Comics don’t stay in comics. For better or worse, most comic books are produced with the hope they will lead to films, cartoons, action figures, video games, backpacks, beach towels and bubble baths. Extra Medium is my weekly column about all those things and more.
Okay, the following is a confession, just so I lay all my cards out on the table. These are all my Facebook posts from August 22nd, the day of the Casting Choice heard ’round the world:
But, I have to say this is the one of which I’m most proud (but if you’re not the type to read comic book news, you might not get it).
In other words, yes, I was one of the hordes of angry Internet protesters who looked at the hunger, violence, deprivation, and subjugation in the world and chose to spend my energy bitching about Ben Affleck.
After the Internet gave me and my fellow whiners a few hours to cry it out, cooler heads linked compilations of reactions to similar casting choices, such as the announcement that Christopher Nolan chose Heath Ledger to play the Joker in The Dark Knight. Since Ledger proved the first actor to win an Oscar for playing a super-villain, the point of such a compilation was clear.
Now, eventually I calmed down and realized that Affleck would probably be OK. But at the time, I resented the parallel these calm bastards tried to draw.
While, like I said, I’ve since taken a pill, I have to admit that Angrier Me had a point. There was an important difference. People reacted to Ledger negatively because they never saw Ledger play anyone like the Joker. Since he hadn’t done it, they assumed he couldn’t do it. And yes, that was dumb.
With the Affleck casting, we have a different animal. Affleck starred in 2003′s Daredevil, one of the most hated comic book adaptations since X-Men opened the flood gates in 2000. So the Batfleck-haters might argue they have proof the Ledger-bashers lacked. They could say Affleck had his shot in the world of capes and masks, and he blew it.
Since I’ve joined the ranks of the cooler heads, I decided to watch Daredevil again to see not only if it was as bad as I remembered, but also if we can really blame Ben Affleck for whatever was so horrible about it.
Sometimes you watch a movie, then you watch it later with new eyes. That happened for me with Big Lebowski. For some reason, I was bored to tears in the theater, but the first time I watched it at home, I loved it.
Yeah, that didn’t happen so much with Daredevil. It’s bad. Really bad. It’s not only a bad movie; it feels like a bad made-for-TV movie, which is a whole different species of bad.
But, Ben Affleck doesn’t really seem to have a whole lot to do with its terribleness. I think sometimes the lead actors are lightning rods. If the movie as a whole is bad, there’s some kind of visceral reaction to that actor’s prominence. We blame him/her for everything about the film, even if their contribution was limited to showing up and remembering their lines.
No, Ben Affleck’s acting prowess had very little to do with what was horrible about Daredevil. Which is good, because the list is crowded enough.
7. THE KINGPIN
I don’t think Michael Clarke Duncan did a particularly bad job playing the Kingpin, but mainly because whoever he was playing, it wasn’t the Kingpin.
The Kingpin is as much CEO or daimyo as he is crime boss. It would be wrong to say he doesn’t enjoy violence, but he isn’t a psychotic. He is cerebral, cool, and only betrays emotion if it serves him to do so.
Duncan came off more like a serial killer who had stumbled into power. Leaving roses with his victims felt more like something a serial killer would do than a mob boss, and he seemed to enjoy killing for killing’s sake. And the constant cigar-chomping close-ups were annoying and felt contrived.
When I think of the Elektra of the comics, I think deadly, exotic, cunning. Jennifer Garner exudes none of that. She’s just Jennifer Garner with some stabby things.
And again, I don’t necessarily lay that at Garner’s doorstep. Her character doesn’t really have a lot to do. She’s there to be in love with Matt Murdock, to get really angry, and to die (or does she????).
My sense of Daredevil as a bad TV movie that somehow made its way into theaters comes mainly from its music. There are lots of out-of-place, popular hits, most notably Evanescence’s “Bring Me to Life” that brings me right the hell out of the story every time. I mean, I don’t know. Maybe there’s some tenuous connection to what’s going on in the songs and what’s going on on the screen, but all I hear is the ipod shuffle of a very sensitive teenager.
Colin Farrell played Daredevil’s nemesis pretty over-the-top, and sure, that makes sense. Bullseye’s a pretty over-the-top guy.
