What do we want? JUSTICE!! Justice for Daredevil, the unfairly maligned runt of the movie superhero litter, and subject of this month’s Guilty Pleasures.
Director / Writer Mark Steven Johnson complained of having to cut his dark avenger type movie to achieve a PG-13 rating imposed by the studio (it’s a 15 in the UK). Even after the cuts, the film is bleak and brutal, a brooding tragic affair that left audiences used to the breezy Spider-Man cold. Any wonder it was released in February (bizarelly, Valentine’s day), so as not to suffer in comparison to bigger scale tent-pole movies.
Daredevil is the night-time crime fighting alter-ego of pro-bono blind lawyer Matt Murdock (Ben Affleck). That’s right, blind. In a twist on superhero powers he’s blinded as a child by radioactive waste and develops super-enhanced other senses, “seeing” by bat-like sonar, or “shadow world” sense. This is brilliantly realised by special effects and powerful sound design. In his origin sequence we see him learn to navigate the world using his powers. When his boxer, widower father is murdered by the Kingpin’s lackeys (does Matt ever get a break?), he honours his dad’s wish to complete his education and become a Lawyer, but seeks revenge on the side. Of course, he’s also a tortured Catholic, his Confessor telling him “You don’t want forgiveness. You want permission.” I like to think of him and his alter ego as a smaller scale version of Bruce Wayne / Batman. The best Daredevil stories that I have read come across like Nolan-esque takes on the hero, a costumed crime fighter with a gritty, real world edge.
The film starts in medias res, and is too short to get it’s points across with sufficient depth, but it makes a good stab at it. One can see why the studio was nervous. There were endless discussions on Daredevil’s costume for instance, as to just how red should it be, or should it have horns? The use of biker leather as a realistic, practical approach was also surprising to some, but I think it looks great. The budget was tight as well, but the film brilliantly compensates with imaginative wire work where possible to illustrate Daredevil and co. leaping between the buildings of New York’s Hells Kitchen. Where CGI replacements are used however it is obvious, because of the limited time and money.
Affleck is very well cast as Matt Murdock / Daredevil, and gives a great performance, playing “blind” very convincingly. The film employed a sight-impaired consultant who advised on many tiny details, such as how Matt arranges his money bills in differently folded denominations. A great idea is for Matt to seek solace from the barrage of noise around him by immersing himself in an isolation tank.
A tragic hero has to have a tragic love story, so the film references the classic Elektra storyline. Jennifer Garner plays Elektra, the daughter of The Kingpin’s (Michael Clarke Duncan) criminal associate. She is well cast as the avenging daughter who wields dual Sais to seek her own justice. Unfortunately she gets Daredevil in her sights, unaware he’s also her lover.
The film then throws Colin Farrell’s bonkers Bullseye into the mix, as a hired gun for The Kingpin, leading to a 3 way bloody battle atop the rooftops and church of Hells Kitchen. In a film which has done it’s best to be as realistic and gritty as possible in a comic book setting, Farrell’s Bullseye is OTT. He’s clearly having a ball, but he’s too much. Wisely, the film dispenses with a costume for him but settles on a branded target on his forehead. That doesn’t stop him growling “I want a bloody costume!” Just before he graphically dispatches Elektra by making her fall on her own Sai, he cuts her throat with a playing card. “You’re good baby, I’ll give you that” he tells her. “But me? I’m magic!”
Joey Pantoliano adds some class as newshound Ben Urich, and Iron Man director Jon Favreau brings some welcome light relief as Matt’s legal partner Foggy Nelson. The climactic fight between Daredevil and Michael Clarke Duncan’s massively imposing Kingpin is imaginatively staged in a coldly blue lit glass office. Daredevil, taking a hell of a beating, sets off the sprinklers. As The Kingpin is framed in Shadow vision by water droplets he’s an easy target for our wounded blind avenger to take down.
Reaction to the film was mixed. It was a labour of love for Mark Steven Johnson and Marvel clearly supported him, with many Daredevil comic writers appearing in cameos. I could do without most of the grungy metal music choices, although the actual score is pretty good, and evocative. Johnson released a Director’s cut DVD which supposedly improves on the theatrical release, though I can’t claim to have seen it. Ben Affleck has not exactly wiped it from his C.V, but he admits he was uncomfortable with the issues of costume. A pity, as he supposedly took the role because “I didn’t want someone else to do it, because I was afraid that they would go out and do it different from the comic and screw it up.” Some fans have been vocal in dismissing his performance, but I feel he served the character very well.
20th Century Fox are hoping to reboot the character, although favoured director David Slade has just quit. Drew Goddard (The Cabin in The Woods) has expressed interest in taking it on. If Fox don’t get it into production soon, the rights will revert to Disney’s Marvel Studios. Michael C Hall of Dexter fame is said to be a fan favourite for Matt Murdock, and Jason Statham has previously requested, “Just give me the chance, I would love to be Daredevil.” From Expendable to Daredevil? Whoever plays The Man Without Fear, I for one would love to see this character on the big screen again.