I started watching Daredevil Season 2 and so far the choreography doesn’t seem very good, mostly random backflips magical chain-whipping and punching already down opponents in the face for no practical reason. Am I missing something major or does it just get way better further in?

Yeah, you’re confusing flash for substance, and then looking for flash. The TV series skews hard towards actual combat concerns, rather than creating superficially good looking fights, it’s showing plausible ones (if you can get past the superheros shrugging off inhuman amounts of punishment and that the people they’re punching should probably be dead).

There’s a lot of stuff there that’s mostly authentic to how fights actually shake out. Including considerations like the idea that just because someone’s on the ground, doesn’t mean they’re going to stay there. Which is what the punching downed foes is about.

Also, someone connecting with a chain that heavy will wreck you. It’s actually rather telling that you don’t often see stunt performers messing around with chains. These things are just about as dangerous as films and TV will suggest, and there’s no easy way to whiff strikes with them. The last time Michi says she saw someone use a chain that heavy in their fight scenes was Sylvester Stallone in Expendables 2. He kept the pair of them several feet away from Van Damme in their fight scene for obvious reasons. Those are the same reasons why Van Damme didn’t take the jump wheel kicks anywhere near his head. You’re looking at the kind of stunts meant for movies with a movie budget rather than television. The same is true when they do a flip and “land” on the guy. When doing tricks and flips on a television budget, you’ll often see the stunt performers giving whoever is doing it a wide berth. This is for safety reasons due to the danger both to the performer if the trick goes wrong and the fact that no one wants 180-220 pounds of dead weight to fall on them. They really don’t want it when followed by the incredible amount of kinetic force which you need to carry you through a flip. With the stunts, we’re looking at a show that has budgeted for near movie quality fight scenes or they’re very good at making the most of what they have.

Another thing you didn’t mention is the slight sloppiness that saturates the combat. I can see why that sloppiness might throw you off. In theory, this is something you’d usually chastise the choreographer for. In theory, you want everything to look sharp and clean. But, that kind of sloppiness is actually how real combat looks with trained combatants. It’s there as a deliberate design aesthetic at work here. It feeds into the authenticity, but it also feeds into the thematic nature of Daredevil as a character. The superhero who is fraying at the edges and deteriorating in front of you as a result of his crusade.

The other big thing with Daredevil’s choreography, and it’s easy to miss if you don’t realize what it entails, are those long shots. When you’re shooting a film or TV series, you get your stunt performers in, and they’ll shoot pieces of a fight, then you splice it together in editing. This can easily take all day, because you’ll shoot each punch and parry a couple times, then thread the whole thing together in editing. It’s easy for the stunt actors, because they just need to hit their marks, then they can take a few minutes to recover, while everyone resets the scene.

When you start stacking up techniques in a single shot, it gets trickier, because instead of needing to perform one or two techniques, they need to nail everything in that shot. The longer the shot goes, the harder it becomes, because your stunt actors need to go through the entire shot, before they can take a break.

What you’ll then see in Daredevil are continuous shots that never cut away. For a stunt actor, this stuff is murderous. They all need to get the choreography right, or they have to do the whole thing over again. This is also very strenuous physical activity. Think of a fight like a sprint, rather than a marathon. You’re going all out as hard as you can, as fast as you can. When it’s one or two blows, that’s pretty easy to manage, and recover from, but when you’re following someone down a staircase? When you’ve got minutes of screen time without any cuts? That’s some seriously impressive work from the entire team. Combine that with actors in costumes that severely restrict their ability to see, and working with legitimately difficult weapon elements, and the entire thing becomes really impressive, from a technical standpoint.

Seriously, the stunt performers on that show are fantastic. They’ve got some very difficult material to work with, and they’re turning out quality results. The choreography probably isn’t what you expect from a superhero show, but it is some of the best on TV.

-Starke

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