Featuring Erick Avari (Stargate, Stargate SG-1, Independence Day, The Mummy), Jennifer Garner (Dude, Where’s My Car?, Pearl Harbor), Colin Farrell (A Home at the End of the World, Total Recall), Ellen Pompeo (Grey’s Anatomy), and Ben Affleck (Dogma, Good Will Hunting, Pearl Harbor, Forces of Nature), Daredevil is directed by Mark Steven Johnson (Ghost Rider film series) based upon the Marvel Comics character of the same name. I don’t contest it’s a terrible film. According to the ScreenRant article, “How The 2003 Daredevil Movie Screwed Up The Character“:
With season 2 of Daredevil just a few weeks away, there’s a lot to look forward to. The widely popular first season successfully kicked off Netflix’s road to The Defenders team-up mini-series, and that world is about to be blown wide open in the show’s second season. Between Punisher, Elektra, The Hand, and the many other things happening in Daredevil’s second season, it’s a great time to be a fan of the Scarlet Swashbuckler.
The future wasn’t always so bright for fans of the Guardian Devil, though. We may do our best to forget it, but Daredevil’s first modern live-action outing wasn’t met with nearly as much positivity. In fact, if 2003’s Daredevil is known for one thing, it’s known for being bad.
In the years since, there’s been a lot of finger pointing. Ben Affleck gets a lot of the blame, but truth be told, he actually portrayed a respectable Matt Murdock – at least the parts that were written respectably. There are many far more egregious sins committed by Daredevil outside of Affleck’s performance.
Every time there’s a discussion about just how badly Daredevil failed as a movie, people like to point to the R-rated director’s cut as a much improved version. It’s true that the director’s cut did make some improvements over the theatrical cut, but it wasn’t enough to rescue the movie. Some things are just beyond saving.
Without further ado, this is How The 2003 Daredevil Movie Screwed Up The Character.
THE SPIDER-MAN EFFECT
R-rated comic book movies may seem like a fresh concept, but they’re really nothing new. It could even be argued that R-rated adaptations were the first comic book movie trend, and that trend was killed off by the PG-13 comic book blockbuster.
The late ’90s and early 2000s saw a string of R-rated comic book movies that each benefited from a moderate box office return on low-to-mid level production budgets. The Crow, Blade, and Blade II each at least doubled their budget at the box office, and were well respected by fans. Daredevil was originally intended to follow this pattern. Then Spider-Man happened.
Spider-Man had a much higher budget than the other comic book movies happening at the time, but it also brought in over $820 million at the box office. Those numbers are enough to make any studio executive’s eyes pop.
Fox decided that Daredevil had to be the next Spider-Man. The movie – whose original pitch sounded a bit like Batman Begins before Batman Begins – had a new mandate: be more like Spider-Man. This means more romance, more hijinks, and more CGI rooftop hopping.
Who’s to say that the original pitch would have worked as intended, but it sounds a lot more like the widely popular Netflix Daredevil we have now than the middling and derided Daredevil we got in 2003.
The issue with the mandate to mimic Spider-Man is that Daredevil wasn’t written to be a copycat from conception. Spider-Man only lead Daredevil’s release by 9 months, so the decision to change the script – which Kevin Feige had previously described as “one of the strongest comic scripts we’ve ever had” – didn’t leave much time for proper rewrites. Because of this, the resulting film suffered from schizophrenic tonal issues.
They took a script for a gritty street level R-rated crime drama – something that caters to a specific audience – and attempted to focus group it into a blockbuster with mass appeal. For modern context, this would be like Warner Brothers telling George Miller to make Mad Max more like Transformers. That’s no bueno.
BULLSEYE IS (WAY) TOO CAMPY
Some of the clearest examples of the tonal inconsistencies in Daredevil can be found in the characters. Specifically Colin Farrell’s Bullseye. While many of the characters were (mostly) more grounded and believable, Farrell clearly didn’t get that memo. Whether the characterization came from writer/director Mark Steven Johnson, or if it was Farrell’s own doing isn’t clear, but either way, the character doesn’t belong in this movie.
This version of Bullseye wears a leather trench coat, has a bullseye branded on his forehead, and apparently kills people in crowded public areas without repercussions. Bullseye’s presence presents issues far beyond a simple tonal mismatch. His portrayal in Daredevil is almost as if a villain from a Joel Schumacher Batman movie made appearance in one of the Nolan’s Batman movies. He just doesn’t fit. Or maybe the rest of the movie doesn’t fit him. It’s hard to tell with this one.
