Joe Carnahan has found himself in the enviable position of being the most desirable director for Fox’s Daredevil reboot, and the one that seems to have generated the most positive fan buzz as well. Daredevil (2003) was a minor success, but any momentum on future films stalled out with the thud of its spin-off movie Elektra. Now that complete reboots are all the rage, Fox has been looking to turn Daredevil into their second-most beloved Marvel franchise (after X-Men). The project has to get started quickly, as Fox will lose the Daredevil film rights unless they can work out a deal with Marvel, so expect the ink to dry on the deal very, very soon.
The plan immediately after Ben Affleck’s turn as Daredevil and all the way up through potential director David Slade (who left the project recently) was to adapt Frank Miller’s “Born Again” storyline for the big screen. Hey, it even makes a good movie title, letting the audience know that this is Daredevil literally being born again. Variety reports that Carnahan would be helming a “Frank Miller-esque, hardcore '70s thriller” that would focus the action in Hell’s Kitchen and bear a more adult direction than recent Marvel offerings. “Born Again” certainly fits that bill as well (and offers enough glimpses of origin without having to redo the entire origin story).
What’s even more important is that the “Born Again”-based screenplay is already written. If this movie is filming soon, and it will be, then Fox will want a script that’s ready. Carnahan may not have the luxury of throwing out the existing script by Brad Caleb Kane (TV’s Fringe) and David James Kelly, and surely Fox’s hope is that the strength of the project will allow Carnahan to tell a superhero story that’s somewhat different than what we’ve seen before.
So, what is “Born Again”? Basically, Kingpin gets a hold of Daredevil’s secret identity and ruins his life, drives him mad, then leaves him for dead. Daredevil, with the help of a kindly nun and his closest friends, picks himself up by his red bootstraps and gets back to being Matt Murdock and Daredevil, no matter that he’s seemingly lost everything.
It’s thematically similar to The Dark Knight Rises, but it’s a smaller-scale, more personal story. “Born Again” is not resolved with a bombastic fight to the finish, but with the quieter conclusion of how one man’s resolve grows so strong as to inspire strength in others, namely the key player who unwillingly ruins his life.
What would a Daredevil Born Again movie look like?
Karen Page - Dream Casting: Greta Gerwig
“Born Again” begins with Karen Page, former confidant of Matt Murdock, strung out on drugs and struggling to escape the long shadow of past in the adult-film industry. She sells Daredevil’s identity for a fix, and the information eventually passes right up the underworld ladder, all the way to the top.
Gerwig has a real-world attractiveness, important to a character like Page, who shouldn’t reek of Hollywood glamour “playing ugly,” so to speak. We should be able to see that Page is intelligent and capable, but in a dark time in her life. Over the course of “Born Again,” she finds hope and comfort in Matt Murdock’s steadfast friendship, and Gerwig should be able to play those moments with heart-breaking grace.
The Kingpin aka Wilson Fisk - Dream Casting: James Gandolfini
When Fisk gets ahold of Daredevil’s secret identity, he begins a horrifying series of events in the life of Matt Murdock to confirm the secret. Murdock is audited by the IRS, he’s found guilty of perjury, he loses all of his money, and, as he begins to suspect that unseen forces are unifying against him, his behavior as Daredevil becomes increasingly paranoid. Once Kingpin is assured that Daredevil and Murdock are one and the same, he blows up Murdock’s home, tipping his hand in a signature fashion. Murdock may be broken, but now, Murdock has a name to his pain.
There’s not an actor I can think of who looks more like Kingpin than James Gandolfini. Even if he didn’t look like him, let’s face it -- Gandolfini is experienced at playing exactly this sort of terrifying organized crime presence. It’s almost lazy casting, but it’s perfect. Gandolfini’s eyes can smolder with pure hatred, matching David Mazzucchelli’s drawings panel for panel.
Daredevil aka Matt Murdock - Dream Casting: Chris Pine
No superhero film has ever explored such a professional, personal and psychological descent as the one Matt Murdock goes through in “Born Again.” The successful lawyer, blinded by a bizarre accident that left him with his other senses enhanced beyond human capacity, starts “Born Again” just fine then quickly loses everything at the hand of Kingpin, including his mind. At his lowest point, he hunts down Fisk, and is promptly beaten by the Kingpin and left for dead in a staged accident in the bottom of the East River. From this low, Murdock survives, and right after a back alley stabbing which looks like the real end for our hero, he begins a slow road to recovery, that restores his faith and heroism, more important to him than his law practice or money.
