'Daredevil' definitely smells of the year it came out. 'X-Men' had begun a race for new superhero films and two years later 'Spider-Man' cracked the market wide open. Every license was game, CGI had just gotten good enough to make the impossible landscapes of comics feasible for film, and people couldn't throw enough money at tights. It was also just the beginning of the craze, and studios still didn't quite know what the modern superhero film looked like. The years between 2000 and Christopher Nolan's mike drop in 2005 showed a lot of corporate experimentation as they tried to figure out how superhero movies worked in this new era that had just begun to heal from 'Batman and Robin', with 'Daredevil' being a major early attempt. Something else about 2003? Apparently people were really into Evanescence.
'Daredevil' was directed by Mark Steven Johnson who would later excrete the unwatchable 'Ghost Rider'four years later. 'Daredevil' wasn't unwatchable, but it begins as a different film than it ends on. Apparently the film was originally shot with an R-rating in mind, focusing less on romance and more with the life of a street vigilante, complete with sub-plots entirely absent from the theatrical cut. This version would later be released as a 20 minute longer Directors Cut which is, if what I've heard is accurate, a much stronger film. However, that film isn't what 20th Century Fox saw fit to present to audiences, and what they did present showed all of it's untidied edges.
The film begins much in the world I imagine the original direction intended. We meet Matt Murdock (Ben Affleck) as a lawyer forced to endure money-scrubbed court cases for rapists and murderers in grubby courtrooms bathed in greasy green florescent light. His apartment is spartan and ugly, not really a big problem for a blind man, with grey concrete walls and brushed steel surfaces and even a piece of scary gothic scuplture. Dressing in a shiny red leather motorcycle outfit he stalks the recently aquitted guilty and beats the hell out of them. He sees no problem with killing as well, letting his prey get bisected by a subway. Murdock then returns after a night of 'justice' by popping a cabinet full of pills and sleeping in a coffin-like sensory depravation chamber to cut the constant noise of Hells Kitchen. It's a bleak movie. It's also the more interesting movie, and once Matt gets to a certain coffee shop it's a movie we never see again.
Over morning-after-murder coffee with his legal partner Foggy Nelson the film takes its turn. Foggy Nelson is played by Jon Faverau, the first of two ridiculously named Marvel comic sidekicks he's played in his career. This isn't a jab, he's actually one of the only people of the movie who make the post-it notes script sound good; I just think it was a fun coincidence. Moments later Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner) walks through the door. Essentially, Matt Murdock and Elektra meet entirely by coincidence. The world of Frank Miller's 'Daredevil' comics was a New York of ninjas, secret societies, and improbably perfect assassins. The existence of a woman who had similar skills to Murdock who ran in the same circles was not only plausible in that world but inevitable. In this movie Elektra is some hot girl who has a meetcute when she accidentally insults a blind guy. Not only that but “OMG, this cute blind guy I randomly met knows the exact same amount of kung-fu as me! LOL, GTFO!”. One awkwardly staged and wincingly flirty fight scene later, we mostly wonder why Elektra doesn't demand to see the ridiculously gymnastic blind guy's milky unseeing eyes to make sure he's not faking it to sleep with her.
Elektra's dad was a bad man who worked for the Kingpin (Micheal Clarke Duncan), the king of all crime in New York. Duncan was perfect for the role; from his resonate voice to the fact he was just fucking huge. Alas, he was also perfectly wasted in the movie, interred in the back because the film had to have the Kingpin rather than actually had a use for him. After Elektra's pappy gets skittish, Kingpin has his Irish assassin Bullseye kill him, a crime which Elektra witnesses but, through the magic of stupid writing, believes Daredevil was responsible for.
The jury's out on Bullseye. Played by Colin Farrell, people either tended to love him or roll their eyes at him, with no conclusive verdict either way. However, even if they loved him, I don't know anyone that took him seriously. Farrell has a ball with the part, bugging his eyes and alternating wildly between hammy snarls and coked up laughter. There was plenty of comedy with the character so it was hard to tell whether we were ever supposed to fear or be impressed by him. His fights with Daredevil were goofily stupid CGI-addled affairs and his performance was a mere nuance away from standing in front of the camera and waving his hands for attention.
“How do you kill a man without fear?” Asks Duncan's Kingpin in his coal-mine voice.
“By putting the fear...in him!” Is Bulleye's response.
Neither sentence makes any sense and this is the closest thing to a plan our villains ever formulate. It's very difficult to care about bad guys when they aren't either scary or at least clever.
“One more thing!”, growls Bullseye. “I want a bloody costume!”
He shows up in the next scene wearing what looks like the same thing he was wearing before, so apparently Kingpin can't even do that.
