Saturday, April 7, 2012

Marvel Movie Project #19: Daredevil

By the time the Daredevil movie hit the big screen we were far enough past the awe of having major motion pictures with super-heroes that there was no excuse for this film to be this shoddy.  Poor cinematography, abysmal storytelling, and a complete misunderstanding of the character plague what could have been an excellent character study.

The film starts off on the wrong foot and goes downhill from there.  Daredevil is a lot like Batman.  Both have their family killed by crime and then swear to do what the law cannot.  Neither have super powers, DD's radar sense is more of an extra sense than a power, but both take action where the police cannot to bring scofflaws to justice.  Yet neither of them take their specific brand of justice too the ultimate conclusion.  Neither hero kills.  They both bring the criminal to the proper authorities so that justice can be served.  Unless, of course, you watch this movie, in which, during the first scene with Daredevil, he pushes a criminal in front of a subway train and watches as the train runs him over.  That's right, according to the makers of this film, Daredevil is a cold-blooded murderer.  As you can see, right from the beginning, it is obvious that the filmmakers have no idea who Daredevil is.  If this is how we start, what chance do we have for the duration?

Not much.  From there, the story is all over the place just like the characterization.  In the span of 90 minutes we are introduced to Daredevil, Foggy Nelson, Elektra, the Kingpin of Crime, and Bullseye and we are expected to know and care about the fates of all of them.  It's just not possible.  The film only lasts 103 minutes, but the producers try to cram about 30 years worth of storytelling into that time and it just isn't possible.  All of the characters are flat, with the exception of Matt Murdock who has more character than he needs (see the apropos of nothing sensory deprivation tank) and Foggy Nelson who is excellently portrayed by John Favreau, who also kills it as Happy Hogan in the Iron Man movies.  The rest of the characters are just cardboard cut outs.  Michael Clarke Duncan would make an excellent Kingpin, but he is given nothing to do with it.  Same for Colin Farrel whose Bullseye is almost likeable for an assassin. If you've read our Elektra review then you know how I feel about Garner's portrayal of that character which is a shame because there is real potential for fireworks between Elektra and Daredevil in this movie.  Don't get me wrong, the director tries really, really hard to force a romance down our throat, but much like in those reprehensible "Star Wars" prequels, it feels forced and doesn't work.

Which can also be said for much of the storytelling.  At the crux of the film there is a big showdown in the street between Daredevil, Elektra and Bullseye.  During this fight Bullseye kills Elektra's father in cold blood in the middle of the street.  Elektra is present when this happens, she is pretty much next to father.  She sees everything that happens and yet for some reason she blames her father's death on DD instead of Bullseye.  The only thing I can figure is that she was also witness to the earlier scene where DD killed that thug in the subway.  Anyway, the rest of the film plays out based on this blatantly wrong assumption as Elektra tries to kill Daredevil, Daredevil tries to hunt down Bullseye and ends up confronting the Kingpin in a big showdown that is unspectacular because there is no real established reason why Daredevil would go up against the Kingpin anyway--apart from Fisk being the head of organized crime in the city.  The plot is cracker thin and loosely held together by convenient associations.

Finally, the cinematography in this film is distracting at best and confusing at worst.  Symptomatic of this problem is the bar fight scene where Daredevil roughs up a pool hall full of criminals for no apparent reason (I think he is looking for someone or something, probably to kill them).  The entire scene is pieced together with choppy action sequences shot in dim lighting (even for a bar scene the place is dark).  It is nearly impossible to tell what is happening or follow any of the action. I get the feeling the director was trying to convey the sense of disorientation that Daredevil experiences in a battle such as this, even with his radar sense.  The repeated use of the ceiling fan blades as contrast over emphasizes this fact, but does not make the stylistic choice any more effective.  This is also apparent in the use of (very convenient) rain in the rooftop scenes with Elektra.  The director tries so hard to make a style piece, but undermines it at every turn with cheap devices and poor choices.  The scene between Elektra and Matt Murdock in the park means to be fun and lighthearted, but comes across as a goofy, unrealistic action scene that is nearly a parody.

Like most of these movies at the bottom of the list, the character and subject matter are capable of being conveyed in a powerful and meaningful way, but the choices made by the filmmakers take that potential and grind it into the dirt.  Daredevil is saved almost entirely on the back of some sound performances by Michael Clarke Duncan, John Favreau, and Colin Farrell despite the fact that they are given little to work with in this film.  Sadly, the main character is pretty unlikable and uncharacteristic of the comic book hero he is meant to depict.  The movie comes across like a made-for-TV special, not a major motion picture.

Aimee's Take:

We're moving up the list now and things are getting tricky. Unlike the last few tankers, these movies are starting to have things about them that are actually pretty good. But, exactly like the last few tankers, they also have things that make me want mind bleach, so that I can deny I've ever seen them. 

Daredevil is just such a film. It gets most everything terribly wrong. I think making Daredevil into a cold-blooded murderer was a bold choice. Doesn't anyone wonder why every time Matt Murdoch loses a case, the defendant turns up on the third rail or splattered on the sidewalk? Look, Daredevil was introduced to me first through reading Spider-Man back issues (reprints of course) and he was more like the wise guardian, compelling Spider-Man into ethical behavior. Not trying to kill people. That's how I met the Punisher. Is this the Punisher movie we always wanted? There's not much to cling to here; choppy, migraine-inducing editing, painfully bad characterization of pretty much every character, a muddled plot--I thank Jesus every day that this movie is only an hour and a half long.

"Don't talk to me, Mom! I'm a murderer!"
 But, and, believe me, it pains me to say it, there are things about this movie that are enjoyable.
  • Bullseye, my least favorite "super villain" of all time, is actually pretty enjoyable in this movie. I'm not going to assassinate the character here, because he's one of the only things that is remotely interesting about the entire movie.
  • Foggy Nelson is perfect. Don't change a damn thing--unless it's to pluck him right out of this film and into a better Daredevil movie.
  • I think I may have laughed at a joke or something in this film. Not sure. It was probably a Foggy scene.
But then, there's a lot of stuff that's just painful. They work in an absurd amount of comic book references--references to writers, artists, etc. That's really awesome. I like that. But stop overdoing it, please? Specifically, stop saying "Quesada" over and over and over. It's probably innocuous to people who don't know who that is, but references should be subtle. Otherwise, it feels... dirty.

If you read my Elektra take, you already know how I feel about ol' Man-Hands. But she's not the worst offender here, it's the plot. It's really just the plot. Ok, and the script. And the cast--most of it. But that's where the problems stop. Unless you count the cinematography, of course... but who does?

The only reason Daredevil isn't on the bottom of the list is that, believe us, there are worse movies out there. But so many could make a compelling run for last. So many.

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