Dare to Take A Look?
There are two significant superhero events coming in March of 2016. Season 2 of “Daredevil” and Ben Affleck stars as Batman in “Batman V Superman”. Both are linked together from the past. Before Marvel had control of Daredevil, the character was under control of 20th Century Fox. Soon after acquiring the film rights they produced a movie in the year 2003 with Ben Affleck staring in the role. So, what better time to travel back into the Delorean and take a look at this early 2000s first attempt at bringing the character to the big screen. Of course some will ask which version will we be looking at? The theatrical or the director’s cut? Most people that associate with this movie only associate with the director’s cut. Then I asked you, why not just look at both versions?
It’s hard to believe this movie came out nearly fourteen years ago. The comic book genre was in a very different place. We weren’t too far removed from the horrendous (but still hilarious) “Batman and Robin”. The success of Bryan Singer’s “X-Men” and Sam Rami’s “Spider-Man” had revitalized the genre and put it on a new direction. This was pre- “Iron Man” and pre-Christopher Nolan “Dark Knight Trilogy” (and even before Affleck started directing). So I think it’s far to say the genre was expanding but still searching for a direction. A lot of filmmakers took the same approach that Richard Donner’s “Superman” did (with following the hero through his origin story). 20th Century Fox tapped Mark Steven Johnson to direct the feature film for Daredevil.
The character of “Daredevil” (for those of you that don’t know) is Matt Murdock. After a childhood accident he has become blind. But, his other senses are increased to near superhuman level. He becomes a lawyer by day and a crime vigilante by night in the allies of New York’s Hell’s Kitchen. Soon he becomes entangled with a woman, named Elektra, in danger from the ruling crime boss Kingpin and an assassin that comes to take Elektra and Daredevil out.
From the get go you can tell director Mark Steven Johnson is a fan of the comic books. This entire film reeks of inspiration from Frank Miller’s ground breaking run with the character. Elektra’s storyline is attempted to be implemented, , Devil’s origin story is very Frank Miller and the tone of the film tries to adopt the darker grittier nature that Miller would define (as oppose to Stan Lee and Gene Colan’s original runs of the character). The visual direction of the movie is taken from artist Joe Quesada’s run on the character. However that doesn’t translate to a good script or a good film as a whole. This movie tries to do too much in certain areas (like with Elektra) but does too little in other areas (like Daredevil and Kingpin’s relationship). This entire movie is under 2 hours (the director’s cut is about 20 minutes longer) and doesn’t have enough time to build up to key moments in the movie.
This movie does have some tonal issues as well. Johnson attempts to establish the dark and gritty tone from Miller’s run of “Daredevil”, but then there is an incredibly out of place goofy scene involving Matt Murdock and Elektra having “a friendly fight” on a school playground. Where Elektra fights a blind man, Matt, (but doesn’t know anything about his powers yet) and wins, and doesn’t question his abilities until he knew about a bump on the sidewalk long after the fight. First the logic gaps don’t work and just doesn’t fit in the movie. It’s not a short scene either. It doesn’t end there. There are number of goofy lines and over the top villains (more on them in a second) throughout the movie. The pacing of the theatrical cut isn’t very good either. Scenes end before they feel complete and there was clearly a lot left on the cutting room floor. There isn’t much in terms of story with this movie and I think that’s where this film falters the most. Not all the moving pieces feel like they are moving towards something.
There are though some redeeming qualities to the movie as whole. When Johnson nails the correct tone it can be an engrossing watch. The action is for the most part well done and Ben Affleck is a solid lead in the movie. Often people place a lot of blame on him for this movie. And, perhaps he isn’t the greatest Matt Murdock/Daredevil but he certainly isn’t bad in this movie.
I would even go as far as saying he was had a good performance in the movie. Of course now with Charlie Cox’s superior performance as the Man Without Fear he is overshadowed greatly. He has good chemistry with his future wife Jennifer Gardner, whom herself is also good for the role that was written for her. But again she isn’t great. She does stumble over a few emotional beats in the performance (primarily the confrontation between Daredevil and her). Future “Iron Man” director Jon Favreau plays Foggy Nelson and does a fine job but his character under written.
I did knock the movie for its villains earlier but at the same time I love them. It’s a contradiction for sure but let me explain it. The movie’s villains don’t belong in this movie tonally. They are too big and over the top to fit with the world the filmmakers are attempting to create. However they are a lot of fun to watch. It’s hard to reconcile those two parts of me. Michael Clarke Duncan is big and menacing as the Kingpin and Colin Ferrell is so brilliantly over the top as Bullseye. They are giant cartoons but they look like they are having a ton of fun playing it. They aren’t annoying like Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face. Under different direction Ferrell could make a great Bullseye but here he just makes for a good animated character.
The theatrical cut is a bit of a mess. Not a terrible mess like Ang Lee’s “Hulk” but it’s not a great movie by any stretch (not to mention it’s outdated soundtrack is missing a good score like “Spider-Man” had with Danny Elfman). But what about the director’s cut? I know plenty proclaim night and day differences between them. The director’s cut is Rated R whereas the original cut is PG-13. The action scenes are better, they don’t feel as restrained or cut apart. The pacing is a bit better and there is a good added subplot that tackles the story surrounding Matt and the Kingpin a lot better. It also makes better use of Matt’s profession as a lawyer. The theatrical cut doesn’t touch much on it but the director’s cut does make some good use of it.