Following on from my recent gushy retrospective on Brian Michael Bendis’ run on Daredevil, I’ll be looking at the film released by Fox back in 2003. While the comic is what I genuinely consider to be a masterpiece, Mark Steven Johnson’s movie….well it just isn’t. That’s not to say that it’s without merit, though.
A property in development at Fox way back in the early 2000s, Daredevil turned from being a fairly standard superhero adapation with a modest budget to being something with greater expectations. Following the record-breaking release of Spider-Man the year before, the decision was made to increase the budget of Daredevil in an attempt to capitalise on the somewhat similar property. The result is somewhat uneven film that seems unsure of its aims. One minute it has a darker tone akin to something like The Crow or Blade, and the next there’s the kind of action sequence you’re used to seeing in much lighter fare.
At this point I should probably address the Director’s Cut of the film. Released on DVD in the years following the theatrical release, it is a vastly superior adaptation aswell as being a better film in general. Tonally it’s far more consistent, and viewing it after having already seen the theatrical cut you can actually look at the differences and see exactly where concessions were made to make it a safer prospect. The prime example of this is the difference in how the romance is handled between the 2 versions, with the theatrical cut having a very generic superhero film love interest that to my mind is much more effective when scaled back slightly for the directors cut. It’s also worth noting that there was an entire subplot cut from the film for cinema release that when re-inserted back into the film pays a much greater tribute to Matt’s life as a lawyer. The theatrical cut that I had enjoyed in the cinema now no longer exists as far as I’m concerned. Make no mistake, the Director’s Cut is the definitive version.
1) Ben Affleck
Affleck gets a lot of undeserved criticism in my opinion. While it’s true that he can’t pick a project as well as his friend Matt Damon, and he likes to play along with the jokes that he can’t act, he tends to really pull it together on certain projects. This is more evident in recent years with the talent he’s displayed in the director’s chair, but there is the odd film where he’s something of a joy to watch. Daredevil for me is one of those films. While he may not have been the obvious or popular choice to play Matt Murdock (Guy Pearce is a name that’s thrown around a lot) he does pretty well here. Rather than being any kind of stellar or stand-out performance, it’s really just a serviceable one with the odd flash of brilliance that lifts the quality of the performance as a whole.
2) Special Effects
Admittedly there are some ropey effects on show here. Having watched it not too long ago I was struck by a couple of shots that hadn’t aged very well and if I’m honest weren’t all that great to begin with. These are primarily the shots where a full CGI figure was required for the especially elaborate acrobatics. These few shots are entirely mitigated however by the clever depiction of Matt’s powers and the way that he perceives the world around him. I’m a big fan of the style they chose for the “radar sense” and love the feel that it gives to the action scenes where it’s used. There’s nothing technologically mindblowing on display, but it is clever and feels appropriate.
3) Colin Farrell as Bullseye
Farrell’s having a great deal of fun with this. While in an ideal world it’s perhaps a more comedic interpretation than I would choose for Bullseye, it’s a pleasure just to watch some real scenery-chewing.
4) A solid supporting cast
Surrounding Affleck with talented character actors like Joe Pantoliano, and a charasmatic sidekick in Jon Favreau is another one of those small things that goes a long way to improving the film as a whole. With a less likeable actor playing Foggy Nelson the more reserved scenes of Matt in his professional life wouldn’t be nearly so enjoyable.
1) The playground fight
Honestly, I still can’t quite get my head around this scene. As a fan of the property there were things that I was always likely to overlook in the interest of enjoying just getting to see a property I like on the big screen. That said, this scene more than any other is the one that makes me feel a bit uncomfortable when I’m with people watching it for the first time with no prior love for the series. It’s a bizarre wire-fu affair that is only really there to fulfill the need for an action beat. Tonally it didn’t really fit into the film in the first place, but it’s all the more incongruous in the more serious-feeling director’s cut.
2) The music
While the score is serviceable enough, the heavy use of licensed music dates the film more than most and in some cases makes the whole thing seem almost cheesy. Credited with expanding the profile of Evanescence, there’s 2 of their songs used in the film, and while I’m no great critic of the band in general, their inclusion here is a definite negative. Much worse than that though is the song by Drowning Pool and featuring Rob Zombie. Used in a fairly pivotal scene, it features a chorus that actually uses the word “Daredevil” quite a bit. While I can’t be absolutely sure, I feel almost like the track is quieter in the soundmix of the Director’s Cut so it’s not quite so abrasive. I could be wrong, but either way the song sounds like the kind of thing a child would improvise to himself while playing with Daredevil action figures.
Daredevil is a film that has something of a poor reputation with most viewers. There are those like myself that enjoy it despite some glaring flaws while it seems there is a greater proportion of people with an almost surprising amount of vitriol for the film. How many of those dislike the film as an adaptation, on its own merits or both I have no idea. The one thing that I can say is that there’s a pretty much unanimous agreement that the Director’s Cut offers a much more enjoyable film than the original cinema release. If you do decide to check it out, just make sure it’s that version. It won’t change your life, but you might find it surprises you.