More than a decade has passed since Ben Affleck’s take on Daredevil and as such, the rights reverted back to Marvel Studios. In celebration of the excellent Netflix series that launched we are taking a look back at what Daredevil meant to the world in 2003.
In truth, it was never going to be excellent. It leans heavily on two of the biggest franchises at the time – Spiderman and the Matrix – and the universally loathed Batman and Robin. And that’s the thing about Daredevil: it scores about half of what it’s trying to achieve.
The casting is a great example of this. Ben Affleck was believable in Argo and compelling in Gone Girl. In Daredevil he has all the charisma of a lamp post and is unconvincing as either Matt Murdock or Daredevil. Comparatively Jennifer Garner’s Elektra is the best thing about this movie and is criminally underused. Today the audience are screaming out for a Wonder Woman or a Captain Marvel when the foundation was laid a long time ago.
Bullseye is a ridiculous, unwanted presence in the movie mostly thanks to the portrayal by Collin Farrell. If the character were eliminated from the film entirely the plot would fall to shambles but every scene he is in is cheesy to the point of caricature, making the whole experience awkward for everyone involved. The Kingpin however is realised marvellously by Michael Clarke Duncan – now doing vocal work as the rhino in Kung Fu Panda. He’s tenacious, bold and emulates a lot of the qualities the new Daredevil has built itself on.
Finally, as the deciding vote, Jon Favreau is Foggy Nelson. Fitting, yes, but no different to any other Jon Favreau character ever. He’s a small character intended for comic relief that comes off as desperate and out of place. His supposed best friend does not have the time of day for him, but as the ghost of Iron Man’s Happy Hogan it’s hard not to gravitate to him. Let’s blame that one on scripting.
It’s not hard. Hammy one-liners and brooding stares make up a fair majority of the film. The plot is forgivably solid – boy gets blinded, boy’s dad dies, boy meets girl, girl’s dad dies, girl dies, boy subdues antagonist for authorities. It’s by the numbers and it works because it’s only a slight variation of the original Spiderman film. Add some superheroic flair and we can call it a day.
But the flair is Bullseye, the worst element of the movie. A hitman whose ego perpetuates to obsession so easily it’s a wonder he ever reached this point in his assassin career. The film has no idea what its target audience is and switches between a loner’s tale, a romance, a buddy comedy and the idea of a superhero movie far too abrasively and becomes fragmented. Every other story element is grounded in reality – so why does Bullseye have his namesake literally engraved into his forehead?
Daredevil was released on Valentines Day – what? – with an M rating in Australia. Fans protested loud enough for an R cut to be released the following year with thirty extra minutes and a subplot with Coolio that did little to help.
If the film were conceived as an R production it may have been a success. Look at 2015’s Daredevil and the gruesome twists it sometimes takes to prove the point that the Kingpin and his associates are formidable, malicious people that should be stopped. The same conversation has revolved around Deadpool – fans feared Fox might make the same mistake twice and make their new Ryan Reynolds movie PG. The 2003 Daredevil was graphic at times – a skewered hand certainly qualifies – but it was stylised equal to that of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. It lacked conviction.
The Matrix inspired blind-vision was a neat visual trick. The rain scenes were scripted/acted a touch too Hollywood but definitely passable, especially for 2003. Meanwhile the overt symbolism was boring. Yes, he’s religious. A lot of people are. Yes, he’s blind. We get it. Move on.
The niche soundtrack however was just bizarre. Admittedly Evanescence tugged on my nostalgia but the rest was forgettable screamo cluttering up the action pieces and unimpressive panorama. 2003 Daredevil filmed in Los Angeles and it’s glaringly obvious. Nothing beats the real NYC, except maybe Chicago thanks to tax cuts…
Daredevil is a confused mess that lacks any direction. It’s miscasting put the final nail in the coffin of a difficult script with its best players – Elektra and Kingpin – relegated to the sidelines for a half-baked protagonist and a cringeworthy villain. It’s the shell of something – a could have been that should have been if someone cared a little more. Flash-forward a decade and Marvel, Netflix and a braver world of storytelling have done just that.