The Class of 2003: Revisiting Daredevil

Daredevil hit theaters on February 14, 2003 just after Spider-Man, Blade and X-Men, in a time when Marvel was so desperate for cash that they sold all the film rights to their characters to different studios. I can remember going to the theater to see the movie as a wide-eyed 13 year old who knew only the very basics about Marvel’s characters and even less about film. It’s been ten years since that film came out, and I can say with the utmost confidence that I haven’t seen it since. I can’t quite recall what I thought of it at the time, but I assume I liked it because I was a stupid 13 year old. Ten years later and now that I know a thing or two more about comics and movies (and to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the flick), I decided to revisit the film.

The Good

There are three performances in this film that stand out as nearly perfect in terms of a comic adaptation. Ben Affleck is a terrific Matt Murdock. He looks the part, he sounds like the character, he has the mannerisms down, and you buy that this guy is a blind-lawyer/superhero. Another is Joe Pantoliano as Ben Urich. Urich is the kind of character that fans know well and the fact that he’s included in the film makes me happy enough that I can almost stomach the rest of the movie’s nonsense. The only other performance that is noteworthy is Jon Favreau as Foggy Nelson. Favreau is perfect in the role, on par with J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson, it’s just unfortunate that he doesn’t get any dramatic moments (I guess they were saving those for the sequel).
 
Visually, the film does a lot of things really well. The opening shot of Daredevil holding the cross, straight from the cover of the ‘Guardian Devil’ storyline, is fantastic and starts to give you hope that the rest of the movie will be just as awesome (it’s not). I will also admit that (while obviously dated effects-wise) the ‘radar sense’ looks pretty good. Sure, it would be even better now, but it’s no worse than anything in Terminator 3 or The Matrix Reloaded (released the same year). The fight choreography is also really well done at times. While Affleck throws down a few swings in the fight sequences that don’t look like the way Daredevil would actually move, most of his actions really look like Hornhead. 
 
The Bad
 
The opening credits to the film, while clever, are quite atrocious. It was a good idea on the part of whoever to have the actors names start out as braille and then transition to English, but this coupled with the generic opening music are laughable. Opening titles should set up the film, give the audience a feel for what the dynamic of the movie will be or at least encompass the themes in a short concise manner and Daredevil‘s credits utterly fail at it. All you get from the opening credits are that this movie will feature a blind person and take place in a city (and with a brighter resolution would make for great titles to a rom-com).
 
In favor of an actual score to propel the movie along, the director settled for using a plethora of awful songs from the time as the film’s primary source of music. The soundtrack to this movie sucks. It’s not that I didn’t like all of the songs being used (though I didn’t) they’re all just inserted so poorly. None of the songs fit thematically with the narrative whenever they’re plugged into the film. What’s even worse is that it appears these scenes are filmed specifically for the songs chosen, easily one third of this film is shot and edited like a terrible music video.
 
Remember when I said “the fight choreography is also really well done at times”? Well “at times” is the key phrase in that sentence. Though the sequences of Affleck as Daredevil beating up criminals are really good, there are some scenes where the fights are complete garbage. His initial fight with the bullies when he is a kid is pretty bad, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the “playground fight.” You know which one. Matt Murdock and Elektra engage in a playful fight on a playground and it’s one of the most out-of-place and godawful things I’ve seen in a film that had “Marvel” at the beginning (and I saw Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance at the theater!).
 
All these other things simply stacked up over time and were really noticed based on the absolute worst thing about this film: the script. The first act of this movie is fine enough. It works within the mythos of Daredevil and sets up the rest of Matt’s life really well, but as a whole it makes no sense. Things happen in the movie for no reason and characters automatically learn information they didn’t know beforehand at the drop of a hat – it’s sloppy and nonsensical. Looking at the notes I took during my re-watch, the one that stands out is “An hour in and the plot is still barely forming” and it’s absolutely true. After fifty-five minutes you can still only see threads of where the plot is going and how it all ties together. There are almost three movies worth of story in this film, each ripped apart to fit in room for the other.
 
The final “bad” straw that broke this blind camel’s back is their butchering of Daredevil’s morality. In the film, he willingly kills two people and doesn’t feel any remorse at all. They do know this was supposed to be a Daredevil movie right?
 
The Ugly
 
(Editor’s note: ‘The ugly’ section reflects moments that, while bad, make you just shake your head and groan at the film.)
 
I can appreciate Easter eggs in a movie. Think of the countless hidden gems in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or The CW’s new series Arrow. Where do these Easter eggs differ from Daredevil‘s? Subtlety, they’re trying far too hard and want you to think with these names that this is a good movie. When you have characters name off famous Daredevil writers and artists as character names it sounds out of place and pandering to those of us that know who they are. I’m fine with the Stan Lee, Frank Miller, and Kevin Smith cameos, but just dropping “Bendis” and “Quesada” as casual names sticks out like a sore thumb and forces an eye-roll.
 
You can’t blame the movie for not trying at times though, because they certainly came up with some great ideas, but their execution more often than not was lackluster. Daredevil’s water tank bed for instance. Having Murdock submerged in a tank so that he can actually get to sleep isn’t a bad idea, but this coupled with the ridiculous decor of his apartment shows they were trying to hard to make Murdock look like Bruce Wayne. If there’s one character Daredevil isn’t (besides The Punisher), it’s Batman.
Another failed attempt that was one of the funniest moments in the film goes back to the radar vision. I said it looks great, and it does, but there are moments in the film where thanks to his heightened sense he can ‘see’ aromas. Both the smell from a fresh plate of food and the smoke of a cigarette show up on his radar sense. Are you kidding me?
 
But the absolute ugliest thing about this movie: Colin Farrell as Bullseye. Yes, Bullseye is a psychopath, but Farrell plays him with the kind of over-the-top feel that is a stereotype of what a character in a comic book should be. Between balancing on a moving motorcycle and running around on organ pipes from Daredevil, it’s one of the most absurd and stupid performances I’ve seen in a comic book movie.
 
The Verdict
 
Sometimes people say it’s better to have a bad “____” movie than no movie at all. I’ve heard this argument for the Green Lantern movie countless times (that’s a whole other article altogether). I will concede that even though this is a terrible movie, I’m okay with it being out there. The things they get wrong don’t really tread on the mythos of the character (killing people aside). Daredevil is by no means a good movie, it has its moments, but at its core it is simply trying too hard to be other films instead of its own movie. You can see the seeds of Spider-Man, The Matrix, X-Men, and countless other movies in its DNA and that is how this movie should be remembered, not as a failed Daredevil movie but a failed action movie that was a product of its time. Marvel now owns the film rights to Daredevil again and I’m confident that they can do Ol’ Hornhead justice, because we all know he needs it.