One (possibly) balmy evening in February of 2003, my college chum Tim Stevens and I set out to our local Connecticut cinema to take in the Daredevil feature film. Both of us comic nerds of the highest degree, we weren't sure what to expect, as it was still early yet in the New Golden Age of Super Hero Cinema and strikeouts came as frequently as homers.
103 minutes later we exited in giddy amazement, feeling we had witnessed an incredible achievment in moviemaking that would vault the Man Without Fear into mainstream legend and make Ben Affleck billions of dollars.
The very next day, we coaxed several of our friends into seeing Daredevil with us for the second time in two days and we were jonesing for another hit after less than 24 hours and eager to share the wonder with our brethren. Imagine then our disappoinment when after we enjoyed the movie even more the second time we were greeted by our cohorts with at best "Meh" and at worst comments not suitable for print.
For six years now I have been trying to figure out why comic fandom and the world did not embrace Daredevil as Tim and I did. Why was this flick that we loved shunned by the folks who made the X-Men and Spider-Man franchises into multimedia juggernauts?
The easy answer for me at first thought was that I simply was never that into Daredevil as a character pre-movie, so maybe my lack of attachment and veneration made it easy for me to overlook liberties taken or missteps in the comics-to-film translation. However, Tim was (and is) one of the biggest DD fans I know, so that wouldn't fly.
Some have told me Daredevil is guilty of trying to cram too much story into too little time (you've got the origin as well as large portions of pretty much everything Frank Miller did plus bits and pieces from Kevin Smith and others' runs as well). However, I was pretty impressed at the job writer/director Mark Steven Johnson did with that compression. I thought the use of flashback to get the origin and other stuff told then still end up at the big action climaxes without heels having to be dragged was top notch work.
I've also heard complaints about Ben Affleck's performance as Matt Murdock, and this may well be a case of me not having a huge ingrained fondness for the character as I mentioned, but I thought my fellow Bostonian did DD justice. Affleck is a long-noted real deal fan of comics in general and Daredevil in particular, and I thought that enthusiasm showed through in his performance as he seemed both to be having a blast and also very concerned about getting the portrayal right. I enjoyed his balance of brooding and wit as well as the way he made Murdock, very much a blue collar hero, as relatable and down-to-earth as his character in Good Will Hunting.
The rest of the cast ranged from quite impressive to at least passable in my view as well. I maintain that Colin Farrell's Bullseye is one of the great unsung cinematic super villains, as he threw himself into the character's manic quirks with reckless abandon and ended up creating a weird cousin to Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow that I thought fit perfectly into the larger tapestry of the film. Jennifer Garner's Elektra may be the weak link of the bunch and certainly bears little resemblance to the bad ass broad from the comics, but she hardly sank the plot, held up her end of the romance, looked good and had great chemistry with Affleck (which obviously makes sense in retrospect). Michael Clarke Duncan was obviously a departure from the classic Kingpin, but he's pretty scarcely used anyhow and carries himself like a fucking monster (he certainly looks like one), so that was fine with me too. Jon Favreau was scene-stealer as Foggy Nelson, Joe Pantoliano was good cavalry as Ben Urich, and hey, Ellen Pompeo didn't forget her line as Karen Page. Even journeyman actor David Keith pitched in a nice heart-wrencher as poor ol' Jack Murdock.
Perhaps Daredevil was just a bit too over-the-top and didn't take itself seriously enough for some people, and I get that. In the comics, from Frank Miller on the character and his series have been a borderline noir saga of a guy who is constnatly having shit end up terribly for him, from every romance he gets into ending tragically to his career being in constant jeopardy, etc. Folks expecting that probably weren't ready for Matt Murdock and Elektra having a flippy fight on a children's playground in broad daylight or Bullseye killing an oldy lady on an airplane with complimentary peanuts or every time Ben Affleck tried to do a tough guy voice. But y'know what? I loved that the movie didn't get too far into the grim and gritty. At the end of the day, this is still a genre about guys running around in spandex, and I've got no beef with a movie being a little goofy and overwrought as long as it's still entertaining, which I feel Daredevil certainly is.
One thing I really can't understand (and to be fair haven't heard much of) is complaints about the action sequences or fight scenes in Daredevil. From the choreography to the use of effects (at first I thought all the CGI rooftop stuff was better-suited for Spider-Man until I realized it looked awesome) to film geek stuff like the lighting and color (the contrast of Daredevil's red suit against the flames when he sets Josie's bar on fire looks amazing) it all kicks ass in my mind. Every time DD locks figurative and literal horns with Bullseye or briefly at the end with Kingpin, there's a street-level intensity among the graceful ballet of violence you don't typically see much outside of say The Dark Knight. All the performers more than carried their weight when it came to physicality and Johnson pulled it all together nicely.
The minor quibbles from Johnson ripping off The Crow with the flaming DD symbol (I love The Crow too, so I don't care) to Elektra getting beat too easily (Jennifer Garner made a good job at convincing me she had a shot against Bullseye but not that much) I can't really even both to argue against. I more remember the cool ways they found to portray Daredevil's radar sense or the numerous continuity winks Johnson threw in (Stan Lee, Frank Miller and Kevin Smith cameos as well as numerous throwaway character and locale names) or the fact that Matt Murdock actually goes through a real hero's journey over the course of the story in having to learn the difference between vengeance and true justice.
And yeah, those fucking Evanescence songs got in my head too; I didn't mind.
End of the day, Daredevil stands up as a rad movie, super hero or otherwise, in my book, and as I've demonstrated here, I stand by that conviction.
As an ending coda, I will say that both Tim and I screened separately the movie for our then-girlfriends/now-wives and they both loved it. Perhaps Daredevil has more value still as a romantic compatiblity barometer, which just makes it even more awesome.