Should I Watch..? 'Daredevil'
What's the big deal?
Daredevil is an action superhero film released in 2003 and marks the debut feature film of the Marvel character of the same name. The film stars Ben Affleck as blind lawyer Matt Murdock who lives a double life as street-fighting vigilante Daredevil. The film also stars Jennifer Garner, Colin Farrell, Michael Clarke Duncan and Jon Favreau. The film would go on to earn more than $179 million worldwide and generate enough interest for the 2005 spin-off Elektra - however, the reviews for the movie were decidedly mixed, to say the least with Affleck in particular receiving the brunt of the criticism. A director's cut was released the following year which was received a bit better but interest in reviving the character remained dormant until Netflix's much-heralded TV series starring Charlie Cox as the Man Without Fear was released in 2015.
What's it about?
After being blinded by toxic waste as a child, Matt Murdock soon discovers that his other senses have heightened to the point where he develops a sonar-type vision. Growing up in Hell's Kitchen, Matt eventually becomes a lawyer alongside his friend and legal partner "Foggy" Nelson. But by night, Matt fights injustice on the streets as the masked vigilante Daredevil who has vowed to stop all crime in Hell's Kitchen after his father was murdered by vengeful mobsters.
Matt meets with the beautiful Elektra Natchios whose businessman father Nikolas is dealing with local executive Wilson Fisk, also known as the criminal Kingpin. After trying to back out of a deal with Fisk, Nikolas is murdered by Fisk's henchman Bullseye who manages to frame Matt for the killing. With Elektra swearing vengeance, Matt has no choice but to tackle Fisk and Bullseye head-on as Daredevil while the dark forces around them circle ever closer...
Matt Murdock / Daredevil
Michael Clarke Duncan
Wilson Fisk / The Kingpin
Franklin "Foggy" Nelson
Mark Steven Johnson
Mark Steven Johnson
Release Date (UK)
14th February, 2003
Action, Crime, Superhero, Thriller
Razzie Award Nomination (2010)
Worst Actor Of The Decade (Affleck)
Worst Actor (Affleck) *
What's to like?
OK - let's look at this logically.
Given that Daredevil is a comic book character who features in comic books primarily read by a younger section of society than you, it stands to reason that the film should maintain the same comic-book style. And indeed, it does - characters are about as one-dimensional as their illustrated counterparts and played with tongues firmly in cheek. The only exception to this rule is Garner as deadly eye-candy Elektra. Maybe she didn't get the memo or something but her stoic portrayal as the Obvious Love Interest was enough for her to reprise in the Elektra spin-off.
Other than that, this decidedly ropey adaption is a real mess with action scenes feeling ponderous and too infrequent (certainly compared to the recent TV revival, which is both bloody and more exciting) and the cast feeling only token interest in proceedings. Yes, Affleck looks OK when he's in the costume and roughing up the baddies but as Murdock, he never convinces. Whereas someone like Christian Bale got Bruce Wayne and Batman spot-on in the Dark Knight trilogy, Affleck's first foray into comic adaptations illustrate just how suspect the genre was until Marvel started getting things right with its Marvel Cinematic Universe concept.
- This film was released five years before Iron Man, the film which kick-started the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and the current success of Marvel's present output. The director of Iron Man was none other than Jon Favreau who also appeared in that film as Happy Hogan.
- In the comics, the Kingpin is white whereas Duncan was African-American. However, the original design for the character in the comics was for Kingpin to be African-American but this was scrapped due to the racial sensitivities at the time.
- Vin Diesel was one of a number of actors considered for the lead role but he opted to star in Pitch Black instead, ironically playing a character that has enhanced eyesight.
What's not to like?
While Affleck looks the part in his red leather, the same cannot be said for the others. Duncan embodies the style of Kingpin but nothing else while Garner and Farrell look as awkward as they do uncomfortable. The script is unmemorable and particularly bone-headed with little quotable dialogue for anyone and is also happy to play fast-and-loose with the source material. It isn't even that great to watch as a lot of the film seems to have its big fight scenes at night and despite being shot in downtown LA as opposed to Hell's Kitchen, there isn't enough light to make the movie appealing.
Obviously, comparing the film to a more modern updating isn't going to do the film any favours. The TV show feels as though real care and attention was paid to the characters and it also has the advantage of having the time to exploring the backgrounds of not just Murdock but Fisk as well. Casting is also much better - Vincent D'Onofrio is perfect as Fisk while Charlie Cox is growing into the role of Daredevil nicely. But that MCU brand is worth its weight in gold - it gives the show an authentic feel, linking it up to not just other Marvel TV shows like Agents Of SHIELD but movies like Avengers Assemble as well. This, by contrast, feels like a quick money-grabber from a studio desperate to cash-in on the rights.
Should I watch it?
Daredevil suffered the twin misfortunes of being released shortly before Marvel got their act together and before the much-better TV series was produced. But even without these factors taken into consideration, the film is a boring and pointless addition to the superhero genre. Affleck, Garner and Farrell are beyond bad in their respective roles while the film itself is about as exciting as making a cup of tea but nowhere near as satisfying. The director's cut is probably better but then again, I'd rather tie a tablecloth around my neck and call myself Thor than give this a second try.
Great For: forgiving fans of the character, visually-impaired viewers (the audio description probably makes it sound better than it is)
Not So Great For: action fans, lovers of Marvel's Cinematic Universe, superhero adaptations, Affleck's reputation
What else should I watch?
Until Marvel launched their vast MCU project in multiplexes the world over, superhero films had much more of a chequered success rate. For every hit like X-Men or Spider-Man, there would be another that made you question your faith like The Punisher or Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer. They were either good or utter rubbish but that all changed once Robert Downey Jr appeared in shiny red metal and blew stuff up as Tony Stark in 2008's Iron Man.
But before you suggest that every Marvel Studios effort since is faultless brilliance, I'm afraid that I can produce contrary evidence faster than Stan Lee can say "excelsior". Neither Thor or its sequel The Dark World are what I'd call stone-cold classics and I never had much enthusiasm for Ant-Man either. Even the sequel to the billion-dollar Avengers movie - Age Of Ultron - had weak links here and there, surprising for a film with so much expectation riding on it. Of course, Marvel have hits as well but there are worrying signs that laziness is creeping into the production of some films. A good film needs more than a popular hero's name in the title, as this dross proves...
© 2016 Benjamin Cox