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Thursday, February 23, 2023 

Movie director in charge of 2003 Daredevil adaptation reflects on the making

Yahoo Entertainment interviewed Mark Steven Johnson, the director who helmed the Daredevil movie starring Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner from 2003, and what he had to say about its production those 2 decades ago, a number of years before Marvel was bought out by Disney. And they remind us:
Offscreen, of course, Daredevil inspired a real-life love story. Affleck and Garner were both in high-profile relationships when they played the doomed superhero couple — the Good Will Hunting Oscar winner was dating Jennifer Lopez, while the Alias star was married to Scott Foley — but started dating a year after the film's release and walked down the aisle in July 2005. They separated a decade later in 2015 and share three children; in 2021, Affleck reconnected with Lopez and they were married last summer.
Yes, and this was several years before Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively hooked up, the only good thing to come out of the aforementioned Green Lantern movie. But back to the Hornhead movie, here's some other stuff to consider:
Johnson based much of Daredevil's love story on a classic Marvel Comics storyline penned by celebrated writer and artist, Frank Miller. And just like the comics, their romance ends in Elektra's (temporary) death at the hands of ace assassin, Bullseye, played by Colin Farrell in one of the Irish actor's looniest performances. "That's a scene I'm particularly proud of," Johnson says now. "It's really panel-for-panel out of Frank Miller's comic: Bullseye saying, 'You're good, but I'm magic,' and slashing Elektra's throat with a playing card, followed by her crawling on her hands and knees with blood coming out."

In fact, there was a little too much blood for 20th Century Fox, the studio that released Daredevil and held onto the rights until 2013 when they reverted back to Marvel Studios. "They were like, 'It's pretty gruesome!' Johnson says, laughing. "I do remember getting some blowback on that, because her death was quite graphic." Some of the bloodier moments from Elektra's death scene were restored for Johnson's director's cut, which was released on home video in 2004 and remains his preferred version.
Of course, they don't mention Miller may not be as celebrated today as he once was, based on his onetime turn to more official belief in conservative-style patriotism in the late 2000s, and his Holy Terror graphic novel. That he regrettably reverted back to a leftist joke didn't change the mind of every leftist who may have rejected him as a result.

But it's interesting to read how 20th Fox, like several other studios who've adapted Marvel comics since, decided to tone down the violence level to PG-13 at best, with Blade one of the very few adaptations to receive an R-rating. Though toning down violence is still nothing compared to the much more concerning toning down of sex, if modern movies employ the concept at all. Don't be shocked if, even under a studio other than Disney, the outfit worn by Garner in the 2003 movie wouldn't be considered today. Also, I don't think the bloodletting is a laughing matter, as Johnson's making it out to be. One must wonder if, on the other hand, he'd laugh if they found Garner's outfit "too sexy". And, would he have the guts to defend it?
"It's definitely a more complete version," he says of that cut, which includes an entire storyline that was dropped from the theatrical version featuring the late rapper Coolio. "Looking back on it, one of the mistakes I made with the film was wanting to put everything in! I wanted to do Daredevil's origin story, and I wanted to do the Elektra Saga and I wanted to introduce Bullseye and Foggy. I wanted everything to be in there, but the film could only support so much. And then when you're told to cut a half-hour out and make it more of a love story, things star to feel rushed and not quite right. It's a fan thing: when you love something so much, you want to tell it all."
That reminds me of the awful Geoff Johns, who, as a "supervisor" on the DC adaptations, certainly came close to doing just that, sticking in as many allusions to comics stories as possible (and lest we forget, one of the most ill-advised ideas of the 90s, what began as the Parallax identity for GL). Indeed, it's not a good idea to stuff in as much as you can in such a hurry, mainly because a movie can only go so long, and the editor may not be able to keep everything intact. But if he's implying something's wrong with a love story, I'm decidedly not on board with that part, based on the sad PC situation we're faced with today in the entertainment world.
You had been wanting to make a Daredevil since the late ’90s, when comic book movies were essentially dead after failures like Batman & Robin and Spawn.

Yeah, it was such a different world then. It's funny, we were developing Daredevil before the first Spider-Man came out and I remember people saying to me: "I don't think that movie's gonna work." I was like, "Why? Spider-Man is one of the greatest characters." And they said: "Well, you can't see his face!" [Laughs] I remember telling people I was going to do Daredevil and they would say to me: "You mean Evel Knievel?" I'd explain, "No, he's a blind lawyer who has superpowers and heightened senses and he puts on a devil costume to fight crime." And they'd be like: "Oh, so it's a comedy?" Nobody knew who the character was then! The Marvel catalogue was so deep. And now everybody knows all the characters. It's pretty amazing how much has changed in 20 years.
Wow, imagine that. The original Daredevil volume ran during 1964-98, with several related miniseries and specials along the way, yet compared to Batman, nobody knew squat about Hornhead. Unless you consider filmmaker Kevin Smith, even though he didn't do favors for any comics, based on his overbearing writing style. Speaking of which, he comes up in the discussion too:
How involved was Marvel behind the scenes?

