The following is a discussion of one man’s personal taste, and not an attempt to make an argument about which version of Daredevil is “objectively better.” (My standard disclaimer for a post like this.)
Having now watched four episodes of the Netflix series I feel fairly sure that I have a pretty good sense of the basic tone and feel of the series, and how the Matt Murdock/Daredevil character will be portrayed and developed; enough so to compare those dimensions to the 2003 Director’s cut of the Daredevil film.
Oh, and I realize that one might ask: why post about this before having seen all the episodes? Well, because it’s going to take quite a while before I complete viewing all 13 episodes watching them piecemeal now and then over the next 10 weeks of a school quarter. And I feel like playing hooky from my studies today… ;-P
Okay, first off, I know nothing of the comic book hero, as I don’t buy or read comic books. But I am a film buff, and I grew up on a diet of Marvel and DC comic books from the late 60’s through mid 70’s during my childhood and adolescence.
Secondly, I’m a big fan of the Director’s Cut of the film. Yes. I am. I look past its faults (the main one being the cringe-worthy performance by Colin Farrell as Bullseye). I loved the film, in fact. It was my first exposure to the character, and I’m very pleased to have discovered Daredevil. I already blogged my review of the film, so I won’t rehash the entire thing here. But watching the Netflix series actually reinforces for me the things that I did like about the film. So I will discuss that alongside observations about the series.
The main positives of the Netflix series for me are that it is well written, well cast (for what the series is aiming for), well acted, and tightly directed. The overall narrative is well developed. In general, the series is quite well produced.
Although it’s apples and oranges to compare a two hour feature film to 13 hour long episodes of a TV series, we can compare how well each succeeds in these areas in their respective mediums. And for the overall production I think few will disagree that the nod there goes to the series. While the Director’s Cut of the film actually told its story reasonably well in my opinion (I’ve never seen the theatrical release version), it is fair to say that there is room for improvement. In contrast, best I can see thus far the series seems to totally nail story development. (I’m projecting on the basis of having watched only a third of the series, but from what I have seen I feel confident saying this.)
Nevertheless, there are things that I still like better about the film in comparison with the series. Here they are:
Point-of-View Graphics for Daredevil’s Sensory Powers
I really enjoyed the subjective point-of-view shots in the film of Daredevil’s mental imagery from his bat-like “sonar” in connection with his super hearing. Those shots worked well to connect me to the character and made the utterly amazing feats Daredevil can perform seem more believable, even though truly remarkable.
What Type of Person Matt Murdock Is
This may be attributable to my having no experience with the comic book character, but I really got a kick out of Ben Affleck’s free-wheeling regular guy, who is also a schmoozing, clever pick-up artist with the ladies. In the same sense, I enjoyed the comedic banter between Matt and Foggy in the film better than in the TV series. Affleck’s Matt Murdock is a breezy charmer–he’s actually a bit of a sly con man. (Shocking for a lawyer, I know!) This version of the character has clearly adapted psychologically by heavily capitalizing on people routinely underestimating him because he is blind. I prefer that guy to Charlie Cox’s stony, broodingly intense, emotionally colder character (who reminds me more of The Punisher, let’s say). There is a lighter more spontaneous side, and a vulnerability, to Affleck’s Matt Murdock that for me makes the character much more relatable. He feels to me more of a rounded, multi-dimensional character. (I realize I have more character development to watch for the TV series, so forgive me if I’m commenting on this prematurely.)
Here’s the main thing: honestly, I don’t like the TV series’ Matt Murdock/Daredevil very much as a person. And I admit that does make a big difference for me as to how much I can enjoy watching any person’s story in a film. if I don’t like them, then I’m not going to care as much about them.
