Screen Time [Christmas Countdown]: Hawkeye

Air Date: 24 November 2021 to 22 December 2021
Network: Disney+
Stars: Jeremy Renner, Hailee Steinfeld, Tony Dalton, Alaqua Cox, Vera Farmiga, and Florence Pugh

The Background:
In one of their more blatant borrowings from their competitor, Stan Lee and Don Heck debuted Clint Barton/Hawkeye in the pages of Tales of Suspense all the way back in 1964. Originally introduced as a foil for Tony Stark/Iron Man, Hawkeye eventually became a member of the Avengers, was involved in some of Marvel’s most prominent storylines, and has even become a symbol of representation for the deaf community in recent years. Jeremy Renner helped the D-list archer become a household name after he was cast in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) but was very much restricted to a supporting role compared to his other, more compelling peers. Marvel Studios sought to change this with the launch of Disney+, and Hawkeye was one of the first characters slated to have his own show exclusive to the streaming platform, which executive producer Trinh Tran aimed to explore his backstory, his time as Ronin prior to Avengers: Endgame (Russo and Russo, 2019), and introduce his protégé, Kate Bishop (Steinfeld), to the MCU. Accordingly, the show was heavily influenced by Matt Fraction’s comic book run, in which these elements (and Hawkeye’s deafness) were prominent features. The show aimed to delve deeper into Barton’s mindset and how the Snap had affected him, while also formally incorporating elements from Marvel’s Netflix shows into the MCU proper, and further lay the groundwork for a potential Young Avengers project. Despite issues caused by COVID-19, the six-episode series was highly praised when it debuted on Disney+; critics enjoyed the banter between the two archers, the seasonal setting, and the chance to spend more time with Barton, while also praising the grounded action sequences. While there has been no talk of a second series, a spin-off for deaf antagonist-cum-anti-hero Maya Lopez (Cox) was put into production for a 2023 release.

The Plot:
Former Avenger Clint Barton just wants to get back to his family for Christmas but his life is thrown into disarray when he crosses paths with would-be superhero Kate Bishop and is thrust into the middle of a conspiracy from his past that threatens to derail far more than the festive spirit.

The Review:
I mentioned in my review of his debut appearance that I’m not overly familiar with the character of Hawkeye; I’ve definitely read more stories of his DC Comics counterpart and Hawkeye generally just pops up in any stories I read that feature the Avengers or other Marvel Comics characters. As a result, while I’m familiar with Matt Fraction’s work with the character, I’m by no means a die-hard Hawkeye fan. I’ve always been a bit dismissive of him; this isn’t because he doesn’t have any superpowers, I’ve just never really been motivated to seek out his stories. However, having said that, I am a fan of Jeremy Renner’s portrayal of the character in the MCU; Hawkeye got a bit shafted in first Avengers movie, but has since become the heart (or, at least, moral compass) of the team. He’s shown himself to be a devoted family man, something none of his peers can boast of, a surrogate father and mentor and to have real emotional depth to his character, going on a killing spree as the vigilante Ronin after Thanos (Josh Brolin) wiped out half the universe (including Clint’s wife and kids, who eventually returned, of course) and being visibly broken after his best friend and partner, Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), sacrificed herself to help undo Thanos’s actions. I think it’s cool that Hawkeye got the chance to spread his wings in a series devoted to him, but I do think Marvel Studios missed the chance to do a sort of spy/thriller set in the past that showed how Clint and Natasha first met and joined the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.), which would also have shed new light on S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), but I suppose that still isn’t completely off the table and this is a good compromise as I can’t say for sure if a Hawkeye solo movie would land too well.

Burdened by grief, Clint is forced to protect Kate from the ghosts of his violent past.

When we catch up with Clint, he’s still carrying the grief and guilt over Natasha’s death; he’s unimpressed, to say the least, and somewhat insulted by Rogers: The Musical’s glorification of the Avengers and their strife and haunted by Natasha’s sacrifice. He’s also now shown to be partially deaf and wearing a hearing aid (which he turns off to spare himself Rogers’ cheesy songs and later, to tune out Kate’s incessant babbling) and is irked that the musical includes superheroes who weren’t even in the battle. And that’s not even mentioning the “Thanos Was Right” graffiti he spots in the men’s room; here’s a guy who lost everything, put his life on the line countless times, and lost his best friend to bring back untold billions of lost souls and his reward is seeing his exploits turned into a cringe-worthy stage show (Marvel Universe Live! had better action, costumes, and production value) and anonymous accusations that all that pain and loss was not only for nothing, but unappreciated by a certain few. He’s also shown to be uncomfortable with the hero worship some show him, dismissive and annoyed by fans, and cares little for his “branding”; in “Hide and Seek” (Thomas, 2021), Kate voices her concerns that he’s too “low key” to sell and thus has been denied his proper share of the limelight and a big part of their emerging partnership is her emphasising that Clint needs to open himself up more so he can inspire people the same way he did her. “Partners, Am I Right?” (Bert and Bertie, 2021) shows his counterargument to this; Clint has always seen himself as a weapon, rather than a hero or a role model, and he’s too traumatised and too weary from his losses and years of fighting to want to be in the public eye. Indeed, he begins the show simply wishing to spend a happy, if cringe-filled, Christmas with his kids – supportive daughter Lila (Ava Russo) and his sons, veritable blank slate Cooper (Ben Sakamoto) and young Nathanial (Cade Woodward). He’s stunned when he sees a report of his former murderous vigilante persona, Ronin, on the news and immediately sends his kids back home to their mother, Laura (Linda Cardellini); haunted by the deaths he caused while in the guise, Clint makes it his mission to track down whoever’s in the getup to protect them from reprisals and is aghast to find Kate under the mask. Concerned for her welfare, Clint’s paternal instincts kick in and he takes her to safety; dismissive of her because of her age and claim to be “the world’s greatest archer”, despite her obvious talent with a bow, Clint wants only to dispose of the Ronin suit, tie up his loose ends with the Tracksuit Mafia, and get back to his family for Christmas; he has no interest in a partnership or teaching Kate anything at first, but they slowly bond throughout the events of the show despite his crotchety nature.

Kate is overjoyed to be joining forces with her idol and applying her skills to superheroics.

While the show bares the name of Clint’s alter ego and his strife and character are at the forefront of the narrative, Hawkeye is, primarily, the Kate Bishop show. The series begins with a flashback showing young Kate (Clara Stack), already a keen archer, being inspired by Hawkeye’s bravery and heroism during the Chitauri attack on New York City, which left Kate’s father, Derek (Brian d’Arcy James), dead and saw her and her mother, Eleanor (Farmiga), saved by one of Hawkeye’s arrows. Vowing to protect herself, her mother, and others in the same way as her hero, Kate grew up studying fencing, archery, and martial arts; the first episode’s opening credits are essentially an animated montage showcasing Kate’s tenacity and will to succeed but, while she’s certainly gifted with a bow and in a fight, she’s young, inexperienced in the field, and has no real idea of how to best use her skills. This comes up constantly throughout the show as she’s forced to think on her feet, react to dangers with either fast thinking or her martial arts skill, and use her surroundings to her advantage, all of which shows her to be highly adaptable, but in over her head. However, she has good intentions; she puts herself on the line to rescue a one-eyed stray dog, Lucky (Jolt), and manages to scramble through most fights through luck, perseverance, and the element of surprise. Kate briefly adopts the Ronin identity when she becomes suspicious of her mother’s new fiancé, the swashbuckling, charismatic Jack Duquesne (Dalton), and becomes caught up in a murder mystery after finding Jack’s uncle, Armand Duquesne III (Simon Callow), dead from a sword wound. Since the Tracksuit Mafia have a grudge against Ronin, and Kate’s not exactly a pro at covering her tracks, she quickly finds herself a target and is blown away when her hero, Hawkeye, rescues her. She’s disheartened to learn that he plans to part ways with her as soon as the suit is destroyed and when he shows reluctance to teach her anything, but she remains persistent; when Clint allows himself to be captured by the Tracksuits to try and warn them off her, she uses her mother’s security company to track him and literally comes crashing in to rescue him. Though aggravated by Kate’s recklessness, inexperience, and methods when it comes to dealing with criminal scumbags (she’s just as likely to offer them relationship advice as she is a beatdown), Clint genuinely wants to keep her safe and thus severs their fledgling partnership when Yelena Belova (Pugh) becomes involved. Though devastated at failing to live up to her promise and the example of her hero and his fellow Avengers, a candid discussion with Yelena only fuels Kate’s desire to be a part of that life and she openly defies him, her mother, and her naysayers to aid her hero and show that she’s more than capable of living up to the mantle of Hawkeye.

Family is at the heart of Hawkeye and drives much of the plot and its characters.

Family is a key component of Hawkeye; Clint is torn between cleaning up the mess from his blood-soaked past and spending Christmas with his family; having already lost so much time with them during his days as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent (essentially a glorified assassin) and Avenger, to say nothing of the five years he spent indulging his violent whims as Ronin, Clint just wants to have a quiet, peaceful life with his wife and kids and is constantly heartbroken at the prospect of breaking his promise to be home for the holidays. Refreshingly, his relationship with his kids is as strong as his marriage; his kids are generally understanding, sympathetic, and supportive of him, as is Laura, who never gives him a hard time or yells at him for prioritising his mission over his family. It’s not like Clint needs the guilt trip, either, as he carries the burden of potentially letting his family down throughout the show and nowhere is this evidenced better than during his heart-breaking phone call with Nate where, thanks to having lost his hearing aid, he’s forced to rely on Kate to act as an interpreter. As a former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent herself, Laura understands Clint’s mission; his desperate desire to not only get rid of the Ronin suit but also recover a mysterious watch with ties to her past is only further fuelled by repeated references to the “big guy”, a dangerous individual who makes even the ridiculous Tracksuit Mafia more of a threat. Although he has no interest in taking on a partner after losing Natasha, Clint comes to see Kate as an equal and almost a surrogate daughter, and even builds his own network of allies after being forced to endure the theatricality of a group of live-action roleplaying gamers (LARPer) to retrieve the Ronin suit from firefighter Grills (Clayton English). Family is incredibly important to Kate, too; she’s more than a little perturbed to find Eleanor is engaged to someone else and, despite Jack’s efforts to be understanding and friendly, she is cold and aloof towards him. This turns to suspicion when she discovers a link between him and the Tracksuit Mafia; however, Eleanor refuses to listen to Kate’s claims and is horrified when she forces him into a fencing duel, accusing her of lashing out due to being at a crossroads in her life and still grieving over the loss of her father. Still, Kate is torn between being genuinely pleased with her mother’s newfound happiness and her vow to keep her safe; it brings her no pleasure to deliver evidence of Jack’s presumed misgivings, but she’s devastated to learn that he’s merely a patsy and that Eleanor has been orchestrating events to pay off a debt her husband owed to the “big guy”, none other than the kingpin of crime himself, Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio).

Backed by her goons, and against Fisk’s wishes, Maya is determined to avenge herself on Ronin.

The show’s themes of family are also exemplified in Maya Lopez, the head of the Tracksuit Mafia, whom Fisk regards as a daughter and one of his greatest assets. Deaf since birth, Maya communicates only through sign language (with helpful subtitles often appearing for our benefit) and violence thanks to being raised by her doting father, William Lopez (Zahn McClarnon), to be a keen fighter, thinker, and to closely observe and anticipate the movements and intentions of others using her other senses. Maya is thus a brutal and highly skilled fighter despite her lack of hearing and artificial foot; she was devested when Ronin murdered her father, the original head of the Tracksuit Mafia, and vowed to hunt him down and kill him, a vendetta that causes her close friend and second-in-command, Kazimierz “Kazi” Kazimierczak (Fra Free), to grow concerned not just for her welfare but for attracting undue attention to their organisation and angering the Kingpin. Distrustful and filled with rage, Maya has her goons target Kate as she’s their only lead to Ronin and refuses to listen to Clint’s claims that the vigilante is dead or Kazi’s attempts to reason with her; Clint goes so far as to ask Kazi to convince Maya to veer from her path as it can only lead to her destruction. Although Clint has the edge in terms of experience and adaptability, Maya proves the more agile and skilled of the two with her kicks and flips; still, Clint is able to subdue her and threatens to kill her if she continues to target his friends and family. Using a mixture of words and sign language, he attempts to relate to her since they’re both essentially living weapons but she only relents when she’s faced with the irrefutable proof that it was Fisk who ordered her father to be killed. As if Maya wasn’t bad enough, she has a whole gaggle of tracksuit-wearing goons at her disposal; the Tracksuit Mafia are a quirky bunch who all wear matching clothes and repeatedly end their sentences with “Bro”. The Tracksuits exhibit an amusing and interesting amount of personality; while they all dress and somewhat sound, look, and act alike, they’re not just mindless minions. They mock Clint and Kate, subjecting them to nonstop Christmas tunes while tied to kiddie rides, enjoy RUN DMC’s “Christmas in Hollies”, are fond of their lairs and offended when people question them and their methods, and are seen as both ruthless and clumsy, which ties into the themes of vulnerability and flawed characters.

