In advance of Marvel’s Daredevil Netflix premiere, we looked back at the 2003 movie to see if it has anything to offer the new TV adaptation.
Marvel’s Daredevil drops its entire first season on Netflix this Friday – 13 episodes starring Charlie Cox as Matthew Murdock. Daredevil is the first of four Marvel Netflix projects following slightly minor – that is, non-Avenger – superheroes, in a move that will expand the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s reality and give Marvel Studios a bigger playing field in which to move their characters around in. But Daredevil is the first Marvel hero to get an MCU adaptation relatively soon after an unattached headlining movie was made – oh, fine, not the first, but let’s repress the whole Hulk disaster. In 2003, Ben Affleck starred in Daredevil, a 20th Century Fox blockbuster production that pre-dated the MCU.
For those who aren’t familiar with the Daredevil character, the hero – real name Matthew Murdock – is a normal guy who was blinded in an accident as a child. He developed extreme sensitivity in all his other senses, leading to some pretty fantastic superpower-like skills. After the murder of his father, he dedicates his life to fighting for justice. By day, he’s a lawyer dedicated to protecting the innocent, and by night, he’s a vigilante fighter who wreaks violent punishment on the guilty.
Now that they’ve got the rights to their characters back and all that lovely Disney money at their disposal, Marvel Studios have approached their screen adaptations very differently to the way that superhero movies have been done in the past, and it’s safe to say that the world has fallen in love. But that doesn’t mean that the earlier adaptations have nothing to offer… does it? We watched all 133 minutes of the 2003 Daredevil director’s cut in order to see what fundamental elements of the movie are worth transferring to the MCU series, and what needs to go.
Spoiler alert: there’s a lot that needs to go.
Change It: The Tonal Shift
One of Daredevil’s biggest immediate flaws was its constantly changing tone, an aspect that comes across as very jarring. Most of the film is neo-noir style, which is quite appropriate for a morally grey hero who works out of a store-front law firm – they’ve got the slatted door blinds and all, though we could do without the voiceover. But the movie shifts abruptly into random scenes of light-hearted coffee shop conversation and even farce. Murdock’s flirtatious fight with Elektra is almost slapstick-y, and the ratio of different styles and cinematography in different scenes seems like a mess, not a choice. The Netflix showrunners need to know what they want the show to look like and stick to it.
Change It: The Costume
Yes, the red suit with horns is iconic. Yes, it’s a symbol of avenging his dad – not that the movie actually spells this out. No, we don’t care. It’s ridiculous and outdated and it’s going to need to be adapted for this version of the story. The MCU has done a fantastic job of reimagining some of the campiest comic book costumes ever into beautiful, practical and realistic suits while still managing to pay homage to tradition, like Captain America’s USO costume versus the gorgeous Winter Soldier strike suit. In the movie, Matt Murdock shows up fully formed as his Daredevil identity, suit and all, so we hope that the Netflix series gives us more insight into how Murdock developed his own vigilante costume… and that it’s a little more plausible.
Change It: The Dialogue
Oh, it’s rough. The script is bad, the delivery is wooden – this movie was made in a time where screenwriting was clearly not a high priority when creating action-based films. We, on the whole, expect better these days. But more specifically, television is a writer’s medium – people might go to the cinema and be excited by the fight scenes or effects of a superhero movie, but that won’t get them tuning in week by week or marathoning 13 hours all in one go. Writing for TV is very different than writing for movies – even genre television can’t hide bad dialogue and characterization behind action scenes. The writing holds it all together, and the standards of the Daredevil movie ain’t gonna cut it.
Change It: The Villains
Daredevil has always had his own unique villains, but their movie counterparts left a lot to be desired. Colin Farrell as Bullseye had the potential to be fascinating, but strayed a little too far into wide-eyed crazy with no explanation of how he got that way. And the lovable Michael Clarke Duncan as crime lord Kingpin just didn’t manage to pull off scary, even when he was bashing people’s heads in. The bad guys had no depth or motivation, but we know from experience that this particular element is one at which Marvel Studios excels. MCU villains are engaging characters in their own right, and with the very accomplished Vincent D’Onofrio taking on Kingpin in the new series, we expect to be impressed!
