s become an almost expectation for Daredevil to have at least one mind-blowing, mostly single-shot brawl, and this year’s clears the bar with ease. Matt’s (not Daredevil’s) prison fight against a dozen or so inmates is not only epic in its execution, but also in its relevancy to the story. While a standout, it is one of many amazing action sequences that feel character-driven, revealing the people involved through their movements and actions. As such, Bullseye establishes himself throughout as a serious threat, exceeding Matt in skill and using any object in reach with such deadly precision that even Matt’s heightened senses prove often inadequate.
While it may certainly feel like my constant references to the first season prove the latest to be little more than a rehash, that couldn’t be further from my intent. The connections are both a compliment and a strength. This season is a return to form, and an extension of the most positive elements of the series as a whole. My hope is that if you enjoyed the first, but have been less enamored with subsequent entries, you’ll give this one a chance. While Matt Murdock may be the Man Without Fear, I’m certainly scared that with the way Netflix is going with their Marvel shows, if we don’t support them when they do it right, we may not get another chance.
YANG: Sorry to Bother You
Writer/Director Boots Riley describes his film as “beautiful clutter,” and I’m hard pressed to find a better description. Blending timely social commentary, dramatic absurdity, and understated comedy with a touch of sci-fi whimsy and political satire, Sorry to Bother You is hard to pin down. And to be honest, I’m still not sure if it’s a work of utter genius or epic nonsense. Probably both.
While this is Riley’s first film, it’s hardly his first foray into personal expression. Known primarily for his musical performing and producing, he’s also a staunch activist, lending his voice and clout to a number of noble causes for nearly three decades now. With his debut film, he assembles an impressive cast to take on a number of social issues in his own . . . unique . . . way.
The movie stars Lakeith Stanfield (probably best known from Get Out and Atlanta) as Cassius Green, an everyman struggling in the rat race for a job, a home, and to keep up with his beautiful artist girlfriend, Detroit (played by Tessa Thompson). Cassius hustles his way into a job as a telemarketer, but finds it far more challenging, and less profitable, than he anticipated. Things change, however, when a colleague (played by Danny Glover) advises him to adopt a “white voice” (played by David Cross) in order ingratiate himself to his customers and, lo and behold, it works! Cassius’ sales skyrocket, and his trajectory sends him all the way to the top as one of the elite “power callers” with a far broader reach than even he could have imagined.
Now, Riley could have simply left it there, and you would have had plenty of racial and corporate fodder to enable 90 minutes of commentary. But Riley hardly seems one to let things lie or play it safe. It would take far too long, and spoil far too much, to describe in detail every element, so here’s a short breakdown of subjects touched upon: union rights, corporate ethics, the trappings of money, greed and excess, artistic integrity, love and devotion, the dumbing down of America, violent delights, fleeting fame, and genetic engineering. And believe me, there’s more.
It’s enough to logically ask if it’s really too much—and that’s hard to say. Riley directs with a broad, artistic hand, using his canvas to splatter decades’ worth of observations into one overarching story. Which, in truth, he does. As seemingly disparate as each grain of sand here is, they do add up to a castle. The problem is, upon seeing the finished work, the sand sifts once again through our fingers, leaving the audience to struggle to contain what we just witnessed.
I have no doubt that as an artist, that’s exactly the sort of reaction Riley would want. He wants you to think about it, to digest it, to explore it, to make your own sense of it. And there’s something to be said for that artistic license. It’s experimental and challenging, and whether you respect that or think it’s utter nonsense, you’re probably right. If the latter, you’ll likely never want to see this film again; but if the former, it definitely feels like the sort of movie that insists upon multiple viewings before you can even begin to truly internalize it all.
However you feel about the finished product, the ensemble assembled is a remarkable feat for a first-time director.
Aside from those mentioned, we see Terry Crews, Steven Yuen (The Walking Dead), Armie Hammer (Call Me by Your Name), Patton Oswalt, Lily James, and Forest Whitaker, to name but a few. They all seemed to hop aboard eager to bring Riley’s vision to life, and all give excellent, eccentric performances. Stanfield and Thompson are particular standouts as the stars and driving forces of the film. Stanfield exudes a boyish vulnerability that instantly garners sympathy, and we root for him even as he treads down the darker path. Stanfield manages to balance that innocence with a sly comic wit, pushing the line just outside of our reality to help the audience buy into theirs.
Thompson continues to choose diverse and interesting projects that rebel against pigeonholing. As Detroit, she walks a fine line as both disparager and participant of the duplicitousness of fame and fortune. The scene of her “performance art” encapsulates not only the daring of her choices as an actress, but the overall ridiculousness of the film itself.
At the core, each character is really given a choice (or set of choices), and how subdued or extravagant their lives become are direct consequences of such. Cassius continues to choose the path in contrast to his true self, and as such, by the end of the film, has his true self revealed at the very same time it is physically stolen from him. While not everyone has such a transformation, each does change in significant ways, and leads us to question what we might have done in these same extreme circumstances. And that alone may be the film’s greatest Coup.
Love it, hate it, or dismiss it, Sorry to Bother You does its best to elicit and entertain. It’s funny, disturbing, dramatic, well-acted, and artistically directed. That alone makes it worthy of endorsement. And if all the rest, or even some small part, speaks to you, then the film will have made the impact that Riley intended. This definitely isn’t a film for everyone, and I wondered more than once what I’d gotten myself into here, but it made me think, and question, and wonder while it placated me with heart and humor, and in the end, isn’t that really what it’s supposed to be all about?