A weekly look at all the Marvel movies, right from the very beginning…
Oh, this movie. This thrice-damned, ridiculous nonsense of a movie. It was an enormous box office flop, and has been a by-word for comic book movie failure ever since. I recently watched the Director’s Cut, released in 2004 and supposedly capable of making this turgid disaster palatable, restoring it to its intended glory after a studio-mandated PG-ification.
I’ll admit, it’s not as bad. But it’s still pretty bad.
So, our story. We begin with a wounded DD, fallen into a church where his secret identity is known (right, ’cause, huh?), and an Affleck voice over that tells us that when you die, it’s true that your life flashes before 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 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 she falsely attributes to our Daredevil. But it was actually assassin Bullseye (Colin Farrell) who took care of Daddy Dearest, and at the behest of the very same 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. (The Director’s Cut gives us a meandering side plot involving Coolio, of “Gangster’s Paradise” fame, falsely accused and defended by Matt. It has nothing to do with anything.)
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. Even Wilson Fisk, aka The Kingpin, comes across here as kind of lame here, which is just bizarre. 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, Affleck does it in a little under two hours.
Oh, and hey there, Karen! (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 Karen-loves-Matt-loves-Karen-but-can’t-say-it-since-Foggy-also-loves-Karen storyline was a main feature of the comic for decades. (Something the Netflix version plays nicely.) Having it shunted aside so unceremoniously is truly baffling.
When we first saw this movie at the theater, lo these many years ago, 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 the Matt/Elektra romance is one of the most poignant and visceral in comics. 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. Stan Lee gets a cameo, of course, and Kevin Smith also appears. How he had the gall to show his face after the havoc he wrought in the eight issues he wrote more than a decade back, I still do not know!
Now, I don’t hate everything about this movie. It boasts some fantastic fight sequences, if a little datedly Matrix-meets-Crouching Tiger 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 deserved.
Thank goodness for Netflix, huh?
Based on characters created by Stan Lee
Screenplay by Mark Steven Johnson
Directed by Mark Steven Johnson
Starring: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Colin Farrell, Michael Clare Duncan and Jon Favreau