Something has been building inside of me. I can’t hold it in any more.
It probably started during the run up to the release of Mark Steven Johnson’s Daredevil movie. This was during the height of media scrutiny of Daredevil star Ben Affleck’s relationship with Jennifer Lopez. If you weren’t watching a lot of TV in the early 00’s, it’s hard to describe exactly how over-covered their relationship was. People were sick of it, so they made jokes. It really took hold during the Bennifer backlash when it was reported that Ben Affleck filmed a cameo for the Elektra film but it was cut due to an anticipated negative reaction. It grew when Affleck was cast as Batman in the forthcoming Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. A lot of people made jokes. I found exactly one funny.
You read for a part, you feel good about it, you feel confident, then they cast Ben Affleck.
— Richard Dreyfuss (@RichardDreyfuss) August 23, 2013
Then, the unthinkable happened: a legitimately good live action adaptation of Daredevil happened. I’ve already mentioned that this has profoundly affected me. The release of Netflix’s Daredevil show roughly coincided with the release of the first trailer for Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice as well as the discovery of Affleck’s boneheaded attempt to suppress information about a slave owning ancestor from a TV show about his heritage. I was at trivia the other night when the host had a question about this brouhaha, puncuated by a snickering joke about how distraught Ben Affleck must be now that his legacy as Daredevil has been overshadowed.
SO many jokes. Please keep laughing, but know this: Ben Affleck is not the problem with the Daredevil movie. Not even close.
I feel so weird being a Ben Affleck apologist. I have a lot of affection for him from his work in Kevin Smith’s films during my teenage years, but it’s not like I keep up on his oeuvre. It’s just that the hate is too much. At some point in time, it became cool to hate Ben Affleck. Just saying his name became a punchline. However, if you watch that Daredevil movie more than once, you see he’s practically an asset to it.
That being said, there are a couple of things I want to make clear:
1. I wasn’t happy when Affleck was cast in the Daredevil movie. I didn’t think he’d be terrible, but Guy Pearce was rumored at one point and that’s basically how Daredevil looks in my mind.
2. I don’t think this movie is good. It’s not good. I would know. I’ve watched it several times, including the director’s cut.
3. I don’t think Ben Affleck is that great of an actor and his performance here isn’t some great revelation. It’s just that he brought his usual steady, workmanlike talent to this and people call it the Affleck Daredevil movie like he’s problem. He’s not! These are the real problems:
[There are spoilers beyond this point, but do you really care?]
Too Many Stories
The script tries to cram decades worth of comics stories into a single feature length motion picture for no discernible reason. In the future, we will call this Pulling A Green Lantern. We get Matt Murdoch’s origin story, plus they tried to squish in most of Frank Miller’s original Elektra saga, and splash in a downfall of the Kingpin for good measure. Originally, these stories happened over dozens of issues. Those are enough stories for at least a trilogy of movies. Notice that the Netflix’s Daredevil series, which had 13 episodes, spent time developing like two of these stories tops while barely hinting at another one. I’m sad to report that the Director’s Cut of the movie does not shore up these deficiencies. Mark Steven Johnson’s original vision included ANOTHER subplot that’s not really connected to any of the other stories or other characters.
My least favorite line in the movie is when the Fisk tells Wesley:
“I want you to create a paper trail, one that can be traced to Natchios.”
From the opening voiceover to this line, this movie is tromping all over that cardinal rule of screenwriting: show, don’t tell. I mentioned before that good Wilson Fisk stories show him as a grandmaster, moving chess pieces across the board. The bad ones just tell you that he can. While Fisk probably gets the worst of it, there really isn’t a character in this movie who isn’t a cardboard cutout of their most vivid portrayals. There’s just no room to develop the characters.
Wait, maybe my least favorite line is actually:
“I Want A Bloody Costume.”
Bullseye delivers it as a contract demand to Fisk right before a cut to another scene. I think this was supposed to be a joke? The dialogue in this movie is not very good. It’s hard to tell.
One of the reasons it’s hard to tell is because I can’t really get a handle on what this movie’s opinions on costumes is or what even constitutes a superhero costume. It came out after the success of the first X-Men and Spider-Man movies, which each took a different approach to costume. X-Men went more realistic, putting its team it’s leather getups that made them look paramilitary and took a playful jab at wearing spandex in the script. Spider-Man took a slightly different tack, making the Green Goblin’s outfit more of a suit of armor while giving Spidey a more form-fitting outfit instantly recognizable as his classic duds while having more texture and heft than a lyrca bodysuit. Daredevil really split the baby between these two approaches.
