Daredevil (2003) Re-post

This is the first time I've re-posted an article, but I can justify it in one way. Since Twentieth Century Fox has announced that Daredevil will be rebooted in the near future (release date TBA), the 2003 film has garnered some attention lately- but not in a good way. This post isn't a review- it's just a few observations that occurred to me regarding the much maligned flick.

2003
20th Century Fox

Directed by: Mark Steven Johnson
Main Cast:
Ben Affleck- Matt Murdock / Daredevil
Jennifer Garner – Elektra Natchios
Colin Farrell- Bullseye
Michael Clarke Duncan- Wilson Fisk

Background
Until recently, Daredevil, the longtime Marvel Comics character, was an unlikely candidate to get the big screen treatment. He was unknown to non-comic book readers, and even among hardcore comic fans his popularity had waxed and waned over the last four decades. Daredevil was a character that came to epitomize the grim ‘n gritty movement of the 1980’s in comics. Fortunately for Daredevil, one of his biggest fans was screenwriter / director Mark Steven Johnson who had a vision of presenting a mature, somewhat grim picture of what a superhero’s life would really be like. Johnson’s 2003 film adaptation of his favorite character contained many of the elements audiences had come to expect from superhero movies.
The superhero genre has certain conventions that make it unique within the larger action-adventure genre. Here are three major conventions that Daredevil includes:

The self-sacrificing hero - Matt Murdock is on a mission is to punish the guilty and protect the innocent. He pursues his single-minded goal (bordering on psychotic obsession) to avenge the murder of his father regardless of personal cost or danger.

Villains that are opposites of the hero - Murdock faces equally powerful adversaries in the villains Wilson Fisk a/k/a The Kingpin and his hired assassin Bullseye. While Murdock is the honest, justice-seeking hero, the two villains are immoral, ruthless killers who have no respect for society's laws.

Psychological subtext - As is the case with many modern superhero movies, Murdock is beset with a host of psychological issues that add depth and subtext to the story. First of all, he’s lonely because he keeps everyone at a distance in order to protect his secret life as a vigilante. He struggles to reconcile his ultra-violent superhero persona with his Catholic upbringing, wondering if he’s becoming as evil as the criminal scum he routinely bashes to a pulp. In the first act, we learn how the hero gained his powers- in this case; an accident that caused Matt Murdock’s blindness also heightened his sense of hearing. The incident that motivated Murdock to become a vigilante was one used before. It was similar to Spider-Man’s and Batman’s.

Main Review


Except for Blade, Daredevil was the darkest of any Marvel film up to that point. In fact, darkness plays an important role throughout the movie, both in the overall look and in its theme. Much of the film takes place at night. This is meant to disorient the viewer and give him a sense of what it’s like to live in Murdock’s world of eternal darkness. Darkness is Murdock’s ally. He can function quite well in the pitch-black night while his foes are blind- leveling the playing field, in a way. While the darkness gave the movie a suitably sinister feel, it left the viewer squinting in order to make out who’s who in the fight scenes.

The movie opens in a way that ‘s too similar to Spider-Man. The adult Murdock narrates a flashback that explains how he received his power. As with other superhero movies, this makes for a sluggish start. Why not show the origin in act II- in a dream or flashback? Why do filmmakers insist on explaining exactly how the hero got his powers? Other action genre movies don't have to explain how the hero began his career. If we see James Bond or Ethan Hunt (Mission Impossible) leap from building to building, we accept it without further explanation as to how he does it. Why should superheroes be any different?

The first appearance of the adult Murdock in the movie could be confusing for viewers not familiar with the character. The scene opens with Murdock emerging from a sensory deprivation tank that resembles a big metal coffin. Viewers unfamiliar with the character probably wonder if he’s part vampire or something. Why he needs the tank is never mentioned, so it’s left to the viewer to figure out why he sleeps that way. Turns out, he has to seal himself in because his “radar sense” hearing amplifies the slightest noise.

The movie's slow start is compounded by the lack of a suitable bad guy for Murdock to beat down. The first criminal that we see on the receiving end of Murdock’s vigilante justice is a scummy serial rapist. While he deserved the beating that Murdock handed out, the viewer does not have enough emotional connection with the rapist’s victim or enough hatred of the rapist to give the scene an emotional payoff.

Ultimately, Daredevil might not be remembered as one the best superhero movies, but it will be remembered for its two main supporting actors, Jennifer Garner and Colin Farrell. Garner, who was at the height of her Alias stardom, simply could not have looked any more toned, athletic and superhero-like than she does in this movie. There was not an actor at the time that had Garner's combination of radiant beauty, razor sharp martial arts ability and acting skills. Wearing skin-tight leather pants and halter top, and showing off sixpack abs that would make Olympic-level athletes jealous, Garner was born to play the sai-wielding, Elektra. Farrell, who attacked the role of psycho killer Bullseye with an over the top intensity, was just a year away from becoming an A-list star.

Comments

  1. Good Points. I think that if Spider-man hadn't been so dazzling this one would've been better regarded. I was just thrilled to see the character get some real screen treatment.

    There are definitely some weaknesses but it held my interest. I consider it more of a B- than an F. That being said, I would kill to see "Born Again" on the big screen.

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  2. Thanks Brent- I call DD and "Hulk"
    (2003)"brave attempts", not total failures. I think DD might be one that people revisit in the future and decide it wasn't so horrible after all.

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