Daredevil is coming back to our screens this year, in the form of four connected Netflix shows; Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist. Despite the past sucesses of Netflix original programming, I'm still not seeing a lot of excitement over these new series. At the same time, there is widespread concern over Ben Affleck's casting at Batman in the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Coincidence? I think not.
It can all be traced back to the travesty of a comic book movie: Daredevil (2003), and the 2005 follow-up, Elektra. Daredevil follows Matt Murdock, a lawyer blinded by toxic waste who uses his other enhanced senses to fight crime. Here, he takes on super-villain Kingpin and his hired assassin Bullseye as they try and destroy both Matt and his love interest Elektra. In the follow up, Elektra is working as an assassin herself, hired to kill a man and his daughter. Rather than killing them, she ends up aligning herself with them against a group of magical killers, in a plot linked to her own training and tragic past.
From the very beginning, I had the same frustration of every comic book fan watching their favorite characters brought to life. Namely, that the writers decided to cast aside the source material, and give Matt Murdock a new (ish) backstory. The changes may have been small, but killing off his father years early before cutting out the majority of Murdock's transformation into Daredevil made a huge difference. Much more importantly, his accident was completely warped, as his original heroic actions were wiped out in favor of a tragic accident. The character development is almost non-existent, and unlike iconic characters such as Wonder Woman or Batman, the connection to the hero just isn't there without his fully developed origins.
Elektra is also impressively lacking in true origins (although we do get to see those in her solo outing). She's reduced to rich love interest with a past that we barely see. Throughout, character building is sacrificed in favor of over the top fight scenes, and while some of those scenes are fun to watch, they just don't have the impact they should. In the initial battle, both Murdock and Elektra are fighting as their non-super alter-egos (in a playground of all places!). This could have been really interesting, and unusual take on the costumed crime fights. Instead, it just detracts from their scenes together in costume, as well as making their relationship less believable. What kind of woman randomly spars with a blind man in a playground?!
The biggest criticism, however, that I can level at both movies is that they don't allow the viewer to reach their own conclusions about which scenes are dramatic. Because they are all dramatic. It's easy to tell, because every fight scene is in slow motion, alongside ridiculously intense (almost cliche) music laid over the top with a heavy hand. The fight scenes aren't balanced with plot or dialogue, to make them welcome moments of action. Instead, it feels that every other scene involves some kind of overblown fighting. The constant slow motion makes it difficult to distinguish between the major, climactic moments and the smaller battles building up to the big finale. In addition, it loses the pace that a really great fight scene needs to draw in the viewer. The choreography becomes too obvious, and the tension is lost.
As to plot, again, the overuse of action scenes means that the plot itself feels like a side dish. In both films, it's thin, and because of that, elements that should have been big reveals or plot twists become either obvious or confused. Where is Bullseye's background? Why does he have a target on his forehead? Even Colin Farrell can't compensate for this poorly drawn character.
Elektra has more of a considered plot than Daredevil (which really isn't difficult), but again, the "twists" are (for the most part) blatantly obvious from the start. Lone, emotionally damaged woman trying to get away from it all when meeting a charming single dad? It would take someone who has never seen another movie not to see that the spunky father-daughter team will warm her heart, despite their own dark past. Her eventual connection to them was revealed, the good guys won, and we all went home happy. Or not, as was my experience.
It's rare that I review older films and find almost nothing good to say about them, but this was one (or, to be more accurate, two) instances where the greatest positive was knowing that they would be over soon. Some have argued that they are still fun to watch, but as someone who cannot stand Michael-Bay-esque action direction, these two Marvel offerings were almost painful. I don't think that I have spent so much time yelling at the screen in my life. (Usually, "Oh COME ON!. We get it!")
The really heartbreaking part of all this is that these are great characters. Elektra, despite wearing an impressively inappropriate costume for battle, should have been an incredible fighter to watch. Sadly, her best fight scene is almost completely obscured by a flying sheet. Because magic enemies like sheets. Daredevil is so much more than a superhero with a vaguely creepy basement. Each one of the characters in these films is a caricature of their comic selves, without the heart or complexity that makes them truly fascinating.
Finally, both films take themselves far too seriously. Once again, I have to talk about the ridiculous amount of very. dramatic. fight. scenes. The loaded looks, the heavy "emotion", all feeling forced down the viewers' throat. Marvel has shown with more recent (and far more successful) offerings, that humor is absolutely necessary for a phenomenal live-action superhero film. If these concepts had been approached with more respect for the characters and the lighter aspects of the source material, they could have been great movies. These had the budgets, the FX, the cast. Instead, the balance was wrong, the overall tone fell flat, and the critics, unsurprisingly, tore them to pieces.
Occasionally, there are films that are lambasted by critics, but can be enjoyable on their own merits. These films, sadly, do not fall into that category. We can only hope that the new series can breathe life into this incredible Marvel hero, and show the casual viewer just why the Man Without Fear has been popular for so long.