Roadkill Revisited: Daredevil (2003)

This time on 'Roadkill Revisited', I went back and rewatched the 2003 origin story of one of Marvel Comics most interesting characters, Daredevil. Full of cheesy theatrics, a clich├ęd structure of storytelling, and not the best acting even for a comic book movie, while this film was flawed in a handful of ways, it was never too cringe-worthy for me not to enjoy it. With an ounce of stylized cinematography and choreography (even if most of it was cheap CGI), 2003's Daredevil remains one of the more entertaining superhero flicks to watch when nothing else is on. Looking back at the film now, however, it's hard not to compare it with its far more superior Netflix adaptation.


Telling the story of blind lawyer Matt Murdock (Ben Affleck) who embarks on a violent crusade of justice in Hell's Kitchen, New York, following his father's death, at the time, 2003's Daredevil was probably one of the best superhero films out there. Following up after a very limited collection of good Marvel Comics films, like 1998's Blade and 2000's X-Men, Daredevil effectively tried to sell another popular Marvel character to major audiences. While it might not have had the ensemble star-power of X-Men nor the enjoyable charisma of 2002's Spider-Man, the dark yet playful take on the Devil of Hell's Kitchen -- a character I knew little about before seeing this film -- made for a borderline-campy adaptation with just enough thrill to make it watchable. Showing its age now, with its out-dated soundtrack and failure to truly capture the complete essence of the character compared to the 2015 Netflix series, justice wasn't the only thing that was blind in this film.

The Good: One of the more memorable elements of the film -- even if their acting wasn't -- was the cast. While the interactions between each character might often feel forced or even cringe-worthy (with no help from the film's writers), the cast of the film was one of the things that sold me on the film in the first place. From Ben Affleck's solid portrayal of blind attorney Matt Murdock (and his alter-ego, Daredevil) to Michael Clarke Duncan's menacing take on Wilson Fisk aka Kingpin, the cast managed to embody their comic-book counterparts decently, even if they still came off a tad bit campy at times. The most campy, aside from Jennifer Garner's mysterious Elektra, had to be Colin Farrell's eccentric assassin Bullseye, a fun character to watch but maybe just a little over-the-top.

Even when the special effects falter due to the film's budget and the limited technological advancements of the early 2000s, another memorable element from this film was its unique action and choreography. Whether its Daredevil roughing up a gang of thugs in a night club or Elektra slicing and dicing through some oddly-placed hanging sandbags, while the action might not be anything fantastic or new to the superhero genre (even in 2003), it was one of the most defining aspects of the film. Gritty and fast-paced, the few fight sequences the film had allowed for some entertaining breaks while the flawed plot played out.    


But we can all agree this scene was terrible, right?
The Bad: Unfortunately, looking back on this early project from Marvel Studios, there was undoubtedly more wrong with this film than there was right. From a laughable soundtrack of unusual -- yet slightly nostalgic -- heavy metal tunes to a cut-and-paste plot that really added nothing fresh to the genre, Daredevil remains a victim to old-fashioned ploys still popping up in Hollywood films today.

While the film's cast was excellent in terms of embodying their roles, the acting on some levels remained either cheesy or over-the-top, resulting in many character being left underdeveloped. Again comparing this film to the 2015 Netflix series, the performances of Charlie Cox as Murdock and Elden Henson as his trusty partner Foggy Nelson -- compared to those of Affleck and Jon Favreau in their respective roles -- present a radically different dynamic that comes off way more grounded and realistic. While I can't fault the film for its valiant effort to bring these characters to life in the length of a 2-hour film, compared to a 13-hour series, the unique charisma and realism of the Netflix series runs circles around the campy and underdeveloped performances presented in this film.

Sorry Ben Affleck, but Charlie Cox takes this round.
But nice audition for Batman.
Along with its characters, the tone of the film also had a number of issues, issues that while not detrimental to the film overall, ultimately left it without proper direction. Overly dark and comically cryptic, and all around unfriendly, the tone of the film presents a world completely engulfed in the shadows of its crime underworld -- and subsequent lack of proper justice. Compared to the Netflix series, where we find a less-gothic-looking New York intertwined with realistic people and circumstances, the film feels a lot like a fictional future rather than modern-day New York. Yes, while the atmosphere of the film might fit closer to the comics, the world in which we found our "heroes" was ultimately too unsettling and overtly depressing to actually care about.  

The Verdict: Overall, while 2003's Daredevil may not be the best adaptation of the famed Marvel character -- and may have spawned a lackluster spin-off surrounding the uninspiring take on Elektra offered up Jennifer Garner -- returning to the film wasn't too difficult a task, the film still retaining my attraction to all things superhero-related. While it might not be the best super-powered film to come out of the early 2000s, with mutant teams in black leather and an arachnid-themed teenager still holding great value against this film, the dark and gritty tale spun from this superhero flick isn't the worst of them out there. If you're looking for a faithful Daredevil adaptation outside of the realm of Netflix, I'd still recommend this film (or at least the Director's Cut).

What lackluster film should I revisit next? A bad comedy, a forgetful thriller, another cheesy superhero movie? Let me know your thoughts on this version of Daredevil in the comments below, and come back soon for another addition of 'Roadkill Revisited'!

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