Yelena is determined to kill Clint, while Fisk seeks to consolidate his stranglehold on New York.

Family is also a driving motivation behind Yelena’s vendetta; a flashback shows that, after the end of Black Widow (Shortland, 2021), Yelena was snapped away while freeing her fellow “sisters” from their programming. From her perspective, she instantly returned, finding her surroundings changed and life having moved on five years in the literal blink of an eye. Disorientated, her first thought was to find Natasha and she was devastated to learn that she was not only dead, but that Clint was responsible. I get that she’s blinded by rage and grief, but she’s very quick to judge Clint based on his bloody past considering how shady her own past is. Still, despite wishing to kill Clint, Yelena goes out of her way to warn Kate off him using her own signature (and awkward) brand of persuasion and even respects Kate’s ability and tenacity (it’s clear that she’s holding back during their encounters), but cannot condone her admiration of the man she believes killed her sister. Her final confrontation with Clint sheds some light on her motivations; refusing to fight, Clint relates a version of what happened to Natasha and takes a massive beating as Yelena works her grief out on him, blaming him for not fighting or trying harder and he’s only able to get through to her by sharing the secret whistle and knowledge he has of her from Natasha. It seems she’s jealous of the time Clint got to have with her and for not being there to try and stop her, and she finally realises that they both loved her and that she’s been consumed by anguish and gives up her vendetta (though their relationship remains noticeably frosty). And then there’s Fisk, making his official debut in the MCU and, presumably, tying the events of the Marvel Netflix shows closer to this shared universe; forced into a business arrangement with Fisk to pay off Derek’s debt, Eleanor angers the Kingpin when she not only tries to back out of their arrangement to keep Kate from knowing the truth but also tries to blackmail him. Garbed in his trademark white suit, Fisk exudes the same menace and authority as he did in Daredevil (2015 to 2018) with even the subtlest movements and it’s honestly fantastic to see him brought in as such a threat. He’s dangerous enough to put the wind up Clint and is known for reacting to insults with ruthless aggression; his threat is so tangible that Clint finally recognises Kate as his partner and vows not to leave until he’s been dealt with. Having trained and raised her as his own, Fisk admires Maya and demonstrates a respect and love for her but remains a natural manipulator and has a rage seemingly boiling under his skin. The audacity of Eleanor and Maya’s actions, and the reappearance of Ronin, enrages and insults him, leading to him personally attacking Eleanor after his plot to have Kazi assassinate her backfires. Here, we see his incredibly physical strength; he easily rips off a car door, shrugs off and breaks Kate’s arrows, and even survives being hit by a car and caught in an explosion when Kate’s forced to rely on her trick arrows to counter Fisk’s near-superhuman strength. Although wounded, the Kingpin manages to flee, only to be confronted by Maya; his attempts to reason with her apparently fall on deaf ears (…no pun intended) and result in his death at her hands, though we don’t actually see the shot or him die so I’m confident he’ll resurface at some point.

The Summary:  
Hawkeye stands out from much of the MCU by taking place during the Christmas season, which is a prominent theme throughout the series and lights, decorations, snow, and Christmas songs are everywhere. Even the first episode’s opening credits, styled after the art of David Aja, are sprinkled with Christmassy bells and tunes, and Clint’s primary goal is to get home to his family for the holidays. Although Kate constantly digs at him for refusing to open up to others and share his feelings, he’s only like this about the superhero life and his past; he relishes Christmas with his family, watching movies and wearing terrible jumpers and such, and a lot of his closed off nature is as much from his resentment at missing out on family time as it is the ghosts of his past. These ghosts are prominent elements throughout the show; although Clint is one of the more low-key Avengers, he has his fans and a reputation as a hero, which makes him extremely uncomfortable as he doesn’t want or ask for any thanks or special treatment but it proves useful in getting them information and co-operation from the LARPers and even winning the trust of Eleanor and Jack. However, this comes with a price; when Kate comes over with pizza and Christmas decorations, he accidentally lets slip a story about Natasha and, struggling with his grief, is barely able to tell Kate a version of his decision not to assassinate her and gets emotional reminiscing about her and the loss of his family during the Blip. This particular ghost resurfaces when Kate is tossed over a rooftop by Yelena; this time, Clint chooses to lower his would-be-partner to safety, and he makes a special trip to a plaque in the Avengers’ honour to bare his soul to his fallen friend when he makes the difficult decision to briefly return to the Ronin persona. Clint’s past is a driving reason behind Yelena’s distrust and hatred towards him; she questions why everyone has forgiven him for his murderous actions and Kate’s loyalty to someone she barely knows, especially after she deduces that he was the violent Ronin.

Archery, brutal hand-to-hand combat, and fun trick arrows make for some intense action scenes.

While Hawkeye’s emphasis is very much more on being an intriguing thriller full of character moments, there’s a fair amount of action peppered throughout to keep things visually interesting and engaging. Though just a man, Clint is extremely adept in a fight; he and Kate are similar in that they’re both adaptable and have to fight tooth and nail since they lack superpowers, though their accuracy with a bow borders on the superhuman at times. Clint is easily able to break or slip free of his bonds (amusingly leaving Kate clueless as to how he managed this), makes a habit of taking in and assessing his surroundings and potential threats, and is able to make seemingly impossible shots often without even looking. Both he and Kate can engage with multiple opponents at any one time, though Clint has the edge in experience even though the loss of his hearing aid can leave him disorientated. Their fighting and archery skills are at the heart of many of the show’s action sequences; there’s a recurring subplot regarding the retrieval and creation of Clint’s trick arrows, which allow him to blow up, ensnare, electrocute, disable, and even enlarge and shrink targets. Probably one of the best action sequences is in “Echoes” (Bert and Bertie, 2021) where Clint and Kate struggle to communicate when he’s rendered functionally deaf and must fight off Maya, Kazi, and the Tracksuits in a high-speed pursuit in a sequence taken almost beat for beat from Matt Fraction’s comic run. Yelena also contributes to some intense and thematically interesting fight scenes; her clashes with Kate are more like amusing scuffles between sisters since she’s not actually trying to hurt or kill the young archer, but her fight with Clint is as brutal and emotionally charged as Maya’s battles with the former Avenger since both are hellbent on avenging themselves on their opponent.

The show goes to great lengths to show the wear and tear this life has on its all-too-human characters.

This ties into one of the most intriguing aspects of Hawkeye; the depiction of emotional and physical vulnerability. As stated, and demonstrated, Clint isn’t superhuman and nowhere is this more evident than in this show, which routinely shows him applying frozen foods and ice packs to his many aches, pains, and bruises. Indeed, Kate is disappointed when her first lesson from her hero isn’t how to do anything exciting but how to dress and treat her wounds, and Clint repeatedly relates how living the superhero life has caused him a great deal of losses. Not only has he seen friends and colleagues perish, but he’s lost out on time with his family, is dealing with the burden of age and wear and tear, and a lifetime of explosive, high-octane action and dangerous situations have cost him his hearing. Kate, however, remains undeterred; she’s determined to learn from his example of being a regular person standing up to impossible situations and continuously tries to change his image and make him see that he’s an admirable hero since, while he has made his fair share of mistakes, his bravery and refusal to abandon her to her fate prove that’s not just some cold-blooded killer. Although she’s been raised in luxury and Clint sees her as somewhat spoiled, Kate has fought and grafted her whole life; she threw herself into her training specifically to live up to Hawkeye’s example and starts the series cut off from her mother’s money after damaging the college bell tower, meaning she has to break into the family home and her mother’s files to dig up any dirt on Jack. Vulnerability also comes into play with Maya; like Clint, she’s essentially a living weapon but one not yet slowed by age and injury. Rather than be a victim of her handicaps, Maya has learned to embrace them and use them to her advantage, proving to be an aggressive and driven adversary, but she’s just as vulnerable as Clint and Kate. Kazi is on hand to tend to her wounds but takes no pleasure in seeing her hurt, or on such a self-destructive path. It’s clear there’s more to their relationship than just being colleagues; she’s devastated when Kazi chooses his loyalty to the Kingpin and their criminal lifestyle over her and, just as she refused to give up her vendetta against Robin so too does he refuse to walk away and be with her, leading to a fight between the two that leaves him dead at her hand, much to her heartbreak.

An intense and engaging series that bodes well for the MCU’s street-level projects.

Overall, I was very impressed with Hawkeye. In this day and age, with where the MCU is now with all these cosmic, multiversal adventures, I can understand why some people might be disappointed to see things coming back down to Earth, literally and figuratively, for a more grounded series but, personally, I really enjoy that we can be galivanting around at the edge of perceiving reality one minute and then tackling street-level crime the next. Hawkeye is definitely the kind of character you want for a series like this and I’m really glad that Marvel Studios haven’t neglected to put some serious focus on their street-level superheroes; there’s so many stories to tell with guys like Hawkeye and villains like the Kingpin and it really helps to show how this world is alive and breathing both out in the universe and at home. While I’ve never been a massive Hawkeye fan, it was fascinating seeing a very human (if still very skilled), flawed hero grumbling and snarking his way through another jaunt into that life. The relationship between Clint and Kate was fantastic, with her being more optimistic and unorthodox in her methods and a quick study once Clint chose to actually share his knowledge, making her a fun addition to the MCU and, presumably the Young Avengers. The icing on the cake was including the Kingpin and I really hope we see more from him in Maya’s spin-off and future shows, but Hawkeye really impressed me with its deconstruction of what it means to be a superhero in the MCU and the toll that life can take on someone who just wants to leave the violence behind. And I haven’t even mentioned the glorious slice of cheese that was Rogers: The Musical and have only touched upon some of the intense action and exchanges seen in the film, all of which carry so much more gravitas as we see these characters hurt, dealing with the fallout from their fights and physical trauma, and struggling to cope with the burden of their past or living up to their expectations, whether self-imposed or otherwise.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Did you enjoy Hawkeye? What did you think to the themes of grief, vulnerability, and family explored in the series? Did you enjoy the exploration of Clint, the insight into his background, and the relationship between him and Kate? What did you think to Kate and are you excited to see her return as Hawkeye going forward? Were you surprised to see the Kingpin make his return/debut and how would you like to see him used in the MCU in the future? What did you think to Maya and Yelena and their vendettas against Clint? Whatever you think about Hawkeye, drop your thoughts below or leave a comment on my social media.

Screen Time [Venom Day]: Spider-Man (1994): “The Alien Costume” (S1: E8-10)

To celebrate the release of Venom: Let There Be Carnage (Serkis, 2021), Sony Pictures declared September 27 “Venom Day”, a fitting date to shine the spotlight on one of my favourite anti-heroes, who made their first full debut in May 1988 and have gone on to become one of Marvel’s most iconic characters.

Season One, Episode Eight to Ten:
The “Alien Costume” Saga

Air Date: 29 April 1995 to 13 May 1995
Network: Fox Kids Network
Christopher Daniel Barnes, Hank Azaria, Roscoe Lee Browne, Don Stark, Jim Cummings, and Edward Asner

The Background:
Given that Marvel’s resident wall-crawling hero proved to be popular enough to receive his own self-titled comic book barely a year after his blockbuster debut, it’s perhaps no real surprise that Peter Parker/Spider-Man has featured in a number of cartoons over the years. Nowadays, it seems like Spidey gets a new cartoon every other day of the week but, when I was a kid, his 1994 to 1998 cartoon was a must-watch piece of weekly entertainment. Produced by Saban following their success with the X-Men animated series (1992 to 1997), Spider-Man (or Spider-Man: The Animated Series) was a fresh and fun adaptation of many of the web-head’s greatest adventures, even if it was a little hampered by some unnecessary censorship. Given that I was super into Venom at the time, it’s no surprise to me that the cartoon’s introduction and depiction of the character rank as some of its best episodes; so popular were Venom at the time that they were introduced in the first three-part saga of the series (and well before the creators adapted the “Secret Wars” comic) and even returned for a two-part follow-up a year later.

