Cry Havoc, and Let Slip the Dogs of Blockbusters
The Affleck casting (which, full disclosure, I don’t hate at all, though I’d much rather he direct the thing) has been rattling around in my brain, and I’ve decided people should admit Daredevil is as good a movie as The Dark Knight or The Dark Knight Rises.
To this end, I will argue Daredevil is underrated and the Knights are overrated, and are also more similar than most would care to admit. Not the acting. Heath Ledger’s Joker vs. Colin Farrell’s Bullseye isn’t really a contest, even factoring that they were aiming for very different marks. But as a comic book interpretation, as a film, as something enjoyable to eat popcorn to, heck, as a social commentary. Because, like most things Nolan, the Knights are better at tricking you into thinking they’re deep than being deep. And that’s ok. Inception is a fantastic blockbuster. It doesn’t have to be a philosophical treatise on the nature of self. But as a blockbuster, a should entertain and be well-edited and have characters made up of more than angst and perhaps be visible without squinting and not leave entire scenes hanging because one character jumps out a window, no?
To an extent, the problems with the Knights are symptomatic of a universal blockbuster problem now: stakes must be raised. Hold a ferry hostage in one film? Hold a football stadium in the next! No, an entire city! But raising the stakes and delivering large-scale CGI and good performances doesn’t make for a better film. Here are some points of comparison.
1. Tone. Daredevil set the stage for the movies we have now. It went for a darker tone and haunted hero, as opposed to Spider-man (2002), which despite the presence of Tobey Maguire is really a superior film to everything else here, but had a brighter palette and tone more consistent with what we thought of ‘comic book films.’ Now, Daredevil didn’t always (often) succeed at walking the line between camp and gravitas, but it tried. And it managed to get the origin story out of the way faster than these series which take the entire first film setting them up.
3. Affectations. If you’re going to hate on Ben Affleck pouring gravel into his voice and pretending that fools anyone, you have to do the same for Bale. In fact, the series borrows a lot from Daredevil. See Point 1.
4. Villains. Like The Dark Knight, Daredevil has two villains. The Dark Knight, though, on top of the static and fantastic Joker, introduces Harvey Dent, turns him, has him kill, and then kills him off. That’s a major dynamic arc, all in a movie which isn’t remotely about him. It’s overstuffed, much as Spider-man 3 was. While Daredevil also has two villains, one is really the underling and one is the boss, and both remain static.
5. Flow. I wrote more about this here, but because of the overstuffing and myriad of plots and climaxes in The Dark Knight, something had to give, and the thing which should have resulted in panic just . . . didn’t. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises handled panic somewhat better, and Daredevil‘s scale means things flowed sensibly without the grandstanding and giant groups of extras.
I’m not arguing Daredevil should go down in the National Film Registry as something “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” If nothing else, it gave us Elektra, and for that, someone must be punished. But it’s a comic book film which adhered to that aesthetic while reaching for another it didn’t quite attain. The darker aesthetic has been carried on by films such as the Nolan trilogy, often without the levity, clarity, or care about editing. Daredevil also addressed some pressing issues while giving us some enjoyable fight scenes, pretty shots, logical plot progression, and all this with stakes of a reasonable scale and PG-13 sex. (No, that doesn’t link to a clip, but you should click it, anyways.) It doesn’t think it’s Super Important, but good films don’t necessarily have to be. Just ask Daredevil‘s director Jon Favreau, who went on to direct the Iron Man series.
The first of which, by the way, is also a far better movie than The Dark Knight.