With Bullseye, I think the implication is that his garish, impractical getup (including that ridiculous brand on his forehead) does not constitute a costume, but I don’t know who that would be everyday wear for. Maybe a cowboy that’s really into Ministry? It certainly doesn’t make sense for an assassin to stick out as much as possible. It’s much better than Daredevil, who gets both the leather look while trying to hew as close to his traditional comic book look as possible. The result is a maroon leather monstrosity that looks like it was designed for minimum flexibility. How does he clean it, hire a shoeshine to come over for a week? It’s a testament to how bad the costume design is that Elektra’s exploitative, form-fitting, cleavage and midriff bearing outfit (which somehow shows Jennifer Garner’s body off more than her comic book counterpart) is the most practical of the three.
The way that this movie has the violence of Frank Miller’s Daredevil with none of the craft parallels very closely what happened during the so-called “Grim n’ Gritty” boom of comics in the 90’s; we were plagued with a glut of comics that mimicked the darkness of Miller and Alan Moore’s seminal 80’s work with none of the craft. I think this happened with the Daredevil movie because Mark Steven Johnson felt pressure to tell the most famous Daredevil stories. He made as violent and depressing a movie as possible with a PG-13 rating. Like any comic book character with such a long publishing history, there is more than one type of Daredevil story you can tell. Miller’s take is the most defining on the character, but before and since a host of writers and artists have taken a lighter tone with the character. Currently, Mark Waid and a bunch of more retro-looking artists have a brighter take on the character that is just great comics. This movie is so locked into what Daredevil is, there’s no room for new ideas (or any ideas, really).
Also the color palate of the movie is just dark in general. It’s so murky it’s hard to tell what’s happening sometimes. This becomes a bigger problem when you get to:
It’s very trendy nowadays to say the real issue with the Star Wars prequels (especially Episode I: The Phantom Menace) is that it’s all greenscreens and interacting with no one instead of real acting and real action. I guess these critics don’t watch any non-Star Wars movies, because there are more egregious examples everywhere! Daredevil is one of the worst, especially when you compare how the Netflix series tackles similar challenges with a much smaller budget. The depiction of radar vision is noisy and ugly. There are so many clearly greenscreened cityscapes. The worst use of CGI is probably the fight scene where the bodies of the characters are shown climbing up the church. The only reason that’s not the worst fight scene is because this movie contains…
The Playground Fight Scene
Where to even start. I guess this is supposed to be some sort of meet cute, but Matt is basically stalking her. She says doesn’t like to be followed or be touched and he does both. Then they start physically fighting and she suddenly likes it! She finally gives him her name and they start dating. Bad model of consent. Then they fight in front of all these kids. Way to preserve your secret identity, Matt. The action itself is poorly done. It feels like they had wires and a fight choreographer who only used them because he felt bad they were ordered on accident. This is supposed to be the start of a great love story, but I just don’t feel that communicated.
The Music, Oh My God The Music
I could write a separate piece title: “Everything I Hate With Music In 2003,” but I will save myself a lot of time by just providing the tracklist for Daredevil: The Album. Even that title is horrible.
Every Other Actor
Colin Farrell was a big deal in 2003. Daredevil was one of five movies released that year featuring him. He was the next big thing. He still has some prestige as an actor today as he’s starring in the next season of True Detective. I assume most people think he’s a far more talented actor than Ben Affleck, myself included. And yet: he is terrible in this movie. Like I said before: Affleck isn’t great, but he’s not bad. Farrell is abysmal. He overacts so hard you would think he’s auditioning for the Mickey Mouse club.
He’s not the only one. Jennifer Garner brings none of the levity and all the seriousness of her work on Alias. The late, greatly missed Michael Clarke Duncan was given nothing to do, so he tries to fill his performance with cigar chewing and anger but there’s just nothing there. Joey Pants as Ben Urich is good casting, but you know that Kangol hat was his call and it’s not something Ben Urich would ever wear. If there was a little more on the page, maybe that hat wouldn’t be doing all of the characterization. Did you know Ellen Pompeo from Gray’s Anatomy plays Karen Page? Of course you didn’t because she’s not very memorable. Finally, dude who plays Wesley: I’m sorry, but you’ll always be the rollerblade messenger from Caroline In The City to me.
So that’s it. Like I said, Affleck’s not the best, and this movie’s not very good. It’s just not his fault!
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