Entry updated 17 January 2022. Tagged: Film, TV.
1. Film (2003). New Regency Pictures/Marvel Enterprises/20th Century Fox. Directed by Mark Stevenson Johnson. Written by Johnson, based on characters created by Stan Lee, Bill Everett, and Frank Miller. Cast includes Ben Affleck, Michael Clarke Duncan, Colin Farrell, Jon Favreau, Jennifer Garner and Joe Pantoliano. 103 minutes; director's cut 133 minutes. Colour.
Blind attorney Matt Murdock (Affleck), with friend Franklin "Foggy" Nelson (Favreau), runs a legal firm in the New York Hell's Kitchen neighbourhood which is perpetually on the verge of bankruptcy because Matt refuses to accept guilty clients and accepts non-monetary payments. He was blinded as a child by toxic waste, an accident that somehow greatly enhanced his other senses, giving him compensatory "sonar-sight" allowing him to "see" after a fashion. He has also trained in martial arts. His father, a boxer and mob enforcer, blamed himself for the accident and quit the mob only to be murdered by his former employer. Swearing revenge on crime, Matt becomes the costumed, murderous vigilante Daredevil who inflicts his own justice on criminals who slip through the normal justice system – throwing, for instance, a rapist into the path of an oncoming train.
Matt meets and quickly becomes infatuated with Elektra Natchios (Garner). Her Greek billionaire father Nikolas Natchios (Erik Avari) has backed out of a deal with Wilson Fisk (Duncan), who as the Kingpin heads all New York's criminal organizations. Fisk orders both Natchios killed by Irish hitman Bullseye (Farrell), who kills by unerring throwing various objects as Weapons, even paperclips. Daily Bugle reporter Ben Urich (Pantoliano) has discovered Matt's identity, but feels he has helped the city. Learning of the contract on the Natchios family, he warns Matt. Daredevil attempts to stop the murder of Nikolas but fails and is himself framed for the killing. Elektra believes this deception and – being also very highly trained in martial arts – defeats Daredevil by stabbing him with a two-pronged sword, then unmasks him. Discovering he is Matt, she realizes her mistake but is attacked and apparently killed by Bullseye. After an interruption when the police arrive, there soon follows a battle in a church between Bullseye and Daredevil, who is outmatched but wins by hearing an FBI sniper about to shoot him and forcing Bullseye's hands into the path of the bullet. Having learned that Fisk is the Kingpin who ordered Elektra's death, Daredevil goes to Fisk's office for a final brutal fight in which he ultimately breaks his enemy's knees and – though knowing Fisk to have ordered his father's death – leaves him to the police. Elektra, it emerges, may still be alive; Urich agrees to keep Matt's dual Identity secret; Daredevil resolves to cease killing criminals.
Based upon Frank Miller's mid-1980s reboot of this Superhero – closer in many ways to the Antihero The Punisher – Daredevil is much darker in tone than the character as originally conceived. It is hard to believe that this hero, whose Superpowers are confined to enhanced senses, can continue fighting for so long after being stabbed and losing much blood. The director's cut, preferred by many, has an added subplot featuring a drug addict (Coolio). The novelization is Daredevil (2003) by Greg Cox. Though the film was successful, various factors prevented the making of a sequel: rights to the character reverted to Marvel Studios, and a Television series bringing Daredevil into the Marvel Cinematic Universe began in 2015. [GSt]
2. US online tv series (2015-current). Netflix presents a Marvel Television and ABC Studios production in association with DeKnight Productions (for season one only), Goddard Textiles and the Walt Disney Company. Created by Drew Goddard. Directed by Phil Abraham, Farren Blackburn, Steven S DeKnight, Guy Ferland, Ken Girotti, Andy Goddard, Nick Gomez, Peter Hoar, Marc Jobst, Adam Kane, Euros Lyn, Nelson McCormick, Floria Sigismondi, Stephen Surjik and Michael Uppendahl. Written by Whit Anderson, Steven S DeKnight, Christos Gage, Ruth Fletcher Gage, Drew Goddard, Lauren Schmidt Hissrich, Luke Kalteux, John C Kelley, Sneha Koorse, Douglas Petrie, Joe Pokaski, Marco Ramirez and Mark Verheiden, based on the Marvel Comics character Daredevil created by Stan Lee and Bill Everett. Cast includes Jon Bernthal, Charlie Cox, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Rosario Dawson, Vincent D'Onofrio, Scott Glen, Bob Gunton, Elden Henson, Toby Leonard Moore, Stephen Rider, Deborah Ann Woll, Élodie Yung and Ayelet Zurer. 26 episodes in its first two seasons of between 48 and 61 minutes. Colour.
Marvel Television's drive to bring superheroes to on-demand Television begins here, complete with the themes of childhood trauma, romantic betrayal and questionable mentorship that dominate the subsequent series in The Defenders franchise – Jessica Jones (2015-2019), Luke Cage (2016-current) and, perhaps least effectively of all four series, Iron Fist (2017). That the eight-part miniseries The Defenders (2017) extends the plotline and the motifs of the centuries-old struggle against perfidious Asian crime syndicate "The Hand" introduced in Daredevil (see Race in SF) demonstrates how quickly the series became integral to the corporate strategy of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and that of its parent company, Disney. The show was renewed for a second season only a week after its first season was released.
