by Spencer Overbay
If you’ve watched any form of television recently, you’ve probably seen the advertisements for it. A brand new Netflix exclusive comic book series about one of Marvel’s coolest properties, Daredevil; and hey, it looks pretty good! Anyone familiar with the source material can tell you that Daredevil is one of the coolest and most original comic IPs that Marvel has to offer. In fact, putting Daredevil on the silver screen seems like such a good idea that one wonders why they haven’t done something like this before… They haven’t, right?
Yes, the new miniseries has unfortunately unearthed a skeleton in Marvel’s closet that I’m sure we’d all prefer to forget. You see, before there was Daredevil (2015), the mini series, there was Daredevil (2003), the box office bomb. Oh, it was a bomb in more ways than one. Let me begin this comparison by saying that the same site (IMDb) gave the Netflix series 9.3/10, but gave the movie 5.3/10. This is a website that also gave The Hulk (2003) 5.7/10. That’s right, Daredevil (2003) is worse than the first Hulk movie!
Daredevil (2003) was more than just a bad movie. It was a representation of what comic book movies were like in the dark age of movies from 1996 to 2005. This was before Marvel figured out how to make movies, you see. They wouldn’t figure that out for several more years. This franchise was begging for a reboot after the success of others like Iron Man, Captain America and Thor.
Marvel has really upped its game since 2003, going from an acquired taste to something of a titan in the entertainment industry. That’s what makes this comparison so special. It’s old Marvel versus new Marvel.
In 2003, Daredevil was played by Ben Affleck. Can you see the problem with this movie already? To be fair, Ben can be a decent actor when he tries. I have to admit that he was exceptional in Gone Girl. Oh, but he didn’t come close to trying in this performance. In his portrayal of Matt Murdock, not only is he blind, the accident also seems to have left him with an inability to convey human emotion. I’ve seen wooden actors. I’ve also seen actual wood, and nothing comes close to the sheer lack of effort Ben Affleck went through to get this pay-check.
The new Daredevil is played by Charlie Cox, who isn’t Ben Affleck. So that’s a plus right there. Charlie Cox isn’t a highly recognized actor aside from a few roles in TV movies and supporting roles in big screen movies like Star Dust. However, he put some actual effort into his role—a lot of effort, in fact. His portrayal of Matt Murdock is a lot less goofy and, shall I say, wooden than the previous attempt. His Murdock is a relatable character with honorable goals and a charming personality, so the audience roots for him even though he’s a renegade that pushes his agenda to the extreme.
The real difference between these two portrayals, and what makes the latter so much better in my opinion, is the portrayal of the villains, more specifically, the Kingpin. Let me explain something that has really changed in comic book movies over the years before I dive into this. With the exception of Tim Burton’s Batman, comic book movies and TV shows of the past never gave much focus to the villains. They had enough screen time for the audience to know who they were and how evil they were, and that was pretty much it. After that, the focus was glued on the hero as he endlessly punched his way to victory. It was like this for all comic book movies before 2005.
Now, back to the Kingpin. In both portrayals, the character is essentially the same, a burly bald man who heads a crime syndicate and destroys people with his bare, meaty hands. That’s where the similarities end. In 2003, the Kingpin as portrayed by Michael Clarke Duncan was essentially the character I just described, and that’s it. This can be somewhat justified by the fact that the movie had much less screen time than the series, but there were still opportunities to develop him into a real character. Kingpin was a side note in the big screen adaptation, a throw away villain to be evil and get defeated.
As you may have guessed, the Netflix series had a very different portrayal of the Kingpin, as played by Vincent D’Onofrio. Aside from looking almost exactly like the Kingpin in the comics, D’Onofrio simply plays a good psychopath. His Kingpin is short tempered, dangerous and unpredictable. He’s quick to rage and has a dominating presence that would make anyone uneasy. The Kingpin is given an clearer motivation than in the previous adaptation and can even be a sympathetic character at times. Sure, the audience doesn’t root for him, but you do understand why he roots for himself.
One thing a bit annoying about the new series is it’s use of non-linear story telling, particularly through the first three episodes. It can be difficult to tell what’s going on when the beginning, middle, and end aren’t told in that order and there could have been more clear indications of what’s a flashback and what’s the present and what time each took place in the story. The movie told everything from a traditional, linear standpoint; so at least I wasn’t overwhelmed and confused.
The action sequences in the movie were polished, too polished. Each delicately choreographed punch and kick was enhanced by the miracle of blurry CGI. The newer adaptation is much less polished. It has more grit, making every battle look like a struggle. One particular fight sequence in the second episode where Matt fought against three Russian mobsters in a narrow hallway really impressed me. The fight was much longer than most fight sequences and you could actually see Matt get tired as the fight went on. The punches got slower and his breathing got heavier. They weren’t just endlessly punching each other until someone lost like in other action shows. Some consideration was put into the character’s stamina, much like a real fight would be.
Don’t get me wrong about all this. The series wasn’t perfect and the movie wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever seen. It’s easy to indulge in hyperbolic criticism and forget that there are some decent action sequences in the big screen movie. However, a movie is more than action sequences, and the new Netflix series is the only one that has more.