Features / In Retrospect

In Retrospect: Daredevil

Yes, it’s been a while…

Literally since I started this feature, Mark Steven Johnson’s 2003 Daredevil has been firmly in my mind to take a look at. It’s been a while since my last edition of the In Retrospect – 5 months, as it happens – but I’ve finally got some time to sit down and type this shit properly. Also, just to point out, a lot of this feature will focus on the director’s cut of the film. Seriously, people really need to check out that particular cut before truly judging the flick.

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The Background

Following on from the success of the likes of X-Men, Blade and Spider-Man, it was decided that Daredevil would be the next Marvel character to be brought to the big screen. A fantastically complex and troubled character, The Man Without Fear can be absolutely brilliant when done correctly. If you don’t believe me, just check out some of Frank Miller’s run with the character. Phenomenal is the word that springs to mind. Given that Blade was brought to life in a very adult film, one could hold hope that the often very-adult themes of Daredevil could be successfully transitioned to cinema screens. Despite various names up for the part, including Matt Damon and Vin Diesel, Ben Affleck’s chin was deemed worthy of donning Daredevil’s famous outfit. So, what caused Daredevil to gain the horrendous reputation that now adorns the film?

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The Problems

First up, a lot of the blame for the film’s failings get put at the door of Mr B. Affleck. Affleck’s performance is ripped into, his mannerisms are ripped into… hell, even his hair is blamed in some corners. Yes, the comic-book Matt Murdock is blonde-haired, but Affleck not bleaching his hair is one of the lesser problems of the film. Then we have the CGI, which often looks far too unrealistic, particular the unnatural body movements that certain characters have during action scenes.

As well as some people being disgruntled in MM’s hair colour change, a lot of people also found problems with Michael Clarke Duncan playing the Kingpin. Ever since his inception, the Kingpin has always been portrayed as a large white male. The casting of African-American Clarke Duncan was seen as going against the Kingpin’s correct origins. Joining Kingpin in the film, Colin Farrell took on the part of villainous assassin-for-hire Bullseye. This also caused a fair amount of uproar, firstly for the character’s appearance – particularly the bald head and the Bullseye logo on his forehead – and secondly down to Farrell’s Irish accent and his overly camp performance.

Daredevil was also accused of being an overly clichéd, overly romantic superhero film. A scene that got particularly hammered was the Matt Murdock/Elektra scene in the children’s park. Overly choreographed and cringe-worthy is an understatement. The action scenes received mixed reviews, too, with the climactic battle between DD and the Kingpin being deemed far too brief.

I’m pretty sure that covers the majority of people’s gripes with the film, which pretty much covers the majority of the film itself.

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The Redemption

As I stated towards the top of this article, to fully appreciate Daredevil you really need to be watching the director’s cut of the film. Mark Steven Johnson has openly admitted that, for the cinema release, 20th Century Fox made some cuts to the film that he didn’t agree with. With the director’s cut giving us to see Johnson’s vision as he intended it, there’s definitely a lot to love about the film. First up, the later cut gives the viewer an extra half an hour of running time. Central to all of this is more development and screen-time for the actual Matt Murdock side of the lead character. You get to see more of Murdock at work, with him choosing to represent a drug addict accused of murder. With long-time partner Foggy Nelson, not to mention the drug addict himself (played by Coolio) both struggling to believe the guy’s innocence, Matt Murdock the lawyer does what he does best.

With this expansion of the Matt Murdock character, there’s also more face-time for Jon Favreau’s Foggy Nelson, which serves to further highlight the great chemistry between Foggy and Matt. It’s at times like this, not to mention his interactions with Elektra and Coolio, that Affleck’s performance really shines.

As well as expanding on the characters, the extended cut also gives us more of Matt Murdock ‘the tortured catholic.’ Certain scenes showing a nun attending to him are to signify his absent mother, then there’s some absolutely fantastic imagery on show. Be it the cinematic cut or the director’s cut, Daredevil has some absolutely breath-taking imagery. Sure, some of those not in the know may try to play it of as a Batman rip-off, but ever since Frank Miller’s run on the character, he’s always been a broody catholic that is consumed by inner turmoil. The character of Daredevil brings up so many elements of religion, beliefs and morality, and Johnson’s 2003 film touches on this in just the right way. When seeing a superhero film, the majority of people don’t want religious beliefs thrown in their face. With Daredevil, Johnson manages to just get subtleties in there; enough for you to not really notice they’re even there. These nods are there right from the get-go, with the opening shot of the film finding ol’ Hornhead draped around a cross. These scenes are even more predominant in the longer cut of the film.

Whilst on the topic of the opening, the opening voiceover is fantastically effective, and the start of the film also makes you feel as if the location of Hell’s Kitchen is as much a character as any of the other players in the movie. There’s a style and sharpness to the film’s cuts, giving a dark, brooding theme to several scenes. With the inclusion of the whole subplot of Coolio’s character, the longer cut of the film often has an almost noir feel to it, as you really get to see Matt Murdock utilising all the tools available to him as he tries to prove his client’s innocence.

