This is one review – or post – I’ve been putting off writing. It still seems like the mere mention of the Daredevil movie, which came out in 2003, tends to incite quite a bit of controversy and even my own feelings about it are mixed. On the one hand, I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for this movie (specifically the Director’s Cut) and will forever be grateful for that. On the other hand, being deeply entrenched in the “comicverse” at this point, my feelings about the movie have changed. I still feel that the strong points barely balance out the weak, and I still like the movie okay. Just not as much as I used to.
Before going on, I should also mention that when I say “movie,” I mean the Director’s Cut. While the original theatrical release wasn’t, in my opinion, quite as bad as a lot of people make it out to be, there’s no doubt that it was a butchered and much weaker version of what could have been a pretty big hit. I would even go as far as to say that the “before and after” versions of the editing process should be shown to film students as a lesson in the dangers of poor editing. The real movie, the longer version, is the one I will be talking about here. Let’s start with the bad, shall we?
Mistake #1 – Scenes whose only purpose is to look cool or be fun
It starts with the scene in the subway when Ben Urich throws his cigarette on the ground and the Daredevil logo comes alive in flames. This was apparently a tribute to The Crow, according to director Mark Steven Johnson. Is it cool? Not really. Does it belong in this movie? Definitely not. Not only is it completely out of character for Daredevil, the reasoning behind leaving that kind of calling card is better suited to a megalomaniacal villain than to a superhero who likes to operate below the radar.
Which brings us to the infamous playground scene. This is the scene that prevents me from recommending this movie to friends who are not as sold on the superhero concept as I am. That is, people who would not be as forgiving of the cheese factor that is so common in this type of flick. I must admit that I cringe every time I see this scene. It’s illogical, completely goes against the feel of the movie thus far and is not well executed.
Oh, and while I’m at it. The sensory deprivation tank? No, not doing it for me. I think it was included to communicate to the audience how much he’s negatively affected by his heightened senses, but it just looked goofy to me.
Mistake #2 – Lazy errors
By this I mean things like Matt and Foggy acting as prosecutors in the case against José Quesada (or at least appearing to). They are defense attorneys, plain and simple. This would have worked if the case in question had been a civil case, but there is nothing here to indicate that. This kind of mistake is sloppy and counter-intuitive. More importantly, it is 100% avoidable. Check your facts people!
Mistake #3 – Gratuitous use of CGI
It feels like they were going for a Spidey feel here, and decided to pour a ton of money on the CGI team for no good reason at all. Yes, Daredevil is capable of daring feats that at times strike us as somewhat gravity-defying. However, not even in the comic is he ever seen making jumps quite as wide as the ones in the movie, and he shouldn’t be able to land from those kinds of heights without breaking his legs. Daredevil is not Spider-man. This is one area where a little more realism would have been a good thing and would have actually made the movie more faithful to the source material.
Mistake #4 – Trying to do everything at the same time
There are plenty of nods to the comics in this movie, and many scenes are extremely faithful to the source material. But, it also seems like Mark Steven Johnson tried to cram too many elements into one storyline to the point where many of them are only superficially explored. If you want to do the Elektra saga, then do it. Don’t take Elektra, rework her whole origin and history and attach her to a storyline that doesn’t quite do her justice. I would have rather left Elektra out of this movie and then done the Elektra saga in a sequel. Then again, I’m not a hardcore Elektra fan. I like Miller’s work as much as everyone else, but I feel that more attention could have been given to fleshing out the main character (the inclusion of Stick would have also seemed appropriate). The Elektra saga was the core of his first groundbreaking run on the book, but since the movie didn’t really follow that particular storyline anyway… Well, you get my point.
Mistake #5 – Dialogue
Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of good dialogue in this movie. There are also plenty of cheesy oneliners and scenes that just seem forced. “Justice is blind, but it can be heard.” It’s one of those lines that sound good, but it don’t actually mean anything when you think about it. “Justice is served” is another one that just sounds cheesy, along with most other instances of the word “justice” being spoken in a hiss through the main character’s gritted teeth.
