2003/2004 – Extended Version
DIRECTOR: Mark Steven Johnson
May Contain Spoilers!
2003 was a year in which Marvel was coming into its own, or so it thought. This year saw Ang Lee’s Hulk, Bryan Singer’s X2 and Mark Steven Johnson’s Daredevil, as fans waited with bated breath for the sequel to 2002 Marvel smash, Spider-man. But remember that Marvel’s revolution began with Blade in 1998, an R rated or 18 over here in the U.K., adult comic adaptation. Marvel is not just about the colourful Spandex wearing heroes such a Spider-man, The X-Men and Fantastic 4, it has evolved as most comics have into much darker material, quite literally!
Blade was not a massive character in his own right until the movies, which is why people have trouble regarding him as a Marvel character, but Daredevil is a little different. More mainstream but not Spider-man or Hulk, he was a morally ambiguous hero who after a chemical accident which blinded him as a child, he has developed extremely sensitive senses and is more aware of his surroundings than any sighted person.
He “Vision” is based on sonar, which makes sound his ally but noise his Kryptonite, as by day he is a layer in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen and by night, he’s Daredevil, meting out what he feels is justice to those who have not been justly served by the legal system. But here, he kills people, at least until the end when he has a moral epiphany as to his true role. He is a judge, jury and executioner, whilst participating in the legal system by day.
But his arch is to realise that he must bring these criminals to legal justice, not his own. Ben Afleck in 2013 is not the Ben Afleck of 2003. A decade is a long time for a star in Hollywood and his career was on the rocks and wouldn’t be revived until 2007’s Hollywoodland in which he played the ill-fated George Reeves, the star of Superman in the 1950’s TV show, who was found dead in his bedroom, presumed suicide.
Later he would make his mark as a director, winning awards and recognition for his work on this year Best Picture, Argo (2012), in which he also starred and produced. But in 2003, he was an annoying presence in Hollywood films, with his collaboration with then wife, Jennifer Lopez, Gigli (2003), effectively ending his career. But I found that the slighty arrogant and edgy Matt Murdoch, aka Daredevil, was a role which suited him. Cold and lacking emotion, this is a troubled hero on a journey, but the problems with this movie are not resting at Afleck’s door, it’s the writing.
The plot is both simple and complicated, with many characters going and going, his origin story and the progressive world building muddying the characters motivations. But in the end, it’s a simple story of gangland New York and the anti-hero who needs to clean it up, not to far removed from Batman in many respects. The fun is in short supply here, but the action is striking, working well with his disability and prepared to get its hands dirty.
But my enjoyment picks up when Bullseye, Colin Farrell comes onto the scene. He is here to assassinate the Kingpin’s (the late Michael Clarke Duncan) business rival but makes and enemy of Daredevil in the process. I’m not a particular fan of Farrell but he can be very entertaining and this is one of those times, as well as a time when the villain outshines the hero.
The humour is present but dark for a mainstream comic book movie and I think that it’s the muddled tone which lets it down. It’s not Batman, it’s not Spider-man so what is it? Well, it a Marvel movie of the early 2000’s and that’s when they were making actual films, not just episodes leading up a mash-up. Johnson was trying to create a franchise for Daredevil and it just didn’t work, the same way that Ang Lee’s Hulk failed to engage, but I’m pleased that they tried.
Love these pre-Avenger’s movies or hate them, at least they were decent efforts and personally, I feel that this is the golden era for Marvel. This was the period which convinced me that comic films were not only viable but that they could be taken seriously. Without the experiments of Daredevil (2003), Hulk (2003), Spider-man (2002) and X-Men (2000), we wouldn’t have had Iron Man (2008) nor The Avengers (2012).
Let alone Batman Begins as DC tried to get back into the game after Marvel’s success. Daredevil is not a great film, nor is the Director’s Cut which only serves to slow things down even further, but it’s tone is quite good, ambitious and at times, bold but it needed more comedy and maybe a lighter touch to succeed but what it was defiantly lacking was a sense of direction, with the main character arch of Daredevil learning the value of true justice being almost lost in jumble of good ideas, not enough of which were realised.