Daredevil was part of a fad for screen adaptations of Marvel Comics that came as a result of the successes of X-Men (2000) and Spider-Man (2002). Daredevil had previously appeared on screen as a supporting character in the tv movie The Trial of the Incredible Hulk (1989) in which Matt Murdock was called on to defend Bill Bixbys David Banner. There Daredevil was disappointingly portrayed as merely a black-clad ninja look-alike played by Rex Smith. This big screen adaptation is helmed by Mark Steven Johnson. Mark Steven Johnson is not exactly a name that gives one much cause for inspiration his previous works include the scripts for Grumpy Old Men (1993) and the bizarre snowman reincarnation film Jack Frost (1998) and he made his directorial debut with the incredibly mawkish childhood sentimentalism drama Simon Birch (1998). Daredevil was only Johnsons second film as director.
Mark Steven Johnson makes a decent stab at adapting the comic-book. This is clearly a Frank Miller-era Daredevil and Johnson places the focus on the principal Miller-era characters of Elektra, Kingpin and Bullseye. He keeps the look and details of the characters for the most part, although there are one or two odd changes Bullseye is missing his costume and is given an Irish background (presumably to accommodate Colin Farrells accent), Kingpin gets a race change. Most noticeably, Elektra Natchios is somewhat less voluptuous. She has her martial arts training background but is not an assassin who is hired by Kingpin (leaving explanation for her martial arts abilities sitting in a peculiar vacuum) and is killed off rather than becoming Daredevils ongoing love interest. The odd minor detail aside, Daredevil keeps to the essence of the comic book. There is also a noted fanboy enthusiasm that runs throughout the movie the rapist that Daredevil hunts down near the start is named Joe Queseda after the Daredevil comic writer/editor, while Derrick OConnors priest is named Father Everett after the characters co-creator Bill Everett. Johnson also throws in an appearance from Kevin Smith as a morgue attendant named Jack Kirby (after the legendary comic-book artist) and a cameo from Marvel guru Stan Lee as a man reading a newspaper that young Matt stops from crossing into traffic.
Unfortunately, we have seen most of Daredevil before. It is akin to a constructor set scenario of comic-book film adaptation elements. There is the heros origin witnessing his parent(s) killed and swearing vengeance (which to be fair to the film is faithful to the characters comic-book origin) and his eventual realisation that his adult nemesis is the killer a la Batman (1989); there is the complex love interest between secret identities; there are the breathtaking swoops and dives in between the skyscrapers of New York City with the camera following the superhero a la Spider-Man; there is the wire-flying, sped-up/slowed-down martial arts moves, which could be taken from any Hollywood action movie to come out since The Matrix (1999) (in fact, the action sequences have even been choreographed by Hong Kong fight coordinators); there are fetishistic closeup shots of the superhero slipping into his skintight leather costume; and there are the dark and moody shots of the superhero posed against brooding night skies and atop city buildings that could be replicated from any modern era graphic novel.
Daredevil feels more like a series of posed comic-book panels than it ever does a movie. It seems to exist as a series of hyper-kinetic but ultimately routinely choreographed martial arts battles between various protagonists rather than any character confrontations. Mark Steven Johnson even gives us Daredevil and Elektras initial courtship as an entirely showoffy martial arts battle in a childrens playground more than he ever does anything that ignites on screen. Ben Affleck gets to give a series of occasional voiceovers but these only strain at cliches of superheroic motivation the rest is just Daredevil posed against rooftops and the character lacks any of the depth and psychological complexity that the vigilante superhero was invested with in Tim Burtons two Batman outings, Batman and Batman Returns (1992), or the subsequent Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008).
While the film does a competent job of fleshing out the details of the comic-book, it is also ultimately unaffecting. Elektra is killed but the scene and Daredevils anguish at her death is peculiarly unmoving there seems more emotion invested in the death of the much smaller character of David Keith as Matts father. There is a modestly effective showdown with Kingpin at the end of the film but the character has been built up with astonishingly little stature as a nemesis throughout in fact, Kingpin and Daredevil meet only a single time (and then when he is out of costume as Matt at a party) before the big confrontation. The single magical moment that Mark Steven Johnson does give us is the scene where Ben Affleck takes Jennifer Garner to a rooftop as the rain begins to fall so that he can see her face outlined against the drops. Outside of that, Daredevil seems a film more invested in parroting the moves then it does in finding the soul of the superhero, or even in ultimately achieving the sheer exhilaration of seeing superheroics brought to life that Superman (1978) or X-Men gave us.
Mark Steven Johnson has assembled a competent cast. The lantern-jawed Ben Affleck may never convince the world he will ever be anything more than a pretty boy matinee idol and at least does what is expected of him in the part. As Elektra, Johnson casts Jennifer Garner, then a hot name as a result of tvs dazzlingly intelligent spy thriller Alias (2001-6). Alas, bereft of the tight plotting and moral complexity of Alias, Garner seems only a standard heroine with lithe moves. Michael Clark Duncan is a fine actor see The Green Mile (1999) and eventually comes to strength in an underwritten role; alas, it is his final scene. The then rising Colin Farrell gives an amazingly twitchy and completely over-the-top performance that remains merely one-dimensional.
The character of Elektra was later resurrected for a film spinoff, Elektra (2005), also starring Jennifer Garner. The character of Daredevil was revived for the much better tv series Daredevil (2015 ) starring Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock. The first season of the show reintroduced Kingpin in the form of a magnificent Vincent DOnofrio, while the second season introduced Elektra (played by Elodie Yung).
Other Marvel Comics big-screen adaptations include Blade (1998), X-Men (2000), Spider-Man (2002), Hulk (2003), The Punisher (2004), Fantastic Four (2005), Man-Thing (2005), Ghost Rider (2007), Iron Man (2008), Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), Thor (2011), The Avengers (2012), Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), Ant-Man (2015), Deadpool (2016), Doctor Strange (2016) and various sequels to most of these, as well as the tv series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013 ), Daredevil (2015 ), Agent Carter (2015-6), Jessica Jones (2015 ), Luke Cage (2016 ), Iron Fist (2017 ) and The Defenders (2017 ).