Based on the 2003 superhero film of the same name starring Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, Daredevil is a movie tie-in book that, against all odds and defying all expectations, is superior to the film it is based on.
The book follows the plot of the director’s cut of the film, which added in more character-based scenes and a court-room subplot. It features Matt Murdock, a blind lawyer who lost his father at an early age, as he takes to the streets of Hell’s Kitchen as his leather-clad alter-ego Daredevil, who has to bring down the crime Kingpin that is plaguing New York’s streets, all while trying to balance his fledging law career with his mysterious love interest Elektra Natchios.
Despite the fact that I enjoyed the film of Daredevil – in fact I think it is criminally underrated – I have to say this book is far superior. Even though the 2004 Director’s Cut added in a wealth of scenes that helped develop the characters and give us some much-needed plot, this book handles those moments with a lot more care, mainly because of its format. Greg Cox is able to delve in to the psyche of these characters, and I feel their thoughts and emotions were much better communicated in this book than in the film. When the film tried to do emotional or character-driven moments, it felt ham-fisted and out of place in an otherwise campy picture, but here they are handled much more elegantly. Cox’s descriptions are detailed and rich, and thanks to his writing, I actually cared about the characters, which can’t be said for Mark Steven Johnson’s 2003 film. Even side-characters such as Elektra and Ben Urich are given pages of pure description, detailing their inner thoughts and motivations, and it helped make those characters in particular feel much more real.
Unlike the film, where a wide variety of side characters took away from the eponymous hero’s time on-screen, Matt Murdock is by far the standout character in this book. Murdock’s childhood felt rushed in the film, told clumsily through a series of incoherent flashbacks that didn’t seem relevant to the over-arching plot, but here they are given plenty of, if not too much time. Aside from a brief prologue, we are given around 50 pages of backstory for Matt, something that I felt this book benefitted a lot from. By the times the book was drawing to a close and all the different strands were coming together, I felt they actually made sense here and worked well, overall leaving the plot much more logical and tight.
Daredevil himself is also fantastic, and aside from the dreadful leather costume – which ultimately was not the decision of the author – he is portrayed very faithfully to the comics: Daredevil is brooding and dark, brutal when he needs to be but compassionate when he can be, and the fight scenes where Daredevil was working with his amplified senses were a joy to read. The fights are brutal, and Cox’s description helps you feel every hit. Unlike the film, this book immerses you in Daredevil’s world, at times making the reader feel like they are in the leather boots of the Man Without Fear, and keeps the reader guessing as to what will happen next. There were moments where several strands of the plot click together perfectly and they were some of the most rewarding and immersive sections I’ve read from any book in a long time.
Not only does the book improve on the majority of the characterisation of the film, it also improves the overall plot. Since it adapts the director’s cut, it contains extra subplots not present in the theatrical version, all of which benefit the book. The biggest is that involving Matt and his partner Foggy defending a man who by all accounts should be guilty. This plot adds depth to Matt’s character and also ties in fantastically to Daredevil’s crusade against the Kingpin, helping make the plot a whole lot more coherent.
Unfortunately, the book falls down mostly due to its ties to the film it is based on. Some of the film’s worst elements are present in this book, and although they aren’t quite as bad as in this story’s cinematic portrayal, they still feel so out of place. This is in particular highlighted in the horrible playground fight scene between Daredevil and Elektra, which not only feels out of place, but is just wince-inducing due to its irrelevance and nonsensical composition.
However, there were also a few issues I had that weren’t down to the story. In some places, Greg Cox’s attempts at foreshadowing or cleverness feel incredibly forced and clumsy, especially the constant references to blindness before Matt’s accident, but most irritatingly during most moments where Bullseye was present. Don’t get me wrong, he’s just as appalling a character in the film as he is in the book, but Cox’s constant barrage of British stereotypes and slang is simply terrible.
Aside from a few issues with the plot and some of the characterisation, I did have a good time with the Daredevil novel: a better time than with the film. The lead character is portrayed superbly thanks to Cox’s rich, character-driven writing, which also makes side-characters that weren’t particularly likeable in the film a lot more interesting and developed. Cox is a master of the movie tie-in, here greatly improving on what was a missed opportunity of a film. I’ll say that if the film were as good as the book, we may have seen Ben Affleck in the red leather costume on another occasion.
I give Daredevil – The Movie Novelization 4/5