The Plot:
After rescuing astronaut Colonel John Jameson (Michael Horton) from a shuttle crash, Spider-Man (Barnes) finds his costume and abilities augmented by a mysterious black goo. When Wilson Fisk/The Kingpin (Browne) sends a number of super-powered goons to retrieve the “Promethium-X” Jameson brought back to Earth, Spidey finds his aggression and character altered by the suit, which is revealed to be a symbiotic organism! After ridding himself of it, Spidey is confronted with one of his worst foes imaginable with the symbiote bonds with disgruntled reporter Eddie Brock (Azaria) and transforms them into Venom!

The Review:
The “Alien Costume” arc begins with astronaut John Jameson digging up a mysterious black rock from the surface of the Moon; after narrowly escaping a Moonquake, he makes it back to the shuttle and his return to Earth with the newly-discovered isotope, Promethium-X, attracts the attention of the Kingpin since it promises to be more powerful and valuable than Plutonium. However, John’s return is hampered when the rock secretes a seemingly-sentiment, tar-like substance that attempts to consume the astronauts and leaves the shuttle on a collision course with New York City!

The shuttle crash and the acquisition of Promethium-X forms the central conflict of the arc.

Despite the imminent danger, Kingpin’s lead scientist, Alistair Smythe (Maxwell Caulfield), assures him that the shuttle will land without causing any damage to the city so he (as in the Kingpin) contacts Aleksei Sytsevich/The Rhino (Stark) to retrieve the Promethium-X once the shuttle makes its emergency landing on the George Washington Bridge. There, he comes into conflict with Spider-Man and, thanks to his superior size and strength and the shuttle’s precarious position, is able to best the wall-crawler and make off with the isotope. Although he saves John and his co-pilot, Peter is aghast when he is fingered as the one responsible for stealing the Promethium-X thanks to John’s incoherent rambling, his father J. Jonah Jameson’s (Asner) unrequited hatred for Spider-Man, and disgraced photographer Eddie Brock selling J. J. pictures that incriminate the web-head. Having been introduced in previous episodes as an embittered man desperate to regain his job at the Daily Bugle, Brock jumps at the chance to capitalise on Jameson’s hatred of Spider-Man with his photos.

The black suit overtakes Spider-Man and augments his strength and negative emotions.

This results in Jameson placing a $1 million bounty on Spider-Man’s head, forcing Peter to lay low. However, while he sleeps, the mysterious black substance from the shuttle is revealed to have attached itself to his costume and, following a harrowing nightmare, the goo overtakes Peter, who wakes to find himself garbed in a sleek black costume that dramatically augments his speed and strength. Overwhelmed at the suit’s capabilities, Spider-Man discovers he can now shoot organic webbing and change his appearance by simply thinking about it, but it quickly becomes apparent that the alien substance is also affecting his personality. Far more confident than ever before, even Spider-Man’s voice is slightly altered when he’s wearing the black suit, making him sound tougher and more aggressive than usual. Equally quick to anger, Peter threatens Eugene “Flash” Thompson (Patrick Labyorteaux), snaps at his doting Aunt May (Linda Gary), and comes close to killing destroying the Rhino after handily dominating their rematch. Although he manages to get a hold of himself, Peter’s demeanour continues to degrade into an enraged fury as he is hounded at every turn thanks to Jameson’s bounty; his overconfidence and anger causes him to become sloppy, however, and he learns the hard and painful way that the alien costume is vulnerable to high-intensity sonic waves. Spider-Man does himself few favours when he confronts Brock and Jameson, threatening them in the Daily Bugle and driving him to visit his friend, Doctor Curt Connors (Joseph Campanella), to find out more about the suit.

While Spidey disregards Connors’ advice about the symbiote, he uses to science to outwit the Kingpin.

As you might expect, Connors reveals that the suit is actually a living, alien symbiote that is seeking to permanently bond with Peter. Although he stresses the very real danger of the alien costume, Connors is unable to convince Spider-Man to remove to suit since he needs it to recover the Promethium-X. When John corroborates Spider-Man’s story of a guy in a rhino suit, Jameson angrily lays into Brock for lying to him, fires him, and is begrudgingly forced to withdraw his bounty on Spider-Man. Embittered by this development, Brock’s mood is further soured when he is also evicted from his apartment and when he is targeted by the Kingpin, who sends Herman Schultz/The Shocker (Cummings) after him to tie up the loose ends from the shuttle robbery. After saving Brock from being blasted into dust, Spider-Man tracks the Shocker to Smythe’s laboratory and finally recovers not only proof of his innocence from Brock’s apartment but the Promethium-X from Smythe. While the Kingpin was more concerned with selling the rock to the highest bidder, Spider-Man takes the time to properly investigate the Promethium-X and discovers that, while it is incredibly powerful and dangerous, its radioactive half-life is ridiculously small, which results in the Kingpin being left humiliated and with an inert rock in his possession.

After ridding himself of the symbiote, Spidey unknowingly births his greatest foe: Venom!

However, Spider-Man’s tumultuous emotions are driven to the edge when Smythe lures him to a bell tower by taking John hostage in order to recover the isotope; overcome with rage, Spider-Man destroys the Shocker’s gauntlets and is seconds away from doing the same to the mercenary before memories of his beloved Uncle Ben remind him that “with great power comes great responsibility”. Guilt-ridden and desperate to be rid of the alien suit, Spider-Man frantically tries to remove the symbiote but his efforts prove useless until he takes advantage of the church bell to cause the creature enough pain to separate itself from his body. However, Brock (who followed Spider-Man in a desperate attempt to extract a measure of revenge against the well-crawler), finds himself enveloped by the injured and enraged creature as he hangs helpless beneath the church bell. The result is a muscular, embittered, monstrous union of man and symbiote, Venom, who vows to destroy Spider-Man for ruining both of their lives. Venom makes their presence known as Spider-Man is settling the score with the Shocker and the Rhino on a rooftop; Venom actually saves Spider-Man just as he’s about to be destroyed simply to have the honour for themselves. In the process, Venom proves to be far stronger than Spider-Man, immune to his spider sense, privy to his secret identity, and possessing all of his physical and superhuman abilities but augmented thanks to Brock’s rage and workout routine.

Overwhelmed by Venom’s superior strength, Spidey is left relying on his wits to triumph.

Hopelessly outmatched, Spider-Man is left physically overpowered; his attempts to appeal to Brock’s better nature fall on deaf ears and Spidey finds himself at Venom’s mercy. Venom threatens to target, and reveal Spider-Man’s identity to, Peter’s loved ones and even leaves him dangling over a rooftop without his mask on at one point! Narrowly escaping with his identity intact, Peter is stalked by Brock at every turn and starts seeing Venom everywhere; with no choice but to take the fight to his foes, Spider-Man taunts Brock with newspaper clippings of his failures and baits Venom into following him across the city to the launch of another shuttle at a military base outside of New York. There, the two have a final confrontation up the support gantry that ultimately ends with the symbiote being driven from Brock’s body when the shuttle launches. Spider-Man then webs the writhing creature to the shuttle, sending it back into space, and leaves Brock in police custody, finally free of his alien nightmare… for the time being.

The Summary:
As much as I enjoyed, and still enjoy, the 1994 Spider-Man cartoon, there are some elements of it that obviously haven’t aged too well. The video transfer to DVD isn’t the best and the animation can be a little jerky at times. The editing is quite rushed here and there, meaning that episodes can quickly gloss over and bounce around certain scenes despite being fully capable of telling a well-paced story at other times, and there is a bit of dodgy CGI and the music gets very repetitive. Still, these concerns are largely minor and can be said of almost any cartoon produced in the nineties (or ever, for that matter) and, for the most part, the episodes are bright, action-packed, and well animated. Fittingly, the animation and presentation benefits Spider-Man the most of all the characters in the cartoon; vibrant and athletic, Spider-Man is a very dynamic character in the cartoon and capable of many superhuman feats despite not being allowed to throw a punch. Peter, despite closely resembling Nicholas Hammond, oddly looks bigger than his web-slinging counterpart but Spider-Man is expressive and vibrant throughout. The depiction of his black suit is equally top-notch; one of the arc’s stand-out scenes is Peter’s disturbing nightmare where Kaiju-sized versions of the black and classic costumes battle over Peter’s soul and he’s left hanging upside down in the middle of the city garbed in the sleek, sexy black suit. “The Alien Costume” may also be the first instance of the symbiote augmenting Spidey’s superhuman abilities and characteristics as this didn’t really happen in the original comics (at least not to the extent as it does in other media) and the three episodes definitely set the standard for Peter’s struggles with the symbiote going forward.

Spidey looks great, despite some dodgy animation, and Venom benefits from the multi-part arc.

Brock’s introduction is handled far better in the cartoon compared to the comic since he was actually introduced, and featured, in a handful of episodes prior to these three; angry and bitter, he’s been the victim of a string of bad luck and bad decisions that cause him to grow increasingly resentful of Spider-Man. Consequently, his transformation into Venom empowers him, driving him even more maniacal thanks to the symbiote’s power and abilities. Unlike in the comic books (at least at the time of these episodes), the symbiote is revealed to be incredibly old, well-travelled, and possessing knowledge of the wider universe and numerous worlds, indicating that it’s far more than just a near-insane parasitic lifeform. Venom looks fantastic in the cartoon, sporting their trademark fangs, talons, and long tongue as well as a hulking physique and a distorted, monstrous voice that, again, set the standard for how Venom are portrayed outside of comics. The episodes also do a pretty decent job of portraying C-grade villains like the Rhino and the Shocker as formidable threats; thanks to the influence of the black suit, Spider-Man’s anger and emotions are constantly in flux throughout the arc and are only exacerbated by the duo’s tenacity. Still, once Venom enters the picture, they make all other villains irrelevant; possessing knowledge and physical abilities that make them superior to Spider-Man in every way, Venom plays mind games with Peter, taunting and stalking him and overwhelming him both physically and emotionally. Just like in their first comic book encounter, Spider-Man is forced to use his initiative and wiles to outsmart his maniacal foes rather than trying to match them blow-for-blow. The end result is a far grander conclusion to their confrontation since Spidey utilises a shuttle launch rather than simply wielding a sonic blaster, which is a fittingly dramatic (if temporary) end to Venom’s threat as their story started in space and technically ends in space.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think to the “Alien Costume” arc? Did you watch Spider-Man when it first aired or did you discover it later, perhaps on Disney+? What did you think to the depiction of Spider-Man’s black costume and how it influenced his powers and personality? What did you think to Venom’s depiction in the cartoon? What is your favourite Venom story or adaptation? How are you celebrating Venom’s dramatic debut today? Whatever your thoughts on Venom, feel free to sign up to leave them below or drop a reply on my social media.

Talking Movies [Dare-DAY-vil]: The Trial of the Incredible Hulk

Blind lawyer Matt Murdock first made his debut in Daredevil #1 in April of 1964 and was co-created by writer/editor Stan Lee and artist Bill Everett, with input from the legendary Jack Kirby. While perhaps not as mainstream as characters like Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Daredevil has become one of Marvel Comics’ greatest creations and has featured in a number of ancillary media and merchandise, included a questionably-received big-screen adaptation in 2003 and a critically-successful Netflix series. Still, he’s one of my favourite Marvel superheroes so what better excuse to pay homage to the “Devil of Hell’s Kitchen” than by spending the day celebrating the character?

