Comparing the Daredevil Netflix TV Series and Daredevil (2003) Director’s Cut

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.

daredevil - netflix v movie 2

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.

Religious Symbolism

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.

Comparing the Daredevil Netflix TV Series and Daredevil (2003) Director’s Cut

Daredevil

Thanks to Matt, now with having watched Daredevil I have only a handful of films to go* and before long I will be up to date with all the superhero films that I would like to see.

First, I should say that prior to watching this film I knew nothing of Daredevil, i.e., don’t know him from the comic books. This is my first exposure to the character. Also, I watched the Director’s Cut which is reportedly markedly better than version released for the theaters in 2003.

I really liked this film. A lot in fact. I think it is seriously underrated. One might be surprised where I rate it on the list of the superhero films that I have seen. (See below.)

The main litmus test for whether I enjoy a film is how much I care about what happens to the characters. I cared about Daredevil’s protagonists. And I found the story to be a captivating one. The tale quickly drew me in and held my interest throughout.

Ben Affleck did an excellent job, I thought. He made me like Matt Murdock and care about what happens to him. Matt Murdock’s story, and what moved and motivated him, mattered to me. Affleck makes Matt Murphy very likable and relatable.

The romantic chemistry between Ben Affleck/Matt Murdock and Jennifer Garner/Electra Natchios worked for the love story aspect. Jennifer Garner gave us a character that is simultaneously lovely and gritty, in equal measures. The supporting characters provided good fun, especially John Favreau as Matt’s law partner “Foggy.” The courtroom scenes were enjoyable.

The fights scenes surpassed my expectations. They were made much more entertaining and novel by having revealed for us Daredevil’s strange world of sensory experience. In some cases we literally “see” what Daredevil “sees,” and otherwise as such it is set up for us to imagine. I bought into Daredevil’s supernormal sensory powers. And the fact that he has some key vulnerabilities definitely added to the suspense for me when he was fighting. (Addendum: Take a look at this video to add some real life plausibility to some of the things Daredevil does.)

The story held together well, and came together in a pretty coherent and satisfying way. The love story and crime fighting story arced, interwove, and merged well.

I particularly liked the symbolism of Daredevil vis-à-vis the church. And the fact that Matt Murdock is a defense attorney who strives to rescue the innocent by day as he metes out street justice for the wicked at night. Both are interesting ways of framing the antihero. As Matt sometimes has to ask himself, “Am I (really) the good guy?”

About my only criticism of this picture is that the villains were a tad more cartoonish than perhaps should ideally have been. I mean, this is a superhero film so we expect them to be a bit outlandish or extravagant. And I think Michael Duncan Clark as Kingpin was good. His physical stature alone makes him “larger than life.” But even with him the director had him kind of ham it up a bit. And Collin Farrell’s portrayal of Bullseye as “(tw)itching to kill”, let’s call it, was so overdrawn that I nearly felt embarrassed for him. But the fight scenes with both of them were extremely well executed regardless.

Okay, anyway, without further ado, where does Daredevil fall on my list of superhero films in order of my most enjoyed ? I know many will disagree vehemently with some of this ordering if they compare it with their own list. But here it is:

  1. Guardians of the Galaxy
  2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  3. The Avengers
  4. Captain America: The First Avenger
  5. Iron Man
  6. Hellboy
  7. The Wolverine
  8. Thor
  9. X2: X-Men United
  10. Daredevil
  11. Spider-Man
  12. Iron Man 2
  13. Thor: The Dark World
  14. Man of Steel
  15. X-Men
  16. Superman (1978)
  17. The Dark Knight Rises
  18. Hellboy II: The Golden Army
  19. Batman Begins
  20. The Dark Knight
  21. Superman Returns
  22. The Amazing Spider-Man
  23. Batman (1989)
  24. The Amazing Spider-Man 2
  25. X-Men: Days of Future Past
  26. X-Men: The Last Stand
  27. Iron Man 3
  28. The Fantastic Four (2005)
  29. Spider-Man 2
  30. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
  31. Spider-Man 3
  32. Green Lantern
  33. The Incredible Hulk
  34. The Phantom
  35. The Crow
  36. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
  37. Mystery Men
  38. The Punisher
  39. Hulk
  40. Judge Dredd
  41. Batman Forever
  42. Batman and Robin
  43. Batman Returns
  44. Superman II
  45. Superman III
  46. Catwoman
  47. Blade
  48. Darkman
  49. Superman and the Mole Men
  50. Batman (1966)
  51. The Mask

Now granted, this high placement for Daredevil to some degree reflects the pleasure of just having discovered a new character in the superhero arena that I like very much. But even now I’m pretty sure that Matt Murdock/Daredevil will remain one of my favorite characters as time goes on.

And please be aware that this list is not a ranking of which film is “better” than another. Rather it is my personal, idiosyncratic ranking of the ones for which I find myself caring most about the characters and the story. Although how much I care about the story does depend substantially on craftsmanship on the part of the filmmakers.

* Namely: Watchmen, X-Men: First Class, and Elektra. There are other superhero movies I haven’t seen (here is the Wikipedia list), but I don’t have much interest in them unless someone sways me.

Daredevil