Series creator Drew Goddard – screenwriter on Cloverfield (2008) and The Martian (2015) – spoke to Marvel about making a feature film when the film rights reverted to them from 20th Century Fox in October 2012, but was told a $200 million budget was too much to invest in a property that had already failed at the box office (see entry above). "Marvel on the movie side is not in the business of making $25 million movies," Goddard told online entertainment website IGN on 28 September 2015. "It would feel wrong to have Spaceships crashing in the middle of the city." Here then are the Heroes with muted Superpowers, hand-me-down costumes and gritty street aesthetics, with little of the visual display of The Avengers (2012) or Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) – with which films The Defenders are apparently congruent, even if only by verbal allusion – or the wire-based special effects of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), adapted from the Wuxia of Wang Dulu, or indeed the balletically-choreographed fight scenes and brutal invective of Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill duology (Vol. 1, 2003; Vol. 2, 2004). Daredevil is certainly less vivid than the Cinema of the MCU but it and its sister-series are also, perhaps, more intimate and more able to incorporate individual character arcs into a structure of thirteen episodes punctuated by a dramatic turnaround or twist at episode seven or eight: sometimes this works well and sometimes the dramatic focus of the series wavers a little as a result but it is certainly reminiscent of the Comics from which Daredevil and The Defenders are adapted and the accompanying Graphic Novels by Frank Miller, Brian Michael Bendis and Ed Brubaker. With smaller budgets, reusable sets and a succession of darkly-lit and sometimes-repetitive corridor fights – some of these were inspired by those from Indonesian martial arts thriller The Raid (2011) – it is the supporting characters that must communicate the larger than life aspects of the comic book and it is here that Daredevil really shines: Vincent D'Onofrio as Wilson Fisk/Kingpin – as much Antihero as Villain and all the better for it – delivers a wonderfully repressed, hulking and mother-fixated performance, Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle/The Punisher – next-in-line for his own spin-off series – makes revenge and violent psychosis seem as humane as it could be, and Élodie Yung as Elektra makes the interminably twee interplay between Matt Murdock/Daredevil (Cox), Foggy Nelson (Henson) and Karen Page (Woll) seem dull by comparison.
"Since being incarcerated I've developed empathy with those who've suffered at the hands of the law," Wilson Fisk tells Frank Castle/The Punisher in episode nine of season two of Daredevil, inviting comparison with the character who may be the prototype of the modern Superhero, Edmont Dantès, the protagonist of Le Comte de Monte-Christo (28 August 1844-15 January 1846 Journal des Débats; 1844-1845 18vols; trans as The Count of Monte Cristo 1846 3vols) by Alexandre Dumas. "Everyone warned me about Prison but I find it refreshing," Fisk continues: "It's the perfect microcosm of the animal world." (See Social Darwinism.) What prison, in fact, reveals in both Daredevil and The Count of Monte Cristo is the dirty secret of free-market democracy: corruption. All four of The Defenders witness the effect of criminal exploitation on the Media Landscape of New York and the Economics of their local communities. "The City you're sworn to protect is Ground Zero in a War it doesn't even know is happening," insists Daredevil's mentor Stick (Glen). If the Pulp traditions of storytelling from which Daredevil and Iron Fist inherit many of their Clichés and visual tropes used Western Paranoia about the Yellow Peril to convey fears about the consequences of Imperialism in Asia, here the Secret Masters "The Hand" relay domestic concerns about the war on Drugs and the United States' role in geopolitics since World War Two, albeit in a way that does not quite call the American way of life into question. Societal anxieties are instead called forth in the courtroom trial of murderous war veteran Frank Castle/The Punisher, who seems to epitomize everything the United States fears about its militarism and dependence on the family unit as the basis of social cohesion. "This trial isn't about vigilantes, it's about the failure of the justice system," Foggy Nelson tells the jury. "New York needs heroes," pleads Matt Murdock. "All I want is the truth about something," says Karen Page, frantic about the impurity of the motives of everyone around her. "Kill your way to justice!" bellows Wilson Fisk.
Fans of Hard SF may find themselves discommoded by the inconsistency of Daredevil's extrasensory powers. He has, apparently, been blinded by a chemical spill as a child and correspondingly developed his other senses in conjunction with martial arts instruction from his mentor Stick; but the extent and application of his super-senses seems to vary from one episode to the next, at one point a form of radar Perception, a sort of mystical Psi Power at another, veering into touch, smell and taste depending on whom is writing the character in which episode. The "Devil of Hell's Kitchen" might therefore both casually identify a hammer lying in a toolbox several metres away and subsequently fail to recognize someone he knows very well when they are standing right next to him. This rather serves to undermine the realist register of the show.
Events in series two of Daredevil and those in the subsequent series The Defenders, in which Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist team up to take on The Hand, its elixir of Immortality and its "Black Sky" Weapon of localized Disaster, suggest events in series three of Daredevil will be based on those from Daredevil: Reborn (4 issues; 2011) by Andy Diggle, Davide Gianfelice, Matt Hollingsworth and Antony Johnston. [MD]
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