Daredevil (2003)

It doesn’t make any radar sense!
★★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
2003
Director: 
Mark Steven Johnson
Starring: 
Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Colin Farrell, Michael Clarke Duncan
The Setup: 
Bad adaptation of minor Marvel superhero.
Discussion: 

I saw this when it was out in theaters, and while I thought it wasn’t great, I didn’t see how it was THAT much worse than anything else. Ah, how time can reveal. Having bought the disc for $3 [I now own it!] because I was curious, this time it was quite apparent why it misses in several key ways, the most apparent being that it has no plot and the villain has no plan.

After an okay / cheesy credits sequence in a pretty CGI city, we see a horrible CGI rat and scan up a bad CGI cathedral while having pointless intercut flashes of Daredevil fighting. He climbs down into the cathedral, where he collapses, helped by a kindly priest, and starts having flashbacks. Young Matt [that’s our hero] was bullied, then comes home to have his boxer single father tell him not to fight. Later, Matt happens across his Dad acting as a thug, drops his straight-A report card, and then, tragically, the all-too-common accident in which a forklift tears a barrel of toxic waste which spurts directly into a child’s eyes, causing him to go blind. But then, Matt can “see” through sound because of “a sort of radar sense” and he starts running and jumping and flipping all over the city as “the boy without fear.” Then his dad refuses to throw a fight for the mob, and gets killed, with a rose being left on his corpse. Then we see Matt as grown-up blind lawyer, with extremely unfortunate attempt at spiky early-2000’s hair. Then we see Daredevil leap off a skyscraper, only to land on window-washer platforms and be fine. All of this, by the way, is the first 20 minutes of the movie, and you’ll note that there has been no actual story yet, just flashback origin story.

So Daredevil goes into a bar where a rapist he tried to put away as a lawyer is. He beats up the entire bar—you’ll note that his “radar sense” allows him to hear bullets in time to move to avoid them—and you’ll notice that the fighting includes a great deal of wire-fu. The rapist runs down into the subway, where they fight and Daredevil leaves him to get cut in two by an approaching train. Back home in the upper levels of the cathedral, we see that his back is a mess of scars, hear a girlfriend break up with him by phone [he’s emotionally unavailable], see him remove one of his own teeth, and then pop either a Percoset or Vicodin, not sure which. He then goes to bed in a sensory deprivation tank filled with dark fluid, which to me looks like a serious drowning risk. But then, I don’t have radar sense!

We have Jon Favreau tossed in as comic relief, and suddenly Matt senses Jennifer Garner about to talk in as Elektra. She is ludicrously glammed-up with ultra-perfect hair and these monstrously fake green eye lenses. She blows Matt off in the coffeeshop [I don’t think she even drank anything, btw] before leaving, whereupon he follows her, whereupon they have a LUDICROUS fight / flirt at this playground, with mucho wire-fu, including one in which they both flip upside-down, then land balanced on a see-saw. Then she finally tells him her name, and it turns out that she’s the daughter of a Greek shipping magnate.

Now, a consistent problem of the movie is that, when in his frosted “blind” contact lenses, which is frequently, Affleck looks quite cross-eyed. It’s something that goes completely unaddressed [and you’d think someone would have noticed?], but no, it just continues throughout the film. Matt, by the way, is essentially perfect, always one step ahead of everyone and knowing everything and showing us again and again that being blind doesn’t stop him from seeing. Wow, he’s so amazing!

Meanwhile, there’s Michael Clarke Duncan as Kingpin, notorious gangster. Only, somehow the city doesn’t know WHO the mysterious Kingpin is, and think he’s simply Fisk, which barely registers as a mystery, since we know who he is from the start. For a while, we shuttle quickly—too quickly—between Kingpin, Daredevil and Elektra, Colin Farrell as assassin Bullseye, Matt as a lawyer, and other little vignettes that make the movie spin its wheels in place. You’ll also note that it’s a full moon every single night in this city. Then Matt forces Elektra to stand in the rain so he can “see” her [because he can hear the individual raindrops, of course], and then they make slow, sensuous love—a little more sensuous than I expected to see in a PG-13 movie, but we can also see people impaled through the head in the same film, so I guess the MPAA was having a chill afternoon that day.

Now, we’re an hour into the 103-minute film, and has anything I’ve described so far sounded anything like a PLOT? Let alone a STORY? No, it doesn’t, and in fact, never bothers to develop one. It’s just THAT avant-garde, eschewing traditional narrative in favor of a bunch of tangentially-related scenes, in a way that forces us to re-evaluate our old musty perceived expectations of what constitutes “story.” Or it’s just completely inept, but it’s one of those two for sure.