Released: 7 May 1989
Director: Bill Bixby
Distributor: New World International
Budget: Unknown
Stars: Bill Bixby, Lou Ferrigno, Rex Smith, Marta DuBois, Nicholas Hormann, and John Rhys-Davies

The Plot:
Back on the run and having lost all hope for a cure for his green-skinned alter-ego, Doctor David Banner (Bixby) wanders into a city under the control of crime boss Wilson Fisk (Rhys-Davis). After witnessing Fisk’s men accost Ellie Mendez (DuBois) on the subway, Banner transforms into the Hulk (Ferrigno), framed for the crime, and subsequently arrested. Refusing to stand trial lest the Hulk be unleashed, he offers no co-operation to his blind lawyer, Matt Murdock (Smith), but the two find themselves teaming up against Fisk when Murdock is revealed to be the masked crimefighter known as Daredevil.

The Background:
I’ve mentioned it at length before but, long before the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) dominated cinema screens, Marvel Comics had a decent amount of success with live-action adaptations thanks to the iconic Incredible Hulk television series (1977 to 1982). The show, which coined the unforgettable line “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry”, ran for eighty episodes before finally coming to an end on 12 May 1982 and firmly entrenched the Green Goliath in the cultural consciousness thanks to standout performances by stars Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno, who would go on to voice the character for years to come. About six years after the end of the series, the first of three made-for-television movies was produced; although intended as a backdoor pilot for a Thor (Eric Kramer) spin-off, The Incredible Hulk Returns (Corea, 1988) was, apparently, a ratings success and a second feature-length film was produced to capitalise on the renewed interest. The Trial of the Incredible Hulk was one of my first exposures to the Incredible Hulk show; like The Incredible Hulk Returns, the feature debuted another Marvel superhero, Daredevil, in the hopes of producing a spin-off that never came to pass and also featured Stan Lee’s first ever onscreen cameo in a Marvel production. Overall, though, the film seems to have garnered mixed reviews, with the general consensus being that it didn’t quite deliver on its title or premise.

The Review:
Rather than open with a version of the traditional, iconic opening from the television show, The Trial of the Incredible Hulk begins with a morose narration from David Banner (now using the pseudonym “David Belson”), who catches any newcomers up to speed with his current predicament (literally just a case of, “Gamma Rays turned me into a monster” with a few shots from the pilot episode). We then join Banner, now sporting a thick head of hair and full beard, working a demeaning job digging a trench or a ditch or some such. When a co-worker attempts to rile him up and Banner is barely able to keep his anger in check, he once again regretfully hits the road and heads towards the city, despite warnings that he could “get lost there”.

Though Banner resigns himself to a life in prison, Murdock is determined to bring Fisk down.

Haunted by his many years on the road and inability to cure his unique condition, Banner remains a lost, tortured soul who drifts from place to place and job to job, refusing to put down any roots and to keep himself to himself and on the move. Despite this, however, he is unable to stand idly by when Ellie Mendez is hounded by a couple of goons on the subway; for his troubles, not only does he transform into the Hulk once more but he also winds up in jail and accused of attacking the woman. Although he knows he is innocent, he adamantly refuses to stand trial out of fear of the damage he might do lest the stress trigger another transformation, and feels that prison is a fitting place for him. The city (which, despite never being named, appears to be New York City) is a bustling metropolis and home to blind lawyer Matt Murdock, a seemingly unassuming man who regularly makes light of his condition with his co-workers. He also has a friendly banter with his staff, Christa Klein (Nancy Everhard) and Al Pettiman (Richard Cummings Jr.), whom he wows with his enhanced senses (which they put down to him making wild, if uncannily accurate, guesses). At the heart of the city is Fisk Tower, a large and ominous structure that dominates the city skyline, and Matt has made it his solemn vow to tear the building down, and Fisk with it, once they have concrete proof that he is involved in the city’s underworld.

Fisk plot to control of the criminal underworld is opposed by Daredevil and his newfound ally.

Matt’s suspicions about Fisk are entirely well-founded as the criminal mastermind directs, via radio and video, two of his henchmen in the systematic robbery of a jewellery store. An enigmatic and authoritative figure, Fisk conducts all of his business with precision and immaculate detail, directing every movement and having the entire operation planned to the smallest detail. Untouchable and in full control of the criminal underworld. Fisk’s operation is put at risk when his goons accost Ellie on the subway; when Banner gets involved in the matter, Fisk begins targeting them both in order to avoid linking him to the crime. When Matt is appointed as Banner’s lawyer, he sees this as the perfect opportunity to get a lead on Fisk and is confused and angered at Banner’s unwillingness to co-operate and refusal to divulge his true name and origins. When the stress of an impending trial, Ellie lying about the subway attack (due to Fisk threatening her with reprisals), and his position in general trigger a transformation, Banner is convinced to trust Murdock when the lawyer reveals his duel identity as the masked vigilante Daredevil. Although Banner has reached the end of his rope and lost all faith in the science that was once his life, he finds himself reinvigorated by Murdock’s plight since he was transformed by the better by radioactive substances and he leaves the film far more optimistic and content to have a “brother in the world”.

The Nitty-Gritty:
The Trial of the Incredible Hulk is a relatively inoffensive little extension of the television show but nothing massively spectacular, though I never really watched the show as a kid as it wasn’t really on TV over here in the United Kingdom, as far as I am aware. As a result, I remember being somewhat impressed with the film back then since it wasn’t as if live-action superhero productions were as accessible as they are today. Even now, it’s still pretty entertaining; sure, it doesn’t deliver on its premise at all (the “trial” only happens in a nightmare of Banner’s and seems to refer more to the emotional trial that Banner is going through) but it’s an interesting time capsule of a bygone era when live-action superhero adaptations were certainly ambitious, if nothing else.

The Hulk’s screen time is sadly limited but he sure makes an impression when he does appear.

As is the case with much of the Incredible Hulk TV show, the Hulk himself is unquestionably the star of the film. Sadly, he gets very little screen time; Banner doesn’t even transform into the Hulk for the finale but, when he does turn green, it’s treated as a pretty big deal. This is, however, par for the course for The Incredible Hulk; the episodes I have seen generally focus much more on the drama surrounding Banner, the people he meets, and his weekly attempts to find a cure for himself or help those in need and the Hulk appears very sporadically as a result. While the Hulk’s rampage in Banner’s nightmare is a standout moment in the film, and is a great showcase of the Hulk raging against a room full of people for a change, it’s still just a dream sequence. Luckily, there’s a particularly decent follow-up scene later on when, having witnessed Daredevil be pummelled by Fisk’s men, Banner transforms to save him and, in the process, forms a kinship with the blind crimefighter.

The film was intended as a backdoor pilot for Daredevil, who’s decent enough, if a little boring.

This, coincidentally, brings me on to the subject of Daredevil; Daredevil’s presence is hinted at early in the film as graffiti carrying his name adorns the walls of the city and the film spends a great deal of time setting up Murdock’s day-to-day life, introducing his enhanced senses (although the depiction of his radar sense is a bit questionable), and making him a prominent figure all before he first appears in an all-black ninja outfit to save Ellie’s life. Despite the fact that his outfit is disappointingly barebones, I appreciate that Daredevil is sporting a look straight out of “The Man Without Fear” (Miller, et al, 1993), one of the first Daredevil stories I ever read. Daredevil is something of an urban legend in the film but he is also unofficially sanctioned by police chief Albert G. Tendelli (Joseph Mascolo), who even has a direct line to contact Daredevil when he needs help outside of the normal confines of the law, and allies like Turk (Mark Acheson) to feed him leads. Rex Smith may not always be performing Daredevil’s few limited fight scenes or acrobatic feats (which are incredibly limited) but he does a decent enough job in the role; while the film alters his origin somewhat to have him begin his training as Daredevil as an adult and after being inspired by Tendelli, he undergoes a trial of his own when Fisk’s men put a severe beating on him and leave him feeling humiliated.

While it drops the ball on the title, the film entertains with some decent sequences and performances.

Undeniably, though, The Trial of the Incredible Hulk is elevated by the presence of the bombastic and alluring John Rhys-Davies; despite never using the name “Kingpin”, Rhys-Davies is perfectly cast as Fisk and brings just the right level of authority and scene-stealing charisma to the role to make him larger than life but also threatening. Even better, he’s not just some one-dimensional gangster, either; he’s incredibly lenient with his right-hand man, Edgar (Hormann), even when he has a change of heart and helps Ellie escape from Fisk’s captivity. At the same time, though, Fisk is absolutely ruthless; having grown weary of Daredevil’s interference and wishing to consolidate his power over the city’s underworld, he presents his rivals not just with a number of jewels but also video evidence of Daredevil’s beating. While he fully believes that this has resulted in Daredevil’s demise, his plans are ultimately ruined when Banner and Daredevil crash the party and force Fisk to flee to fight another day.

The Summary:
In many ways, it’s a bit of a shame that The Trial of the Incredible Hulk didn’t lead to a spin-off for Daredevil; even back then, a TV show about a black-suited vigilante had to have cost less to make than one about a scientist who turns into a musclebound strongman. However, I can kind of see why a Daredevil spin-off wasn’t produced; as much as I enjoy the character, his portrayal in the film, and the magnetic presence of John Rhys-Davies, Murdock and Daredevil are nowhere near as compelling or visually interesting as the Hulk. It’s equally a shame, then, that the Hulk has such limited screen time in the film but I can forgive a lot of that as, again, the main focus of the show was always the drama surrounding Banner and the film does a serviceable job of trying to introduce Daredevil and make us care about him. Ultimately, while it’s probably the most boring interpretation of Daredevil you’ll see, I can’t help but have a soft spot for The Trial of the Incredible Hulk; it was my introduction to the TV show and a vital part of my childhood so I have a lot of nostalgic affection for it and it’s worth watching for John Rhys-Davies’ performance alone, to say nothing of the dramatic allegorical and physical trial that Banner and Murdock, respectively, endure in the film.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Have you ever seen The Trial of the Incredible Hulk? If so, what did you think to it and its portrayal of Daredevil? Were you a fan of the Incredible Hulk TV show back in the day and what did you think to the feature-length films? Do you think including other Marvel Comics characters benefitted these films or do you think they took the focus away from the Banner/Hulk conflict that made the show so memorable? What do you think of Daredevil as a character and which storyline of his do you think is the best, or the worst? How are you celebrating Daredevil’s debut this year? Whatever you think about Daredevil, drop a comment below.

Talking Movies [Spidey Month]: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Easily Marvel Comics’ most recognisable and popular superhero, unsuspecting teenage nerd Peter Parker was first bitten by a radioactive spider and learned the true meaning of power and responsibility in Amazing Fantasy #15, which was first published in August 1962. Since then, the Amazing Spider-Man has featured in numerous cartoons, live-action movies, videogames, action figures, and countless comic book titles and, in celebration of his debut and his very own day of celebration, I’ve been dedicating every Wednesday to talk about everyone’s favourite web-head!

Released: 14 December 2018
Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman
Sony Pictures Releasing
$90 million
Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, John Mulaney, Kimiko Glenn, Nicolas Cage, and Liev Schreiber

The Plot:
After being bitten by a radioactive spider and gaining the proportionate strength and agility of the arachnid, Miles Morales (Moore) finds himself caught up in an elaborate plot by Wilson Fisk/The Kingpin (Schreiber) to cross dimensions. In the process, Miles is mentored by, and joins forces with, other incarnations of Spider-Man from across the multiverse while stull struggling to carve out his own identity in the role.

The Background:
In 2011, writer Brian Michael Bendis decided to kill off Peter Parker/Spider-Man and replace him with a younger character in the pages of Ultimate Spider-Man (2000 to 2011), Miles Morales, an African American youth of Puerto Rican descent, a decision which created much controversy at the time. Miles, however, soon became a popular character and appeared not just in cartoons and other merchandise but also the mainstream Marvel continuity (“Earth-616”). After the poor reception of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Webb, 2014) led to Spider-Man finally being incorporated into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Sony were determined to continue producing Spider-Man films and spin-offs separate from the MCU. Writers Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman chose to focus their efforts on Miles since he hadn’t yet featured in a film and, to further separate the project, it included not only Spider-People from across the multiverse but also a distinct and intricate animation style that was as vital to the story as the music and dialogue. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse received unanimous praise upon release and made over $375 million at the box office, won numerous awards, and is highly regarded as one of the best and most unique Spider-Man movies ever made. Its massive success meant that both a sequel and a spin-off were soon announced and no doubt contributed heavily to Miles’ continued popularity.