THE STYLISTIC ACTION IS MISPLACED
Action movies experienced a revolution in the late ’90s. The Matrix had hit it big, and wire-fu was the new hotness in Hollywood. It’s not clear if Daredevil’s creators always planned on making the movie mimic The Matrix, or if the the the CGI rooftop jumping wire-fu combat in Daredevil was also inspired from the mandate to be more like Spider-Man. Either way, this was the wrong decision.
To be fair, digitally assisted wire-fu was the epitome of action choreography at the time. The Oldboy hallway scene that inspired a generation of more “grounded” melee combat scenes (such at the Netflix Daredevil hallway scene) wasn’t even seen until later that year. Daredevil would have been a trailblazer if it had approached a remotely similar style at the time, which might have been a bit much to expect from sophomore director Mark Steven Johnson.
Even so, just because The Raid: Redemption was a decade away yet doesn’t mean Daredevil was lacking the necessary inspiration for more visceral action, or that it even bore any responsibility to make its mark on action choreography. Daredevil could have easily been far less ambitious with the fight scenes – like moments of Tim Burton’s Batman movies, or the darker, more grounded The Crow – and looked far better for it.
EARLY 2000S RADIO ROCK SOUNDTRACK
What else can be said here? Even if the visual aesthetic was already compromised, the auditory aspects of Daredevil didn’t do much to right the ship. The Daredevil soundtrack was choc full of the likes of Nickelback and Evanescence. Maybe they didn’t realize it yet at the time, but that choice instantly dated the movie, making it both look and feel old (albeit, Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger and Saliva’s Josey Scott also fronted the lead single for Spider-Man‘s soundtrack, so maybe that had something to do with it).
Nickelback may have been less polarizing in 2003, but the soundtrack was still far too polished, reflecting the same issues that undermined the rest of the movie. The playlist was cringe-worthy when the film hit theaters, but 13 years later it makes the movie almost too awkward to watch with a straight face.
IT WAS A SLAVE TO SOURCE MATERIAL
Many fans might be surprised to learn that Daredevil attempted to become one of the most accurate superhero adaptations ever. It was filled to the brim with cameos, homages, and Easter eggs. Nearly every side character is named after a Daredevil writer, and the plot(s) were pulled from the books even more so than with most comic book movies.
The problem is, Daredevil became a slave to the source material, yet failed to properly honor it the story because of it. The relentless references are simultaneously confusing for casual audiences, who feel like they’re missing important references, and distracting for long time fans, who are thrown off by irrelevant characters bearing the names of their favorite Daredevil creators.
The rigid attempt at comic book accuracy also poses a problem, because the movie takes decades of Daredevil history and tries to cram the most popular plots into one hour and forty-three minutes. The thirty minute longer run-time for the director’s cut improves the pacing marginally, but still has a long way to go to be considered a good movie – instead, it merely benefits from just being less bad.
The largest sacrifice of Daredevil biting off more plot than it can chew is any sense of nuance. Matt Murdock has always been a character that walks a tightrope of morality. It’s a fine line between justice and corruption. Ben Affleck’s Matt Murdock, however, doesn’t follow the traditional paradigm. He stands clearly on the wrong side of that tightrope, not even attempting a balancing act.
Daredevil willingly causes the death of several criminals throughout the movie, occasionally giving lip service to the conflict, saying: “I’m not the bad guy,” when he clearly is. His morality is no different from The Punisher’s (who usually serves as a foil to Daredevil’s principles, as we’ll see in few weeks). This is the case up until the final moment, when he decides not to kill the Kingpin, repeating: “I’m not the bad guy,” as if this one moment of strength makes that statement magically true.
It just goes to show that attempts to be more accurate to source material don’t always translate into actually honoring said material – and can sometimes undermine the very character that’s being adapted. A little bit of creative freedom could have gone a long way to easing the many issues of Daredevil.
THE PLAYGROUND FIGHT
Yes, this deserves its own section. This scene does not belong in this movie. It is poorly written, acted, directed, choreographed, and conceived. It derails the story and is counter-productive to the characters involved. Yes, they even left it in the “vastly superior” director’s cut.