Back to our couple, Elektra is in mourning. We know this because her father just died, but more so because we get two different scenes back to back with Evanescence songs as score. Having her music come flooding back was probably the most painful part of watching the film, remembering when Evanescence was the default music of choice of melodramatic teenaged girls who painted their fingernails black but found Marilyn Manson too 'scary'. However her music represents the film's portrayal of mourning pretty well, as it's also emotionally simplistic and ungracefully angsty. “I want revenge.” says Elektra, not three sentences into her conversation with Matt at the funeral. The delivery is amazing; it's not something she's communicating to a character in the film, it's spoken like a statement for the audience so they'll know her intentions. It's cliffnotes for mourning.
The film's style of the film's narration is most visible in the scene following Elektra's brutal murder of some sandbags. Daredevil patrols, cautiously pushing some bedsheets hung out to dry out of the wa-- hold on. He's blind. Why is he pushing sheets aside like he needs to see behind them?
Suddenly Elektra leaps out of the darkness to attack him. Apparently Elektra's plan to get revenge on Daredevil was to randomly walk the rooftops of Hell's Kitchen until she bumped into him. Since the police are looking for him and haven't accomplished the same thing, this is pretty good timing on her part. They fight, she stabs him, and she finds out he's Matt Murdock and forgets the revenge business. Then Bullseye shows up. Turns out Bullseye's plan for hunting Daredevil was the same as Elektra's, random rooftop walking. Unless there is one rooftop in New York this is ridiculous. There's dozens of problems with the film logically (why does Matt carry his Daredevil weapon out in public as his extremely distinctive cane? Why do certain sounds trigger paralyzing pain and machine gunfire doesn't?) but this case is indicative of the film's laziness of writing. They are all on the same rooftop on the same night for one reason; because they have to be. Reasons are optional because the audience isn't expected to notice or care. 'Daredevil' is mildly more entertaining than the most offensive superhero films, but its insulting treatment of its audience's intelligence makes it hatable on more than one occasion. A bad reason for character behavior is better than no reason at all.
Finally, the climax rolls around. Kingpin and Daredevil face off physically because see the above. Murdock had recently learned that Kingpin murdered his father and, billy club in hand, prepares to end the life of the man who was responsible for seemingly all crime in New York City. And he stops. “I'm not the bad guy.” he says, proudly. He explained the sirens Kingpin hears (from the highest office in a skyscraper with fire sprinklers running on full; loud sirens) are the police, who suddenly knew his identity as a major crime boss because see the above. This was a moment of catharsis, an evolution. He didn't need to lower himself to being a killer anymore to take justice.
“I'm not the bad guy.” was a reference back to an early scene when Daredevil beat up a thug in front of a small child, who is terrified by him. It was a quandary for Matt, probably supposed to have reminded him of his father who was briefly a brutal mob enforcer before turning legit. It made him perhaps question his brand of violent justice, though maybe choosing a costume other than Leather Daddy Devil would help not terrify children in equal measure. The point is, the film had a theme of revenge being a bad thing (surprise), and sparing the man who killed his father was supposed to be symbolic of finding peace sans beating a man to death. Revenge isn't that important.
Except that same night he totally threw Bullseye off of a church for killing his girlfriend.
An after credit sequence revealed Bullseye didn't die, but that's not the point; Matt intended to kill him. The theme of 'revenge is bad' had no arc, just Matt giving Elektra some hypocritical advice about the dangers of revenge, committing some revenge, and then abstaining from revenge later that night. If this was an alcoholic’s story Matt would have chided Elektra for wanting to get hammered, went and got hammered, and then back at the apartment felt really good about himself for not drinking that one last beer. Except I guess that beer didn't kill his father. It's a bad analogy, but I think I've earned some authorial laziness after being forced to endure all of 'Daredevil's.
The film ends with Daredevil continuing to go out at night in a leather devil costume to beat thugs up in front of terrified children, but I guess not kill them anymore. Elektra is implied to still be alive, allowing for the semi-sequel we all remember so fondly.
It's a bad movie. Like my verdict of 'X-Men: The Last Stand' it isn't the worst movie; it's least awful moments simply being casually forgettable and unaware of its own lack of charm. However, the brutal laziness of the script in its dodgiest places are unforgivable, not helped by its 2003 sensibility of cool which was dated all the way back when it first came out. At best you could say you could have worse times than watching it on a lazy afternoon when it randomly comes on TNT. At worst it just makes you thankful 'Iron Man' eventually came along to point the way forward.
Hey, look at that! A whole review of 'Daredevil' without mentioning how bad Ben Affleck was in it!