The Review:
First and foremost, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is Miles Morales’ story, even amidst all the chaos and multiverse madness permeating the plot; unlike the traditional Peter Parker, Miles’ parents are still alive and, while he struggles to adjust to boarding school and to make new friends, he’s nowhere near the social outcast Peter is often portrayed as during his teenage years. A big fan of music (though he is amusingly poor at reciting lyrics) and with an artistic flair, Miles is a slightly rebellious and resentful youth who struggles to live up to the expectations of his father, Jefferson Davis (Brian Tyree Henry), a police officer who regards Spider-Man (Chris Pine) as a menace and delights in embarrassing his son at his new school with typical dad humour. A somewhat streetwise kid who was a popular figure at his old school, Miles is largely an outsider at his more officious and pretentious boarding school; he’s uncomfortable in the mandatory uniform, feels like he doesn’t really fit in, and is intentionally trying to sabotage his future there so he can go back to his old school and his old friends. Believing that his father doesn’t really understand him or his dreams, Miles has a far closer relationship with his uncle, Aaron Davis (Ali), who encourages his penchant for street art and actually takes the time to connect with him on a more peer-to-peer level. To Jefferson’s chagrin, Miles idolises his uncle, who indirectly leads to him gaining his spider powers.

Miles’ struggles with his spider powers are directly paralleled to the onset of puberty.

Already somewhat uncomfortable in his new environment, Miles’ newfound spider powers (which are explicitly compared to the onset of puberty) only increase his agitation; he struggles to adapt to and master his abilities, gaining a far louder and more noticeable internal monologue and accidentally attaching himself to Gwen Stacy’s (Steinfeld) hair in an awkward attempt to flirt with her. Interestingly, Miles’ exploration of his abilities is a source of as much entertainment and amusement as it is an integral part of Miles’ character development; throughout the film, Miles struggles to master his powers, which seem to trigger unconsciously or involuntarily, and a massive part of Into the Spider-Verse revolves around Miles living up to the lofty expectations now placed upon him by his amazing new abilities.

In Miles’ world, Peter is a competent, renowned, and experienced superhero.

Miles lives in an alternative world that isn’t quite Earth-616 or the Ultimate universe; it’s one that draws inspiration from all over Spider-Man’s various adaptations and interpretations but one where Spider-Man is a renowned and experienced superhero. Carrying himself with the confidence of a veteran of many battles, life lessons, successes, and failures, this Spider-Man is, honestly, uncharacteristically competent in a lot of ways (he’s still married to Mary Jane Watson (Zoë Kravitz), has the full support of his beloved Aunt May Parker (Lily Tomlin), and even has a Spider-Cave full of different Spider-Suits, for God’s sake). During an intense battle with the monstrous and demonic Norman Osborn/Green Goblin (Jorma Taccone) and the slick and efficient Prowler, Peter is shocked to meet Miles, someone who shares his abilities, and vows to train him and give him the opportunities he never had when he was first starting out, such is his commitment to using great power with great responsibility.

Kingpin may look ridiculous but he’s a formidable threat who killed Peter with his bare hands!

Sadly, and unexpectedly, Peter is killed right before Miles’ eyes by the Kingpin; Fisk, who blames Spider-Man for exposing his criminal deeds to the world and thus driving away his wife and son, has built a gigantic Super-Collider which he plans to use to rip a hole between dimensions and retrieve his family from another time and place. When Peter costs him this opportunity, Fisk beats him to death in a brutal and surprising scene and spends the remainder of the movie desperately trying to track down and reacquire the USB flash drive that allows the collider to work. Like Green Goblin, Fisk is a comically exaggerated version of himself, even compared to the creative flair of some comic book artists, but as preposterously absurd as Kingpin looks, his threat has, arguably, never been more tangible and brutal than in Into the Spider-Verse. Exuding unmatched power, wealth, and authority, he commands some of Spider-Man’s most notorious foes with a cold menace and is more than happy to get his hands dirty in his desperate attempt to be reunited with his family.

Peter B is an out of shape, world-weary version of Spider-Man who’s far from his prime.

Shaken by Peter’s death, and overwhelmed by the immense responsibility now in his hands, Miles is shocked to meet an alternative version of Peter, Peter B. Parker (Johnson), who arrived during the brief period that the Super-Collider was active. Unlike his counterpart from Miles’ world, Peter B is an out of shape, jaded, wreck of a man who has lost his way, and everything near to him, and yet, despite his crushing losses, obvious depression, and having grown weary of the power and responsibility that comes from being Spider-Man, Peter B still continues to be Spider-Man and does his best to tutor Miles in coming to grips with his powers. He’s obviously not as effective or competent a mentor than his counterpart promised to be but he does what he can regardless and is fully willing to put his life on the line to allow his fellow Spider-People to return home.

Thanks to her friendship with Miles, Gwen learns to open herself up to others once again.

Speaking of which, Miles is also joined by a whole host of unexpected Spider-People; the first one he meets is Spider-Woman, Gwen Stacy, although he is unaware of her true identity at the time. A vastly different version of the traditional Gwen, Spider-Woman gained her powers in Peter’s place in her world and is a tough, sarcastic character who, while having a soft spot for Miles, is reluctant to open herself up to him, or anyone else, for fear of losing them. In a film arguably crowded by Spider-People, Gwen stands out by being one of the more recognisable and fleshed out characters and is, basically, a tertiary protagonist as her growing friendship with Miles is a major part of her (and his) character development.

As fun and interesting as the other Spider-People look, there’s not enough time for them all to shine.

Sadly, the same can’t really be said about the rest of the Spider-Crew; Peni Parker/SP//dr (Glenn) is perhaps the least developed and expendable of the group. While she is rendered in an outstanding anime aesthetic and has a heart-warming bond with her spider mech, she’s largely inconsequential to the story and could have been spliced out with any other version of Spider-Man. Spider-Noir (Cage) and Peter Porker/Spider-Ham (Mulaney) manage to stand out a little better thanks to being rendered in monochrome and talking like a thirties gangster or being a literal cartoon character, respectively, but we don’t really learn a great deal about them and they’re mainly there to emphasise that every universe has a Spider-Man and that Spidey’s legacy and ideals are carried by a variety of characters all throughout time and space, which all directly ties into Miles’ character arc of growing into, and finally accepting, his role as Spider-Man.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse immediately sets itself apart from other Spider-Man movies not just by focusing on Miles as its main character and its cross-dimensional subplot but also by virtue of being an animated movie. Truthfully, animation suits Spider-Man down to the ground as, often, some of the more exhilarating sequences in Spider-Man movies are the computer-generated fight scenes and web-slinging moments and Into the Spider-Verse definitely uses its medium to its full advantage, featuring a unique aesthetic, comic book-like sound effects for emphasis, and even varying the frame rate to emphasise the differences between the various Spider-People and Miles’ comparative inexperienced compared to them.

Jokes, gags, and quips are just part of the film’s humour, which is full of amusing banter.

Humour is an important element of the film; Into the Spider-Verse is full of amusing lines, sight gags, and comedic moments that come naturally and are incredibly amusing thanks to some effortless and believable line delivery from the likes of Moore, Pine, and Johnson (Spider-Man’s quips during tough situations and battles are a notable highlight). Characters have an easy banter and sass to them that allows even the least developed of them to appear far more nuanced in the short space of time they have to shine and humour is emphasised through Miles’ inexperience with his powers, wry commentary on his increasingly chaotic situation, and the frantic nature of the action scenes and character beats.

Action and fights are colourful and frantic, ensuring no two fights are the same.

Speaking of action, Into the Spider-Verse is crammed full of some of the most impressive, intense, and frenzied action scenes in any Spider-Man movie; the freedom offered by relying on animation allows for some of the most diverse and varied web-slinging as each Spider-Person swings, fights, and moves differently. The use of music and onomatopoeia emphasises the action, which is fast-paced, memorable, and impactful thanks to the film showcasing a wide variety of Spider-Man’s rogues gallery, which includes the likes of the Green Goblin, Lonnie Lincoln/Tombstone (Marvin “Krondon” Jones III), and Mac Gargan/The Scorpion (Joaquín Cosio).

Though a vicious mercenary, Aaron’s hesitation to kill Miles costs him his life.

Apart from Fisk, though, the most prominent villains of the film are Doctor Olivia Octavius/Doctor Octopus (Kathryn Hahn) and the Prowler; while Doc Ock is a sadistic and formidable, half-crazed scientist, it is the Prowler who has the most emotional significance to both the plot and to Miles. Constantly accompanied by an ominous, animalistic theme, the Prowler is portrayed as Fisk’s top mercenary; a brutal and vicious, cat-like fighter in a sophisticated suit of armour, Prowler stops at nothing to hunt down Fisk’s missing USB drive. Miles is absolutely devastated to find that the one person he thought he could rely on in the whole world, his Uncle Aaron, turns out to be the Prowler and even more crushed when, upon discovering Miles’ identity, Aaron chooses to spare his nephew and is executed by the Kingpin as a result and dies in Miles’ arms while urging him to continue on as a hero.

Miles finally embraces his role as Spider-Man, defeats Kingpin, and returns his new friends home.

In the end, against all the odds and his own doubts and inexperience, Miles customises one of Peter’s suits (crafting an absolutely bad-ass variant in the process) and fully embraces his role as Spider-Man to confront the Kingpin and put an end to his destructive scheme. It’s a real coming of age moment for Miles, who previously could only look up in awe at Spider-Man’s legacy, and allows him to not only finally live up to the lofty expectations placed upon him by his father and the various Spider-People but also repair his relationship with his father (and his father’s opinion of Spider-Man) through his actions. With the Spider-People returned home, Miles becomes the one true Spider-Man of his world, gaining lifelong friends and a renewed sense of responsibility, confidence, and identity in the process. It’s a strikingly effective story largely thanks to how relatable and complex Miles is portrayed throughout the film, being a rebellious and well-meaning kid who is simply struggling to find his place in an ever-changing world.

The Summary:
If I’m being completely honest, I’m not really a fan of how often a street-level superhero like Spider-Man gets caught up in multiversal misadventures and meets alternative versions of himself; just like how I’m often a bit perturbed by how often Bruce Wayne/Batman has to put up with the same events, I feel like Spider-Man works better as a more grounded hero who only occasionally dabbles in cosmic-level events. To that end, I feel like Into the Spider-Verse would have been just as appealing to me, if not more so, had the multiverse elements been dropped; Peter B could have just been the version of Spider-Man in Miles’ world, Gwen could have been the same or swapped out with Cindy Moon/Silk, and the other Spider-People could have been replaced by, say, Ben Reilly or Kaine Parker and the idea of a multiverse of Spider-Man could maybe have been saved for the next movie.

The film is a superb coming of age story charting Miles’ acceptance of his new role as a superhero.

However, having said that, that doesn’t mean I’m not a huge fan of Into the Spider-Verse as it is; make no mistakes about it, this is a fantastic movie from start to finish, with an extremely appealing aesthetic identity and some absolutely fantastic action. It also carries a very emotional heart to its story, which is one of identity, legacy, and expectation; a coming of age story that follows a young, emotional kid who is struggling to live up to the role his mentors expect of him, Into the Spider-Verse says a lot about not only the nature of Spider-Man but also the struggles of youth and puberty. I’m glad Into the Spider-Verse did so well and I’m genuinely looking forward to the sequel delivering more of the same high-octane action and heartfelt emotion, visual flair, as well as introducing more Spider-People and, hopefully, expanding upon the brief cameo from one of my favourite Spider-Man, Miguel O’Hara/Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac).

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.


What are your thoughts on Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse? Where does it rank among the various other Spider-Man movies for you and what did you think of the artistic style and focus on Miles Morales and the other Spider-People? Which of the alternative Spider-Man was your favourite? Would you have liked to see one, or more, get a bigger role and if so, which one? What other alterative version of Spider-Man would you like to see show up in the sequel? Are you a fan of Spider-Man always having adventures with alternate versions of himself or would you prefer to see him tackling more street-level threats? Are you a fan of Miles, and what did you think to Peter’s death both in Ultimate Spider-Man and in Into the Spider-Verse? Whatever your opinion on Into the Spider-Verse, go ahead and drop a reply down in the comments and be sure to check back in next Wednesday as Spider-Man Month continues!

