|In Short:||Look what they did to my Daredevil!|
|MATT MURDOCK:||Hell's Kitchen is my neighborhood. I prowl the rooftops and alleyways at night, watching from the darkness. Forever in darkness. A guardian devil.|
Oh, I hate being so obsessive. I wish that just once I could watch a movie based on a book, comic or play that I really, really love and not be all "Yes, but what was with…?" and "How could they do that…?" about it. I mean, surely it is at least possible to enjoy a movie that takes elements of a great, mythic story and turns it into complete drek, yet stars beautiful people and has remarkably cool action scenes? Surely?
Uh, no. Not really, as it turns out. For proof of which I present the movie Daredevil as Exhibit A.
The Man Without Fear. That's our Daredevil. And the movie of the same name makes no attempt to disguise this from us, repeating it ad infinitum. Daredevil. Man Without Fear. Daredevil. Man Without Fear. Yes, okay, we know!
So, the story. Well, we begin with a wounded DD, fallen into a church where his secret identity is known (right, 'cause, huh?), and an Affleck voiceover that tells us that when you die, it's true that your life flashes in front of your eyes. And we go back, back to the origin story, where young Matt, an excellent student and denizen of New York's notorious Hell's Kitchen slum, lives with his father Jack "The Devil" Murdock, a former boxer down on his luck. Shocked when he sees his father acting as a standover man for the local crime boss, Matt runs from the scene and right into the path of some biohazardous material that leaves him blind, and yet enhances his four remaining senses. He and his father train together, the one to be a superhero, the other to be a boxer on the comeback trail, and before long Matt's Dad is murdered for refusing to take a fall in a big bout. Vowing revenge, Matt attends law school, and as a blind lawyer by day, blind vigilante by night, he ekes out an existence in the shadows.
Enter then Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner), a beautiful, brilliant, blessed young thing who's sainted Papa is not at all as noble as one might hope, and whose inevitable death at the hands of the bad guy she falsely attributes to our Daredevil. Of course, it was actually Bullseye (Colin Farrell) who took care of Daddy Dearest, and at the behest of the guy who killed DD's dad. (Ah, the synchronicity!) Elektra's mistaken revenge goes awry, but anti-climactically Daredevil prevails, and we all live semi-happily ever after.
So, what was wrong here? Well, I’d say let me count the ways, except that I’m not sure I can count that high without a calculator and possibly a slide rule of some kind. This movie plays out like someone told writer/director Mark Steven Johnson the bare bones of the Daredevil mythos – vision-challenged lawyer with radiation-enhanced remaining senses, dead boxer father, doomed assassin-for-hire-in-leather love interest, crime lord, bad guy who's a great shot -- and he just pieced it all together out of his own stupid head.
What about the good deed that cost young Matt his sight? What about Stick, the young Matt's trainer and mentor? And who the hell is Jack "The Devil" Murdock? It's "Battlin'" Jack to you, mate! Also, though the manner of Dad's death is almost on target, Matt was not a Batman-esque child, but about to graduate from college when that happened. (Where, incidentally, he met Elektra.) Bullseye shares only a name with his comic book counterpart, and even Wilson Fisk, aka The Kingpin, comes across here as kind of lame. I mean, he's the ultimate in evil! A man who is not a bad guy 'cause of an abused childhood or the death of a loved one or an unfortunate deformity, as with so many of the Marvel nemeses, but because he can be. The Kingpin being brought down took how many comic books? Six hundred? Seven hundred? And here, Ben does it in a little under two hours.
Oh, and hey there, Karen! (Grey's Anatomy's Ellen Pompeo.) Nearly missed you completely... so much so that you never even got a name, just kind of showed up, secretary like, never to be seen again. Wow, golly and boy-o-boy does that suck! The whole Matt-loves-Karen-loves-Matt-but-can't-say-it-since-Foggy-also-loves-Karen storyline was a main feature of the comic for decades. The Elektra-thinks-Daredevil-killed-her-father storyline is, meanwhile, not at all grounded in the comic, but does have echoes -- forgive the pun -- of a one-time Matt Murdock love interest/sworn enemy, Echo.
When we first saw this movie at the theatre, my friend Brendan leaned over at one point and said: "For an action movie, there's a lot of mushy stuff." Which is only to be expected, since our Matt has always been one for the ladies, and his personal life is often integral to the storyline. The Matt/Elektra romance is one of the most poignant and visceral in comics (I can't believe I just wrote that line, or that I actually believe it), and yet in this movie, it lacked… well… romance. Here's how it worked: boy senses girl, boy follows girl, boy fights girl. Now they're in love! The playground fight was cute and all, but still, it really isn't the basis for an epic, tragic, forbidden love, is it?
All of that -- and a good deal more; be grateful you’ve never watched the film with me -- said, there is evidence that someone was wanting to pay a little kudos to the people who actually got it right. There are cunning nods to Daredevil luminaries John Mack, Brian Michael Bendis, Jack Kirby, Frank Miller, Joe Quesada and John Romitas Sr. and Jr., among others. There's even a cameo from DD co-creator and all-around legend Stan Lee, and Lee's director in Mallrats, Kevin "Silent Bob" Smith, also appears. How he had the gall to show his face after the havoc he wrought to my Daredevil in the eight issues he was allowed to write a decade back, however, I still do not know!
And so, on to the actors. First, the good: Jennifer Garner is gorgeous as Elektra, though rather more WASP-looking than might be expected of the Greek ambassador's daughter. Also not looking the part is the Kingpin -- the excellent Michael Clarke Duncan – who is turned into Token Black Guy in this film, which disturbs me greatly. Not because the crime lord of the comic was white, hell no! But more because he is close to the only black person in the film, and he's evil. That just strikes me as wrong. Jon Favreau is fine as best-friend-legal-partner-comic-relief Foggy Nelson (and now he’s Happy in the Iron Man movies... that’s just wrong, too), Joe Pantoliano is suitably worshipful as DD-lovin' journalist Ben Urich, and Colin Farrell is pretty awesomely cool as Bullseye (favorite line: "I want a damn costume."). But what of Ben Affleck, you ask? I have need of only two words: Oh. Dear.
In a recent episode of The Big Bang Theory, Leonard, heart-broken at having been dumped by Penny, wants to make the memory-erasing device from Men in Black. “Is he making any progress?” Sheldon asks. “’Cause I’d like to erase Ben Affleck as Daredevil.” So say we all, Sheldon. So say we all.
Now, I don’t hate everything about this movie. It does boast some fantastic fight sequences, if a little datedly Matrix meets Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon at times; Matt's super-senses are depicted well, if very poorly explained; I loved the hyperbaric chamber bed; and I really like that Jennifer Garner.
But everything else about it is just wrong, wrong, wrong. Look at some of the Marvel movies since: your X-Men, your Iron Man, hell, even your Fantastic 4. Each have succeeded in bringing about a renewed interest in the comic and the character; this movie, however, certainly did not bring about the renaissance that Daredevil so richly deserves. ‘Cause it, y’know, sucks. I would rather watch almost any comic book movie than this one. Superman IV. Spawn. The Shadow. Richie Rich. Judge Dredd. Howard the Duck.
Actually, I completely love Howard the Duck. I just never thought I'd love it more than anything starring my favoritest comic guy ever, Daredevil. Who is The Man Without Fear, by the way. In case you didn't know.
-- Rachel Hyland