Daredevil and Media Stuck-in-Amber Portrait of New York
The French filmmaker Francois Truffaut once theorized that there will never be a truly anti-war movie because the visual nature of film would always make violence aesthetically appealing and seductive.
A related cinematic problem that I’ve noticed is that film finds ways to make immoral messages and characters seductive and cool. Travis Bickle is supposed to only be a hero in his own head, everyone else is supposed to think he is absolutely nuts, but this hasn’t stopped millions of people (usually young men) from hanging up Travis Bickle posters on their walls and launching into the “Are you talkin’ to me?” monologue that is supposed to be the apex of Bickle’s mental breakdown. Other famous examples of cautionary-tales-turned-idols are Al Pacino’s Scarface and Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko; especially the latter’s “Greed is Good” speech, which became the mantra for a million guys who dreamed of life on Wall Street.
Vikram’s Post on Bad-Apple Policing gave way to a mini-thread about how and why people still think we live in a dangerous world even though crime rates are in serious decline across most of the United States. Most of the blame was laid on Fox and/or the Nightly News but I think fictional media offers a much better explanation for why Americans seem to think we are constantly one step away from Mad Max.
The Daredevil TV show is the latest addition to the Marvel Universe. Matt Murdoch was blinded in an industrial accident as a boy and he compensated with improvement in rest of his senses. He is a criminal defense attorney (for the truly innocent only) by day and a vigilante by night.
What I noticed immediately about Daredevil is that, according to the media, it is always 1981 in New York City. The technology might change (there are tablets and high-speed internet in Daredevil) but socially New York is rampant with vice, corrupt unions, working-class white ethnics (Murdock’s dad is a proud Irish-American soul and probably would have raised his son on the South Shore of Long Island or in Rockland County in reality), and organized crime. The same is true on the various versions of Law & Order. Sitcoms probably offer a more realistic portrait of life in New York than dramas right now.
Daredevil tries to explain this by connecting the show to the broader Marvel Universe. Daredevil starts soon after the first Avengers movie when Manhattan was ripped to shreds. This conveniently lets the show turn Hell’s Kitchen from an expensive neighborhood to the old rough-and-tumble neighborhood it used to be. Daredevil’s first act of heroism is to save a group of young women from a white-slavery ring run by Eastern Europeans. The audience even sees the gangsters throw the girls into a shipping container. I found this storyline eye-rolling especially when the head honcho just sits in his chair as Daredevil pounds the shit out of his thugs.
Comic books and media inspired by them are a big business and one that seems to keep growing. The issue is that they seem unable to get out of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight vision. Comic Books want to be taken seriously and the short hand that they are using for this is being portentous. Clark Kent’s Superman was light, charming, and witty. Zack Snyder’s Superman is brooding and no-fun. The original Matt Murdock was a happy-go-lucky and wisecracking kind of guy. Same with Peter Parker, who was filled with New York sarcasm. Now everyone seems to exist in a perpetual depression and brooding nature like a mediocre performance of Hamlet.
The other big issue with Daredevil is that the acting is kind of off. Christopher Cox feels awkward as Matt Murdoch, like a kid who is wearing a suit for the first time and is unsure of what to do or how to stand. The actor playing Foggy Nelson is all too aware of being the comic relief and hams it up a bit too much. This makes the dialogue of Daredevil seem more wooden than it actually is. The other performances were also off, nothing horrible but it was noticeable.