There have been some scenes in the first four episodes of the TV series that depict Matt’s relationship with the priest. But thus far (four episodes in) it just feels like a bit of narrative padding. In the film Matt’s relationship to the church serves as a richer metaphor for the moral struggles that Matt wrestles with internally within himself. He wears a red suit with devil horns, and commits tremendous violence without regard to any sort of civilized law–and yet he is a force for good. Now the same basic trope is seen for most superheroes who are anti-hero vigilantes. But I can’t think of any other vigilante superheroes who seem to have any sort of conscience about it. And Matt Murdock does–very much so, in fact. (Without being whiny about it, thank goodness.) So he is not just extraordinarily sensitive in terms of his hearing; he is also in terms of his moral conscience. At least for just the first four episodes of the TV series I’ve only gotten the slightest hint of that.
The Overall Mood and Atmosphere
While I do somewhat appreciate the tenseness of the TV series, and don’t mind its somber mood and gritty violence, I find that the “dark” direction doesn’t actually always turn out to be the most entertaining viewing experience at the end of the day. In contrast, there was a kind of exuberance to the film’s combat scenes–a thrill to Daredevil being so amazing in his extraordinary fighting abilities–that I eagerly looked forward to watching him take on the next bad guy, and what twists that might involve. In the TV series (at least after four episodes) it just feels more like down and dirty bare knuckle brawling (with Daredevil just being better at it than everyone else). The aforementioned absence of point-of-view subjective shots to the TV show probably contributes to this sense that there isn’t anything exceptional-feeling (for me) about the fight scenes.
Now where I think the film fails in regard to an overall sense of mood and atmosphere is that as friends of mine, Matt and Brian, have observed, it was made during a time of transition for superhero films. The overall mood of the film is a bit uneven and unsure of itself, whereas the TV series is rock solid in its identity. The film was produced at a time that Hollywood was just beginning to treat superhero films seriously as cinema, rather than mostly whimsical fun. The Daredevil film (as I think Brian pointed out) probably has Bullseye as over-the-top in the same way that Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher Batman villains were. The film also seems to gratuitously try to capitalize on the success of The Sopranos at the time by casting Joe Pantoliano as reporter Ben Urich. Anyway, in my opinion the film’s overall mood isn’t wildly uneven due to these somewhat weird and ill-fitting elements; but it also isn’t nearly as seamless as the TV series is. Then again, as I mentioned, I’m willing to overlook those flaws for all the things that I do like about the movie.
Okay, anyway, I’ve pounded out yet another tl;dr type post about this recent fascination with the superhero film/TV genre. I guess I’ll stop here.
As will be no surprise to the reader by now, I like the film better thus far in my viewing of the TV series. I still have two thirds of the series to watch. But I expect that the Netflix series will become “more what it is,” rather than surprise me by opening up in ways that I did not expect. Time will tell.
Addendum: I have now seen all 13 episodes and I do take my hat off to the Netflix series, which is extremely well done. In particular Vincent D’onofrio gives an outstanding performance as Wilson Fisk/Kingpin. Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page and Elden Henson as Foggy Nelson also give very, very good performances. Indeed all the supporting actors do a great job.
However my feelings are pretty much unchanged regarding what I like better about the movie. I realize that this is just the first season of the TV series. And that in the final episode we got treated to the Daredevil character more as we saw him in the 2003 film, i.e., Matt wearing his suit and showing off his acrobatic skills. I’m sure we’ll see more of that next season and beyond. But for example, comparing the TV series season one knockdown-dragout finale between Daredevil and Fisk, I still prefer the movie’s fight scenes better. Perhaps not the film’s last fight between Daredevil and Kingpin, which although not ‘bad’ is still oddly anticlimactic. But pretty much all the other fight scenes in the film were kind of amazing to watch for the combination of acrobatics, martial arts, Daredevil’s crazy-inventive use of his billy clubs/nunchucks/bo staff, creative use of the environment, and the special effect point-of-view shots of Daredevil’s perceptions.
And while I can’t really fault Charlie Cox for it… for what the Netflix wants he is doing a fine job… I’m just not as much of a fan of that characterization as Ben Affleck’s version. Affleck’s Matt Murdock/Daredevil strikes me as a bit quirkier, has more personality facets, and seems more vulnerable to me.