Talking Movies: Daredevil: Director’s Cut

Blind lawyer Matt Murdock first made his debut in Daredevil #1 in April of 1964 and was co-created by writer/editor Stan Lee and artist Bill Everett, with input from the legendary Jack Kirby. While perhaps not as mainstream as characters like Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Daredevil has become one of Marvel Comics’ greatest creations and has featured in a number of ancillary media and merchandise, included a questionably-received big-screen adaptation in 2003 and this critically-successful Netflix series.

Released: 30 November 2004
Originally Released: 14 February 2003
Director: Mark Steven Johnson
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Budget: $78 million
Stars: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Michael Clarke Duncan, Colin Farrell, Jon Favreau, and Joe Pantoliano

The Plot:
After being blinded by radioactive waste as a child and discovering his other senses are superhumanly keen as a result, Matt Murdock (Affleck) works as a lawyer by day and devil-garbed vigilante by night. While falling in love with the mysterious and beautiful Elektra Natchios (Garner), Daredevil draws the ire of Wilson Fisk/The Kingpin (Duncan), who hires the assassin Bullseye (Farrell) to rid him of Daredevil’s interference once and for all.

The Background:
Following his creation in 1964, Daredevil has been no stranger to multimedia ventures; while Angela Bowie’s 1974 proposal for a television movie was never produced, the character made his live-action debut in The Trial of the Incredible Hulk (Bixby, 1989), portrayed by Rex Smith, and made occasional appearances in various Marvel cartoons, particularly in the nineties, and a live-action movie was in the works since as far back as 1997 but could never quite get off the ground thanks to Marvel Comics’ legal issues at that time. Development finally gained traction in 2000, with 20th Century Fox (who would also find success with another of Marvel’s properties, the X-Men, around this time) distributing the film and Mark Steven Johnson signed on to both write and direct.

Many seminal Daredevil storylines influenced the film’s development and plot.

Taking inspiration from the “Guardian Devil” (Smith, et al, 1998 and 1999) storyline and Frank Miller’s celebrated work with on the character, Daredevil was poised to be one of the darker, grittier superhero films of its time. Despite turning a sizeable profit, making nearly $180 million in worldwide gross (and having a rocking soundtrack that propelled one of my favourite bands, Evanescence, into mainstream popularity), Daredevil was less-than-favourably received upon release, with even star Ben Affleck speaking out against the film after its release (despite all the positive comments he had made to market the film…) The “Director’s Cut” of the film (which restored an entire sub-plot, swear words, and was far more violent) released about a year later, is generally regarded by many (including myself) to be the definitive version of the film, however, though the critical and commercial failure of spin-off Elektra (Bowman, 2005) and Affleck’s refusal to revisit the role put an end to any hopes for a sequel and Daredevil would not reappear in live-action until Marvel Studios regained the rights to the character about ten years later.

The Review:
Daredevil was released at a time when superhero movies were just really starting to hit their stride; they weren’t the multimedia juggernaut they are today thanks to the efforts of Marvel Studios and Disney so, while there were many highly regarded and influential superhero films released in the early 2000s, not all of them were guaranteed smash hits and even the ones that were haven’t exactly aged well (or have been done better) since then. As a result, most superhero films tended to feature a major focus on the character’s origin, a lot of fast-paced and frenetic action scenes, and a plot that moved at a relatively brisk pace to cover a lot of ground as quickly as possible. They, like many other action films of the time, were also heavily influenced by (or blatantly ripping off) The Matrix (The Wachowski Brothers, 1999) so black leather, “wire-fu”, and CGI were plentiful during this time and, of all the superhero movies released in the early 2000s, perhaps nowhere are all these now-cliché elements more apparent than in Daredevil.

Daredevil is framed by a flashback to Matt’s childhood to tell his origin story.

Daredevil begins in medias res with the titular vigilante wounded, seemingly fleeing from the police, and seeking sanctuary at Father Everett’s (Derrick O’Connor) church. As he lays incapacitated and hurt, Murdock begins to narrate his childhood and life up until that point under the illusion that his life is flashing before his eyes as he dies; this flashback-heavy first portion of the film separated Daredevil from its contemporaries as, while the Spider-Man films (Raimi, 2002 to 2007) featured a bit of narration from the main character, most superhero films started at the beginning and progressed from there, with us following the hero along his journey and learning alongside him/them. This technique, though, means that we experience Daredevil from a uniquely different perspective, that being through the haunted, tumultuous memories of its main character.

Jack discourages Matt from fighting and wants him to grow up to be a success.

We’re thus introduced to Murdock first as a battered and injured vigilante and then, very quickly as a young kid (Scott Terra) from Hell’s Kitchen who is constantly harassed by a gang of local youths. These bullies like to rag on young Matt because his father, Jack Murdock (David Keith), is not only an over-the-hill, washed up prize-fighter who once fought under the name “The Devil” and wore a devil-themed robe to the ring but has now taken to working as an enforcer for Fallon (Mark Margolis), a local mob boss. Matt, maintaining a staunch belief in his father’s glory days, accolades, and abilities, stands up to such bullies and trash talk and takes a beating as a result, much to the dismay of his father. Jack, however, wants more from Matt and discourages him from fighting, wishing instead for Matt to devote himself to his studies and to make something of himself and it is clear from their brief scenes together that the two have a very strong relationship, one built on mutual trust, respect, and dependency.

Blinded by toxic waste, Matt’s remaining senses are enhanced to near-superhuman levels.

Jack is determined to have Matt grow up unafraid, to be the best version of himself, and to not be a “bum like [him]” but this goes so far that he is too ashamed and too despondent to admit that he really has been forced to rough people up on Fallon’s behalf in order to provide for his family. The very next scene shows Matt witnessing this and, distraught and heartbroken, he flees from the sight only to end up narrowly avoiding a collision and being blinded by a biohazardous waste product as a result. Similar to Spider-Man, an elaborate CGI sequence shows us the effect this has on Matt’s DNA and, when he awakens in hospital, he is immediately bombarded with sensory overload as, while he has been rendered permanently blind, his remaining senses (particularly his hearing, which gets the most attention) have been augmented to near-superhuman levels.

Matt trains himself to use his abilities, losing all sense of fear in the process.

Unlike in the character’s debut appearance, where Matt barely flinched at being blinded, very little time was spent dwelling on how he or his father felt about it, and where Matt never once struggled to adapt to his new abilities, Daredevil adds a few wrinkles to this turn of events. Firstly, because Matt’s accident happened as a direct result of him running away from his father, Jack feels a tremendous amount of guilt and shame about the accident; secondly, Matt is overwhelmed to the point of terror at his newfound abilities and struggles to get them under control. However, the two have such a strong bond, love, and dependence upon each other that Matt doesn’t bare a grudge and the two resolve to redouble their efforts to overcome their limitations, with Jack getting back into training and back into the ring and Matt continuing his studies using Braille and discovering that his echolocation provides him with a version of sight. In experimenting with his newfound abilities, he loses all sense of fear as he easily traverses rooftops and overwhelms his tormentors (who “dare” him to fight them) with little more than his walking stick and his dexterity.

The death of his father fuelled Matt’s quest for justice and vengeance.

Of course, Daredevil is still a superhero story and what superhero origin is complete without a dash of tragedy? It turns out that Fallon has engineered Jack’s comeback and threatens both him and Matt to coerce Jack into taking a dive in his next fight; with his son in the crowd and refusing to compromise his principals, Jack refuses and wins through heart, determination, and brute strength/force of will. However, Fallon’s goons jump Jack after the fight and beat him to a pulp before an unseen third assailant delivers the finishing blow, beating Jack to death and leaving a red rose on his bloodied corpse. Tragically, Matt hears it all and is absolutely heartbroken when he comes across his father’s beaten and bloody body. He resolves to keep his promise to his father to help those that others wouldn’t and seek justice one way or another, with the film glossing over his time in college and law school and jumping ahead several years to find him fully grown into Ben Affleck.

Matt plays the role of “unassuming blind man” well but suffers the consequences of his double life.

The older Murdock is a haunted, heavily conflicted individual; in order to block out the constant barrage of noises, he sleeps in a sensory deprivation tank and regularly chews a number of pills and painkillers to dull the constant pain from the many wounds he has suffered in his nightly jaunts. The effects of his double life can be immediately seen not only in his weary expression but also the multitude of scars, bruises, and injuries his body exhibits; though Matt’s abilities make him faster and stronger than the average man, he’s still human and we constantly see him suffering blows and injuries during his activities as Daredevil, taking hard shots to the ribs and even losing a tooth during the film’s first big action scene. I’m no fan of Affleck (largely because of the way he crapped all over this movie after professing to be such a big fan of the comics during its marketing) but he’s actually really great as Murdock; the special contact lenses he wears are only a small part of selling him as a blind man as Affleck assumes a slightly skewed posture and thousand-yard stare, always positioning himself in such a way that you can tell he’s lacking his sight. Additionally, Murdock uses Braille to identify his belongings, and even folds his notes in certain ways to recognise them (though it’s not entirely clear if he needs to do this, since we know he doesn’t, or if it’s all part of playing up his persona as a simple blind man), all of which go a long way to showcasing how a blind man might life his life.

Matt is a brutal and resmorseless vigilante when he dons his Daredevil garb.

Affleck is also able to showcase a multitude of emotions with a surprising amount of nuance; Murdock is a pragmatic, yet passionate, bastion of the innocent in the court room, has a fantastically realised love/hate relationship with his friend and colleague Franklin “Foggy” Nelson (Favreau), and transforms into this violent, sardonic, brutal vigilante when donning the incredible blood-red leather outfit of Daredevil. It’s clear that Murdock is a man of many conflicting emotions and suppressed rage and that Daredevil is his outlet for those sensations; he takes deep offense to those who flaunt or break the law or who are under the clear influence of the mysterious Kingpin of Crime and takes it upon himself to bring such individuals to justice. His methods to achieve this are vicious and violent, involving the unrelenting beating of any law breakers and even more direct and indirect murder as he moves fast enough to avoid bullets that other thugs then take and not only willingly knocks Jose Quesada (Paul Ben-Victor), an obvious rapist and all-round bad person, to a gruesome death by train but even takes the time to mock him before his grisly dismemberment.

Favreau is great as the loveable, if goofy, Foggy Nelson.

Clearly a tortured, haunted individual, Matt keeps others at arm’s length and actively sabotages his relationships because of his unwavering commitment to bringing criminals to justice as Daredevil and his unresolved issues. Foggy makes this abundantly clear as he calls Matt out on his bullshit time and time again while still being in quiet awe of Matt’s adaptability, dedication towards helping those in need even when they receive very little payment (or payment in fluke or sports gear, which makes for an amusing running gag), and his capability in the court room. Their relationship is a real highlight of the film, with the two sharing banter, matching wits, pulling pranks on each other, and even using Matt’s disability to wind up strangers or to win the sympathy of the jury. Any time these two are onscreen together, it’s a joy to see; Favreau is instantly charming and likeable as the goofy Foggy and, while he was always able to stand out by questioning Matt’s approach to the women in his life, the Director’s Cut expands Foggy’s role and gives him a character arc where he is able to resolve Dante Jackson’s (Coolio) case and help lead the authorities to the Kingpin.

Duncan exudes an arresting aura and jumps from eloquent calm to unbridled rage!

Speaking of Wilson Fisk/The Kingpin…how amazing was Michael Clarke Duncan? The man had such a charisma and a presence not only because of his massive frame but also his charming smile and deep, dulcet tones. Though traditionally a white character, Duncan is a perfect fit for the role and exudes power, charisma, and a commanding respect from the moment he is introduced in the film garbed in a flashy suit and puffing away on a chunky cigar. Though the character was an eloquent and calculating individual in the theatrical cut, the Director’s Cut goes even further in establishing Fisk’s threat when he is seen viciously bludgeoning two of his underlings (one with his massive cane and the other by first throttling and then breaking his neck), which makes it all the more ominous when he later lays a seemingly innocent hand on the shoulder of Nikolas Natchios (Erick Avari) and gets his large hands on Daredevil in the film’s conclusion. The added runtime afforded by the Director’s Cut also adds further nuance to Fisk’s character; on the one hand, you could argue that we don’t really learn much about him and that he’s every typical, one-note criminal mastermind but, on the other, you can really see a number of layers to Duncan’s performance. Like Murdock, Fisk is keeping his raw, animalistic urges and primal rage at bay with a suit (literally a business suit); he explodes in a burst of rage and pure, unbridled power then immediately calms and composes himself and is so eager to put his abilities to the test against Daredevil for the climatic final fight that he all but invites the vigilante in to take him on man-to-man. Cold, calculating, but also articulate and oozing menace, Duncan portrays Fisk as a man at war with his clearly street-smart upbringing and the sophistication required of his role. Indeed, while he takes immense pleasure in the suffering of others, he also maintains that none of his actions have ever been personal; it’s with a glimpse of regret, maybe even sorrow, that he admits to Daredevil that his entire criminal enterprise has only ever been “business” and nothing more.

