Second Look: Daredevil

The Second Look Series takes a look back at some of the underrated or overlooked films in the Superhero Film Genre. Today, we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the release of Daredevil!

After their triumph with Bryan Singer’s X-Men in 2000, Fox wanted to see if they could recreate that success. They wanted to follow it up with one of the other Marvel properties they owned; Daredevil or Fantastic Four. Fox chose the former. Daredevil was released in 2003, a few months before Singer’s X-Men sequel, X2. The role of the eponymous hero went to Ben Affleck, with Mark Steven Johnson set to direct.

The character’s origin sees a young boy, Matt Murdock, getting accidentally splashed in the face by toxic chemicals, while ironically saving a blind man from being run over. Although leaving him without sight, this being firmly set in the Marvel universe, the mishap leads to him gaining superhuman abilities. His remaining senses are heightened to an amazing degree, especially his hearing that becomes so powerful that it’s akin to sonar. Furthermore, the development of his auditory and inner ear capabilities instills him with Olympic-gymnast level balance, agility and dexterity. His touch, taste and smell are all amplified also which he uses regularly to crime-busting effect.

Daredevil’s adventures focus on the balance between the personal life of Matt Murdock and his alias Daredevil. The character’s base of operations is New York City, with particular attention paid to patrolling his own neighbourhood, Hell’s Kitchen. Murdock serves the city in two capacities; defense attorney and costumed crime fighter. In both roles the adage of ‘Justice Is Blind’ applies and is used often as a reference in the comic book tales. The character of Matt Murdock is one filled with doubt and uncertainty. Although often battered and broken, he still never feels as if he has given enough or is sufficiently dedicated. In the pantheon of Marvel characters he is one of their most deeply troubled and flawed protagonists.

The Daredevil movie opened to a mixed reception and lacklustre financial performance, with critics and comic fanboys alike focusing their animosity mostly on Affleck’s performance and perceived lack of presence in the lead role. Many felt that they could believe him as lawyer Matt Murdock, but not as the crimson-clad vigilante. I, on the other hand, am not one of those detractors. I feel strongly that this movie was never given the kudos that it deserves for expertly bringing the ‘Scarlet Swashbuckler’ to our screens.

The film succeeds in two main areas. Of course the storyline and script are of a good quality (otherwise why bother?) but where the movie shines is in its action direction and its casting. Each set piece within the film, and there are many, is exciting, dynamic and filled with unique visual flair. They wallop and pound with a real sense of energy. The fight chorography is wonderfully visceral; each punch and kick seems to land with violent purpose. The real accomplishment comes, however, from the representation on screen of Daredevil’s echolocation ability. All throbbing pulses, black backgrounds and wavy blue lines depicting people’s silhouettes and movement, it conjures exactly how, as a D.D. fan, I have always pictured the characters sonar skill in my minds eye. The combat scenes convey how confusing a multi-person battle can be while conversely never feeling over-complicated to watch.

The other real achievement of Daredevil, as stated earlier, is that of its casting. Colin Farrell lights up the screen as the psychotic and unpredictable assassin Bullseye, while the late Michael Clarke Duncan plays the crime boss Kingpin perfectly with just the right amount of understated threat and simmering menace. Moreover, Joe Pantoliano delights as the downtrodden and world-weary journalist, Ben Ulrich. While we’ve seen this character type many other times in other crime thrillers, Joey Pants does it so well that you forgive it. None of them look remotely like their comic book opposite numbers, but each actor embodies the character so fully that this doesn’t even matter (even to a nit-picking comic book geek such as myself!). Jon Favreau is superb comic relief as Matt Murdock’s law firm partner and best friend Franklin ‘Foggy’ Nelson. His comedy timing is as hilarious as it is metronomic.

Special mention must be made to Ben Affleck as the film hinges on not only his performance as Daredevil but additionally as his secret identity, Matt Murdock. I have never understood the opinions of the movie’s doubters and their hostility towards Affleck’s performance in this role. I have always felt that his acting to be believable in the dual personas of both Murdock and D.D. As Matt Murdock he is fair, balanced and full of righteous indignation for what he perceives as the unfairness, not just in the justice system, but life itself. His turn as Daredevil, however, is all contained rage and fury; bringing down those criminals that he knows to be guilty that the law lets slip free.

The real flaw in this film, as I see it, is the performance of Jennifer Garner as Elektra Natchios. She is neither plausible nor convincing as the highly trained martial artist seeking revenge for the murder of her excessively rich, yet crooked, father. Her portrayal is more believable in the relationship with Affleck’s Murdock however, where she becomes softer and more nuanced. Elektra is such a strong and morally conflicted comic book character that it’s a shame for her to go to waste. The terrible Elektra spin-off unfortunately proved that Garner’s depiction couldn’t really hold water.

Daredevil is definitely up there with some of my favourite superhero and comic book movies. It is a true and honest depiction of an excellent character who is among one of Marvel’s best. Regrettably D.D. is always overlooked in favour of bigger hitters such as Thor, Spider-Man or Captain America and consequently fails to capture people’s enthusiasm. Hopefully now that Fox’s rights to the Daredevil character on film has lapsed and are back being the rightful property of Marvel a movie may be released which the public embrace. Although I have fond feelings for it, this movie wasn’t the one to do it. Give this film a chance, don’t write it off, and I assure you of a pleasant surprise.

About the author

Chris Spence

You can read more of Chris' work on his blog http://filmandmoviehotspot.blogspot.co.uk/ and follow him on Twitter @TheRetroSamurai