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Double Impact (1991)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

DAREDEVIL (2003)

Starring: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Michael Clarke Duncan, Colin Farrell, Joe Pantoliano

Written and Directed By: Mark Steven Johnson

The Short Version

Behold one of the worst big screen comic book flicks ever.

It’s pretty obvious that the marketing came first.

The film itself is languid and unexciting.

The “Director’s Cut” does little to improve the original theatrical experience.

Daredevil is only for the terminally curious; for most, it’s very easy to skip.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

LAUGHING COW.

Because it’s all about the marketing.  Who cares whether it’s good or not?  The commercials say you must eat it!


Pairs Well With...

BOONE'S FARM WILD CHERRY.

“Does this defense come with a two drink minimum?”

Actually, I think it comes with a two gallon minimum, but I won’t be picky.

“What happens to that lie detector of yours when it detects your own bullshit?  Must really bury the needle, huh?”


Daredevil is one of those movies that few people outside of the marketing department asked for, and that, ten years later, most people outside of the marketing department (which would, of course, like to  continue cashing in on it in the home video sector) are more than happy to forget ever happened.

This isn’t to say that there wasn’t some decent buzz going on back when Daredevil was ready to make its theatrical debut, mind.  This was, after all, the start of the era in which Marvel began to make a real effort to assert itself as a Hollywood player, and after the stellar box office success of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man the year before, the comic powerhouse’s film studio partners were happy to try exploiting the hot hand.  Sure, Daredevil was more of a niche character in the overall scheme of things – let’s face it, the guy was hardly a household name – but hey, that’s what boosted budgets and marketing people are for! 

You see this coming from miles away, right?

For writer/director Mark Steven Johnson, comic book fan, Daredevil was a dream project that he’d been chasing through years of development hell across multiple studios, hoping to stay on board each time a new set of bankers came in to take charge.  He envisioned a dark, deeply troubled hero, struggling with his identity in a realistic way while fighting villains in a reasonably realistic iteration of modern day New York City.

Sure, okay.  New York sells.  Worked for Spider-Man.

Concept a “go,” the studio grabbed the hottest cast it could find, headed up by golden boy Ben Affleck (Dogma) and television action sensation Jennifer Garner (then lighting up the tube on “Alias”).  And then they found more hot names: Colin Farrell (Miami Vice) and Michael Clarke Duncan (Sin City) hopped on as the bad guys, and Joe Pantoliano (The Matrix) gave some cred to secondary.  A hot cast always makes for a hot movie, right?

And then the suits noticed that Johnson’s hero was depressed, jacked up on prescription meds… emo.  Kinda like that music the young interns were listening to!  Hey!  Time to hire some pop/emo bands to do the soundtrack – Nickelback, Evanescence, Hoobastank, et.al. – and let’s market a movie for Young People!  You know: the ones nobody understands!

As for having fun… that seems to have slipped everyone’s mind.  Besides, the Young People of the generation at hand weren’t exactly known for “having fun,” anyway, right?

Um… well…

Oh, and that “R” rated story envisioned by the writer/director?  No way.  No studio was going to let a comic book flick – especially one with so much potential to attract Young People – get by with anything stronger than a “PG-13.”  And that whole “plot” thing… too much.  Hack off half an hour.  Don’t worry; the audience won’t notice what they don’t even know to be missing, right?

Commercials aired.  Posters went up.  Daredevil came out.

The first two weeks’ worth of audiences noticed what was missing… and what was there.  Sure, Daredevil had itself a respectable opening weekend and indeed made its entire extended budget back in roughly ten days’ worth of domestic release, but the people who had initially lined up to see it told their friends not to bother, and those friends stayed away in droves.  With poor word of mouth and little if any repeat business, Daredevil quickly became one of those flicks that only the suits loved.  (After all, it was technically a box office success.)

So, what went wrong, besides everything?

For one thing, the story that Mark Steven Johnson came up with – especially in its theatrically compressed form – very clearly displays the character of Daredevil for who/what he really is: Marvel’s latter-day knock-off of DC’s Batman.  One doesn’t even need to be a comic book die hard to catch it; the start-to-finish lifts are so obvious that even casual fans can, will, and did pick it up… and groan at the results.  There’s so much of what moviegoing audiences who’d never read any of this relatively obscure character’s comics could and did all recognize as Batman and even Spider-Man in Daredevil that it’s almost impossible to find anything uniquely “Daredevil” about him.  (What, that vision thing?  To movie fans, the creature from Predator did that.  Or maybe it’s Matrix Bullet Time.  Either way.)  Sure, lots of comic heroes have similar origin stories, but it’s easier to turn a blind eye when the copying is done well, and here, the copying is not done well.