Change It: The Special Effects
The movie was made over 12 years ago, so we can pretty much rest assured that the post-production available today to even a Netflix TV series with a relatively low budget will outmatch the VFX of a blockbuster released in 2003. That doesn’t change the fact that Daredevil’s visuals were pretty painful – particularly the way that Murdock “sees” with his other senses. This is an important aspect for the character, but we really hope that the new showrunners have come up with something better than glowing blue glitter.
Change It: The Ladies
The Daredevil movie has exactly two female characters of any relevance. Well, three if you count the dead prostitute, but she’s more of a plot point than an actual person. One of the women, Elektra, is a skilled fighter who actually has a fascinating future ahead of her after she’s “killed” – she did end up getting her own movie, after all, but in Daredevil she’s mostly shown as a poor little rich girl who Murdock decides is one of the only two people he’s ever loved after hanging out with her three times. The other female character, Karen Page, is a secretary who brings coffee for the lawyers and solves one clue. Karen is slated to be one of the lead characters in the Netflix series, and we can only pray that she’s allowed to have a personality.
Change It: The Music
2003’s Daredevil had a very of-the-moment soundtrack featuring the early Noughties popular grunge and nu-metal scene – it includes the likes of Nickelback, The Calling, Seether, and not one, but two Evanescence tracks which later became massive hits. We’ll be frank – it was hard to take a funeral scene set to “My Immortal” seriously, because the over-dramatic sorrow of that musical genre is now more commonly used as a parody. Hopefully the Netflix show will choose music that stands the test of time a little better.
Change It: The Manpain
Matt Murdock is one of the most complex characters in the Marvel comics canon. His Catholic faith weighs heavily on him as he tries to rationalize his violent behavior. As a lawyer, he’s dedicated his life to belief in the judicial system, yet he feels the need to punish those who escape punishment from the law. His own moral compass is often conflicted about these two avenues for justice, and religious guilt adds a whole other level to that situation. However, Ben Affleck’s Murdock has no complexity. He has no personality. He has manpain. His faith is not explored apart from him sitting in a church occasionally. We know he is religious, but not what that means or how it affects his life as Daredevil. The movie’s idea of giving him inner moral conflict is for him to yell “JUSTICE” at people and then stand on rooftops muttering “I’m not the bad guy, I’m not the bad guy” whenever he takes someone out. We learn nothing about him as a human being – the movie goes from childhood origin story to fully formed superhero. We’re going to assume that the new show wants their leading man to be more than just manpain in a red suit and that the aspects of life that motivate and hinder Matt Murdock will be addressed at length.
Change It: The… DC-ness
We’re not sure if it’s ironic or fitting that Ben Affleck has moved on to playing Batman, because Daredevil was about as DC as a Marvel movie could possibly get. Look. If you bat for the other team here, sorry, but somewhere along the way, DC fell behind as the boring, angsty and morally questionable big brother in terms of superhero franchises. It’s not necessarily indicative of the comics, but it’s certainly true of the Warner Bros adaptations – for a long while, they lead the charge and every superhero movie made was designed to imitate their aesthetic as much as possible, but once Marvel Studios branched out on their own, they became known for their lively, realistic, sympathetic and character-driven stories. Let’s face it – DC is the Stannis Baratheon to Marvel’s Renly, the Star Wars to Marvel’s Star Trek, the Bruce Wayne to their Tony Stark… hang on a minute. The point is, 2003’s Daredevil clearly subscribes to the “let’s copy Warner Bros” mission statement, and while the new series is expected to be darker the Marvel films, there’s no room for gritty one-note melodrama in our MCU.
Keep It: The Foggy!
As we have already lamented, Ben Affleck’s Matt Murdock has very little personality. We know what he does, we know vaguely why he does it, but we see very little of who he is. The only moments of the movie where Murdock leaps off the screen and feels like an actual human person are during his scenes with Franklin “Foggy” Nelson, his best friend and law partner. Jon Favreau played Foggy as a comic relief sidekick much the same as he plays Happy Hogan in Iron Man, but he made Matt Murdock feel like a real guy. Foggy will be played by Elden Henson in the new series, and we’re crossing our fingers that his Foggy will contribute the same support and chemistry to Charlie Cox’s Daredevil.