Colin Farrell is clearly having the time of his life as the sadistic Bullseye.

Fisk’s “business” finds itself somewhat compromised not only by Daredevil but also the continued attempts by reporter Ben Urich (Pantoliano), whose speciality is urban legends, to expose the Kingpin. Fisk solves that problem by hiring Bullseye, a charming, animalistic, cold-hearted, sadistic, masochistic hitman, to kill Natchios. Unlike Murdock and Fisk, we learn very little about Bullseye save that he is a ridiculously good shot who talks little, kills on a whim, and has a flair for the dramatic. Like Fisk, Bullseye enjoys killing but takes a perverse pleasure out of it rather than revelling in his power like Fisk does; he’s also incredibly egocentric and takes it personally when Daredevil causes him to miss a shot, happily accepting an extended contract to take out both Daredevil and Natchios’ daughter, Elektra.

Matt and Elektra flirt but sparring in a playground. It’s not awkward at all…

Of the three main characters in the film, it’s Elektra who I feel brings the weakest performance; I’m not really a fan of Jennifer Garner and find her to be a bit of a blank slate who is sleepwalking through the film. She phones it in well enough to portray Elektra as a strong, independent, and forceful character when she needs to be but her romance with Matt is incredibly rushed and convenient. He basically becomes infatuated by her on scent alone and they have an absolutely cringe-worthy flight/flirt in a neighbourhood playground that seems more like Matt stalking and forcing himself upon her than a genuine attraction. However, she respects Matt’s ability to perform heavily choreographed wire-fu enough to give him her name and the time of day. To be fair, Elektra is a fairly layered character; she hates being under the constant supervision of her father and her bodyguards and wants her independence yet is incredibly devoted to him and her family. She is feisty and strong-willed but also lonely and you get the sense that her relationship with Matt is the first time she’s really been able to open up to someone. After her father is killed, though, she turns into a cold, venge-seeking individual, blanking out Matt’s pleas to turn away from vengeance and showcasing her formidable martial arts and sai-based combat skills in preparation to take out the man she believes responsible for her father’s death: Daredevil.

Daredevil‘s CGI hasn’t aged well at all, unfortunately.

All-in-all, Daredevil’s cast is pretty solid, ranging from top notch to mediocre performances that do a serviceable job given the film’s run time. And there is a lot happening in this film, especially in the extended Director’s Cut, yet the film’s pace is relatively speedy all throughout, glossing over such things as how Matt was able to construct his suit, multi-purpose cane, and the “Devil-Cave” compartments of his apartment and often padding out action scenes or stunts with some very dodgy CGI. I remember the effects not being that bad at the time but they really haven’t aged well now, with the CGI Daredevil, especially, looking particularly rubbery and cartoony as he ludicrously jumps from building to building or battles Bullseye up a ridiculously large church organ. The film is at its best when the action and fight scenes are simple, raw, and gritty, such as the one-on-one action between Daredevil and Elektra, Bullseye, and, especially, Fisk. Perhaps because of the success of Spider-Man, though, and definitely because of the popularity of The Matrix, Daredevil seeks to portray not just Daredevil but also Elektra and Bullseye as being capable of performing incredible, physics-bending stunts. While this is somewhat fitting for Daredevil, who is generally about as agile and adept as Spider-Man in the comics, it definitely feels like the film would have benefitted from downplaying the more nonsensical stunts and focusing on more dark and gritty action and fights.

The Nitty-Gritty:
In contrast to the beliefs of some, one of the best things about Daredevil, for me, has always been its soundtrack; sure, either the score or a host of licensed tracks are usually playing over every scene in the film but Daredevil boasts some rocking tunes and uses them to really help establish the mood or the character onscreen at the time. Murdock drowns out the sounds of the city with some Seether, for example; Nickleback’s “Learn the Hard Way” plays while Daredevil kicks the crap out of Quesada and his goons (who all need to “learn the hard way” that their actions have consequences), Fisk is introduced to the sounds of N.E.R.D.’s “Lapdance”, the appropriately-named “Man Without Fear” by Drowning Pool and Rob Zombie brings a manic energy to Bullseye’s elaborate motorcycle chase against Natchios, and, of course, the iconic “Bring Me to Life” and “My Immortal” by Evanscence feature prominently to set the stage for Elektra’s grief and her thirst for vengeance. Honestly, I don’t give a damn how much music is in the film because when a film’s soundtrack is as bad-ass as this one, all you can really do is sit back and rock out!

The film is full of explicit religious imagery.

Fittingly, Daredevil is also rife not only with references to some of the character’s most influential writers (John Romita, David Mack, Joe Quesada, Brian Michael Bendis all get name dropped, Frank Miller and Stan Lee pop up for brief cameos, and, most egregiously of all, Kevin Smith has the gall to appear as a coroner named “Jack Kirby”) but also with religious imagery; the opening of the film provides a perfect excuse to recreate that iconic shot of Daredevil clinging to a cross atop a church, Matt is only able to control his newfound abilities by focusing on the ringing of a church bell, the Director’s Cut features a handful of quasi-dream sequences where Matt is visited by a Nun (actually his deceased mother), Daredevil subdues Bullseye by causing a sniper’s bullet to pierce his hands in the style of the stigmata, and Matt frequently finds solace in Father Everett’s church. In the theatrical cut, Everett was the only other person who knew of Matt’s dual identity and he strived to turn Matt towards a more righteous path; here, this role is largely the same but slightly different as the film focuses more on Matt’s dark path and the violence of his life. We’re led to believe that this comes to a head when he spares the Kingpin but, arguably, Fisk deserved to die more than any of Matt’s other victims. Instead, Matt is happy (or, at least, willing) to kill small fry like rapists in the opening but not the primary crime lord of New York simply to serve a wonky character arc and to set up sequel bait.

Matt is haunted by his past, his pain, his anger, and his struggle to reconcile his emotions.

One thing the Director’s Cut really brings to light is just how conflicted and full of anger Matt is; his violent double life is clearly at odds with his Catholic upbringing and is taking its toll on him, as expertly seen by a new scene where Matt is literally haunted by the screams and suffering of those he cannot help in the city. He lashes out at criminals when under the mask and takes his anger and frustration out on both them and his Devil-Cave when he is unable to save Natchios and, unlike in his original debut, Matt is a flawed and fundamentally broken character; he struggles with his newfound abilities at first and his quips are more like cruel taunts than light-hearted whimsy. There’s a sense that he does what he does out of a sense of duty to his father and because of his abilities but it’s also pretty clear that he’s using Daredevil to exert all of his emotions and rage; when he sees a child cower in fear of him, he is stunned and desperately tries to convince himself that he’s “not the bad guy”. Finding little solace in Father Everett’s talk of faith, Matt struggles to reconcile his actions and inner turmoil and he is noticeably tetchy and short with Foggy the next day as a result. This all goes to great lengths to explain why he was unable to get through to Elektra at the funeral since Matt is hardly a bastion of virtue. How can he hope to convince someone not to seek vengeance when he does it every night?

It might look impracticable and uncomfortable but Daredevil’s suit is straight up bad-ass!

Another thing I always enjoyed about Daredevil was its dark and gritty aesthetic and the costume design; when taking to the streets as Daredevil, Murdock dons a thick, uncomfortable-looking but super bad-ass leather outfit that is a fantastic blood-red and is one of the few live-action superhero suits to actually use lens over the eyes. The practicality of this suit might be in question but it sure looks awesome (…when it isn’t rendered in shitty CGI), though I do find myself questioning how Matt was able to make it and the many duplicates hanging in his Devil-Cave. Matt also, of course, wields his multi-purpose cane (seriously, it’s a baton, nunchaku, a grappling hook, and even an axe!) but I find it hard to believe he could do both to such a high standard and exactly how does Matt manage to change into Daredevil in the middle of the city? There’s no way he’s wearing that suit under his clothes and he can’t be that close to his apartment all the time so either it’s a convenience for the sake of keeping the film’s frenetic pace going or Matt has stashed spare costumes all over the city!

Despite all her abilities, Elektra is no match for Bullseye…

Bullseye and Elektra don’t fare quite as well as Daredevil on the costume front, unfortunately, with both opting for black leather and relatively simple attire despite Bullseye demanding a “fuckin’ costume” from Fisk. Still, Bullseye makes up for it with a preposterous bullseye scar on his forehead and an absolutely gorgeous Matrix-style trenchcoat that he even uses to disorientate and distract Elektra during their fight. This whole sequence is a bit of a let down, to be honest; earlier, in their civilian clothing, we saw Elektra and Matt go toe-to-toe and that they were largely evenly matched until Elektra got the better of him. Considering Matt’s augmented strength and reflexes, this is a pretty impressive feat and, overwhelmed by hatred and her desire for revenge and helped by the fact that Matt refuses to fight her, we see Elektra again able to best Daredevil in a fight, incapacitating him with a stab to the shoulder that, for all intents and purposes, leaves Daredevil seemingly near death! After discovering the truth about her father’s murder, though, she immediately redirects her anger towards Bullseye, a man we have seen exhibit absolutely not fighting prowess up until that point, and is summarily overwhelmed! Seriously, I get that Bullseye is agile and all about the misdirection and the perfect shots but he toys with Elektra all through their fight and kills her without barely breaking a sweat!

Daredevil and Kingpin settle their differences in a good, old-fashioned fist fight!

Daredevil’s fight against Bullseye isn’t much better as not only are they depicted as being physical equals (though at least Daredevil has the excuse of being badly wounded), the fight is hindered by the worst instances of CGI in the film that sees them leaping and hopping up about the place like in a videogame, Daredevil catching all of Bullseye’s shurikens with swift movements of his club, and Bullseye expertly snagging every single shard of broken stained glass and tossing them at Daredevil (who avoids them all with a superb series of well-timed backflips). It really hasn’t aged too well and is ridiculously over the top for what should have been a simple, brutal affair. Thankfully, the climactic fight between Daredevil and Kingpin makes up for this even more in the Director’s Cut; in the original version, this fight is depressingly short but, here, it’s noticeably longer and stands out from the rest of the film by beginning with the simple, raw sounds of the two adversaries kicking the crap out of each other. Thanks to his immense strength and Daredevil’s wounds, Fisk is able to subdue Daredevil with a concussion-induced blow to the head and a rib-breaking toss into a concrete pillar; like the bullies of Matt’s youth, Fisk is incredibly amused to find that his rival is “the blind lawyer from Hell’s Kitchen” but finds himself on the back foot when Matt uses the sprinkler system to focus his radar sense and brutally bring the Kingpin to his knees. Driven to the floor in pain and at Matt’s mercy, Fisk is spared and handed over to the police despite promising that he’ll get out, and tell others of Daredevil’s identity. Matt, however, is unfazed, believing that no one would believe Fisk’s story and vows to be ready for Fisk when he gets out, setting the stage for a rematch and an escalating conflict that, sadly, we never saw. Like when Matt threw Bullseye out of the church window and to what should have been his death (he survived but was left in a full body cast so I guess that makes it okay…?), this is treated as a heroic, character-defining moment as Matt finally choose the higher, more noble and heroic path…despite the fact that he’s killed before, both directly and indirectly, and leaving Fisk alive is arguably more dangerous to both him and the city.