Certainly, Avi Arad — who was the head of Marvel back then — was all over the movie. And [current Marvel Studios head] Kevin Feige was a vice president then, and we spoke the same language. We were the nerds who grew up with the comics: the True Believers. Kevin was always brilliant, and you could tell that he was going to be someone you could trust and go to with questions. He was great back then, and he's great now. I also met with [former Marvel Comics boss] Joe Quesada because his Daredevil run with Kevin Smith influenced my take. The first scene of the movie where he's draped over the cross beaten and bloodied was from their comics.
Hmm, no wonder I want nothing to do with this movie today. When Johnson states he drew "inspiration" from overrated hacks like Quesada and Smith, it practically conflicts with the notion he was building off of Miller's runs during 1979-87, and it suggests Smith himself wrote his DD run for the Marvel Knights imprint just to produce something later filmmakers like himself could build on. Either way, it does confirm what went wrong when Johnson says he wanted to put everything in - he actually believed the stories from the Knights imprint had long range value. Nope, they don't.
Jennifer Garner was on Alias at the time, so very much in the pop culture zeitgeist from that show. Did you audition any Greek actresses since Elektra is Greek in the comics?

That was another big casting call, and we met with a lot of people. But once we met Jen, we were like, "That's it." Even though she wasn't Greek, she's such a fantastic actress and so good at the physical stuff, we knew she'd do a terrific job.
Notice how we're focusing here on a time when "cultural appropriation" wasn't turned into a deliberate accusation by SJWs who believe somebody who's not of a certain racial/ethnic background shouldn't be cast in specific roles where the character is of such a background, and when being white wasn't subject to villification. Of course, this is a topic highlighting a white girl of English descent playing a white girl of Greek descent, and not a Latin American character who could be of mixed Euro-Indian descent. In cases like those, the PC crowd on the left is more likely to object to a plain white gal being cast. Yet there is another issue involving race-swapping that comes up here:
You cast the late Michael Clarke Duncan as the movie's other villain, the Kingpin, who has traditionally been depicted as white in the comics. That kind of color blind casting is more common now, but ahead of the curve then. Did you get any blowback from comic fans?

Oh yeah, I got a lot of blowback
. It's the strangest Catch-22, because you want to have opportunities for everybody. You say, "I'm not going to pay attention to race: I'm just going to cast the right person for the role." But then you get killed for that [from some fans] who say: "The Kingpin should be white" or "He's not my Kingpin" and all that kind of stuff. So I definitely got heat on that, but I don't regret the decision at all. Michael was fantastic. It's hard to find a guy who is that big and also that formidable, and Michael was definitely that guy. God bless him.
Well not to sound too PC myself, but seriously, one could wonder why a Black guy has to be cast in the villain's role, rather than one of the heroic roles in this movie? Actually, that's just what happened in last year's The Batman with Robert Pattinson, recalling characters like James Gordon are played by African-American performers, and Zoe Kravitz, who's got black heritage, plays classic anti-heroine Catwoman. In fairness, Johnson may have cast Duncan for his acting talent, but today that's far from the case, what with all the multiple examples of POC being hired for roles that were originally white.
Were you sorry that casting tradition didn't continue with Netflix's Daredevil series that's now coming to Disney+?

Not at all. I think Vincent D'Onofrio is wonderful as the Kingpin. It's all about finding the right actor for the character, you know? Vincent is a great Kingpin and Michael was a great Kingpin. And the show is terrific. It's fun, because everybody gets to have their imprint on it: You don't own the character, you just get to be the steward for a short time and then pass it on for someone else to do something with it. That's why it was so fun to see all the different Spider-Men come together in the last Spider-Man movie. Seeing all those different versions from different decades and different filmmakers coming together was such an exciting moment.
In hindsight, it's surprising the TV program wasn't as forced as some of the movies have been in terms of casting. But despite what Johnson told them, diversity checkbox casting has become an all too common staple these days at the expense of merit in writing, and acting. One of the reasons why I don't see what's so great about Into the Spider-Verse, as it's only one of these modern excuses for "inclusivity" as though it had never been there in the first place.
Garner eventually starred in an Elektra spin-off, but was there ever a serious chance at a Daredevil sequel?

I think the plan was that they would make an Elektra movie and then in success do another Daredevil. I didn't work on the Elektra movie at all, but that one didn't work out and then everything kind of went away, unfortunately.
While the DD movie may have made at least $100 million, even then, it was getting to the point where such a sum still wasn't enough to fully satisfy studios (unless maybe they go communist in a time when political propaganda's become more common, sadly). The Elektra movie fared less well, and who would've thought it could affect the DD movie preceding it.
Kevin Smith has a cameo as a morgue attendant named Jack Kirby after the famous Marvel artist. If you had gotten to make more films, would he have become Daredevil's nemesis Jester? That seems like the right villain for him.

[Laughs] I'd put Kevin in anything. He's a lovely man. Kevin put me in his movie once, too. In Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, there's a scene where he and Jason Mewes are running through a studio backlot, and there's a Daredevil movie being made. If you look for a second, I'm the director of that Daredevil movie! So we traded parts.
It's honestly disgraceful Smith played a character bearing the name of the guy who co-created Capt. America with Joe Simon. What did Smith do that was good for comicdom, anyway? All he did was precipitate harm to classic creations, with the slaying of Karen Page in issue 5 of the Knights imprint, at the hands of - surprise, surprise - Bullseye (and Mysterio had a role in the whole plot too). If that's all he could cast Page in a story for, then it only amounts to crude shock value.

The 2003 DD movie certainly won't become a classic anytime soon, compared to some other, simpler movies of the past, whatever their genres, and some of the filmmaking choices at the time only compound the observation.

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