It starts with Matt Murdock being a creepy stalker. Elektra tries to walk away, but he grabs her arm (pro-tip: no means no). Then they proceed to fight on the playground equipment in front of a bunch of little kids.
Not only is Matt blowing his cover as a handicapped blind man, but there is no functional purpose to the fight. It was probably intended to establish sexual tension and mild animosity between Matt and Elektra, but it’s really just a misplaced waste of time.
MATT MURDOCK IS A BAD LAWYER
Lawyer by day, vigilante by night. Matt Murdock has always been a duel threat crime-fighter. He defends the defenseless in court, then preys on the predators in the streets. The problem is, Ben Affleck’s Daredevil is completely useless as a lawyer. The director’s cut devotes more time to fleshing out the legal side of the plot, but still doesn’t provide any evidence that he’s more than mediocre at anything that doesn’t involve punching.
The problem is that Murdock’s lawyering in the movie is largely successful because of the unbilled overtime hours his alter-ego is putting in, which begs the question: “why be a lawyer at all?” Just committing to full time work as the Man Without Fear seems like it would yield far better results, making a good chunk of the movie feel more pointless than it already did.
Considering the original pitch was far more focused on legal drama, it’s not hard to imagine a version of the movie where Matt’s courtroom skills might appear to be of more value. Unfortunately, legal drama is probably one of the first things to be sacrificed when you want to be more like Spider-Man.
ELEKTRA ISN’T EVEN ELEKTRA
Elektra doesn’t belong in this movie. Not just because her entire plotline feels like an afterthought to an already bloated story, but because her story isn’t even her’s. The story where Fisk frames Daredevil for the death of a woman’s father (as happens in Daredevil) is taken from a comic arc belonging to a completely different character: Maya Lopez, a.k.a. Echo.
The shared history belonging to Matt and Elektra in the comics is gone, Elektra’s story is coopted from another female character, and the chemistry between Affleck and Garner is awkward at best. Their romance consists of about 10 minutes of Elektra pushing off Matt’s unwanted advances and a weird playground fight, then they’re kissing in the rain.
Despite the multiple issues with her character, the greatest offense is that she could have basically been cut from the movie entirely without affecting the larger plot. Yet, somehow, she got her own spinoff.
WILSON FISK IS CRIMINALLY UNDERDEVELOPED
It may have been controversial casting at the time, but Michael Clarke Duncan’s portrayal of Wilson Fisk was one of the more impressive parts of the movie. Vincent D’Onofrio nailed the nuance of the character in the Netflix series, but it’s unlikely any actor could be nearly as physically imposing in the role as Duncan.
The biggest problem with Kingpin in 2003’s Daredevil is that his role is criminally reduced to accommodate the terrible romance subplot with Elektra. This is one of the better improvements in the director’s cut, but his presence is still minimized.
He’s also defeated by Daredevil in their first meeting. It might be a common trope for the villain to win the first bout, only for the hero to be victorious at the end, but Daredevil is clearly missing this first encounter, pushing Fisk into a role better suited for a videogame boss than New York’s criminal overlord.
It’s always easy to look back at an original pitch, or watch the director’s cut and assume there was supposed to be a much better movie there, but it just got away from them during production. We’ll never know how good Daredevil could have been had it been executed as conceived, but one thing’s for sure: the theatrical version was a complete dud, and the Director’s cut only provides marginal improvement.
Additionally, according to the io9 article, “Yes, Ben Affleck’s Daredevil is Just As Terrible As You Remember“:
Daredevil returned this weekend for its second season on Netflix, and it has become one of the more interesting parts of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While we’re marveling at how good the show is, I wanted to take a look back at the 2003 film, and see if it was as bad as I remembered. The answer? Yes, it’s pretty bad.
As Katherine noted in her look back at Elektra, the spinoff film from this film is pretty incoherent, and that’s saying something, considering that Daredevil was the starting point for that particular trainwreck.
I think I can see why this film was made: it came shortly after Sam Raimi’s fantastic Spider-Man, and follows a couple of the same beats: a child gains extraordinary abilities after an accident and a tragic incident with a family member turns him to a life of stopping crime. That’s about where the similarities end, though.
Like Elektra, there’s no coherent story here: there’s just a series of ridiculous scenes that pretend. We see Matt Murdock as a child, blinded in an accident, and then we jump to the point where he’s a lawyer, dressing up by night to fight crime, essentially bypassing the entire origin story of the character, going from learner to expert.