SPOILERS > > >
Now, previously, Daredevil has had cause to question whether he really is a force for good, or just a vengeance-seeking vigilante, which caused him to stand atop a roof and say “I’m not the bad guy—I’m NOT!” That will come back later. Then Elektra’s dad, who was involved with Kingpin but tried to get out, is targeted by Bullseye. After a battle, Bullseye kills her dad with Daredevil’s nunchuck-thing, and she automatically assumes that he did it. It’s just a skip and jump to a rooftop battle where Elektra is trying to kill Daredevil, and won’t listen that he didn’t do it. I think she’s being pretty simple-minded to be absolutely certain he killed her pops when she didn’t actually see much at all. Anyway, she stabs Daredevil in the shoulder, which puts him out of commission—rare for a movie, which usually treats being stabbed or shot in the shoulder as the equivalent of a blister—that is, until it’s convenient for him suddenly to spring back, a half hour later, as though nothing happened.

Anyway, looks like Elektra buys it, as she gets impaled, but we all know she’s going to make it and go on to her own tie-in failure movie. Daredevil leaves her there to die and repairs back to his cathedral, where we rejoin him at the moment from the beginning. He’s near death from his shoulder wound, when suddenly Bullseye comes in, and POOF! Back to normal, no worse for wear! This fight is a mixture of CGI figures and more wire-fu, and nothing about it seems real.

There is an absolutely idiotic thing—like the actors should have protested—where Bullseye knocks out a stained glass window, then moves his hands around in an idiotic way to catch all the pieces, letting them fall into neat stacks on his hand. Then he starts launching them like throwing stars, so what does Daredevil do to avoid them? Naturally, he does a BACKFLIP. As anyone knows—and further evidence is revealed in the hideous second Charlie’s Angels movie—if someone is firing a gun at you, or shooting razor-sharp projectiles at you, simply doing a BACKFLIP will render you invincible, as all those nasty projectiles will just miss! The military obviously didn’t anticipate backflips when inventing machine guns!

Anyway, Bullseye tells Daredevil that Fisk is Kingpin, which all of us knew the whole time, and Daredevil kills Bullseye. This means, as I’m sure you must know if you cared enough to think about it—highly doubtful—that Kingpin killed Daredevil’s dad way back in the day, pursuant to superhero protocol 147.5B that decrees that in the hero’s first film, he will find that the villain is the same one that killed his parents/wife/child/goldfish back in the day. He throws Bullseye out the window to his death, then takes off to find Kingpin.

He does that handily, and is in the guy’s office next second. Michael Clarke Duncan considerately takes off his shirt for the scuffle, which may lead you to exclaim “God-DANG, that man is HUGE!” if not other oaths of a more personal nature. They have a rather tepid fight, especially considering that this is supposed to be the climax, but finally Daredevil starts the sprinkler system, and you know he can hear each and every one of those drips, so he can “see” Kingpin, and he kicks out his knees, which doesn’t even look that serious, but apparently knocks out the “mighty” Kingpin. The villain asks “Aren’t you going to kill me?” But Daredevil says: “No… I’m not the bad guy!” Which, like—WOAH. After a bit more bullshit, it’s over.
< < < SPOILERS END

I was prepared to think that this wasn’t THAT bad, and to give it a fair shake, and to think there might be something rewarding about it—but no, it really is just shit. The main problem: it has no story. It has a succession of incidents, but no plot, no story. We get Matt’s story, and we find out how he met Elektra, and we learn that there’s this villain Kingpin out there… but Kingpin doesn’t have any evil plan, and has no issue with Daredevil, except that he’s after bad guys. Daredevil has no clear mission, except get rid of bad guys, but he has no one focus throughout the movie. There’s a bit of intrigue when Elektra thinks that Daredevil killed her dad, but that’s not a story—that’s a misunderstanding, and it’s cleared up right away. This is written and directed by this person Mark Steven Johnson, who also directed the execrable Ghost Rider and Simon Birch. I’m always a little shocked when studios hand their valuable franchises over to directors with nothing but stinkers on their resume, but they often do, killing off their franchises before they even begin. And I have to say… it’s not often the problem with a film, even with all the shitty films I watch, that the film has NO STORY. But that’s what we’re looking at, folks!

