Daredevil [The Director's Cut]

Certificate: 15
Running Time: 124 mins
Director: Mark Steven Johnson
Starring: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Michael Clarke Duncan, Colin Farrell
Genre: Comic Book, Superhero, Crime
Country: USA

The first time I encountered The Man without Fear I was eight.  I was in the hospital having my tonsils yanked out and suddenly alongside Batman and The Incredible Hulk, Horn Head was a superhero that was not only really cool but someone I could love, fear, relate to and respect.

Flash-forward fifteen years and the anticipation of indie helmer Mark Steven Johnson’s, Daredevil, film was almost too much to fully put into words.  Emotionally, there’s a real pick ‘n’ mix involved in this movie.  Some elements are done pretty well and others are pretty well duff.

Blinded as a child by a chemical spill, Matt Murdock develops four superhuman senses that will help him take back the streets of Hell’s Kitchen from the Kingpin (Duncan) and those like him.  I’ve always felt the best interpretations of Daredevil, like Batman, are those grounded in the Noir genre.  From minute one, Daredevil, embraces this; jumping to the end of the tale in order to flashback and have DD narrate events.  It’s a great touch.  One that signals an intent of delivering a gritty, edgy superhero movie[1].  The use of a water tank is a nice touch, it must be difficult for Murdock to experience true silence and the heavy reliance on pain medication and the physical scarring on his torso highlights the physical toll that the “job” has on a human without super powers[2], or at least physical super powers.

There are moments when the martial arts sequences feel a little derivative.  A little Matrix, and that’s a shame.  Daredevil is far from derivative.  He’s the father of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  He’s been around for over half a century and with a combative signature that doesn’t require assistance from the Wachowski Brothers.  Saying that, much of the wire work, hand-to-hand and martial arts is perfectly suited to the movie.  Seeing young Matt treat the rooftops of the city like his own personal playground is actually really cool.  He is the Man without Fear after all.

The Director’s cut is also a lot more balanced a film.  Fox, in their infinite wisdom, took final cut from Johnson and in doing so not only leads us to a climax that’s lacking in sense but also short changes Matt’s lifelong pal Foggy Nelson (Iron Man’s Jon Favreau) as it’s pretty much his entire storyline not to mention several, almost, brotherly interactions between Matt and Foggy that help to sell their relationship.

Ben Affleck (as Matt/Daredevil) on a whole does an OK enough job.  He wouldn’t be many DD fans’ first choice in the role[3] and he doesn’t look like how you’d expect Horn Head to look but he’s better than remembered.  Certainly, better than the outcry over his casting for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice would infer.  One of my biggest issues with him (in relation to this movie) is his decision to throw the movie under the bus in order to save his career.  This is the man who made Reindeer Games, Phantoms, Gigli, Surviving Christmas, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Pearl Harbor, Forces of Nature AND Armageddon yet Daredevil is the movie he apologizes for.  Sure, it was far from great.  It hasn’t aged that badly, but it made its money at the Box Office and got solid enough reviews (and is solidly better than ALL these other cinematic crimes combined)… so what changed?  I like to call it J-Lo-jacked.  After his “celebrity” relationship with Jenny from the Block, their terrible movie and the general cheese that came from just about everything they did together people were getting Flec-tigue (coined it!).  When he began dating his Daredevil co-star Jennifer Garner (Elektra) many anticipated another very showy public relationship and some of the fallout of Gigli[4] washed across Hell’s Kitchen and stuck to the offices of Nelson & Murdock, Attorneys at Law.

