Colin FarrellBen AffleckJon FavreauJennifer Garner
Medium: film
Year: 2003
Writer/director: Mark Steven Johnson
Keywords: Razzie-winning, superhero, action, gangster
Country: USA
Actor: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Colin Farrell, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jon Favreau, Scott Terra, Ellen Pompeo, Joe Pantoliano, Leland Orser, Lennie Loftin, Erick Avari, Derrick O'Connor, Paul Ben-Victor, David Keith, Kevin Smith, Stan Lee, Frank Miller
Format: 103 min (theatrical cut), 133 min (director's cut)
Series: << Daredevil, << Elektra >>, << Kingpin
Website category: Superhero
Review date: 8 December 2008
For years I hadn't seen the Daredevil Director's Cut, despite both liking and owning the theatrical version. In a fit of completism this year I finally bought it, but amusingly it was cheaper to do so in a double-pack with its unloved spin-off Elektra (2005). I'm looking forward to that too, but that's for another, more masochistic day.
Regarding Daredevil, to my surprise I preferred the the theatrical cut. I like that film. Unless otherwise specified, anything bad I say here can be assumed to be about the thing I watched this morning.
Obviously there's a big difference in their running times. Half an hour. The director's cut sprawls. I'm not even sure that the changes are even particularly noticeable. They raise it from a PG-13 to an R, giving us a couple of fun shots like Bullseye's bullet stigmata and Elektra's impaled hand, but I'm not sure that the violence is in the right places. They've turned Daredevil into the Punisher, with which I'll go along for the sake of argument because it's funny, but in that case surely you should make his enemies more brutal too? No, it's just him. Obviously this isn't the Daredevil we know and love, but this is where to come if you like freaks. Murdock openly threatens defendents in court, then hunts them down and kills them. That's warped, right? More precisely, it's harking back to the days when Batman and Darkman were still influencing superhero movies. Better yet, note that Daredevil doesn't prevent a single crime in this film. He can't even save Bullseye's victims. He's about punishment, not prevention. He's a lawyer. That's how he thinks. In fairness the film also gives him a character arc in which he realises he's the Punisher and reacts against it.
However despite all that, I still love the character enough to go along with his present incarnation for the sake of my memories of when Frank Miller was writing him. I quite like Ben Affleck in the role. Surprisingly his scenes with Jennifer Garner are some of the best bits in the movie and I now see how she got that spin-off. I like our glimpses into a blind man's life, e.g. folding bank notes in the morning. I particularly love the Catholic iconography, which for me is integral to the character and is laid on here with a trowel. Churches, crosses, confessionals, blood and a devil.
No, what I mind is the stupidity. Some of that was in the theatrical cut, but a lot wasn't. Foggy Nelson. Dear old Foggy. He's still Matt Murdock's staunchest buddy, but mysteriously he's also become a stand-up comedian. His courtroom antics are funny, but they belong in a different film. Would anyone really buy a seeing-eye dog to surprise someone who didn't even want it? Yes, I'm reading too much into a one-liner. We're even expected to believe that the dog ran away because Matt didn't give it enough love, although personally I think he gave it away and lied to Foggy to spare his feelings. All this would be fine in the 1966 Adam West Batman movie, but unfortunately the film wants to think it's Batman: Year One. At one point we even get a flock of bats.
Then we have the cliches and script holes. Matt got blinded as a boy after finding his dad was lying about going to work and then twenty seconds later running into him doing jobs as a gangland enforcer. Why, anyone would have run off in fear. With that level of cosmic karma, who's to say a hundred tossed coins wouldn't have spontaneously landed on their edges? The Kingpin's red roses are even more ridiculous than Jack Nicholson's "dance with the devil by the pale moonlight" in 1989, since at least the Joker is a psychopath rather than a Bronx gangster who describes murder as nothing but business.
Meanwhile Elektra isn't a professional assassin, but merely an ordinary girl who happens to have a collection of two-edged sai and is capable of taking on Daredevil in single combat. I'm sure they're all like that in New York. Naturally she thinks he killed her father despite the fact that she was there when he died and allegedly isn't the blind one. What did she think Bullseye was? A street performer? Or maybe he's secretly the Velveteen Rabbit and adults can't see him because they don't have the magic of childlike innocence in their hearts or something?
