This is an article explaining why I enjoyed the film.
I watched the Director’s Cut which is reportedly markedly better than version released for the theaters in 2003.
Prior to watching this film I knew nothing of Daredevil, i.e., I didn’t know him from the comic books (and still don't). I'm lifelong a film buff and I bought a ton comic books when I was kid during the comic book Silver and Bronze Age. I've always loved superheroes, both DC and Marvel. But Daredevil wasn't a character that I followed.
Therefore much of my enjoyment for this picture comes from the pleasure of discovery of a superhero that instantly became one of my favorites.
Daredevil is far from perfect. But of course no film is. Let me start first with the film's problems, at least the ones I see.
Hollywood has continually struggled with a compulsion to use camp, over-the-top, villains in superhero films. I discuss that in this article. I'll simply note here that this film falls within a transition period during which studios began to realize that they could confidently adopt a more serious approach to storytelling in superhero films. Basically, they realized villains don't have to be hokey and they could tell more complex human stories. This new trend was launched by Blade (1998), followed by X-Men (2000); and it starts to get cemented in the early to mid 00s with films like Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, Blade II, Hellboy, and X2: X-Men United. And even though they are (to be kind) less stellar efforts, films like Catwoman, Elektra, Hulk, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen work in the same direction.
Daredevil however didn't get the memo. It uses a deliriously overdrawn villain with Colin Farrell's portrayal of Bullseye. Farrell seemed to be going for a character that is itching--and literally twitching--to kill for pure sadistic pleasure at the drop of a hat. I like Colin Farrell's acting in general, and I even commend him for his risk-taking on principle here--but unfortunately he hopelessly overacts the part. Farrell notes that he was aware that the portrayal might flop and he said even he felt "ridiculous" as he did it. But he still defends (see here and here) the performance by explaining that he studied Frank Miller's Daredevil graphic novels and did his best to mimic the facial expressions there for Bullseye. He went all-out with the psychopathic rendition. Farrell adds that the director Mark Steven Johnson did nothing to reign him in.
In comparison Michael Duncan Clark's Kingpin is more restrained. But even that performance has subtler hints of the same over-the-top vibe.
Overuse of Trendy Pop Culture Elements
Daredevil seems to feel that if it tosses in a good helping of trendy pop culture elements we'll somehow like it more. For example, it seems to borrow stylistic elements from the then hugely popular TV series Sopranos. The film features two Sopranos actors, Joe Pantoliano in a substantial supporting role as reporter Ben Urich, and Robert Iler in a minor yet vivid (hey! that's Tony's son from Sopranos) role as a childhood bully. There are pop songs used throughout the film, which although it may not be fair to tie directly to Sopranos to me seems reminiscent of the show. We also see an actor who was prominent on another popular TV show at the time, 24 (Jude Ciccollela, who played President David Palmer's Chief of Staff, Mike Novick). Granted, these may well have been the best casting choices but they're all very "current" at the time. Another other pop culture trope: at one point, protagonist Matt Murdock's law partner Foggy Nelson whimsically proclaims that Kingpin, spotted at a charity ball, is "in da' hizzie" (oof!). Otherwise, throughout the film, there's a lot of head tilting and neck cracking just prior to fighting. And there are Matrix-y references that show up in the fighting choreography.
None of these things really ruin the film, but they certainly don't help it.
Not the Best CGI
Overall, the CGI is acceptable. But it could have been better. For example, there are a couple very brief scenes in which one sees the silhouette of Daredevil leaping about alleyways and the movement looks clearly unnatural and computer generated. Relatively small potatoes, but worth noting.
Antic-Climactic Final Battle
The final battle with Kingpin is a bit of a letdown, for me anyway. To be fair, it is easy to forget that Daredevil was only hours earlier severely injured by a dagger completely piercing his chest just below the shoulder. He obviously avoided bleeding out from it, and he was fortunate that the injury evidently didn't break bone or sever connective tissue. But that had to have limited his fighting ability.
As I will discuss in the "Good" section otherwise throughout the film the fight choreography is actually pretty darned good--and yet this main boss fight is a bit lackluster in comparison. However, one thing that I did appreciate about the final battle scene is Daredevil's cleverness, which I'll discuss it in the "Parkour/Fight Choreography" section below.
I can think of two things in this picture that Daredevil's detractors often cite, that I feel while not particularly strong at least do no harm and adequately fulfill their function.
Some detractors of the film feel that the entire relationship with Elektra isn't really necessary. Some feel it is even poorly developed. And in particular they mock the initial 'sparring' scene between them.
