Looking Back on Daredevil (2003)

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Dear fellow internet users, it has happened to all of us at one time or another. Whether it be at a party with your uncles and aunts or just talking with an intergenerational coworker at a boring job, we have all been or will be dismissed for your generation and your taste at some point. It happens to all of us and believe me, as a middle school teacher, I dismiss the trash that is Fortnite all of the time. But I also know I must pump my brakes because it’s not true. It’s not true that younger generations are more terrible and have horrible new things. It’s not true that older generations always had it harder and paved the way for the nice things younger people get. None of that is true and it just reeks of Grampa Simpson staring at his television telling those damn kids to “get off my lawn!”

EXCEPT, we are currently in the platinum (way better and classier than gold) age of super hero cinema with a plethora of movies to choose from and entire expanded universes that cris-cross and play games with our fragile comic nerd emotions. When I hear these kids complaining about the volume or quality of super hero cinema I can’t help but remember – as Eric Cartman would put it, “the dark times, in the long long ago” – pre-MCU super hero movies and why they are still worth checking out, if only to understand how we got to Thanos snapping those famous fingers.

Each installment of Get Off My Lawn will examine a super hero movie of the pre-2008 MCU era and this week we are going to look at 2003’s Daredevil directed by Mark Steven Johnson and starring Bruce Wayne himself, Ben Affleck.

The year is 2003 and the Daredevil project has been in development with multiple studios since 1997, it changed a few hands in 1998, as Marvel was dealing with bankruptcy, before finally reverting to 20th Century Fox and Marvel in 2000. The movie reportedly went through some interesting names in casting – like Matt Damon as Murdock – before landing on the cast that some of us know and love. This is a post X-men (2000) and Spiderman/Blade II (2002) world and we are thirsty for superheroes.

Affleck stars as Matt Murdock, the blind lawyer/avenging vigilante Daredevil, born and raised in Hell’s Kitchen, New York. This quasi-origin story/”best of” the comics mashup follows an already operating Daredevil as he finds out that every aspect of his dual-life is actually tied together by the mysterious figure known as “The Kingpin” – who by happenstance murdered his father. Matt meets the love of his life, loses her, avenges her, solves the mystery of his father’s death, and sets up a non-sequel all in about 90ish minutes. The movie grossed twice its budget at the box office, 179.2 million to 79 million respectively and spawned a spinoff movie Elektra. At the time, it had mixed reviews from critics and fans alike. However, Ben Affleck won a Golden Raspberry, a parody award presented to the worst actor of the previous year, for his portrayal of Matt/Daredevil.

Daredevil holds up better than I remember. This movie really suffered in its proximity to better superhero movies of its day, Blade II and Spiderman before it, with X-2 soon after it. But looking at Daredevil in a vacuum, this really isn’t as bad as people say it is. At the time, people thought the final Daredevil and Bullseye confrontation was a little too close to the previous year’s Green Goblin versus Spiderman, but at this point in superhero cinema’s history it’s all pretty boilerplate.

daredevil (1)

However, the tonal shifts in the movie stand out as clunky. There is lots of cutesy Matt and Elektra getting to know each other stuff and fight dancing in the park while Matt is being a creep, but then there are two dark Daredevil fight – read, murder – scenes. Specifically, there is one where Affleck watches the train cut a guy into pieces. The movie really loses steam when it expects you to just deal with these inconsistencies. On the positive side, the consistency of the film is Michael Clark Duncan absolutely killing it as the Kingpin, both in physicality and in demeanor. There is even one scene where the Kingpin notices Murdock getting shot down at Elektra’s dad’s funeral – not a great time to be creeping Batfleck – and he smiles before he gets into his limo. That move is completely Kingpin.

Daredevil and Elektra do get it on and by that, I mean, they get it on in front of the camera. It is all tasteful and it is mostly bare shoulder action, but this went on longer than I thought and did the right thing about not inserting a musical track (looking over there at you Watchmen). Well executed romance scenes are severely lacking in today’s superhero cinema and no matter what you have to say about this movie’s other attributes we could do with more heat in our heroes, and not just their vision.

Yes, the urban legends are true and there is a director’s cut of this movie which makes it 25 minutes longer and R-rated. Personally speaking, this movie has always been a B-minus to meh for me, but this director’s cut does so much to make the story work. This director’s cut pushes us into the solid B+ category. What does it add? Well mostly it just makes everything around it makes sense and adds a great Coolio cameo. The additional scenes reveal that Matt and Foggy are actually decent lawyers and they use that good lawyering to take down the Kingpin. In that, they force his little crony to flip and make the ending kind of work instead of just being odd. Highly recommend checking out Director’s cut if you’ve never seen this movie before.

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