In terms of characters, how is it possible to not like Joe Pantoliano’s turn as Ben Urich? Charismatic as ever, Pantoliano is superb as the truth-seeking journalist out to prove that Daredevil is not just a myth. Then there’s Michael Clarke Duncan’s performance as Wilson Fisk, aka The Kingpin. Whilst I’ll admit freely that the character is a little short-changed in the cinematic cut of the film, the director’s cut gives a lot more of a look into the villain. There’s one particular scene where he kills two of his own men on a whim, with no mercy or remorse. This makes you realise that this is one guy that you really don’t want to fuck with. Similarly, the extended cut gives a lot more time to the climactic battle between the Kingpin and Matt Murdock, giving more weight to the fight and giving the audience are better payoff. Whilst Ben Urich and Wilson Fisk are given great representations, it has to be said that Colin Farrell’s Bullseye is just a bit too much. Yes, this is a superhero film, and so by nature you may have to expect things to be a little hammed up, but Farrell’s performance is just too campy. It’s almost as if the character has been ripped straight from a pantomime stage, and that’s before you even take into account the look of the character and the use of an Irish accent. Still, even with that in mind, the character does have some great moments to shine, such as death of Elektra and his gathering of glass as he fights Daredevil. It’s just a massive shame that he spends the rest of the moving snarling and hissing at pensioners.

Now onto the main man, to Daredevil. I stand by it: if you watch the director’s cut of the film, you will get a lot out of Affleck’s performance. Whether, as Daredevil, the character is clinging to a rooftop, waiting for the right moment to strike, or he’s dispatching of a group of thugs with absolutely clinical accuracy, or, as Matt Murdock, he’s using his increased senses to serve justice, the portrayal is great. Yes, there are some awkwardly cheesy moments, such as the playground scene with Elektra, that often border on the line of being just too gooey, but part of the story is supposed to be a love story. Matt Murdock is supposed to fall in love with Elektra, making it all the more meaningful when she hunts DD down and, finally, when she suffers the same fate as her father. Again (I know I’m sounding like a broken record, here), in the director’s cut there’s far more action and character development of Matt Murdock the lawyer, meaning that the romance of the film is better balanced out. In its cinematic form, too much of the film’s time is taken up with the love story, making it too soppy for most crowds. With the additional half an hour thrown in, the romance is diluted, giving way to other sequences to stand out.

Regardless of all of these points, it can still be said that the film’s CGI work does look dated. My argument, however, is that this isn’t the film’s fault. Yes, they did use some ambition shots and effects work, but it’s more that technology has just advanced so much these days. The film is now a decade old! Any film from that time looks dated, and, it could be worse, it could look like The Scorpion King.

Regardless of the effects work looking dated, the way the film is shot is brilliant. Gritty, dirty, dark and bleak, Daredevil looks to encompass the emotions of its main character. You can’t not be impressed when Matt Murdock is tormented by visions, with his powers being equally his curse. Added to this, the soundtrack perfectly fits the tone that Mark Steven Johnson is trying to set for his vision. As artists, I’m not a fan of any of the bands listed on the movie’s soundtrack, but they work fantastically with the film’s narrative. In terms of vision, the film is one of the most faithful comic-book adaptations out there when it comes to like-for-like shots. There’s so many moments, scenes and shots that are homages to some of the character’s most famous comic-book images.

Plus, if that hasn’t got you digging the film, there’s a great little cameo from Kevin Smith is Kirby, and a brief appearance from a young AJ Soprano.

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The Verdict

The verdict? I say that Daredevil really is a great film, although I can’t stress enough (in case you hadn’t already guessed) that you really need to be watching the director’s cut of the movie.

Tonally, character-wise (bar Bullseye), texture-wise, and performance-wise, Mark Steven Johnson’s Daredevil, as he envisioned it, is a really good comic-book movie. The pacing, structure, cutting and mood of the film, in its extended form, is expertly done. It’s just a crying shame that so many people have yet to see the complete version of this film, especially when so many of these people are the ones that are slamming the flick, even more-so now in a Batfleck world.

Maybe, it has often been argued, I take a far too rose-tinted look on any superhero properties. That could well be the case. Regardless of whether that is true or not, I know for definite that Daredevil is nowhere near as bad as people make out. Me, I think it’s a genuinely good film. I can see why it may not be as accessible to others as a Spider-Man or an Iron-Man, but it’s nowhere near as bad as Dolph Lundgren’s The Punisher or Mark Steven Johnson’s Ghost Rider. To me, Daredevil is a respectful, serious film that has a lot more going on that people give it a credit for. Personally, I class it in the same bracket as Bryan Singer’s X-Men or Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2. It’s not at the level of X2 or The Dark Knight, but it’s not a million miles behind these films.

If you’re still on the fence, go on, give the Guardian Devil his due: give him one more chance to prove you wrong.

You can pick up the Blu-ray version of Daredevil: The Director’s Cut for a bargain price by clicking here.


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7 thoughts on “In Retrospect: Daredevil

  1. Daredevil is my favorite Marvel hero and even though the film is really flawed imo, I do enjoy it every once in a while as a time filler. I own just the regular cut of this movie but I will now seek out the DC asap after reading your piece. It sounds as if it is a completely different experience. Can’t wait. Thanks and good job!

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