Daredevil In Animation - A Retrospective

Daredevil In Animation - A Retrospective

Part One - Part Two - Part Three

Released on February 14th, 2003 Daredevil was the recipient of mixed reviews from both the fanboys and the critics but managed to pull an impressive $100 million for a February release about a superhero few had ever heard of and a lead actor in Ben Affleck who the critics simply love to pick on. Ironically enough, Affleck originally auditioned for the part of nemesis Bullseye in the picture before director Mark Steven Johnson realised that Ben would make a hell of a Daredevil and put him in the title role. It should be noted, Affleck is apparently quite the Daredevil fanboy, and can even be found praising Frank Miller’s run in the introduction to Kevin Smith’s Guardian Devil trade paperback. The man has taste!

Please note, the rest of this retrospective will be talking about the Directors Cut, because the theatrical version is simply a butchered version of it.

The film is heavily based upon Frank Miller’s run on the comics and the mini-series The Man Without Fear which tells Daredevil’s origin and how he came to wear the devil costume. Stick is absent in the movie (too much like Mr Muiagi from The Karate Kid for MSJ) so we get Daredevil training himself from childhood after he is blinded, which a little too hooky for me. I like the idea of him being disciplined and taught by someone else who is blind, I think it adds a more poetic vibe to it and adds more to Matt’s own self tortured nature. There’s a major downside to the origin sequences in the film however – not one of the kids in this movie can act. Matt himself is pretty lousy and the bullies are all simply terrible. Things don’t pick up until we see Matt in the present day, as a lawyer by day and vigilante by night.

The main premise of the film is a simple question - can one man make a difference? Can a guy in a devil suit really save a city that has become overrun with crime thanks to a vicious Kingpin controlling the underworld? I personally greatly enjoyed and loved the film. It’s nowhere near as good as the likes of Spider-Man 2 or Batman Begins, but it’s world’s better than Superman Returns, Hulk and any of Burton’s Batman flicks. It wasn’t quite perfect and the whole does feel like it was incredibly rushed whilst filming it and there’s a little too much going in and interesting storylines suffer because of it. It’s noticeable in the director’s cut but the theatrical presentation is simply a very jarring movie.

The majority of the casting is great. Affleck is brilliant as both Matt Murdock and Daredevil and although you can tell there was problems with the suit simply by watching the film I always liked it. I don’t think a Spider-Man style costume would’ve worked in the film, but am glad they didn’t go with a Keaton style Batman suit. The suit is constantly tweaking throughout the film, it’s clearly black instead of red in some shots, the mask is constantly tweaked and even the collar is different in some shots than others.

Michael Clarke Duncan brings a lot to a rather limited Kingpin role. He really doesn’t get a hell of a lot of screen time but his sheer presence usually makes up for it. If they had cast a smaller or a skinny man in the role I don’t think it would’ve worked – I remember some fans being sceptical towards Duncan simply because he’s black but I’ve always thought he was good in the role.

Colin Farrell however, is outstanding. When Avi Arad originally mentioned that we’d be laughing as he was killing people, I had horrible visions of Batman Forever and The Riddler in my head, but Farrell brought a great dimension to the character with his over the top performance. Much like The Kingpin, he didn’t have much screen time but he did make it count. He’s simply a lot of fun to watch in the role. It doesn’t even matter than he horrifically killed our heroes girlfriend, you still cheer for him!

Now comes the main dismal point of the film – Elektra. The film was pushing too much story in too little time and a lot of it all points back to Miss Natchos. The story of a blind man fighting for his city gets lost as soon as she enters the equation and it becomes more a hero and his girlfriend story. It doesn’t help that Jennifer Garner really, really can’t act. Or if she can, she doesn’t show any of her ability in this movie. The whole Elektra story would’ve made for a great sequel but with the origin sequence, Daredevil helping those that others wouldn’t, The Kingpin story and Ben Urich’s search to see whether or not the Guardian Devil of Hell’s Kitchen actually exists this film is a little too crowded for the running time it got.

Elektra and the pacing aren’t the film’s only problems – it also uses far too much of the soundtrack in the film and not a lot of it meshes well. The only part that I felt really kicked in was Rob Zombie’s Man Without Fear, the rest of them literally feel like they were thrown in to pimp the soundtrack. It’s especially annoying as Grame Revell’s score is one of the best I’ve heard – he does a fantastic job of capturing Matt’s torment. The highlight of the score is when Matt begins trashing his apartment after Elektra’s Father is killed by Bullseye, it’s simply brilliant. Wish I could’ve found that score CD. Maybe ebay has it…

The fight scenes really help with the tone of the fight. Each and every one of them is different but they’re all really hard hitting – this really is a character who goes out night and night and gets the crap kicked out of him and goes home to pop pills to help numb his pain. This is especially cut in the theatrical version – the scene in which Matt enters his bath to sleep is almost painful to watch in the director’s cut as you seem him cut, bruised and helpless as he hears a prostitute being killed as if he’s in the room next to her, unable to do anything about it. The fight in the biker bar is especially cool as is him chasing Jose Quesada, which was pretty much taken directly from Daredevil’s fight with The Fixer in the comics. I remember there was a lot of controversy when Daredevil let Quesada get run over by the train but I actually agree with the director on this – it adds to the fact that he spares The Kingpin at the end of the movie because he’s not the bad guy.

I’ve always liked the movie’s ending, aside from that silly inexplicable brail necklace scene (did they ever explain that in the Elektra movie?) as Revell’s stunning score kicks in as Urich types that he has in fact found out that there is a devil watching over the city and his name is Matt Murdock. Urich decides not to print the story because the city needs Daredevil – one man can make a difference. We get a nice little send off from Daredevil too;

“Hell’s Kitchen is my neighbourhood. I prowl the rooftops and alleyways at night, watching from the darkness. Forever in darkness… a Guardian Devil”

Unfortunately, it didn’t do too well with the critics. Both DVDs sold well, but the dire performance of the Elektra movie pretty much killed our chances of a sequel. There’s been rumours of FOX letting go of the licence and Marvel making a R rated sequel themselves based on Born Again, the greatest Daredevil story ever, but Affleck has been iffy on a sequel since the studio cut up the first film.

It doesn't look like we're going to see Daredevil outside of his monthly comic book series for a while, unless some small miracle happens. So all you DD fanboys should start picking up the book because as entertaining as these adaptations have been, none of them beat the originals.