While the Man Without Fear™ is currently on the comeback trail in the pages of Marvel Comics, he’s also set to return to cinemas in an all new film ‘reboot’, slated for 2014. But with a starring role in 1990’s ‘The Trial of the Incredible Hulk’ and 2003’s ‘Daredevil’ only eight years old, why has this much loved property failed to spawn any proper sequels?
With over thirty years of comic book history, there’s more than enough material to inspire dozens of scripts, and it’s a shame that the ‘bigger picture’ has so far failed to get past the first hurdle on screen. Other film franchises have already shown that mixed reviews and relatively poor financial returns don’t necessarily prevent hasty follow-ups. So what gives?
1990’s ‘The Trial of the Incredible Hulk’, was partially a ‘backdoor pilot’ for a Daredevil TV series and is accordingly focussed on Daredevil, with plenty of room for Murdoch’s story to develop under Banner’s watchful eye. Rex Smith is equally at home portraying lawyer Matt Murdoch as he is indulging in black-clad ninja fisticuffs with local thugs as Daredevil. And in a show-down with the shadowy Wilson Fisk, played by John Rhys Davies (oh so menacing in wrap-around shades), our hero not only overcomes self doubt and saves the day, but also sets up a potential series into the bargain.
Looking back though, it’s easy to see why the pilot was unsuccessful. The no frills ‘beat-em-up/drama’ format that powered ‘The Incredible Hulk’ to TV success in the Seventies was starting to look tired two decades on. And with genre TV about to go super-nova with shows such as ‘The X-Files’, ‘Babylon 5’ and ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’, there was no longer a place for shows that evoked such 80’s kitsch as ‘Street Hawk’ and ‘Miami Vice’.
It was over a decade later when Marvel's blind lawyer superhero would next appear in a live action production. ‘Daredevil’ (2003) starring Ben Affleck, rode the crest of a new wave of big budget, big screen hits including ‘Blade’ (1998), ‘X-Men’ (2000) and ‘Spider-Man’ (2002).
Visually, ‘Daredevil’ represents a huge leap forward in 13 years, with breathtaking acrobatic roof-top duels, gorgeous, spandex-free costume design and stunningly realised visualisations of the title character’s ‘radar sense’.
The casting too is spot on - the key performance being Michael Clarke Duncan, whose brute physicality and raw charisma ensure that he owns the screen as Wilson Fisk, outshining even Colin Farrell’s authentically bat-shit crazy turn as Bullseye. Affleck and future wife Jennifer Garner ‘Elektra’ make an enthralling couple, and there are great comic cameos from future Iron Man director Jon Favreau and Kevin Smith.
With only a curious spin-off in 2005’s ‘Elektra’, a sequel failed to appear. Many possible reasons include the indifference of leading man Ben Affleck, who described the experience as ‘humiliating’, fanboy apathy over liberties taken with comic book lore and even the sad fact that the story itself fails to hang together – even with the much improved ‘Daredevil: Director’s Cut’ (2004).
But the Devil is in the timing once more. As a standalone film, ‘Daredevil’ still impresses today, but the influences of such recent classics as ‘The Crow’ (1994), The Matrix (1999) and the comic book films that preceded it are clear to see in every frame. As with ‘The Incredible Hulk Returns’ before it, 'Daredevil' simply offered nothing new.
So I start to wonder about the reboot. To give new director David Slade ('30 Days Of Night. (2007), 'Hard Candy' (2005)) his due, 11 years is a respectfully long time nowadays, compared with the hurried production of the ‘Hulk’, ‘Punisher’ and ‘Spider-Man’ reboots. But arriving so late in the game in 2014, the new Daredevil is once again in danger of missing the mark. We can only hope that David Slade is not just good, he’s magic.