There’s been a lot said about Mark Steven Johnson’s 2003 shot at Marvel’s visually impaired crook puncher and to be fair, most of it is true. Overblown and muddled, a lot of hate has been hurled at the film like a shit loaded catapult but truth be told – and bear with me now – it truly isn’t as bad as people say it is. Desperately trying to please a studio that didn’t really understand the material (Fox was hoping it was getting another Spider-Man) the filmmakers desperately tried to circumvent the conflicting imput being foisted on them from the word go from story points to costume designs (watch Daredevil’s cowl change from shot to shot in an early scene) and even underwent a director’s cut to belatedly right some wrongs and trim out some of the silliness.
When night falls, lawyer Matt Murdock becomes Daredevil, a vigilante clad in red who delivers swift and brutal justice to the wrong doers who lurk in what used to be known as Hell’s Kitchen. What sets Daredevil apart from other heroes however, is that he is totally blind thanks to an unplanned eye wash from some hazardous chemicals – but the upside is the remainder of his senses are boosted way beyond normal levels which means he has a sort of radar that gives him a lock on everything he can hear.
Into his life walks Elektra Nachios, the daughter of a Greek “businessman” and immediately Matt is smitten but her father is in the crosshairs of Wilson Fisk, a towering crime-boss who takes the appearance of a benign entrepreneur (which everybody buys despite the fact that he’s an entrepreneur who’s 6 foot 5 and weighs 300+ plus pounds) while conducting all the crime in the city under the shroud of The Kingpin. Hiring a batshit hitman who calls himself Bulleye who has infallible aim and has the ability to make a weapon of anything he can get his hands on (paperclips, pencils, a plate and various other things that don’t begin with P) and setting him onto Elektra’s dad, a knock on effect occurs that brings all four of these lethal characters into a dangerously tight orbit.
While others watch from the sidelines (including reporter Ben Ulrich who has stories going on at least 50% of the main cast) a showdown it destined to occur between Daredevil, Elektra, Kingpin and Bullseye that not everyone is going to walk away from. Can Matt hope to triumph against such odds or will justice not only be blind, but stabbed and beaten to death as well…?
First things first, lets give the devil his due – regardless of what actually works in the film and what doesn’t, you can tell that everyone involved is trying their arse off. From the title credits that ingeniously turn lit windows on the buildings of the New York skyline into braille, to the near perfect realization of Daredevil’s radar sense, you can tell Johnson desperately wants your approval and his everything-but-the-kitchen sink visual style occasionally knocks out a blinder of a scene (sorry…). Matt’s origin, for example, is pretty much pitch perfect, telling an abridged story of his younger years cleanly and smartly and even more fascinating is the adult Murdock’s day to day life. Going deep into the minutiae of how exactly a blind, superhero lawyer lives (from how he picks clothes and separates his money to the toll that living the life of a horn-headed vigilante takes on on the ol’ human physique) give the movie a fair amount of it’s centre and the fact that our hero sleeps in an isolation tank to block out all that ambient noise and inhales painkillers like pez makes him all too human in a genre loaded with healing factors.
However, despite containing more references to percocet and vicodin than an Enimen album; when your movie’s style is basically chuck everything at the wall and see what sticks, you inevitably are going to get shit that simply doesn’t work and Daredevil’s greatest weakness is that in among all the brooding and Catholic guilt is that things get pretty fucking silly.
A chief source of the sizable detours into stupidity is the director’s complete incapibility to handle Matt and Elecktra’s budding relationship with anything even approaching an iota of maturity with a truly excruciating flirt/fight on a see saw procing that Daredevil may be known as the man without fear but he’s also the man without subtlety…
Moments of abject crap like this sit in direct opposition to the juicy dark stuff and scoring the whole thing with endless amounts of Nu metal (so… much… Evanescence…) just puts even more pressure on the already fractured tone. Bounding wildly from the razor-wire grit of Frank Miller’s revolutionary 80’s run to the more swashbuckling mood of the very early Stan Lee stuff, the film can’t (or won’t) sit still for a second and it simply gets exhausting.
Thank Christ for some entertaining casting, then. Affleck’s fine and Garner get a pass, but props have to go to the bad guys with a foam-mouthed and frenzied performance by Colin Farrell as Bullseye (assassinating old ladies with peanuts and overacting up enough of a storm to sink an ocean liner) who is joined by the brick-shithouse build of the late, great Michael Clarke Duncan who slips into the gigantic three piece suits of The Kingpin quite nicely. Kudos also rightfully go to future MCU architect and purveyor of realistic Disney animals, John Favreau, who sparks off of Affleck as law partner Foggy Nelson and gives Ben some of his best scenes.
Whatever your stance on Daredevil, you kinda have to admit that when it ultimately gets things right it aptly hits the bullseye. A pivotal Elektra moment from the comics is related virtually word for word directly from the comic panels and the climatic, church-set square off between Daredevil and Bullseye where they desperately wrestle on a giant organ (ooer…) involves them ferociously flinging all sorts of makeshift weapons at each other like a lethal game of ultimate frisbee.
Yes, when it gets things wrong it’s frequently painful, but when it gets things right – well, to write Daredevil off completely would prove to be nothing more than a tad short sighted….