Chris Pine has worked with Carnahan before in Smoking Aces, and since then has found himself elevated to the star level a movie like Daredevil would need. He’s physical, charismatic and his eyebrows are just bushy enough to be expressive over Murdock’s darkened shades. Pine is also not enough of a movie star to dominate the ensemble nature of “Born Again” -- a storyline that finds more satisfying footing in the relationships between the characters than it does any large-scale action.
Foggy Nelson - Dream Casting: Patton Oswalt
Murdock’s closest friend finds himself getting more intimate with Murdock’s ex, Glorianna O’Breen, as they try to make sense of Murdock’s crumbling life. During Murdock’s descent into madness, Murdock misreads the burgeoning relationship as part of the overall conspiracy against him.
Foggy is depicted as chubby, self-deprecating, whip-smart and fiercely dedicated, and often gives Daredevil’s monthly issues a little comic relief amongst all of the grim and gritty proceedings. Oswalt can handle himself capably in a more dramatic role, he looks the part, and his star power would make Foggy a pivotal player in “Born Again” instead of being a side role as Jon Favreau was when he played him in the 2003 film.
Glorianna O’Breen - Dream Casting: Kerry Condon
At the start of “Born Again,” the Irish photographer breaks up with Murdock via a cassette tape recording. She remains friends with Foggy Nelson and the two begin to bond during Matt’s darkest days. She becomes very important later, when her photography work assists reporter Ben Urich.
O’Breen is slightly underwritten during “Born Again,” but offers an outsider’s perspective on the ugliness of New York City. I’d cast authentically Irish for this one, and Kerry Condon is a memorable presence without a huge name.
Ben Urich - Dream Casting: Liam Neeson
Urich, who also happens to know Daredevil’s identity through his friendship with Matt Murdock, is about to break the case wide open on the Kingpin, to the five-million readers of The Daily Bugle (yes, that Daily Bugle; J. Jonah Jameson even gets one pivotal scene in “Born Again”). Murdock enlists Urich early on to find out who is ruining his life, but Urich gets scared away when Kingpin’s goons, seemingly everywhere, break all of his fingers. Urich finds himself in a crisis. He’s the one man who can hurt Kingpin the most (and the offers for interviews from those that the Kingpin has hurt or betrayed keep rolling in), but the direct threat to his own life and family put him at a standstill.
Urich’s story is important and an interesting parallel to Matt Murdock’s. Both men reach personal lows and find that they have to dig deep inside to do what is right, no matter the consequence. Liam Neeson would lend a huge amount of gravitas to the role, and he’s one of Carnahan’s favorite actors, having already starred in Carnahan’s The A-Team and The Grey.
Nuke - Dream Casting: ???
Nuke is the physical villain of the piece, a biologically enhanced, pill-popping assassin employed by the U.S. military for their messier jobs. Kingpin pulls some strings to bring Nuke to Hell’s Kitchen under his employ, after Kingpin fails to kill Daredevil. In the comics, Daredevil gets a big assist against Nuke from Captain America, but don’t look for that to happen in the film (and, the way it’s constructed, it could be easily cut out). In fact, Daredevil never has a second confrontation with Kingpin, and “Born Again” basically ends with Nuke’s defeat and Urich’s Kingpin expose.
Nuke is sort of a 1980’s funhouse mirror version of the kind of heroes made popular by Schwarzenegger and Rambo films. Whoever is cast as Nuke should be believable as that type of hero (even though Nuke is a villain), and the truth is we just don’t see a lot of muscle-headed leading men anymore. Casting someone who fits that mold, like the Rock, would distract from the film as too cartoonish. This is a tough one.
In the comics, you know the battle between Kingpin and Daredevil will continue forever, but for film, I have to wonder if “Born Again” could use a stronger resolution. Even I left “Born Again” wishing something really bad had happened to such a bad guy, but Kingpin basically gets a public black eye that causes him to back off for a while. You really have to step back and realize that the story is all about redemption (for Murdock, Urich and Karen Page), and once those threads are handled, it reaches its natural conclusion.
Do you like the idea of “Born Again” being the basis for the Daredevil reboot or do you think there’s a more cinematic story in Daredevil’s long history?