Daredevil (2003)—Early 2000s Super-Cringe
Updated: Aug 11, 2022
The early 2000s. Such a great time for comic book movies, with massive hits such as Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, and Bryan Singer’s X-Men. As such, the demand for comic book movies increased, with many studios believing that simply any superhero film would work for the audiences at the time. However, with the failure of many of these movies, studios learned that they had to make comic book films actually good and interesting movies. One of these failed movies happens to be Daredevil.
Daredevil starred Ben Affleck as the titular hero, Matt Murdock, a lawyer who was blinded as a child by radioactive chemicals. While these chemicals took away his sight, they heightened his other four senses. His father, a washed up boxer, turns to crime to make a living for him and his son. When he realizes the damage it caused to both him and his son (his son finding out about his father’s criminal endeavors and running into a truck carrying the chemicals that made him blind), he quits his criminal ways and returns to boxing. During this time, Matt and his father make a promise to each other: to work hard and never give up. However, one day, Matt’s father is approached by a pawn of the Kingpin of crime and is told to throw his upcoming fight. Instead, he decides to win the fight for his son. Outside, he is beaten and killed by criminals working for the Kingpin. Matt sensed this and arrives too late, finding his father dead. Matt then makes a silent promise to himself, to help those in suffering, thus becoming Daredevil.
The film was directed by Mark Steven Johnson, who was a relatively new director at the time. 20th Century Fox, the studio that produced Daredevil, originally wanted to hire Chris Columbus, who many know from his work on the Harry Potter movies. After some persuasion from both Johnson and his partner and producer, Gary Foster, 20th Century Fox was convinced to hire Mark Steven Johnson. Seeing the success that Sony’s first two Spider-Man movies gained, 20th Century Fox wanted to cash in on that success. This may have had something to do with the performance of Daredevil, as many scenes and tropes felt familiar. For example, many scenes featuring Daredevil leaping from tall buildings were very similar to those of Spider-Man. Speaking of the stunt work, Director Mark Steven Johnson had Master Yuen Ping and his stunt crew from Hong Kong to work with the actors for the fight choreography. Master Yuen Ping is the brother of the guy who did the stunt work for The Matrix, hence why many fights seem to mirror those of The Matrix. The soundtrack, unlike, many other superhero themes at the time, was more nuanced and subtle, taking on a quieter approach with gothic undertones mixed in. This may have been made to reflect the reluctant nature of Daredevil being a hero. In addition, the film incorporates the use of many rock and nu-metal artists at the time, including Evanescence, Drowning Pool, and Nickelback. While many people have had their gripes about the choice in soundtrack, I personally had no problem with the songs themselves, only the way they were used. For example, the training scene with Elektra was practically ruined by having Evanescence’s Bring Me to Life play over it.
While the film made a good amount of money at the box office, the reviews of it range from subpar to negative. Many critics cite the constantly shifting tone of the movie to be its downfall, along with trying to copy Spider-Man and The Matrix. With the release of the Daredevil Netflix series, the movie is seen in an even harsher lighting. While the series steadily builds up the plot and characters to establish a connection with the audience, the movie tries to rush everything, introducing too many characters and not giving them enough screen time for us the audience to care. In addition, the fight scenes use too much shaky cam and Dutch angles, making it extremely hard to make out what the characters are doing. In film, Dutch angles are used to tell the audience when something is not right. For example, season three of Stranger Things used them to tell the audience that the people of Hawkins were possessed by the Mind flayer. However, with Daredevil, the Dutch angles only add more confusion to what is going on.
Overall, Daredevil is a rather poor movie, with only the performances of Michael Clarke Duncan as the Kingpin and Ben Affleck as Daredevil being the only shining parts of the movie. Colin Farrell’s Bullseye and Jennifer Garner’s Elektra were not given enough screen time to really develop them, and Bullseye’s campy nature really drags the film’s performance. I do believe that had the film chosen a tone to stick with, it would have highly benefitted its reception. You have the serious, gothic imagery with Ben’s Daredevil, the romantic subplot for Elektra, and the cartoony slapstick with Bullseye. It felt like the film was trying to appease all audiences and in the end, failed to do so. For a movie about the “Man without Fear”, this movie played things too safe.