In my approximation, Netflix has produced the two most successful Marvel titles thus far in their seasons of Daredevil and Jessica Jones. They’ve also made the most narratively ambitious, if not entirely cohesive title with Luke Cage, but none of this is to say that Marvel movies haven’t had their minor triumphs over the years. Iron Man 3, Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, and this year’s Doctor Strange all show unique artistry under a brand that has worked, openly, purposefully, and tirelessly, to erase the director’s fingerprints in the name of stylistic and narrative uniformity.
Netflix’s Daredevil has its own distinct visual flavor as well, but that can’t be said about the first attempt to adapt the source material. Mark Steven Johnson‘s 2003 take on Matthew Murdock (Ben Affleck) and his red-suited alter-ego was, and remains, about as exciting as a warm bowl of flop sweat. This is not a unique opinion; most critics panned the movie or dismissed the entire endeavor as a not-so-memorable mediocrity. The movie does have its defenders, however, and Screen Geek recently noted that Charlie Cox, who plays Murdock in the Netflix series, came out as a fan of the film as well, during an interview in Pittsburgh. He both defended the movie itself and Affleck’s performance, which was the focus of quite a lot of scorn upon the movie’s release. Here’s what Cox had to say about his feelings on the movie:
“I actually really, really liked the film and thought Ben Affleck did a really good job. I think the film is tonally a bit confused [but] I actually really enjoyed it. I think that if you make Spider-Man, and I don’t know much about the other characters to be honest, but if you make Spider-man, for example, you can make a movie for kids and adults and it can have that kind of humor because I think it’s true to the characters for the most part. Daredevil needs to be on a platform like Netflix because the source material is so dark and so complicated and so sinister at times. I think what benefited us so much was that Netflix wanted to make the show with Marvel and we were able to embrace those darker tones.”
“Tonally a bit confused” is a simple way of saying that no one was really thinking about how the whole thing would work out at the end. The fault lays directly at Johnson’s feet as the director and though he is a competent helmer, it’s not like Daredevil was the first time he had been responsible for an irksome movie. Making a movie for kids and adults to enjoy equally is a fine goal and all, but it’s not easy and when it doesn’t work, you’re left with a movie that feels like a compilation of scenes that vaguely tell a story. Still, Cox is not alone in defending and liking the Johnson film, as co-star Elden Henson (Foggy) also gave his two cents about the first movie. Here’s what Henson said:
“Just so everyone knows out there – it’s not easy to make a movie. It’s really hard. No one sets out to make a bad movie or disappoint anybody. I think they were [just] making these types of superhero things in a much different way back then.”
He’s not wrong. To get a movie funded, made, and distributed is an intensely rare thing to accomplish, and that’s even before you weigh whether the movie is any good. However, though I appreciate his want to express that truth, his logic acts more as an excuse than a reason. Am I just supposed to not criticize the movie because it was hard to make and because Johnson had good intentions? Do I honestly have to pull out the old “The Path to Hell” quote? Mind you, there are dozens upon dozens of great American directors who have made one or two great movies and then have never been heard from again because they actually care about making good movies to the point that they won’t take a project if they know they can’t guarantee it will be good, at least in their view. So, though I’m sure Johnson never set out to disappoint anyone, let’s not pretend that that alone should disqualify healthy criticism, which I do understand is often buried under a mountain of snark and personal gripes. But, as it turned out, there was someone who could do it better all along and they eventually did, even if it was in a different format.