Daredevil (2003)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #22

Take the dare

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 103 minutes | 133 minutes (director’s cut)
BBFC: 15
MPAA: PG-13 (theatrical cut) | R (director’s cut)

Original Release: 14th February 2003 (USA, UK & others)
First Seen: cinema, February 2003

Stars
Ben Affleck (Pearl Harbor, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice)
Jennifer Garner (13 Going on 30, The Invention of Lying)
Michael Clarke Duncan (The Green Mile, Sin City)
Colin Farrell (Minority Report, Alexander)

Director
Mark Steven Johnson (Ghost Rider, When in Rome)

Screenwriter
Mark Steven Johnson (Grumpy Old Men, Ghost Rider)

Based on
Daredevil, a Marvel Comics superhero created by Stan Lee and Bill Everett.

The Story
Blind New York lawyer Matt Murdock defends the innocent by day, and by night uses his special abilities to bring the guilty to justice as costumed vigilante Daredevil. When crime boss Wilson Fisk, aka Kingpin, hires Bullseye to take out a business associate, the assassin frames Daredevil for the crime, which brings him into conflict with the businessman’s combat-trained daughter, Elektra.

Our Hero
Blinded as a child, Matt Murdock found his other senses heightened. Following the murder of his father, he trained in the law. Now by day he’s a defender of the innocent, and by night hunts the guilty as superhero Daredevil. Even though the film mixes in his origin story, it doesn’t take a “Year One” approach to his crimefighting, which makes a change of pace even now. (In recent years a lot of the blame for the film’s failure has been laid at Ben Affleck’s door, because it’s popular to bash ’00s-era Affleck. Rotten Tomatoes’ short summary of contemporary reviews tells a different story, stating “Ben Affleck fits the role” as one of the film’s key qualities.)

Our Villains
Coming off the back of The Green Mile, Michael Clarke Duncan was the obvious chap to step into the giant shoes of Hell’s Kitchen’s crime lord, Wilson Fisk, aka Kingpin. The real fun comes courtesy of Colin Farrell’s crazy, campy killer, Bullseye, who enlivens the film any time he’s on screen.

Best Supporting Character
Jennifer Garner is terribly miscast as Elektra, really, but she makes a fair fist of it nonetheless, and the film doesn’t shy away from the outcome of that storyline.

Memorable Quote
“Hey, that light, at the end of the tunnel? Guess what? That’s not heaven… that’s the C train.” — Daredevil

Memorable Scene
Matt and Elektra spar in a children’s playground. It’s a scene some people despise, probably because of what it thinks passes for dialogue, but you can’t say it doesn’t stick in the mind.

Memorable Music
If you were of the right age and disposition back in the early ’00s, the Daredevil soundtrack was more influential than the film itself. It was partly responsible for launching gothy rock group Evanescence, who you may remember for Bring Me to Life, which was on the film’s soundtrack and was their biggest hit (it was #1 here for four weeks). I think they’re still going, despite numerous changes of line-up, though they release albums once in a blue moon.

Letting the Side Down
“All of it!” Oh, hush, you.

Making of
Originally greenlit as a relatively low-budget film, at roughly $50 million, during shooting Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man was released and became a huge hit (it was the first film to gross over $100 million in one weekend). Consequently, Fox upped Daredevil’s budget to $80 million, specifically to “enhance the film’s visuals”. I guess that’s where all the Spider-Man-esque CGI tumbling came from, then.

Previously on…
Although this is the first full-blown adaptation of Daredevil to actually make it to the screen, he’s turned up in other characters’ series down the years, including both live-acton (1989 TV movie The Trial of the Incredible Hulk, which starred John Rhys-Davies as Kingpin) and animation (episodes of the ’90s Spider-Man and Fantastic Four series).

Next time…
Although no sequel was forthcoming, Jennifer Garner starred in spin-off Elektra. Whatever you think of the 2003 Daredevil, Elektra is much, much worse. Numerous attempts at a reboot movie faltered, until the rights reverted to Marvel Studios, who used the property to kick off the Netflix arm of the MCU. As much as I like the movie, the TV series is much better. Season two is released this Friday, so if you’ve not seen any then you’ll soon have 26 episodes to catch up on, you lucky thing you.

Awards
1 Razzie (Worst Actor (Ben Affleck, also for Gigli and Paycheck))
1 Razzie nomination (Worst Actor of the Decade (Ben Affleck, also for everything else he did in the ’00s))
1 Kids’ Choice Award nomination (Best Female Butt Kicker)
2 MTV Movie Awards Mexico nominations (including Best Colin Farrell in a Movie (it lost to S.W.A.T.))

What the Critics Said
“This is the Unforgiven of superhero films. Conventions are turned on their head, twisted, questioned. […] In almost every superhero film, there’s another conventional scene where the villain has the hero cornered and helpless. Yet the villain never unmasks the hero. That scene drove me nuts in Spider-Man. […] In Daredevil, no one ever hesitates to unmask DD. That’s what I mean by this being a film grounded in reality. People act real, do real things. Even if they are wearing silly costumes.” — “Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr”, Ain’t It Cool News

Score: 44%

What the Public Say
“Colin Farrell is deliciously hammy and steals every scene he’s in, showing he’s having a total blast (and to be honest, the hamminess suits Bullseye). Michael Clarke Duncan is PERFECT casting for Kingpin, for his size, stature, overall menacing feel. And honestly, I like Ben Affleck in this, too. He makes me believe he’s blind. He makes me believe that he’s a broken, tortured character who tries to put on a brave face in front of his friends.” — Nick Piers

Verdict

The runt of the litter when it comes to the (first) modern explosion of superhero movies, Daredevil has, believe it or not, always had its fans. The darker tone than contemporary X-Men or Spider-Man films works in its favour in that respect, though I know not everyone feels that way. Ben Affleck actually does a solid job as the titular hero, while Michael Clarke Duncan was perfectly cast as hulking villain Kingpin. Most enjoyable, though, is Colin Farrell’s finely-judged camp craziness as henchman Bullseye. Okay, the Netflix series has now easily surpassed it, but the Daredevil movie is still a moderately underrated film for its era. (The Director’s Cut is apparently much better, too, though I’ve still not made the time for it.)

Season two of Marvel’s Daredevil is available on Netflix from Friday.

#20 will be next… with character actors planning genocide.

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6 thoughts on “Daredevil (2003)

    • I think it was in a comment on the introduction that I was saying there are some ‘personal favourite’-type movies I’ve chosen to include, instead of better-regarded films I could’ve picked. This is definitely one of those.

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      • Hey, no problem, I’ve plenty fave films that would raise a few eyebrows. Daredevil is intetesting though as it was the casting of Affleck that was a big subject of debate at the time, how ironic looking back on it as he would later become Batman.

        Its not a bad film, but also of interest if only as a demo of Marvel working stuff out prior to things clicking with Iron Man etc.

        Liked by 1 person

        • It’s funny looking back at contemporary reviews of it now: it was never well-regarded as a film, but today people put all/most of the blame on Affleck, whereas at the time there was near-universal praise for his performance. He has made some terrible film choices, but I think he’s very watchable when he makes good ones.

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