With the release of the highly anticipated Netflix series Daredevil this Friday, I decided to take a look back at the last live-action incarnation of the “Man Without Fear”.
I was only a kid when I first watched this film on DVD. I thought nothing of it; Daredevil was a blind superhero who fought crime. I was way more interested in the more popular heroes of that age such as the billionaire vigilante Batman and the teenage superhero Spider-Man. It would only be years later that I’d discover that this was a universally panned film and it would prevent the character from being used on the big screen for more than a decade. I revisited the film with more knowledge on the character of Daredevil and a better understanding of film to see if it really is still as bad as people proclaimed it to be.
Criticisms towards Daredevil mostly revolve around its campiness and real lack of understanding of the characters and source material, and I can certainly attest to that. While the film does everything it can to exactly transfer elements from the comic to the film, everything from naming all its extras after Daredevil writers to having shot-for-shot adaptation of certain scenes, it does so without any knowledge of how or why those worked so well in the original to begin with. Matt Murdock being blinded doing a fearless and heroic act of selflessness is important, especially since the main character arc of this movie is that Matt is a hero not a crazy vigilante, and even more especially since the film doesn’t do anything to support that. Matt kills people when he wants and he doesn’t go off to save people because he’s having an intimate moment with a woman. It’s simple character work they don’t get right.
It feels as if their approach to the film was “the most interesting thing about Daredevil is being blind, so let’s showing him do things… blind!” which already a shot in the wrong direction. Fans of Daredevil will agree with me that being blind isn’t even in the top five most interesting things about the character. They took away his struggles of being the lone man trying to protect his city, his passion for justice, the self-abuse he’d go through to remain as Daredevil. You’re not given any of that, and you’re stuck with a character who depth goes as far as “he’s blind”. The shallowness continues through other characters and the plot as well. The plot revolves around (played by Michael Clarke Duncan, who did great with what he was given) Kingpin hiring the wild, over-the-top villain known as Bullseye to kill Elektra’s (who’s reduced to sappy love interest for most of the movie) father with the only motivation being: crime movie plot. The lack of depth and motivation to both the characters and plot made the movie excruciatingly boring to watch.
The campiness that plagued most of the unsuccessful superhero movies of the early 2000s is ever-present in this film. Completely unexpected too. The film starts off total Frank Miller style, taking cues from his Daredevil: Man Without Fear miniseries and most of his work from the 1980s, but then it does a complete tonal 180, with playground fight scenes, cartoonish villains, and characters fighting and moping to Evanescence. Had the movie just been a mopey, shallow adaptation of the character, I would’ve been able to forgive and forget, but all the cringe-worthy, campy action sequences and the melodramatic look at Matt Murdock’s personal life just pegs this as one of the all-time worst comic book films.
This is a prime example of a film that’s put in the hands of someone who doesn’t understand source material. Twelve years after its release, is Daredevil still horrible? Yes, it’s still a lazy, uneven mess of a movie. Marvel’s pretty fortunate that they get another shot at bringing the character to life on the screen, so hopefully they get to do the character justice.