With Netflix taking the Daredevil character and weaving television gold with it, it’s easy to forget that Ben Affleck movie based on the character and the Elektra spinoff it led to even exist. With 2003’s Daredevil and 2007’s Ghost Rider, Mark Steven Johnson has the unfortunate distinction of helming not one but two disappointing Marvel movies. At the time of those films being released, the world of the Marvel Universe was a much smaller one and each foray into their characters was handled through different studios without any connection whether due to legal reasons or a lack of foresight. Time is not often kind to this kind of movie but is there a case that can be made that Daredevil isn’t a dog of a movie but rather one which just came out at the wrong time?
Unfortunately for Daredevil, time hasn’t aged it like a fine wine. More like eggs left out in the sun. It is very much a product of its time with music from acts like Hoobastank, Seether, Nickelback, House of Pain, Fuel, and most glaringly, Evanescence. Not timeless music under the best of circumstances, the soundtrack makes the film feel dated without considering the way they’re used with the moving image. In 2003 the only real Marvel movies in the rotation were Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and Bryan Singer’s X-Men, so a little leeway has to be given for this foray into the world of the Man Without Fear. In many ways, this film feels like a child of those two which came before, focusing on emulating the source material and finding a way to make the then-modern technology work for them. It was the early days of the modern superhero film and it shows.
The movie feels uncomfortable in its own skin, forcing CGI into scenes that don’t need them, relying on far too many Dutch angles, and presenting a color palette that brings out the worst in the surprisingly pedestrian directorial style. There’s a very stagey feel to the dialogue scenes which is made worse when some truly great character actors are on hand. Joe Pantoliano as Ben Urich could have been fun but his ridiculous headwear makes it impossible to enjoy his performance. Michael Clarke Duncan was an inspired choice to play the villainous Kingpin but he’s given precious little to work with. Jon Favreau is an ideal Foggy Nelson, a role he basically repurposed with his Happy Hogan in the Iron Man movies, but he’s acting in a different film than Ben Affleck is. Jennifer Garner looks fantastic but her dialogue is generic and she seems more like a device than an actual character. Of everyone in the film only Colin Farrell seems to realize that whether intended or not, Daredevil is pulp. His over-the-top performance is the only one that resonates above one dimension.
Then there is Ben Affleck. This is another instance where timing means everything. Ben Affleck in 2016 is the perfect actor to play Batman. Especially the weary, older Batman of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. He has the mileage and the years in the spotlight behind him. He’s had amazing highs and embarrassing lows and has come out on top. That mileage informs his every acting instinct. In Daredevil Ben Affleck is in the middle of his “movie star” phase. After his initial success, he took seemingly every role offered him and the resulting nine films in three years took their toll, especially considering how few actually were hits. The actor looks dazed here, in over his head. His Matt Murdock always looks on the verge of tears, which is an odd way to play blind. There’s no mileage on Affleck’s odometer and it makes it very difficult for him to sell Daredevil’s darker, intimidating nature.
This was before the stakes were raised in the genre. Spider-Man 2 and X-Men 2 were huge steps forward for the genre. They elevated the medium to something above niche. They helped bridge the gap between the nerds and the masses. Daredevil is in an unfortunate spot in that roadmap. It tries to shoehorn itself into the conversation and with a $75,000,000 budget it should have fit just fine. But to pay respects to the comic books that inspire and inform the film requires more than naming minor characters after comic book celebrities and recreating poses from the covers. It requires an understanding of the fire that drives these characters and the conflicts that make them seminal. Mark Steven Johnson, as writer and director, has no one else to blame. This is a tone deaf telling of the Daredevil story with a cast that never reaches the level required to make the story sing onscreen.
The movie came at a time when the medium and the world wasn’t ready for an authentic Daredevil. The CGI models never feel like real people, nor does the forced computer-assisted camerawork. Even the costumes are born out of a time where Hollywood hadn’t figured it all out yet. As a result, the film is an important cultural signpost between then and now. It’s too bad the film isn’t better but had it come in a post-Batman Begins world there wouldn’t nearly have been such an effort to make the character feel like Spider-Man or Wolverine or even Batman. It’s not a good film but it had a lot conspiring against it even under the best circumstances.
Luckily, time has given us a proper Daredevil and maybe, just maybe, this had to happen to make it so. In that case let us give this incarnation of the character a little bit of forgiveness. It knew not what it was.
What it gets right
- Foggy Nelson.
- “Daredevil Vision” is kind of neat.
- They spelled everyone’s name correctly in the credits.
What it gets wrong
- The costumes are disappointing.
- The music is atrocious.
- The action scenes are poor carbon copies of Matrix and Spider-Man.
- It steals the superficial elements from the comics but never digs deeper.
- The cast is based on who was hot at the time rather than who made sense.