But it never seems real. Once he gets that padded leather coat, he whips it around in every shot like a freaking bullfighter. His twitchy, grunting affect just comes off like a bad Brad-Pitt-circa-Twelve-Monkeys or even Tyler Derden impersonation.
A lot of the martial arts scenes just don’t seem to have been shot right. Some of them – in particular the playground spar between Matt and Elektra, and the shot right after we first see Daredevil don his outfit when he warms up with his cane – are plain awkward to watch. You feel like you’re watching someone wipeout in a grade school talent show. You want to turn away.
And I’m not talking about the CGI or any other special effects. They can’t fall back on that excuse. By 2003 we’d seen The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, so you can’t say the technology wasn’t there to kick audiences’ asses with incredible hand-to-hand combat sequences.
In one of his first scenes in his super-hero outfit, Daredevil murders a man in a subway station.
Sure, the guy’s a rapist and he probably deserves it. But I don’t like super-heroes killing people, I really don’t like it when the super-heroes in question aren’t of the traditionally ultraviolent type, and I really don’t like it when it happens because the writers have absolutely nothing worthwhile to tell us about the character.
This is Daredevil’s only real arc in the film. When the story begins, he’s been fighting crime in Hell’s Kitchen for years, and we’re led to believe that at least some of the time (if not all), he kills criminals. But at the end, when he has the opportunity to kill the Kingpin, he refuses because he’s “not the bad guy.” It’s stupid, it’s boring, it’s trite, and while it’s not enough to make you wonder if anyone on the film ever read a Daredevil comic, it is enough to make you wonder if any of them ever liked what they read.
That’s right, I said Batman.
To be fair to writer/director Mark Steven Johnson, he had a difficult challenge. Daredevil’s world is an unforgiving, seedy place. He doesn’t have the gleaming towers of Metropolis to patrol like Superman. He has Hell’s Kitchen. Obviously any film adaptation for the character should reflect that grittiness.
But then his main character is a guy in a bright red suit with cute little horns. That’s just fine in a comic, but in a live-action film that’s tough to pull off, and Johnson turned to the one super-hero movie that got closest to pulling it off for inspiration: Tim Burton’s Batman. Daredevil is thick with homages to Batman. There’s the rose Kingpin drops on Matt’s father’s corpse; yeah that’s his signature, but you can’t watch it and not think of Bruce Wayne bringing flowers to crime alley in Batman. There’s the final battle in the church, the way Bullseye uses the church bell as a weapon against Daredevil and, oh yeah, the fact that their climbing battle among the organ pipes is interrupted by a screaming colony of bats.
That mix of cartoon and street justice simply didn’t click in Daredevil like it did in Batman. Honestly, I think that red suit is a huge obstacle. Maybe an insurmountable one. I’ve been surprised in the past in this regard. I thought Thor and Captain America were both doomed to go without movies because of their silly outfits, though obviously I was proved wrong.
So no, I don’t think Ben Affleck is the reason Daredevil was a turd and I think he deserves as much of a chance as anyone else at the reins of the Dark Knight. I’m not Zack Snyder’s biggest fan, but keep Mark Steven Johnson away from Batman Vs. Superman (or whatever the hell it ends up being called), and I’ll keep an open mind.
P.S. IF YOU CAN’T SAY ANYTHING NICE…
Since I trashed everything I could, I did want to mention a few things I liked about Daredevil. I won’t bother with numbers because the list won’t be long.
The casting of many of the supporting characters was brilliant. Jon Favreau worked well as Foggy Nelson, and in particular I enjoyed Joe Pantoliano as reporter Ben Urich. If the film hadn’t been awful and if it enjoyed some sequels, I bet he would’ve proven as crucial to the role of Ben Urich as Gary Oldman was to James Gordon in the Nolan Batman trilogy.
While I don’t think Garner was right for Elektra, I did enjoy the love story between her and Matt Murdock. When Matt was able to “see” Elektra’s face because of the sound waves from the rain drops, it was perfect.
Before he got behind the wheel of a pickup truck in Thor, Stan Lee’s cameo in Daredevil was my favorite.