As we all know, that guy who was the bomb in Phantoms is the man who will be Batman, and much of the Internet is gripped in a paroxysm of rage over that fact? Affleck?! That guy! And the argument comes down to one movie: Daredevil.
But, is Daredevil really that bad? And, if so, is it Affleck’s fault?
First, let’s be honest here: Most people angry about Daredevil probably haven’t seen it in a decade. I haven’t seen it myself in at least five years. So I sought out a copy, sat down, and gave it a watch.
The first tricky part is that Daredevil has two cuts, the theatrical and the director’s cut. The director’s cut isn’t a gimmick, either: It restores an entire subplot, moves the focus off the romance, and generally adds more material fans thought missing, like Matt Murdock’s struggles with his Catholicism. It’s a darker, grittier film than the theatrical release.
Is it a bad movie? Well, no, and in fact the director’s cut is substantially better than the theatrical release; hardly surprising, as Twentieth Century Fox’s leadership hated comic books at the time and was essentially campaigning to make these movies and be done with them.
But the director’s cut fails to conquer the two problems that hold the movie back. The first is that it’s so crammed and rushed nothing has a chance to really soak in and let you experience it; even the theatrical cut stuffed dozens of issues of backstory into two hours, and this is, if anything, worse about that. Now it’s not just Daredevil dealing with the Kingpin, and Bullseye, and Elektra, he’s dealing with his religious beliefs and also being a lawyer. It’s not hard to see why the studio felt the movie could use some trimming; the footage is a nerd’s dream and a casual viewer’s naptime.
Secondly, Mark Steven Johnson can’t direct action worth a damn. This is a problem that would stand out in particular with Ghost Rider, a.k.a. Nicolas Cage Becomes A CGI Monster And Hits Things, but man is it ever a problem here. The issue is that he does the usual rapid cuts one associates with early ’00s Hollywood editing, to cover up that there’s five stuntmen doing five different things.
Is it the worst superhero movie ever made? Lord, no. It’s mediocre, certainly, but the ranks of comic book adaptations have seen some real lowlights that hit nadirs well below this. This isn’t even the worst movie in the Daredevil “franchise”, such as it is; the flaccid, dull Elektra is about a thousand times worse.
More to the point, though, the mediocrity is not Affleck’s fault. Consider he’s got to juggle an absurdly overstuffed script with the fact that he’s a sighted actor playing a blind man. Does he deserve an Oscar? Nah. He’s not the actor then that he is now, and it shows. But the movie’s not a mess because of him.
So why the hate? First of all, if I had to guess, I’d say most people are piling on because this movie came out at the height of everybody wanting Affleck to just straight-up piss off. The guy was coming off of a string of turkeys that would actually go on for another year or so, and include the notorious Gigli. He was overexposed, kinda annoying, and nobody wants that back. Secondly, from what I’m seeing, it’s butthurt that the movie was bad and he’s still in the public eye, so he gets the stick. Nobody’s digging up Mark Steven Johnson and beating him with this movie.
So, perhaps we should give the guy who has spent the intervening decade honing his craft and directing Academy Award nominated films a break. Just an idea.