The UnPopular Opinion: Daredevil
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
Now that he has been cast as the next Batman, Ben Affleck is being mercilessly pummelled in all forms of social media as being miscast. Petitions are going up calling for the Oscar-winning director's head and very few are thinking logically. Sure, the guy starred in and directed three of the best movies of the last ten years in GONE BABY GONE, THE TOWN, and ARGO, but he will not be able to live down being the man who starred in GIGLI, JERSEY GIRL, and PEARL HARBOR. But, when analyzing whether he is the right man to take on the role of a masked superhero, the only film you can use for comparison is 2003's DAREDEVIL.
If we are using DAREDEVIL as the basis for judging whether Affleck is fit to be Batman, then I have to say he is the man for the job. DAREDEVIL has built a reputation over the years as being a bad movie when it is actually pretty good. If any gripes can be made about the movie, they are directly related to the shitty costume design choices, but aside from that, DAREDEVIL is a solid comic book movie. With all of the frustration spewed on the Internet regarding changing classic characters and updating what we have come to expect from the illustrated page, DAREDEVIL has fallen into that category without many people going back to rewatch the movie to honestly judge if it was bad at all.
First off, we have to judge DAREDEVIL based on the era in which it was made. I know it sounds ridiculous to refer to ten years ago as an "era", but comic book movies were very different then. If you look at the movies released within two years of DAREDEVIL, you have X2, HULK, SPIDER-MAN, and FANTASTIC FOUR. I have already made known that I feel FANTASTIC FOUR did a good job of creating a live action comic book. The X-MEN franchise withstanding, Marvel movies in the early 2000s carried a much different tone and feel than they do post-IRON MAN. They felt more unrealistic and cartoonish and didn't carry the "realistic" vibe that almost all superhero movies now have. THE AVENGERS and most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are a hybrid of comic book and hyper-realistic characters that did not exist with SPIDER-MAN and DAREDEVIL.
Mark Steven Johnson was tasked with taking one of the more unrealistic heroes in DAREDEVIL and making him seem three dimensional. At the point it was made, Ben Affleck was not quite at GIGLI level but was also not the man who would win the Oscar for ARGO, either. Affleck is not a bad actor by any means, but is he superhero caliber? I ask you, did anyone see Tobey Maguire working as Spider-man? Or Hugh Jackman as Wolverine? No. Affleck, as a fan of the Daredevil comics, read every single issue of the comic book to prepare himself to do the role justice. And he did.
The original character of Matt Murdock, as created by Stan Lee, Bill Everett, and Jack Kirby, is a less dark take on the hero than the Frank Miller version from the 1980s that we have all come to associate with the comic. The original DAREDEVIL was similar to SPIDER-MAN in that Matt Murdock gains his powers during a freak accident and becomes his masked persona after the death of his father. Spider-man was never criticized for being less dark as compared to all of the other Marvel heroes, so to say that DAREDEVIL is not dark enough is not a valid reason to hate on the film. Ben Affleck did his research and plays Murdock and Daredevil as proponents of justice and only using violence when no other means will suffice. Affleck does not fall into the Christian Bale hole of using a grumble to become the alter ego but instead dons the costume and fights for what he believes in.
While the costume may look a little silly, DAREDEVIL does feature some modernizations and changes that do work well. For instance, the late Michael Clarke Duncan is the perfect Kingpin. Much was made of changing the villain's race for the movie, but there are few characters of any physical stature that could have realistically played Wilson Fisk. Duncan convincingly plays the bad guy who doesn't really have any superpowers aside from his strength. The same goes for Colin Farrell's take on Bullseye. Many blame Mark Steven Johnson for the change in Bullseye's appearance when in fact it was Marvel's Joe Quesada who convinced the director to go with the scar look.
Jennifer Garner's Elektra was also a point of contention for audiences. Elektra should have been an easy character to play and she does work on screen. While her standalone film was truly awful, Garner does bring a nice balance to Affleck's hero. Their chemistry on screen went on to become a marriage off screen as well. There is something to be said for two individuals connecting and you can see it when you watch DAREDEVIL. The back and forth between these two is one of the more natural parts of the movie.
All criticisms of DAREDEVIL seem to focus on the actors and Ben Affleck's costume and no one seems to say anything about the action sequences. The reason why? They are pretty damn good. Say what you will about the dialogue delivered from any of the cast, but the action scenes, especially those using Matt Murdock's enhanced senses, are some of the best uses of perspective outside of IRON MAN's interior suit shots or THE DARK KNIGHT's Bat-vision scenes. DAREDEVIL successfully showcases an acrobatic hero who could take on an enemy of The Kingpin's stature. The dark nature of the DAREDEVIL plot does not prevent the movie from having several well-lit action setpieces while still providing audiences with well choreographed nighttime scenes.
Much like Affleck is taking the mantle of Batman from Keaton, Kilmer, Clooney, and Bale, someone will step in and take over the next DAREDEVIL movie. Will it be the darker, 1980s vigilante movie that Joe Carnahan pitched? Maybe, and that would be a fine film. Could Disney and Marvel bring us a Daredevil and Black Widow movie, much like their iconic comic arc? That would be great, too. But, knowing that Disney controls the future of The Man Without Fear, you can expect the tone and style of the film will likely be very similar to the movie we have already seen. And that is not a bad thing.
For a comic book with characters with non-superpowers (aside from Daredevil), DAREDEVIL still manages to ground itself in a comic book universe. Maybe that is the problem that many audiences have. Yes, DAREDEVIL is the perfect Marvel character, aside from The Punisher, to be given a gritty and realistic movie, but unlike The Punisher, Daredevil can lean either way. The director's cut of DAREDEVIL is vastly superior to the theatrical version, adding back in a lot more of the serious tone audiences were expecting. It still manages to be a fun movie without getting too dour, but many haven't seen this alternate cut. I highly recommend you check it out on Blu-ray or DVD and see that DAREDEVIL, while not one of the best superhero movies ever made, it is certainly nowhere near the worst and is still enjoyable on repeat viewings.
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|Extra Tidbit:||I have been critical of DAREDEVIL in the past but it took a new viewing of the film for me to defend it for this column. I find the Director's Cut vastly superior to the theatrical version.|