Well, the Internet just exploded this week with the announcement that Ben Affleck is going to be the next to don the cape and cowl and be Batman on the big screen. Truth be told, I'm very indifferent towards Affleck as Batman. To quote Kevin Smith, I just like watching Batman "punch evil in its stupid fucking face." But still, with that news very much in the headlines, I figured it was time to revisit Affleck's last time playing a superhero, Daredevil.
There's something I've always wondered about this film: when did people start hating Daredevil? I remember when it hit theatres in the spring of 2003, and back then, people liked it well enough. It got fairly good reviews. It made enough at the box office that people were talking sequel. But these days, people say it's one of the worst superhero movies this side of Batman & Robin.
I have a theory about when the hatred started. Spring of 2003, the film comes out, and all is good. Summer of 2003, we get Gigli and the whole "Bennifer" thing blows up in the tabloids. Fall of 2003, Daredevil comes out on DVD, and everybody's primed to hate Affleck. That's when the hatred started.
Is Daredevil a bad film? No. Is it a good film? Well...not really. Most of the cliches of superhero films are there in full force. 10 years on, the CGI is really showing its age (although it wasn't that good to begin with). And the whole thing to me just feels...rushed.
As I've done with previous entries, I should make it clear which version I'm watching. There are two distinct versions of Daredevil: the theatrical version and the director's cut. It's one of those weird dichotomies...film critics say the theatrical version is the better film. Daredevil fans, and comic book aficionados in general, say the director's cut is the better film. I've never seen the director's cut, although I've always been tempted to. And I should...it's on Blu-Ray, and you can get it out most discount bins for just $5. I have the original theatrical version, and that's the one I watched tonight.
For those unfamiliar with this Marvel character: Matt Murdock, attorney at law. As a child, he was blinded by radioactive waste. However, they say that when one is robbed of their sights, the other senses become stronger to compensate. Thanks to the radioactive waste, Matt's remaining senses were heightened to superhuman levels. He was also granted a "radar sense," an ability to perceive his surroundings via the sound waves. And using these new powers, he's able to pull off all kinds of superheroic acrobatics. When his father, an aspiring boxer, is killed for refusing to throw a fight for a local mobster, Murdock vows to use his powers to become the hero Daredevil, and bring his father's killers to justice.
Daredevil suffers from the same problem that a lot of superhero movies have, especially ones made in the first half of 00s, as the superhero movie trend was taking off. And what that problem is, for the film's plot, the filmmakers wind up awkwardly combining the hero's origin story with the best-known storyline for that character. And for Daredevil, his best-known storyline is his romance with the assassin Elektra, her demise at the hands of the assassin Bullseye, and Daredevil's final confrontation with the mobster pulling the strings, the Kingpin.
I think that's why the film feels so rushed to me, especially with the character of Elektra. She meets Matt Murdock, they have a whole meet-cute/martial arts duel in a playground, and it's love at first sight. Not long after that, Elektra's father is killed by Bullseye and Daredevil is framed, so Elektra goes hunting Daredevil, swearing vengeance. They fight, Bullseye shows up and kills her. It's a very, very fast transformation with the character. It's almost like the screenwriters went, "OK, here's the major points in her character arc. Check, check, check, check."
Colin Farrell does a pretty good job as Bullseye, the assassin who can take anything and turn it into a lethal projectile, although he does get a little over-the-top in some situations. Michael Clarke Duncan is a pretty good Kingpin, but sadly, he doesn't get much to do. He barks a few orders at underlings, and then takes on Daredevil at the climax. Again, part of my complaints of the whole thing being rushed.
Maybe my complaints about the film being rushed would be alleviated if I saw the director's cuts. A good example of how things feel rushed. In the film, Daredevil learns of the Kingpin's true identity as Wilson Fisk when Bullseye just kind of blurts it out during their final fight. In the director's cut, there's an entire subplot featuring Coolio as Matt Murdock's latest client, and Murdock uncovers Fisk's true identity through the course of the trial. That...does sound better.
Director Mark Steven Johnson has said that the director's cut is the film as he originally envisioned it. He says that, in the wake of Spider-Man's success a year earlier, the studio ordered a bunch of changes to make it more like Spider-Man. And some scenes are very Spider-Man-like, so you can see the influence. I find that really ironic because, on the DVD's special features, they interview comic book legend Frank Miller, who really turned Daredevil into the grim and gritty urban vigilante we all know and love today. Miller says that, before he came along, Daredevil had the reputation in the Marvel offices as being "the poor man's Spider-Man."
So let's get to the elephant in the room, shall we? The reason for doing this tonight...how's Ben Affleck? I really don't know what to say. Affleck is Affleck. The logic was always that you get unknowns to play superheroes, so that way there's no baggage or association with other characters in the role. And when you watch Daredevil, you can't help but think, "Yup. That's Ben Affleck." That being said, he did do a lot of research into how to accurately portray a blind person, and if I remember correctly, he did get kudos from several visually impaired organizations.
But that's Daredevil. I wouldn't say it's bad, just mediocre. Someone took the character's best known moments, threw them into a blender, and poured out this movie. I've blogged before that there's two kinds of superhero movies. There are those that are made with genuine love and affection for the source material, and there are those with the attitude, "We've got to pump this out quick while this superhero thing is hot!" Daredevil is definitely the second.
Anyway, shall we kick back and sing the Daredevil song?
I'm sorry, I remember that song being in EVERY SINGLE TV COMMERCIAL for the film, and I'll forever know it as "the Daredevil song." I hardly remember the real name. I always have to look it up.
One last anecdote before I go. My memories of Daredevil tend to be entwined with my memories of Japan, because it came out while I was over there, and I first saw it when I was over there. Anyway, I'd occasionally hang out in Harajuku. it had a Wendy's, which I would seek out in Tokyo when I was feeling homesick, and a great toy store for my action figure collecting, and a great gift shop, for getting souvenirs for the folks back home. Anyway, I was hanging out one day, and atop one building, I saw a massive billboard for Daredevil, featuring the characters from the film, only there was a white outline where Daredevil should be, and a huge arrow pointing to the building next door. And atop the next building, was a life-sized statue of Daredevil, all perched superhero-style looking over the people below. I thought it was cool.