It’s also easier to turn a blind eye when the alleged hero isn’t a pill popping emo basketcase.  Unfortunately, Johnson’s screenplay doesn’t find the same shadowy sweet spot that Christopher Nolan and company would hit upon two years later with Batman Begins, and so the audience is left to root for a largely abrasive character that’s almost impossible to like.  Complicating the problem is the dreadful miscasting of Ben Affleck in the title role.  He looks like he hates nearly every minute he’s spending here, and as it turns out, he pretty much did.  Three years later, he told an interviewer that “I have inoculated myself from ever playing another superhero.  Wearing a costume was a source of humiliation for me and something I wouldn't want to do again soon.”  Oops.

It also doesn’t help that when Johnson chose to draw his inspiration from comic writer Frank Miller, he further chose to immediately bring in the side character of Elektra.  Considering that Elektra and Jennifer Garner are arguably the best things about the entire movie, one might wonder what the problem is, but that is in fact precisely the problem.  The title character is an already marginal hero being played by a guy who looks as though he’d rather be having dental surgery; throw in Elektra, and he becomes absolutely impossible to give a crap about.  Daredevil?  Who’s that?

You may notice that the sequel to Daredevil was not called Daredevil 2 and does not actually feature Daredevil in it.  Gosh… I wonder why…

Meanwhile, the studio people scored another big miss when they decided that all of the combat sequences would feature blatantly distorted CG and lots of obvious wire work, because that was still the “in” thing despite looking old and tired and just plain cheesy.  There are no fights in Daredevil; there are only effects shots that feature actors striking poses.  Action, alas, is something that happens to other comic book films.  Kind of like “fun,” which is also absent from this movie.

I’d like to believe it when people say that black actor Michael Clarke Duncan – a truly outstanding actor who does the absolute best he can with the part he’s given – was cast as Kingpin (who is Caucasian in the comics) because the white actors before him gave lousy screen tests and that surely no racial stereotyping was involved, but it’s harder to do that when the musical cues for bad guys all turn out to be rap songs.  But hey, the other bad guy’s a white Irishman, right?

Speaking of, I normally like Colin Farrell’s work, but his portrayal of Bullseye is just plain annoying as hell, and that’s all that really needs to be said on the matter.

But wait, you say.  The studio forced Mark Steven Johnson to compromise his vision for the “PG-13” rated theatrical release.  Surely, the Director’s Cut of Daredevil that is now commonly available for the home video market and which represents Johnson’s true original edit of the film solves a lot of the problems found in the theatrical cut, right?

Not really; no.

On the one hand, the re-inclusion of a subplot that highlights our hero’s day job as a defense attorney (a job which he essentially abandons, leaving his partner – played by future Iron Man director Jon Favreau – to clean up) brings a few brain cells back to the proceedings, and does give said hero some extra touches that bring him at least a half step further away from the specter of being a Batman knock-off… but it’s still not enough, and unfortunately, an already slow movie becomes even slower.  (CG and pop songs may count for pacing in some circles, but not with me.)  Nor does the action get any better – yeah, a few of the extra frames would have been enough to tip the “R” scales in 2003, but they wouldn’t now, and it seems obvious that Johnson and company knew they’d have to settle for a “PG-13” in the end anyway, and didn’t try all that hard to do more to begin with.

Much as I’d like to report otherwise, the Director’s Cut of Daredevil is just a longer dud.

So, does anybody win here?  Sure.  Jennifer Garner came out of Daredevil as the one popularly hailed bright spot of an otherwise awful movie, and was "rewarded" with her own flick (which she didn't want) soon afterward.  Meanwhile, her character’s theme music – “Bring Me To Life” by Evanescence – turned out to be a smash hit that’s still revered by pop/emo/goth fans everywhere, so I guess that Amy Lee can count herself a winner, too.

As for the rest of us… no.  Nobody else wins.

Bottom line, Daredevil isn’t the worst comic book flick ever made, but it can smell the bottom of the barrel from its place on the list.  For most moviegoers and indeed for most comic book fans, this movie is very easy to skip. 

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, July, 2013


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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