Michael Hodges relives the comic book cinema of 2003 and comes back with a collective shrug and a whole lot of Contemporary Christian Music.
The first time I saw Daredevil, I was… 15? 16? You’ll have to forgive my slight haziness – it wasn’t exactly a life-changing event. It didn’t affect me in any significant way. I found it pleasant, relatively “cool” (not a term with which I would have professed much expertise at the time, whenever that time was), and, you know, fun. Which is about all, I figured, one could ask out of a movie starring Ben Affleck as a blind lawyer who puts on red leather to fight crime and flirt with Jennifer Garner. Daredevil stands out in my memory, or, rather, doesn’t stand out in my memory, as a prime example, or, rather, a decent example, of a movie that wasn’t aiming high enough to fail very hard.
I have a sense that a lot of people hate this movie – and so I was going to do my best to defend it – but, doing a bit of research on the internet, it seems rather to have been met with a collective shrug. So, rather than trying to defend it, rather than charging in with fists clenched and teeth gritted, I’m just going to observe and report.
Twelve Notes, in Rough Order, on the Rewatch
1. Okay, seriously, that introduction is bad. The cityscape looks like bad, early-2000s CGI, it takes way too long to get past some really bad, generic credits (the Braille is an interesting idea, but it never becomes anything more than an interesting idea), and then the first thing we see of Ben Affleck, the first thing that’s supposed to be interesting, the thing that’s supposed to hook us in, is him, in the suit, just kind of awkwardly hugging a cross-steeple on top of a church, looking simultaneously uncomfortable and weak. Not the best first impression ever.
2. Scott Terra, the actor who plays the younger version of Ben Affleck? Terrible, but in the same smarmy, annoying way that Ben Affleck is kind of terrible. So… I guess that makes him a success? Seriously: how does one judge a child actor when he’s supposed to be playing a younger version of a role that won Ben Affleck a Razzie?
3. Voiceovers, both in this movie and in general. When I was a kid, I found them slightly annoying, but I didn’t realize that there were better ways of doing exposition. Now, I find them almost painful. The ones inDaredevil aren’t the worst I’ve heard, and they aren’t the worst I’ve heard in a superhero or comic-book movie. They’re also, just, not very good. Too much telling, and the visuals that are going along with them aren’t compelling enough to make up for their talkiness:
“We made each other a silent promise. To never give up. To be fearless. To stick up for the longshots like us. We were two fighters, on the comeback trail. I had lost my sight, but I got something back in return. My remaining four senses functioned with superhuman sharpness. But, most amazing of all, my sense of sound gave off a kind of radar sense. High above the roar of the streets, I trained my body and my senses. An acute sense of touch gave me both strength and balance, until the city itself became my playground. I was the boy without fear.”
Ugh. If you have to do an origin, you can do it better than this. I’d say “show, don’t tell,” but even if you’re going to tell, you can tell better.
4. Daredevil is not a courtroom drama. The scenes that occur in courtrooms, or in which Ben Affleck is trying to look, talk, or act like a lawyer, make this fact painfully, painfully apparent. You’re really going to have your blind protagonist start out a prosecution by saying that justice is blind? And then utterly mangle the case? And then start issuing threats towards the defendant? Without getting reprimanded by the judge?
5. The most famous scene from this movie? The one where Jennifer Garner trains to go fight, and then gets her ass kicked by Colin Farrell? The one that made Evanescence famous? Still awesome.
Still kind of sad, too, which might be an indication that the scene was well done; I almost teared up watching Daredevil watch Elektra die. This might be the best-acted scene in the movie. Alternatively, it might be a testament to my lingering fondness for Evanescence, whose album Fallen was a staple of my music rotation well into the late 2000s.
6. The fight scenes? Still kind of awesome. I’ve been slightly spoiled, since 2003, by superhero-vs-villain fights that feel much more visceral, much more real, than these do. Even a year later, the fights from The Punisher (which, if Marcus will let me review when the time comes, I’d love to cover) felt intense in a way that these don’t come close to. These have a certain kind of elegance to them, though; they’re well-framed, and you get a good sense of speed – which, most of the time, works beautifully. Even only ten years later, these fights feel old-fashioned, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. They’re fights in a movie that makes them feel like they’re trying to feel like what fights in movies with fights are supposed to feel like.
7. With that said, flirt-fighting (or fight-flirting, whatever) never plays well. I can only think of one instance in which I thought it was cool: Bulletproof Monk. And even that was only because I was 15.
8. WHY can NO MOVIE SUPERHERO maintain a SECRET IDENTITY at ANY POINT? Isn’t the first rule of HAVING A SECRET IDENTITY, you know, KEEPING IT A SECRET? I know this has been deconstructed a little bit in the last few years (thank you, The Incredibles), but, seriously, this annoys the hell out of me.
9. Damn, Michael Clarke Duncan. You were one big, scary, awesome dude. I miss you.
10. Damn, Colin Farrell. You are pretty obviously getting a hell of a lot of help from wires, and you are also pretty obviously having a fantastic time overdoing every damn thing you’re being asked to do. Well played. Organ fighting!
11. Shrug. Okay.
12. Dear scene during the credits: You’re trying so, so hard to set up a sequel in which a de-faced Bullseye returns to fight Daredevil again. Aww. That’s cute.
A Final Verdict
Upon this rewatch, Daredevil was neither as good as I remembered it nor as bad as I’d feared it would be. The parts that I remembered as being slightly clunky then were, as I suppose is to be expected, far, far more so. There’s far too much talking, and it’s impossible to tell how much of it is falling flat because it’s bad dialogue and how much is falling flat because the actors are delivering it badly. With that said, though, the parts of the movie that I remember liking – the fight scenes, the shiny, the enjoyment of the experience that is manifest in everyone except Affleck – actually hold up pretty well. A collective shrug is appropriate, but this film doesn’t make a half-bad collection of background noise for a Friday afternoon.
Three Disparately Substantive Addenda Related to My Own History:
– For a long time, I had trouble telling Colin Farrell and Joe Pantoliano apart; rewatching now, I’m fairly certain that it’s the fact that Bullseye here looks exactly like Cypher from The Matrix that was the cause of my confusion. Seriously. They could be creepy, smarmy, Jeremy-Irons-in-Dead-Ringers-esque twins. They don’t look alike in this movie, but I’m convinced that they actually have the same face.
– I can’t be sure how much of my disdain for Affleck as an actor is actually based on his abilities and how much of it is due to the fact that I can’t see him without thinking about Good Will Hunting and resenting him for not being Matt Damon.
– There’s something to be said about the way in which Contemporary Christian Music, and especially music that exists in the space between CCM and mainstream music, gets used to soundtrack action movies. I noticed it on this re-view a lot more prominently now than I did the first time I watched Daredevil, perhaps because I’m not as immersed in CCM culture now. Evanescence, 12 Stones, P.O.D., Chevelle, and Hoobastank are all on the soundtrack for this movie – kind of a ridiculous gathering. More recently, I’ve noticed TobyMac (formerly of DC Talk) on the soundtrack of Crank, Paramore in Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and Thousand Foot Krutch and Skillet kind of floating all over the place (ESPN highlight videos, UFC intros, etcetera). My hunch: Christian rock music allows a “hard” or “badass” image without the “objectionable content” that usually goes along with it, making it one less thing to worry about in terms of seeking out a particular (often PG-13) rating; it’s also a little bit less familiar to the mainstream audiences towards which these films are marketing themselves.