But in my view, this scene amounts to a kind of 'mating dance' between two superheroes! As we know from the comics they are star-crossed lovers. And given what they respectively do in life this is an instinctive, animal-like kind of feeling out of the qualities of the best possible mate.
Otherwise, I feel Jennifer Garner does a respectable job with what is a mostly physical role. The added motivation of Matt avenging her death (in addition to his father) at first struck me as not really needed. But it does no real harm either. The scene of Matt "viewing" her in the rain pulls it all together, in my opinion, as she apparently looks almost like a goddess to him. In addition, I think some 'dots' in the film may connect to have Elektra actually feel extremely important to him psychologically. (See "We're Shown What Makes Daredevil Tick" below.)
Joe Pantoliano as Ben Urich
As mentioned in the "Bad" section, I'm not crazy about the casting choice of Joe Pantoliano for this role. I'm also not sure what they were thinking in dressing him like Sam Kinison. But Pantoliano does his usual solid acting job. In the balance the film's portrayal of Ben Urich does no real harm.
Some fans may argue that things I list here belong in the "Bad" section, but if so we will have to agree to disagree.
Parkour/Fight Choreography is Well Executed
The term "parkour" (from the French word parcours which means "route") refers to the extreme sport of using creative on-the-fly acrobatic skills to move the body at high velocity through a landscape that presents physical obstacles. The film does a very good job of showcasing these unusual skills of Daredevil's. Daredevil uses parkour at a superhuman level due to his extraordinary senses (including his 'sixth' extra-sonar sense) and balance. He apparently truly has no fear whatsoever about using parkour. I presume that this is because his restructured brain is able to instinctively picture multiple moves and contingencies in advance.
In the same sense Daredevil is a kind of "parkour martial artist." All of the fight scenes in this movie are well choreographed to show this. In my opinion, the standout is the first fight scene in the bar in which Daredevil delivers his own brand of street justice to the criminal lackey Quesada. Daredevil taking out an entire dive of bad guys is really well done in terms of using the character's unique fighting skills.
As mentioned above, the final battle with Kingpin is arguably slightly anti-climactic. But let us not overlook that it is Matt's intuitive street smarts about using environment to defeat Wilson Fisk that wins the day. Matt realizes that he can turn the tables on Fisk by rendering him blind from the distraction of the spray from the building's sprinkler system--while at the same time enhancing his own vision.
As we saw earlier in the film with Elektra, falling raindrops reveal an image for Daredevil in great detail via his sonar-like vision. And although the film misses an opportunity to show it in this scene, via Daredevil's sonar he gains what amounts to a kind of X-ray vision. It is shown for example that Matt can, via his sonar-sense, literally "see" through walls. And if that is so, then possibly then he might not only hear but also view a heart beating in someone's chest, etc. If this reasoning is correct, then another advantage of Matt activating the sprinkler system could be to scope out Fisk's physiology. Perhaps Daredevil sizes up that Kingpin's greatest vulnerability is his knees (which would not be surprising for such a huge man). That could be why he delivers crippling strikes to both joints. Granted, this conjecture fills in the gaps a bit with imagination. But it is consistent with what we know of the character's powers. Anyway, regardless, down goes the Kingpin with a pair of shattered knees.
For combat in a superhero film, I feel that Daredevil's parkour-styled fight choreography in this film is far superior to anything we have seen in any Batman film (yes, including the Nolan trilogy). It doesn't surpass combat in any of the films that MCU has produced, either of the two Spider-Man series, the X-Men films, nor in my opinion Man of Steel. But it's still very good, rating at least in the B or even up to A- range.
We're Shown What Makes Daredevil Tick
This is often surprisingly lacking (or absent) in superhero films!
Beyond the film's more-than-adequate handling of just the basic origin story (which I won't rehash here, but see here for a brief plot summary), a lot of tidbits are dropped in the film that collectively add up to tell us a lot.
The symbolism of the backdrop of the Catholic church juxtaposed against an (anti-)hero "devil" provides a strong metaphor for the moral ambiguity of Daredevil's vigilante-ism. Fittingly, we see him in an introductory scene alongside the gargoyles of the church. (Gargoyles traditionally being the monstrous and grotesque protectors of the church.) Indeed, most of the story is told from a flashback inside a church.
Young Matt makes a childhood vow to his father (in an excellent performance by David Keith). His father, Jack "the Devil" Murdock, is a tenacious bulldog of a professional fighter who refuses to give up on his career. Jack makes Matt promise to uphold a credo: "You can do anything if you're not afraid." This Matt takes up with every fiber of his being. And using his father as a role model (i.e., a low level fighter on the comeback trail, resisting the mob) as a teenager Matt also vows to be the champion of the little guy against the (corrupt) powers-that-be, the underdogs of society. (As an adult he only takes such cases for his law practice.)