However fortunately she realises that Daredevil couldn't have done it as soon as she takes off his mask and sees underneath that he's Matt Murdock, since it's impossible for a man you're in love with to have done anything wrong.
Admittedly most of that's in both versions. However unique to the director's cut is Matt's lowlife client who's been framed for a murder. I don't get it. Why? We eventually learn why the Kingpin wanted the victim out of the way, but not why he'd pay all that money to a bent cop for the sake of setting up some nobody who was probably drunk or stoned at the time. The guy certainly doesn't have a clue about how to behave in a courtroom.
My favourite part of the film is probably the first twenty minutes. The reason is David Keith as Jack Murdock. He doesn't know he's in a superhero movie and he's rock-solid, as flawed and rough as if he'd come from a Film Noir. He's terrific, he really is. He's our route into a world where gangsters aren't merely cannon fodder who'll pause for theatrical one-liners and thus let you kill them first.
Unfortunately the following ten minutes I disliked. Matt hunts down and kills a man whom a jury found innocent. Okay, he's not a nice man. He's a rapist. I didn't know that was a capital crime, but clearly we're meant to be a bunch of bloodthirsty savages who'll cheer on the murder of any villain. Fair enough. It would also seem to be important to the story that Matt at the beginning is a vengeance-driven automaton who's cut himself off from all human contact. No, what irritated me was Daredevil gratuitously taking out a bar full of rowdies. Did they all deserve it? What about the landlord? It must be tough enough trying to run a small business in Hell's Kitchen without heroes trashing the joint, hospitalising everyone and setting the place on fire.
Even on a production level the film is inconsistent. I love Matt's sonar sense. It's beautiful. You believe it absolutely. However on the downside we have some silly music choices, too much wire work and of course the Playstation cut scenes that would appear to have been spliced into the action. Ironically another film came out in 2003 called Daredevil, or in the original Thai, Ong-Bak. It's a martial arts film in which no CGI or wires were used and the star Tony Jaa trained for four years in preparation and did his own stunts.
Hmmm. Spot the difference.
As for the actors, Michael Clarke Duncan is less Kingpin-like than John Rhys-Davies in 1989, but he does the job. Colin Farrell as Bullseye is camping it up more than Priscilla Queen of the Desert, but you've got to love any actor prepared to push the boat out that far. I'd have preferred him to be menacing as well, but he made me laugh. Joe Pantoliano's Ben Urich again is nothing like the version in the comics but is still memorable. Young Matt gets bulled by the son of Tony Soprano and we have cameos for Stan Lee and Kevin Smith. Frank Miller appears too as Man with Pen in Head.
Overall, this is a movie I have a hard time believing. I don't remember the theatrical cut giving me this much of a hard time. You have stupid stuff like the Kingpin randomly killing his two bodyguards for laughs and Bullseye randomly shooting his mouth off at the most convenient time. Note the sequel-hunting way in which absolutely no one dies, not even Elektra. That pendant at the end says her name in Braille. Oh, and apparently everyone's names in the opening credits are spelled out in Braille as well before resolving themselves into Latin characters. That's cool. Had this been the comics' Daredevil or even the pretty good approximation of that 1989 Incredible Hulk TV movie, I could have believed his failure to kill the Kingpin at the end... but here? Not after the ten minutes I've previously talked about. Even quite late in the movie, he'd openly menaced a policeman and a witness while smashing up the man's car. I can see the character arc we're supposed to think he's gone through, but no.
There's some great stuff here. I worship at the altar of David Keith, while I even enjoyed the work of those actors who've seized gleefully on all this rope and hanged themselves. Colin Farrell and Jon Favreau made me laugh. Yes, that is the director of Iron Man, by the way. I like Ben Affleck's Murdock and even Jennifer Garner's Elektra. I also appreciate the fact that this isn't a film about superpowers. It's at least trying to keep things real. However like its superhero, this is a film that has trouble keeping a sense of proportion and has managed to include great steaming lumps of stupidity. I'm sure I'll watch it again one day, but as a Daredevil story it's not worth two pins compared with Frank Miller's Born Again.