Grown up Murdock, portrayed by Ben Affleck, is kind of creepy – the entire scene where he meets Elektra and essentially stalks her is cringeworthy at best – sleeping in what’s essentially a water-filled casket after downing a whole bunch of painkillers. I get that it’s to keep the sound out, but how did he not drown?
What really sinks the movie, despite its exuberance, is that it takes nearly an hour and a half for the story to remotely kick in, when Elektra’s father is murdered by Bullseye, with Daredevil framed as the perpetrator, setting him up against Elektra for the big hero vs. hero fight in the film.
The fight scenes are kinetic, convoluted and just flat out strange to watch: director Mark Steven Johnson does some weird things with the camera even when there’s no action: weird zooms, angles and panning shots, which makes the entire thing feel amateurish. Jumping into weird blue-echo vision might have seemed like a good idea on the drawing board for visualizing how Murdock sees, but in practice, it looks kind of ridiculous.
Finally, let’s talk about the film’s greatest thing, Colin Ferrell’s Bullseye, who can probably take the claim for most outlandish villain as he kills a whole slew of people with random objects, like peanuts and paper clips. His acting consists mainly of grunting and grinning devilishly as he kills his way through the movie. He’s the best thing in the film, just because he’s so over the top and ridiculous.
That acting is better than either lead (although, I do have to say that I liked Michael Clarke Duncan as the Kingpin). Affleck just stands around with his mouth half-open and blank-faced throughout the movie, while Garner delivered a pretty awful performance from the start.
Like Katherine noted, Daredevil is just flat, slow and it looks awful – there’s no redeeming qualities to this film, other than that it set an extraordinarily low bar for Marvel to step over when it came to putting together the Netflix show. (That said, it would have been awesome to see the 1970s Daredevil concept that had leaked a couple of years ago). I can sort of understand the approach that they took: There wasn’t a whole lot to work with, given that only a couple of Marvel films had come out (and come to think of it, think of how awesomely bad a cinematic universe that contained Spider-Man, Daredevil, The Hulk, The Punisher, Ghostrider, X-Men, Fantastic Four and Blade would have been. The crossover films would have been astounding. Somewhere, there’s an alternate universe where that exists), and filmmakers and audiences have begun to understand what makes a good superhero film. Daredevil is useful in that you can point to it and say: ‘don’t do that’.
I have to say, watching this left me with a whole new appreciation for the Netflix version, and in particular Charlie Cox in the title role. The new series looks fantastic, but it also does everything that Daredevil failed to do: take the character seriously, and really imagine how damaged the guy is.
Affleck famously said that he was done with superheroes after Daredevil, but when you’re offered the role of Batman, I guess you take it. The only thing that I can conclude is that nobody in the casting process actually saw Affleck in Daredevil, but maybe this will redeem him somewhat when it comes to comic book adaptations.
Finally, according to the Den of Geek article, “The Checkered History of Daredevil and Punisher on Film” in the section on the 2003 film:
The Costume Makes the Man: In the wake of Spider-Man, it’s clear 20th Century Fox wanted something that would catch on as bright and memorable. Somehow, a red leather motorcycle suit doesn’t exactly come across as memorable, only ridiculous. Affleck looks like he is going to a rave rather than be a superhero. The TV show’s costume is more tactical and easier to move in, thereby making it more effective to use. The reason why the 2015 TV show costume works so well is because they built it up as the season progressed, only making its appearance to serve as Matt Murdock’s full transformation into the persona of Daredevil.
What Works: Most of the cast does a pretty good job with their roles, with special note going to Ben Affleck, Michael Clarke Duncan, and an exceptional Colin Farrell. Duncan and Farrell are both highlights and seem to relish going over the top. Affleck, as the Daredevil persona, makes the character conflicted about the journey that he takes, and how far he will go. In addition, the film does take inspiration from the Joe Quesada arc “Guardian Devil”, even using direct visuals from the comic in the film.
What Doesn’t Work: Oh boy, where to start? For one, the Daredevil/Elektra love story feels more like something you would find out of a Michael Bay film, right down to the corny dialogue (example: “I wish you could see me tonight.” “Me too.”). Jennifer Garner’s Elektra is supposed to be mysterious and aloof, but comes across as uninteresting and boring. Finally, the script tends to be occasionally silly…. like Superman IV: The Quest for Peace silly. Moments like the playground fight scene come across as more laughable than action-packed.