However, when Jack is killed in retaliation for not throwing a fight as ordered by the mob--with Matt having urged him to fight on during the bout--as a child at the time Matt holds himself responsible at some level. It seems that the Daredevil identity is born in an effort to resolve that sense of guilt. Kingpin's statement to Matt in their final showdown echoes upon it: "Nobody's innocent. Nobody."
There is within Matt an ongoing struggle of faith about this. At several key points he comments, as if seeking affirmation, "I'm not the bad guy... I'm not."
Another issue related to this that Matt wrestles with is seen in the voice-over narration when he states that he feels compelled to believe that "one man can make a difference" in the corrupt world of Hell's Kitchen. The priest of the local church, who early on suspects Matt is Daredevil, confronts Matt with need to become connected to the community versus isolating himself. Matt is very guarded about forming truly intimate relationships, as we learn from a voicemail from a woman he was dating. His law partner Foggy Nelson (nicely played by John Favreau) is his only real friend--but even that consists mainly of just two bros cutting up together.
Partly because Matt can, by virtue of his sonar-sight, "see" so much of the world beyond a normal person's immediate senses (even up to several blocks away), he routinely witnesses terrible crimes that he is helpless to stop 24/7. Therefore in the wee hours Matt actually seeks refuge in a sensory deprivation tank daily in order to block it all out. This, I think, is a metaphor for being not only isolated socially. I think Matt also tries to block out his sense of responsibility to help people when is cannot--which is connected to his feelings of responsibility for, and helplessness about, his father's death.
Actually, all of these factors provide strong impetus for Matt to fall in love hard and fast for Elektra Natchios. There is something about the two of them that he probably senses is very similar. Perhaps he senses in her that he may have at last found someone who makes him feel less alone.
The Dichotomy Between Matt Murdock and Daredevil is Pretty Well Defined
One thing this film does quite well--and that Affleck performs well, in my opinion--is to create a fairly strong dichotomy between the Matt Murdock and Daredevil personas. Ben portrays Matt as a sort of relaxed, devil-may-care, free-wheeling goofball--but who is also seemingly disorganized and bumbling yet in reality is actually very calculating and savvy (i.e., in a Columbo way). As a lawyer in the courtroom, he uses the fact that many jurors (and probably DAs) will be inclined to underestimate him because of his blindness to his advantage. Anyway, he is charming and roguish as Matt Murdock: a bit of a con-man, actually.
However as Daredevil he is focused and deadly effective. We see in the scenes when Matt returns from his nights out as Daredevil that he is still troubled by what he is doing--or that at least it is taking a toll on him emotionally and psychologically. But in any event, as Daredevil he is hard-driven to savagely beat down the wicked. He's dead serious about what he's doing then. Which he is as an attorney as well, actually. But as Daredevil he doesn't have to pretend otherwise.
Although I'm a big fan of the TV series, and at this writing we have seen just the first season, I think the movie actually does a better job with this than the show. (I'm sure to be in the minority with that opinion, given that the movie is typically denigrated and the show is so highly praised.)
Point-of-View CGI 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. It gives the viewer a sense of what makes this character truly special, and obviously when we "see" what the character sees (here in such an unusual way), we relate. Also, the fact that Daredevil has some key vulnerabilities related to his super-senses--namely, the risk of debilitating sensory overload from certain stimuli--definitely added to the suspense for me when he was fighting. The trick for him then is to figure out a way to overcome that or compensate for the overload by using his environment, which was fun to watch.
Friendship Between Matt and Foggy
I really enjoyed the banter and best bud vibe that Affleck as Matt and John Favreau as Foggy establish. They're enjoyable to watch together. Their friendship feels authentic. The quips fly effortlessly back and forth, and the prank of mustard in the coffee was well played. These law partners' defense of the street character (I forget his name) played Coolio was pretty entertaining.
So in sum, this film is actually has many positive aspects to appreciate despite the negative criticism it has received. Ben Affleck's performance is actually good in it (if we accept that superhero films always stylize source material). I would say it is at least as entertaining to me as Thor: The Dark World, Superman Returns, or The Incredible Hulk--all of which are rated "fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes "tomato-meter." Actually, personally, I enjoyed Daredevil more than those films (again, regardless of its flaws) because it introduced me to such a fascinating new favorite superhero.
So I've made my case. What do you the jury think? Can the film be acquitted, i.e., it is not such a stinker after all?