Daredevil delivers film noir brooding and delightful camp humor alike!
Director Mark Steven Johnson’s superhero action-thriller Daredevil (2003) is a fascinating piece of early 2000s cinema. It has a film neo-noir brooding atmosphere, highly choreographed fights, daring stunts, endearing characters, over the top performances, stunning lighting, insane editing, gorgeous cinematography, and creative sound design for Daredevil hearing things enhanced. Daredevil is fun and I dare you not to have a good time enjoying its combat and style.
Daredevil is overly hated, honestly. I find it a highly entertaining example of maximalism with everything heightened like Daredevil’s senses. Johnson’s direction borrows plenty from The Crow and Batman for sure. The Crow’s composer Graeme Revell even wrote Daredevil’s haunting and exciting music. From the gentle piano passages to his Gothic bombastic symphony and theme for Daredevil. Revell’s scores are always fantastic. I adore the early 2000’s soundtrack of emo and nu-metal tracks that creates both tender mood and a viscerally thrilling sensation. I love Daredevil’s brooding Matt Murdock scenes as well as the outrageous Bullseye action and comedy sequences. Superhero movies need style to be memorable and exciting and Mark Steven Johnson has got style to spare. I’m glad producer Stan Lee picked Mark Steven Johnson to direct Daredevil.
Writer Mark Steven Johnson delivers Batman-like detective work for Daredevil’s nightly investigations. Johnson understands Daredevil’s crusade for justice in his crime riddled city as well as the lonesome sadness he feels. From the rain on the rooftop romance to his use of Daredevil’s enhanced hearing that’s near sonar. Johnson’s writing is so good that he makes Ben Affleck actually likable and heroic. The solemn atmosphere and contemplative tone is really neat and something I appreciate more now after revisiting Daredevil. From his spiritual soul searching to his emotional need for solitude amongst the incessant noise of New York.
Editors Dennis Virkler and Armen Minasian’s fierce cutting style is so fun and crafty. They transition scenes with neat match cuts and parallel edits to having shots pass through walls and across buildings. They make the fast paced action really easy to follow and have such frenetic style that elevates Daredevil into a well made movie. 133 fly by like nothing with the added director’s cut, certainly enhancing scenes and character arcs with more depth than the slim theatrical cut.
Cinematographer Ericson Core goes all out with his dark, brooding shots following Daredevil gazing down upon his city to camera shots that flip all the way around or linger on mournful characters. There’s moody lightning, gentle rainfall pouring down, and cool use of smoke to simulate fog that I always love in movies. I love when the camera goes through the wall, ceiling, or a puddle for emphasis. Daredevil certainly has flashy and creative shots that never feel flat or boring. Daredevil visually reaches for that comic book style of neo-noir that was so popular in the early 2000s. I really enjoy how the fights are shot in wider shots to see every hit and dodge from Daredevil. Core’s close-ups are really strikingly artful and expressive.
Ben Affleck is actually likable as Matt Murdock with his earnest quest for justice as night vigilante Daredevil. He’s sincerely gripping in his brooding Murdock to his grave narration as Daredevil. I like his fearsome action sequences and compelling character acting. He feels like a leading man for once instead of some random jerk like so many of his other roles. Ben Affleck could not pull off Batman at all, but he was splendid as Daredevil and more suited to the role.
Jennifer Garner is drop dead gorgeous as the lovely Elektra. I love her swinging her swords and spinning them around to her intense fight choreography. She’s genuinely interesting as Elektra as you feel her grief with her losses and how angry Elektra is in her sorrow. She can pull off playful and flirty or raging with fury as Elektra. I’m looking forward to revisiting Elektra for her alone. I wish she got even more screen time, honestly. She has chemistry with Ben Affleck, but it’s too bad she ended up with such a terrible guy. She deserved a better man and a more active career as a leading actress.
Colin Farrell’s raving throwing villain Bullseye is camp fun. He’s just mad and highly entertaining. Farrell always knows what kind of movie he is starring in really. Michael Clarke Duncan’s massive stature and deep voice work to intimidate as a scary Kingpin. You believe this imposing figure could run crime across New York.
Jon Favreau’s nervous and wise cracking lawyer friend Foggy is hilarious. His every line has funny jokes or deeper insight into Murdock. Scott Terra was very compelling as Young Matt Murdock. Ellen Pompeo is sweet as the secretary for Murdock. Joe Pantoliano is pretty interesting as the investigative journalist and tabloid reporter Ben Urich. Leland Orser is underhanded and neat as Kingpin’s right hand Wesley Owen Welch.
Coolio cameos as accused murderer and funny drug addict Daunte Jackson in the director’s cut. Derrick O'Connor’s kind and patient Father Everett is really nice opposite Ben Affleck. David Keith is very touching as Matt Murdock’s boxing father Jack Murdock. Kevin Smith’s forensics assistant has a funny cameo like Stan Lee as the elderly man crossing the road or Frank Miller getting stabbed in the head with a pen by Bullseye.
Barry Chusid’s production design is neat with grim looking apartments, Daredevil’s industrial looking lair to Kingpin’s glass office. James E. Tocci, Justin Scoppa Jr., and Gerald Sullivan’s art direction leans into the film noir aesthetic with obscuring shadows, flashing lights, and constant rainfall. The blood and Daredevil mask shots are really neat. Set decorators Victor J. Zolfo, P. Scott Bailey, Greg Berry, Darrell L. Wight, Lorrie Campbell, Julia K. Levine, Scott Edward Collins, Doug Devine, Eric Hill, and Steve Park adorn the sets with these files for Murdock’s lawyer office to all these gadgets around Daredevil’s hideout.
Visual effects artists Kevin VanHook, Rich Thorne, Nancy Bernstein, Ray McIntyre Jr., Mark Dornfeld Cosmas, Paul Bolger Jr., Lee Berger, Rachel Fondiller, John Kilkenny, Derek Spears, Erik De Boer, Steve Ziolkowski, and Lisa Clarity’s CGI for Daredevil really held up beautifully. From the rain falling on faces allowing Daredevil to see people to objects flying fast across great distances by Bullseye, the CGI is believable and lets the viewer have more understanding of Daredevil’s senses. I love the chemicals burning through Murdock’s eyes to hearing water droplets and loud bells ringing and so forth around New York.
Furthermore, Daredevil’s sound design team of Steve Boeddeker, Tim Gomillion, Paul Massey, Dennis Rogers, Doug Hemphill, Erik Aadahl, Jay Wilkinson, Dave Kulczycki, John A. Larsen, David C. Hughes, and Derek Casari are so creative. Daredevil features fascinating sound design choices that all emphasize Daredevil’s lack of sight and reliance on hearing foes stepping to voices fading in and out. Every scene has a creative use of sound with splashes and exaggerated noises that don’t feel too ridiculous because Daredevil hears with enhanced hearing.
I really like Daredevil’s costumes from designers James Acheson, Lisa Lovaas, and Brenda Donoho. Daredevil’s bright red leather looks cool and vivid without looking goofy or bland. Elektra’s tight spandex pants and leather vest look awesome on Jennifer Garner. Her hair and make-up makes her even more ethereal as Elektra. Make-up artists Tegan Taylor, Deborah La, Mia Denaver, Matthew W. Mungle, John E. Jackson, Whitney James, and Jamie Kelman provide many cool 2000s looks from Kingpin’s large suits to Bullseye’s alligator coat and Murdock’s lawyer suits.
In all, Daredevil is not trying to be a goofy modern superhero flick, but a more mature and gritty neo-noir. I think it accomplishes that, while remembering to have a sense of humor and not be too serious.