Badass Superhero Fan Moment: The big final confrontation between Daredevil and Kingpin may or may not elicit small squeals out of fans. Seeing both Ben Affleck and Michael Clarke Duncan, two pretty enjoyable actors, go up against each other in a brutal fistfight is beyond entertaining, and it’s certainly more enjoyable than anything our next film has to offer…
According to the Houston Chronicle review:
When Marvel Comics first humanized superheroes in the 1960s, a new breed of fan also emerged: a more sophisticated reader who embraced character, nuance and real-world concerns along with fanciful costumed action.
But even as the icons belatedly become film franchises, movies based on comics remain kid stuff, riddled with empty spectacle and neglecting the humanity that put Marvel on the map.
With Daredevil, that changes. The best Marvel movie to date, it’s as well-written and character-driven as some of today’s Oscar contenders, and its story doesn’t stall with hollow flamboyance.
Daredevil is less known than other durable marvels of the ’60s such as Spider-Man, X-Men and the Hulk. Yet he’s won a fervent following, thanks to latter-day comics scribes such as Frank Miller, who also penned Batman’s Dark Knight saga, and filmmaker Kevin Smith, both of whom have cameos.
Though filled with such in-joke elements, Daredevil also is inviting to nonfans, who are brought up to speed in flashback.
It includes stock stuff: Anguished and driven by a parent’s murder, a bullied youth vows to right wrongs when an accident gives him special powers.
The gimmick is that Matt Murdock (Scott Terra as a kid, Ben Affleck as a man) is blind. Yet his other senses are magnified, from a radarlike “sight” shown with ghostly elegance to keen hearing that can trace a bullet’s whoosh in flight. (The film’s sound effects are as vital here as its visual ones.)
Affleck’s Murdock also is a lawyer who crusades for the little guy and takes produce in lieu of fees. His burden of conscience is that he champions the justice system by day but becomes a violent vigilante by night.
Confessing to a priest who knows his secret identity, Murdock confronts his inner conflicts. In New York’s dark and gritty Hell’s Kitchen, he’s a fearless and vengeful man. But he also searches for meaning and clings to his faith rather than lashing out — well, blindly.
Writer-director Mark Steven Johnson fought for years to get this job, and his devotion shows. But unlike fellow fan Sam Raimi with Spider-Man, he has personalized his hero as a fully fleshed man who bleeds, cries, loves and questions. Nor does Johnson let hammy villains steal the show, as they did in Spider-Man and each Batman movie.
Well, one comes close. Colin Farrell plays punkish Irish assassin Bullseye, who is hired by hulking New York crime lord Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan) to do his dirty work.
Farrell is quick, quirky and amusingly crazed, but he avoids cackling caricature. Like Daredevil, his skills (hurling sharp objects with uncanny power and precision) are grounded in reality. Indeed, Daredevil’s action owes much to martial-arts movies in which human feats are exaggerated without fairy-tale extremes.
Much like DC Comics’ nonsuperpowered Batman, Daredevil and his battling lady love, Elektra (Jennifer Garner), rely on training and acrobatic skills while wielding simple weapons such as his cane and her daggers. Their fights may be wire-aided and choreographed, but compared to the eye candy of most comics movies, they look and feel real enough.
The sole misstep was adding costly computer effects after last year’s Spider-Man struck box-office gold. Huge leaps that constitute flight go against the credible grain.
Daredevil also offers sly humor, fervent romance and even a spiritual side. It also dares to go places rarely visited until sequels, steering the story through vital plot turns.
Performances are potent and never condescending. Garner nails her stunts with gusto and sparks fine chemistry with Affleck, while Duncan nicely underplays his underworld tyrant.
But this is Affleck’s show, and he carries it. His Murdock is no bitter victim but a charming, dutiful and open guy (even if he sleeps in a creepy soundproof coffin) who’s willing to bend his mindset. He also has more dignity in a red-leather body suit than any caped crusader.
Not to get preachy, but Daredevil demonstrates that faith and determination count, and one man can make a difference. On-screen, he’s Murdock. Off-screen, he’s a writer-director who seized a 40-year legacy and finally delivered on its promise.