What FOX's Daredevil Got Right

Can Marvel's new light-hearted universe match this tone?

Editorial Opinion

There has been something exciting to happen in the latest news from the comic book world: Daredevil, a property formerly owned by 20th Century Fox has reverted back to Marvel ownership, meaning Marvel Studios is now free to use him in any movie they see fit. As any fan, this is great to hear, because it is frustrating knowing that there are Marvel characters out there that the company owns, but doesn’t have movie rights for.

Oddly, with the recent announcement (an unprecedented occurrence in the young lifespan of CBMs) there seems to be a tinge of disappointment. It seems there were quite a few fans that were interested in the proposed 70s-Crime Thriller remake that director Joe Carnahan (Smokin’ Aces, The A-Team, The Grey- all movies I loved) had in store for a reboot. More interesting still, was the possibility of a “trade” between Marvel and Fox in which they would let Fox keep The Man Without Fear in exchange for Fantastic Four characters Galactus and The Silver Surfer. I guess people are really excited about the more cosmic aspects to what is being touted “Phase 2” of Marvel’s cinematic agenda. Of course, at the end of the day, I want Marvel to own the rights to ALL their characters, but in this particular situation, I don’t feel that burned. I sit cautiously about the new cosmic approach anyway.

I am a Daredevil fan. And the movie is responsible for a big part of that. While mildly aware of him back in the day as a third-tier superhero (like Iron Man, before he got famous), the 2003 film got me checking out his comics, and over the years, (thank you Bendis and Maleev) Matt Murdock quickly became my second favorite character in Marvel comics.
As I look back on the movie- which admittedly, I saw 4 times in theaters, more than an I've done for any movie ever (If that disgusts you, go ahead and stop reading now)- and hear this news, I just want to plead a case for Fox, which did a better job with the character than they get credit for.

Let me get this out of the way from the start: DD has some hokey crap in it to be sure. The CG effects are embarrassing and only get worse as the movie goes on (the climax in the church is almost unwatchable). Murdock’s showdown with Kingpin doesn’t work and doesn’t satisfy (the same could be said for Kingpin as a whole). You can take or leave the soundtrack, which is filled with dated hard rock tracks. And almost everything with Jennifer Garner’s Elektra is a fail. She’s miscast, the romance is hackneyed, and that school yard fight is cringe-inducing.

But underneath the surface, there are a lot more interesting things going on...(spoilers ahead)

Daredevil is unique among most major superheroes for having strong religious undertones, and many Catholic themes. This gets translated in the movie with many symbols (including another awesome direct-from-the comic first shot) For how the story operates, Murdock’s confessionals to the priest help to put an existential layer to his plight, and makes an interesting commentary on crime-fighting vigilantes in general. It’s the type of stuff Batman starts discussing with Alfred in Nolan’s flicks, but again, as far as movies go, Daredevil started doing it first.

Basically, they really nail the heart of Matt Murdock’s origin. I even like how it was told in flashback, as opposed to starting the movie with Daredevil as a kid. This is a hero that never really started off innocent. He lived a rough life in a rough neighborhood, with a father who boxes for a living. Still the scenes with his father are very affecting to me for some reason (there’s something about struggling single dads that gets to me), and I really thought the film got off on the right foot. I would say the first 15 minutes are easily the movie’s best.

Daredevil’s “radar sense” was well realized. It worked visually for the most part, and they used them in a variety of ways; you’ll see him use his hearing as a lie detector in court, smell Elektra before she enters a room, and create physical vibrations to pinpoint people’s locations. His power probably paid off best in a rainy rooftop scene that I dare say was pretty romantic. They also did well with the drawback that his senses are extra sensitive and he can be overloaded a lot of the time, especially with sound.

Ben Affleck gets a lot of heat as an actor (don’t know why, he’s a cool guy, and can be good in a lot of things) and perhaps many feel he was miscast in the role. The thing is, he himself is a big fan of Daredevil, and is largely responsible for even getting the movie made. So many people are personlly down on Affleck (who has since become a great director) they don’t actually pay attention to what he’s doing in the role. I think his passion showed, he captures Murdock’s brooding personality well, and I appreciated fellow comics fan Jon Faverau cast as best friend Foggy Nelson.

I’d argue that Colin Farrell is the reason to watch this movie. A great example of how much fun a downright nasty villain can be, Farrell chews all his scenes, and really puts a cool spin on Bullseye. No, his being Irish didn’t bother me. The point was, his deadly accuracy is well showcased (particularly in the Director’s Cut) and that Bullseye brand on his forehead was a wicked touch. Like Bane’s mask, this is character that doesn’t need a costume, just that one recognizable piece of iconography.

They killed the girl. This is the best thing about the movie. Hands down. It was a ballsy move that I appreciated. Coming off the heels of Parker walking away from Mary Jane at the end of Spider-Man (which many people were mad about at the time), and pre-dating the explosive fate of Rachel Dawes, we just weren’t seeing this in superhero movies. If you’re familiar with Murdock, you know his love life is basically cursed, and I’m glad the filmmakers stayed true to that aspect of the character and the comics- so much as directly lifting the iconic stab from the page! It’s the type of bad luck that defines DD’s life, and it sets film apart from its superhero brethren in a great, dark way.

Marvel’s universe is solidly established as pretty light and fantastical. Is there room for the dark and gritty Daredevil in this new shared world they created? Perhaps he can join The Punisher in their Marvel Knights sub-division, but even War Zone was a pre-Avengers release, and the synergy of the direction the studio is focused on, doesn’t suggest that they are interested in straying from that.

Anyway, I’m thankful for the movie we got (when so many superheroes have yet to even get a chance), and look forward to his return, no matter the fashion. Maybe we’ll get an early version of the yellow costume? Some ninja training with blind master Stick? DD has cool villains to mine like Typhoid Mary and Purple Man (look him up, he’s more bad ass than he sounds), and more Bullseye is always welcome.

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