Now, you know that the spin-off film Elektra was already approved before this one was finished, right? And that the failure of this film put the nails in its coffin before it was even released, and it was finally thrown out there with an apologetic little release? Yup, that’s what happened. And that film sucks, it’s true, but it’s nowhere near as bad as this one, AND it has a story!

What else? Well, just the things I’ve mentioned—Matt looks cross-eyed. The CGI and wire-fu make the fights unexciting and ludicrous. Garner is ridiculously glammed-up, and her fighting and flirting with Affleck is just embarrassing. There’s really pretty much nothing redeeming about this, but I didn’t HATE watching it. Although that’s pretty much the most positive thing I can say.

Should you watch it: 

Nah, no reason to.

Comments

There was this period where movies really, really wanted us to accept that Jennifer Garner was an awesome sexy actress who was totally going to be this force in Hollywood leading ladies. Like, they were pushing her SO hard. And I think it was pretty much Elektra that put the kibosh on that idea. Which, what *is* it with studio executives and pushing women who have extremely prominent facial bones and zero, um, female-shape? (See also Keira Knightley.)

Do you think it's the zero female shape thing or... does Hollywood just try to ram certain actors on us at different times, and they either work out or [usually] fail? It seems there are many actors of both sexes that are everywhere for a while, then just kind of don't catch on, and the push gets dropped [or the actor drops back from all the pressure]... which is when they usually start doing more interesting movies, as Garner and Knightley have done...

Case in point: the huge push to make Colin Farrell a movie star in 2002-2003, of which this was a part of.

In those two years:

Hart's War opposite Bruce Willis
Minority Report opposite Tom Cruise
Phone Booth - starring role
The Recruit - opposite Al Pacino
Daredevil
SWAT - opposite Sam Jackson

He was treated as if he was a hot leading man, without finding out if audiences even liked him. They didn't - these films were either financial disappointments or their success could be attributed their headlining star. Which is why, when they announced 'Alexander', I was wondering who they thought was eager to watch an unlikable douchebag for 3 1/2 hours. Answer: Barely anyone. Budget $155 million. Box Office: $167 million. Career was over.

He started getting good notices doing character parts around the turn of the 2010's, but Hollywood didn't learn their lesson and cast him as the lead in Total Recall. Budget $125 million. American Box Office: $58 million. Luckily it made back its budget overseas, but you'll notice he's on TV now, trying to be critically-acclaimed.

Hell, will Hollywood ever make Ryan Reynolds the into the star they believe him to be, even though audiences constantly reject him? I guess we'll wait and see.

There's an extended director's cut of Daredevil that reinstates a long subplot involving the trial of Coolio, which makes the movie a little less stupid, but only moderately so.

Yeah, I think this is typical for both men and women... You get stars that are the new thing and in all sorts of movies [and magazine covers and etc] that either make it or get dropped [or, I suspect, drop out due to the pressure] and may or may not come back... Look at Josh Lucas or Paul Walker or Gretchen Mol [briefly dubbed the "new it girl"] or Leelee Sobieski or Gerard Butler or Jessica Alba... they get their tryout period and mostly get tossed aside [from shitty pop movies] and, depending on their perseverence, can come back in smaller or indie roles. It's apparently kind of a Hollywood MO.

Although that was more a one-man effort by Stephen Speilberg.

I don't think it's the physical appearance thing that made them not be received well; I think it was just the movies that they were in. Julia Roberts would have been there too if she hadn't played in "Pretty Woman". It's just odd that the women who get that hard push often seem to be of that androgynous type. Like, no boobs is something that comes from nature but these girls hardly seem to have any body fat at all!

Hehehe, YES to Shia... although don't forget Michael Bay [although Speilberg is listed as "exec producer" on the Transformers movies...]

I've honestly never noticed that aggressively pitched actresses were more androgynous... what about Angelina Jolie or Scarlett Johansson? Although it might speak more to how skinny they have to be to find success.

To the commenter who objected to some of the language in this thread... You make a valid point, but I decided not to post your comment, because I don't want this to become a venue for policing of each other's language. There's too much of that all over the Internet and I don't think it has much of a positive effect. If you want to write me directly, Id be happy to discuss...

This review had me laughing out loud throughout. Thanks. Patty

The movie is "eh" at best, but the Netflix series is ah-ma-zing. Don't let the blahness of this flick scare you away from an excellent show (Vincent D'nofrio kills it as the Kingpin).