The Summary:
While many of the CGI shots and fight/action scenes haven’t aged too well, there’s actually a lot to like here; Daredevil’s suit is incredible and, while the costumes are very Matrix-y (as are the fights), they still work and allow each character to stand out from each other. The cast (with the exception of Elektra) is also really strong; Affleck may have talked shit about the role but he’s really good, shaking off a lot of his boy scout persona and really selling the idea that he’s a blind man and an emotionally tormented sole trying to do good through violent actions and getting lost down a dark path, and Duncan is phenomenal as the Kingpin. He has a real weighty presence, exuding power and intimidation but also layering the character with subtle nuances; it’s like he’s constantly keeping his anger and brutality in check through the veil of civilisation and decorum and is itching to let his emotions loose. Daredevil allows Matt to do this but Fisk has few opportunities to do it; the only one not hiding behind some kind of a mask is Bullseye, who is unapologetically sadistic through and through The soundtrack is also incredible; sure, music and songs fill nearly every scene but the hard rock, metal, and nu-metal tracks are a welcome inclusion for me. It’s not perfect; the plot is kind of all over the place, even in the Director’s Cut, and full of conveniences and contrivances but it does a really good job of establishing this world and it’s a shame we never got to see this cast all come back for at least one more film. Seriously, we got two mediocre Fantastic 4 movies (Story, 2005 and 2007) but we couldn’t get a sequel to Daredevil? As much as I loved the Netflix series, I still think that’s a real shame since the intention was clearly to do something akin to “Born Again” (Miller, et al, 1986) in the follow-up.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What did you think about Daredevil: Director’s Cut? How do you think it compares to the theatrical version? What did you think to Ben Affleck in the title role, and the film’s cast in general? Did you enjoy the film’s soundtrack or did you find the constant influx of songs distracting? How well do you think the film holds up compared to its modern equivalents? Perhaps you prefer the Netflix series (I mean, who doesn’t, right?); if so, why and what are some of your favourite moments from that? Do you have a favourite Daredevil character or storyline you’d like to see adapted into live-action? Whatever your thoughts on daredevil, feel free to leave a comment down below.

Game Corner: The Punisher (Arcade)

Released: 1993
Developer: Capcom
Also Available For: Mega Drive

The Background:
Frank Castle, Marvel’s resident one-man army, first debuted in the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man #129. Though originally depicted as an assassin with a specific code of honour, the character went on to become one of Marvel’s most popular anti-heroes; thanks to his tragic backstory and unwavering commitment to the permanent eradication of crime, a mission that he fully admits is a never-ending battle that will (and has) result in his death, the Punisher has subsequently seen some success outside of his comic book origins. Although far from the first videogame to feature the character in a starring role, the arcade version of The Punisher stands a cut above its predecessors thanks to being developed by Capcom and heavily borrowing from classic arcade beat-‘em-ups like Final Fight (Capcom, 1989) and Captain Commando (ibid, 1991). Directed by Noritaka Funamizu, who would go on to be heavily involved in the Street Fighter series (ibid/Various, 1987 to present) The Punisher is notable not only for its classic arcade-style action but also for being the first title in a long and successful partnership between Marvel Comics and Capcom.

The Plot:
After his family is gunned down by mobsters in Central Park, Frank Castle swears revenge and begins a one-man war on crime as the Punisher. Joining forces with Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate (S.H.I.E.L.D.) agent Nick Fury, Frank enacts bloody vengeance on New York’s criminal element, leading to an inevitable clash with the Kingpin of Crime himself, Wilson Fisk!

If you’ve played Final Fight or any one of a slew of sidescrolling, 2D beat-‘em-ups, then you know exactly what The Punisher is all about. If you’re player one, you control the titular Punisher while player two controls Fury but, in either case, you’re tasked with making your way from the left side of the screen to the right through six action-packed stages filled with a variety of mobsters and other scumbags for you to beat the shit out of. The differences between the two characters are aesthetic, at best; both are capable of punching, jumping, and jump-kicking enemies, grabbing and throwing them when they’re up close, and utilising a slew of weapons to cut down their foes. Pressing punch and jump at the same time will see the two unleash a super move to deal massive damage at the cost of some health and the two are also capable of performing an impressive roll to cover large distances quickly and dash into enemies. The only real difference I noticed between the two is that Fury feels a little faster to control but, whichever character you pick, you’ll be more than capable of taking out anyone that stands in your way.

There’s not much to distinguish the Punisher and Nick Fury beyond cosmetic differences.

Of course, it wouldn’t be the Punisher if you didn’t get to shoot some fools and, whenever armed enemies pop up on screen, your character will pull out their pistol and the mayhem will begin. A targeting reticule appears and automatically targets the enemy closest to you and, as you have unlimited ammo, all you have to do is press attack to riddle your victim full of bullets. This comes in handy during encounters with the game’s tougher enemies and in boss battles but can be a little unreliable as a dependable ranged attack as you can’t safely camp out of range and take shots at your enemies since your bullets only travel so far. Luckily, there are other weapons available to make up for that. Being an arcade game, one of the many objectives you’ll also have is wrecking the game’s large and detailed environments to find bags of cash, gold bars, weapons, and items to not only increase your score, increase your chances at dishing out punishment, but also to restore your health. All the standard goodies are on offer here, from roasted meat dinners to pizza to pudding, and I recommend grabbing them as soon as possible to keep your health bar topped up. As if the swarms of enemies and large, formidable bosses weren’t enough, you’re also battling against a time limit so it pays to make quick work of your enemies wherever possible.

Grab as many points as you can and rosted meat dinners for health.

Naturally, you can pick up and throw a variety of objects at your enemies (from arcade machines to barrels), toss them off moving stages, and set up explosive traps to clear them away. Some enemy and boss attacks also seem to damage other enemies, which is helpful if you can set things up in the right way to take advantage of this feature. Every now and then you’ll also be taken to a bonus stage to mix things up a bit and earn yourself some extra points; here, the Punisher and Fury are pitted against each other to see who can shoot the most barrels under a time limit. At the end of every stage, you’ll also receive a detailed score tally that awards bonus points for how many items you used and your remaining vitality and grenades. Of course, it’s an inevitability that you’ll probably lose all of your lives and be taken to a continue screen where Microchip and fellow S.H.I.E.L.D. agents attempt to revive your character; input another coin, though, and you’ll helpfully be dropped right back into the action where you fell to continue on.

Graphics and Sound:
The Punisher is a gorgeous example of classic arcade, beat-‘em-up action. Sprites are large and detailed and, while the Punisher and Fury don’t have idle animations, they do breathe heavily when you leave them standing and Fury is constantly smoking on a cigar, which is a nice touch. Additionally, some enemies will stop and mock you with laughter and there is an incredible amount of detail applied to the game’s sprites to emulate the look of the comic books as closely as possible.

Cutscenes move the game’s simple plot along at a brisk pace.

While the game’s music is nothing to shout about (and there are some laughably distorted and grainy voice samples to be heard throughout the game), the sound effects carry a decent amount of kick to them. You’ll also be treated to a few pretty decent cutscenes; still images and text relate the game’s story in the opening, in-game graphics and dialogue (which changes depending on which character you’re playing as) feature as transitions between stages, and large, comic book sound effects pop up onscreen as you attack enemies for extra emphasis.

Stages are full of destructible elements and little quirks to bring them to life.

Stages are pretty standard fare (you’ll fight out in the streets, in a sewer, and, of course, on a moving elevator) but quite large and detailed and full of interesting little touches; there are numerous destructible elements to every stage and all sorts of little things to see in the background to bring some life to the stages, like harmless rats running around in the sewers and a dog tied up on the streets. The game also features a decent amount of blood effects, too (fitting considering the carnage onscreen and the violent nature of the Punisher) but this is taken to the next level when you find you can attack and destroy mobster’s cars, leaving a chargrilled skeleton behind!

Enemies and Bosses:
For the most part, you’ll be punching or gunning down a slew of generic street thugs and mobsters; these guys will attack with punches, grab and hold you, or carry melee weapons which you can retrieve after defeating them. While many enemies can swarm the screen at any one time, you’ll generally not have much of a problem against the usual cannon fodder as you’re more than capable of grabbing them or hurling them into one another. Very quickly, though, you’ll come up against armed mobsters who can attack from a distance. You’ll also encounter sword-wielding ninjas who teleport all over the place, fly into a whirlwind of blades, send you crashing down to the ground from the top of the screen, and can even deflect your bullets back at you!

Do battle with some of the Punisher’s most recognisable enemies.

Faster martial artists can also pose a greater threat but perhaps the game’s most troublesome enemies are the Pretty Boys, cyborgs who can take a licking and keep on ticking, attacking with extendable arms, explosive heads, and continue to be a threat even with their torsos blown off. Bosses feature a few names that will be familiar to fans of the Punisher; you’ll encounter Bonebreaker (little more than a cannon-wielding, Mohawked punk fused with a tank), Bushwaker (who can transform his limbs into devastating armaments), and even Jigsaw (though, sadly, he’s more of a mini boss and isn’t too indistinguishable from other machine gun-toting enemies).

Bosses are accompanied by swarms of enemies to keep the action fast-paced and frantic!

You’ll also encounter the Kingpin’s laser-spewing Guardroid on a couple of occasions and have to deal with large, but low level, mooks in the game’s early stages. Each boss battle comes with wave-upon-wave of the game’s regular enemies to help whittle down your health and drag the battle out, though you can often find weapons and health-restoring items in the boss arenas and invariably also have access to your gun to help tip the odds in your favour.

Dodge the Kingpin’s dangerous attacks to topple to rotund mastermind!

Once you reach the Kingpin’s hotel, though, you’ll come face to face with the Kingpin himself. Rendered as a humongous sprite, the Kingpin takes up a good chunk of the screen with his sheer mass and deals devastating damage with just a swipe of his hand to say nothing of his laser-firing cane and…fire breath (…?)….all of which take away a massive chunk of your health. Kingpin is also swarmed with constantly-respawning enemies to distract you and he can hurl you clear across the screen if you get too close but, luckily, he takes damage just like any other boss or enemy and doesn’t appear to have any cheap invincibility frames so you’ll soon be leaving him to crumble alongside his hotel with enough patience and pocket change.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
There are no invincibility or speed/power-ups to be found in The Punisher; instead, you’ll find a variety of different foods to eat to restore your health or gain access to a slew of additional weaponry to exact justice on New York’s criminal scum. You’ll be wielding the standard beat-‘em-up fare like knives, baseball bats, axes, hammers and pipes but you’ll also get to use throwing stars, boomerangs, M-16 assault rifles, Uzis, fire extinguishers, and even a flamethrower.

Wipe out enemies with a super move or your grenades.

Every time you pick up a weapon, the amount of uses it has is displayed next to it on the lower left of the screen so you always know how much “ammo” you have left; if you’re running low, you can toss the weapon in a diagonal arc by jumping and pressing attack, leaving you free to switch to a fresh weapon. The Punisher and Fury can also pick up grenades as they progress through the game’s stages; these are also tallied in the bottom left and are best saved for bosses or to clear the screen of enemies. By jumping and pressing jump and attack, you’ll toss a grenade downwards, which explodes to deal massive damage and help to thin out the herd.

Additional Features:
Being a coin-operated, arcade beat-‘em-up, the sole thing to play for is that coveted high score. Aside from that, the game allows for two player simultaneous play, which slightly alters the game’s cutscenes and dialogue and gives you another good reason to play through it.

The Summary:
As far as arcade beat-‘em-ups go, The Punisher is just as iconic and enjoyable as the likes of Final Fight. It doesn’t necessarily add anything new to the genre, or anything you haven’t seen before if you’ve played any of the many beat-‘em-ups released by the likes of Capcom and Konami back in the day, but it shines a little bit thanks to its unique licensing of the Punisher character. With large, detailed, comic book-like sprites, environments that are full of destructible elements and fun little inclusions, and by fully embracing the larger than life aesthetic and hyper violence of its source material and title character, The Punisher is a great way to spend an hour or so. Fast-paced and action-packed, the game is a joy to play through; the music isn’t very memorable and, while the game is quite short at only six stages, it’s well-paced and well-balanced enough that it never begins as tedious and monotonous as some beat-‘em-ups.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Did you ever play The Punisher out in the wild? Perhaps you are lucky enough to own the Mega Drive port of the game; if so, how do you think it holds up compared to the arcade original? Which character did you prefer to play as? Can you think of a better character to partner up with the Punisher or do you think Nick Fury fit the role nicely enough? What is your favourite beat-‘em-up game? Whatever your thoughts, feel free to leave a comment below.