Garner throws down a post-Alias performance that’s solidly inside her wheelhouse to the point of completely non-challenging, but the problem with her is that her character is terrible.  Why call the character Elektra when the character on screen has about as much in common with the comic book character as I do?  Miller’s Elektra was a highly trained merc for hirer, and former member of The Hand, who was out to avenge her father’s death and had a relationship with Matt while at College.  When Elektra slow-mo walks into the coffee shop it is the first time her and Matt have crossed paths.  Maybe it’s the screenwriter’s inability to understand the characters, maybe they thought it wasn’t that important.  But it is.  Elektra and Matt have very few scenes together and without that history at College, by the cliff top, or even teaming up with The Gladiator to take on Fisk and The Hand[5]; without that history it makes their connection a little contrived, hacked together and reminiscent of Gigli.  Colin Farrell (Bullseye) is actually brilliant in this movie.  I love his decision to play the deadshot killer as a deranged Pikey.  He shines on screen.  Every frame he’s in has you zero-ing in on him.  Wanting more, and when he’s not in shot you’re counting down until he is.  Does he have moments of ridiculousness?  Oh yes, but he styles them out.  Unlike Michael Clarke Duncan.  MCD was never the most emotive performer in H’wood so his terminally OTT delivery and panto-esque performance surely has to be attributed to the director.  One of several mistakes he makes during the 124 minutes.  There is no light and shade to Duncan, no rise and fall.  He enters the movie roaring like a lion and as such it leaves him nowhere to go.  He’s also hot-headed, far more hot-headed than the cerebral, clinically cool Wilson Fisk the comic fans know and the decision to delete Vanessa (his wife) entirely leaves the movie with a very one-dimensional antagonist.

Another problem… and it’s a little one but it stings like a cut to your pud.  Johnson’s Jack Murdock has the nickname “The Devil”.  He enters the ring in a red, horned, robe that becomes the inspiration for Matt’s alter-ego.  What was wrong with “Battling” Jack Murdock?  Battling Jack wanted his son to have a different life to his and as such wanted his son to hit the books and make something of himself.  It’s because of his abstinence from physicality that the neighbourhood kids christen him “Daredevil”.  This origin is important.  His adopting of the name -a form of reclamation.  It’s Matt taking a negative and turning it into a positive… much like his blinding.. see where we’re going?  And speaking of his blinding.  That was handled entirely wrong (and makes up Part II of what’s seriously wrong with this film).  Matt Murdock loses his sight getting an old man out of the way from a shipment of hazardous chemicals.  Yet by the time it comes to cinema-land he’s barely more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  What total bullshit.  Matt saving the senior highlights an integral part of his character.  Even without the super senses he had heroism hardwired into his core.  Unlike Spider-Man, Hulk, Iron Man, Daredevil obtained his abilities by doing something heroic instead of being in the wrong place.  Robbing Matt of this moment is inexcusable.  No Daredevil fan would ever do that!  It’s Bruce Wayne’s parents doing a Home Alone instead of being murdered.  It’s Peter Parker getting his spider senses as a STD instead of a bite.  It’s Hulk being gifted his by a grumpy genie voiced by Robin Williams.  No other superhero in the history of superhero movies has ever been this seriously disrespected. 

Johnson does a good job with the visual palette of the movie.  The city-scape is Sin City before Sin City and the radar sense looks great but the film is heavily populated by terrible music that only dates the film, not to mention makes it feel cheap[6], I don’t really like the leather dildo suit, and the bastardising of DD’s origins repeats worse on you more than cheap meat.

Twelve years on (and with help from 30 extra minutes) I’m pleased to say that the Ben-Jenn Daredevil movie hasn’t left me disgusted, angry, and turning away from Horn Head the way it did shortly after release.  There are some really nice, interesting, faithful and clever aspects to it that should have led to, if not a trilogy then at the very least, a sequel.  The problem is the aspects that have been handled wrong are major ones.  Origin story, critical characters, atmosphere and identity.  With the Netflix series a eight days away (!)  from dropping it would be nice if it led many more fans of the character back to the movie as time, and age, may allow for clearer heads.  A fatalistic Noir, flawed –yes, but still better than Thor[7].

[1] A continuous criticism of Marvel in comparison to DC.
[2] Nearly a decade before Christopher Nolan would use this motif to highlight Bruce Wayne’s consequences in The Dark Knight Rises.
[3] Many expressed disappointment when Matt Damon didn’t end up clutching the Billy Club.
[4] And the rest of the fore-mentioned shit.
[5] Daredevil #178, the issue released the month I was born… thank you very much!
[6] Compose a fucking score!
[7] I’m sorry, I just don’t get how they keep making those movies.


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