5 GOOD THINGS ABOUT… ‘DAREDEVIL’ (2003)
Hello Leaguers, welcome back to my “Good Things About…” feature, where I take a look at a geek culture film (or series of films) that is generally loathed and looked upon as a steaming load of crap, and try to pluck the clean, shiny gems from the rancid, frestering pile. In previous installments, I found ten good things about the Star Wars Prequels, and nine good things about the Fantastic Four movies. This time, I examine five good things about Daredevil, the 2003 superhero movie starring Ben Affleck, Colin Farell, Jennifer Garner, Jon Favreau, Michael Clarke Duncan, and “Joey Pants” himself, Joe Pantoliano.
Make no mistake, this is a pretty awful movie — it’s horribly mis-cast (Affleck as DD, Duncan as the Kingpin, and the milquetoast, Pollyanna Jennifer Garner playing the exotic Greek assassin Elektra?); has an excruciatingly terrible, immediately dated rap-metal soundtrack; features one of the most ridiculous scenes in superhero movie history (the playground ninja flirt battle between Elektra and Matt Murdock); and is the victim of an atrocious editing job that hacked out entire sub-plots, leaving it a disjointed, nonsensical, poorly paced mess. Despite all that, I was able to find five proverbial diamonds in the rough in Daredevil, so without further ado, here are the 5 Good Things About Daredevil!
Let’s get one thing out of the way before we discuss Colin Farrell as Bullseye in this film — the “costume” he wears is a complete disaster. The film’s director, Mark Steven Johnson, felt Bullsye’s classic comic book duds would look “too ridiculous” in a gritty urban environment, so costume designer James Acheson came up with Farrell’s ludicrous bald, forehead-tattooed, and scaled trench coat look. It’s a testament to Colin Farrel’s skills as an actor that he was able to overcome looking like a gay porn star in a Nickelback tribute band, and made Bullseye the menacing badass that he had to be.
In the pages of the Daredevil comic book, Bullseye is cocky, arrogant, vicious, sadistic, and he never shuts up, which is exactly what Colin Farrell brought to table. Farrell translated Bullseye’s character attributes to the screen perfectly, taunting Affleck and Garner, and remorselessly assassinating anyone who got in his path. Farrell also brought Bullseye’s physicality and his almost supernatural accuracy to life. Anything is a deadly weapon in Bullseye’s hands — knives, darts, playing cards, paper clips, even peanuts — and Farrell made the audience believe that he could strike anyone down at any time.
4.) The Origin Story
Comic book readers constantly critique superhero films for changing too many things and taking too many liberties with the source material, rendering them all but unrecognizable in some cases. Daredevil is actually guilty of cramming too much comic material into its brief running time, thus neutering much of the dramatic impact that material had on the illustrated page (the terrible casting and performances didn’t help much, either), but the film got a lot right in the early goings, especially where Daredevil’s childhood is concerned.
As in the comics, young Matt Murdock father is a boxer, Jack “The Devil” Murdock (“Battlin'” Jack in the comics, a minor tweak) who tries to teach his son to be just and moral and hardworking, but is himself wrapped up with some shady mob dealings. An accident involving a punctured drum of toxic waste leaves young Matt completely blind, but he soon finds that his other senses are heightened far beyond the normal range. At first, Matt is overwhelmed by his newfound abilities, but he soon learns to hone them and is able to listen to people’s heartbeats, conversations in other rooms, and he’s able to visualize sound waves as a sort of “sonar vision (more on that later).
After his father is murdered for refusing to throw a boxing match, Matt vows to devote his life to bringing criminals like the men who killed his father to justice. He eventually accomplishes this on two levels: by day he’s a lawyer, fighting injustice on the courtroom, but when justice fails, he hunts down the criminals in the darkness of Hell’s Kitchen as the masked vigilante Daredevil. From that point on, the film tries to shove too much of other iconic Daredevil stories (like the 80’s Frank Miller classics) into the narrative, but the origin is well told and faithful.
3.) Jon Favreau as Foggy Nelson
Franklin P.”Foggy” Nelson is Matt’s best friend and law partner at the law firm of Nelson & Murdock. He’s an overweight sort of everyman character that, on the surface, appears to be nothing more than comic relief, but is actually a very capable attorney and one of the Marvel Universe’s most textured stalwarts. Actor/director Jon Favreau did a bang-up job with Foggy in the Daredevil film, bringing some much-needed energy and levity to a movie burdened with stiff performances and a flat, dour tone.
Favreau shared some terrific chemistry with Affleck, counter-balancing Matt’s somber brooding with some nicely-timed humor. Unfortunately for Favreau, much of Foggy’s character development was a victim of studio mandates that the film be faster-paced, and thus ended up on the cutting room floor, relegating his version of Foggy solely to comic relief status. Still, he was a joy to watch; a beacon of light in an otherwise inky black sea of suck.
2.) The “Sonar Vision” Effects
In the comics, Daredevil “sees” via the sound waves bouncing off of his surroundings. The noises of the city, such as jack hammers, traffic, and even voices produce waves that make them visible, operating as a form of sonar. Visualizing this “sonar vision” for the audience was a challenge for Johnson and crew, but they finally cracked it after almost a full year of development, and the results are very effective and still hold up today, in my opinion. The sequence where Matt is able to see Elektra’s face for the first time by the sound of hundreds of raindrops splashing on it is particularly creative and quite touching. All right, yes, it’s overwhelmingly cheesey, but hey, I’m a mushy kind of guy sometimes.
1.) The Daredevil Costume
People give this costume design a ton of grief, but I actually like it a lot. For one thing, it’s immediately recognizable as Daredevil — the small horns are built into the cowl, it’s all red (albeit a darker shade), the “Double D” Daredevil logo is present, and it pulls off the red-eye lenses in a cool way. It’s also functional and fairly believable. The suit is not bulky or rubbery like Batman’s movie costumes, and gave Affleck and his stuntman a decent range of mobility to perform all of the flipping and martial arts manuevers during fight sequences.
Obviously, Ben Affleck was not a great casting decision, but he cut a good figure in the suit with his lantern jaw and cleft chin, preserving the visual aesthetic of the man without fear. Besides, it could have been much, much worse.
No? Well then, how about…THIS???
You’re welcome for the nightmares.