Mistake #6 – The death in the subway
This didn’t bother me when I first saw the movie, since I had no prior knowledge of the character. But it does bother me as a fan of the comic. Daredevil has always been portrayed as a non-killer. This is an important aspect of the character since he so frequently engages in fairly brutal violence. He draws the line at taking another’s life and even goes so far as to save the lives of his worst enemies. That is not to say that he’s not theoretically capable of killing someone, and that he hasn’t been close to crossing the line, but leaving a rapist to die the way he did in the movie was clearly out of character.
Considering everything that’s “wrong” with this movie, I’m surprised that I still like it. So what are some of the movie’s saving graces?
Good point #1 – The origin (well, most of it anyway)
The origin is lacking in many respects. The accident no longer being the result of an act of heroism doesn’t bother me at all, but the very early death of Jack Murdock and the absence of Stick leaves a pretty big hole. What happened to Matt between Jack’s death and college and how exactly did he learn to fight like that just playing by himself? Nevertheless, I like most of the scenes from Matt’s youth, and the interaction between him and Jack really works. The movie manages to really sell the bond between father and son and Jack is exactly as he should be.
Good point #2 – Foggy
Yeah, I know he comes across as a little more crass and “lawyer-like” than he does in the comic, but Jon Favreau has great comedic timing and all of his scenes are very entertaining. However, if they ever make another Daredevil movie, I would prefer that it’s set after Foggy knows about Matt secretly being Daredevil since that makes their relationship much more believable. Still, Foggy works well here in his role as concerned friend/comic relief.
Good point #3 – Bullseye
Some people though Colin Farrell’s Bullseye was downright ridiculous while others felt he was the only good thing about this movie. Personally, I think he really nailed the character and I’m a big fan of his introductory scene. Funny and viciously cold at the same time.
Good point #4 – Costumes and the lack thereof
Costumes always look good in comic books, but are notoriously difficult to recreate for a live action film. I’m not too sure about the mask, but I really like the rest of Daredevil’s costume in this movie. I also like the fact that he’s the only one in costume. This movie seems to strive for a real world feel (though see my complaints about the CGI above), and in that respect it’s a good idea to use costumes sparingly. If you can’t make Bullseye’s costume look less than laughable, then it’s a good thing to leave it be completely.
Good point #5 – Being a superhero hurts
The Matt of the comics is more likely to meditate than take prescription pain killers, but this movie is pretty good at communicating that he is very much a regular person when it comes to being injured. If you cut him, he bleeds, and it’s bound to hurt too. Too bad this kind of realism couldn’t have spilled over into a better use of CGI. Did I just complain about the CGI again? Yes, I did.
Good point #6 – The score
I’m okay with the soundtrack to this movie. Lots of people aren’t and I agree that there are some songs that don’t feel like they really belong. However, the score by Graeme Revell is perfect all the way and beautifully complements some of the more touching scenes.
Good point #7 – He’s a superhero and he’s blind
This is one of those points that the comic book creators don’t have to worry much about. They could if they wanted to, but since comics are told in stills, artists don’t have to think too hard about how the characters move from one little panel to the next. When making a movie, you have to capture all of that. So how does someone who navigates by non-traditional means actually move? Well, I think this movie nails that part pretty well. And Affleck isn’t half bad a playing blind either. Too bad his cane is too short to even reach the ground in some scenes, but that’s nitpicking, I suppose. Or not.
Good point #8 – Overall plot and pacing
This is a point that, more than any other, is only true of the Director’s Cut. The longer version actually has a plot in which all the dots connect, which can’t be said for the version that was released in theaters.
After all is said and done, I find more things to like than dislike about this movie, while still being understanding of those who feel that it was utter garbage. There are plenty of things that don’t work. For many people, even one of these things might be enough to sink the whole film. I suppose there is much more I could say about the Daredevil movie, but I think I’ll stop here. I might revisit it again in the future.