Wednesday, 22 June 2011

The Devil is in the Details: "Daredevil: Director's Cut" Review

Along with Roger Ebert and Richard, I was one of the rare people who like writer/director Mark Steven Johnson's 2003 film Daredevil, though even at the young age of 14, I thought it was truncated. There was a good reason for this feeling; half an hour of footage was cut from the theatrical cut due to producer Gary Foster's concerns over pacing. The theatrical cut of Daredevil was lean and mean. The director's cut is still lean, still mean, but also more developed and coherent, as well as a more interesting story. On the commentary for the director's cut, Johnson actually jokes that the director's cut is the "story version of the story." Daredevil: The Director's Cut is still not a towering masterpiece, it won't change everyone's minds on the film, but if one is to properly criticize Daredevil, I think it has to be this version.

Based on what I know about the character, Daredevil seems to me to be Marvel's alternative to its own Spider-Man character. Both are based in New York and even share a villain, Wilson Fisk, aka The Kingpin, who appears in this film played by Michael Clarke Duncan. Daredevil is the grittier character and this film is one of the grittiest and violent superhero films ever made. I remember being quite shocked at how violent it was when I first saw it, particularly with the film coming out less than a year after the first Spider-Man film.

Ben Affleck plays Daredevil, whose real name is Matt Murdock and who is a blind attorney. The film shows us that at a young age Matt saw his father shake down someone for his mob boss employer, Fallon. Matt runs away only to cause an accident which results in him being sprayed by toxic waste which blinds him. In return however, Matt's other four senses are heightened and through sonic vibrations he is able to "see." Matt's father, blaming himself for the accident, goes back to boxing. After refusing to throw a fight, Matt's father is murdered by Fallon's men. Similar to Batman or Spider-Man, this murder sends him on his journey to make sure nothing like this happens to anyone else.

Daredevil has revenge story elements to it, with Kingpin being the murderer of both Matt's father as well as the father of Matt's newfound love Electra Natchios (Jennifer Garner), a business partner of the Kingpin who wants out, but the film ultimately is about mercy, even for one's enemies, which is what we see when Daredevil spares Kingpin's life at the end of the film. The film also concerns how the need for vengeance can, ironically, blind you to who you want to take vengeance upon. Electra is convinced that Daredevil killed her father, unaware until it is too late that it was an assassin named Bullseye (Colin Farrell). Of course, this ultimately leads to her having to face Bullseye alone after she wounded Daredevil, and which leads to her supposed death by Bullesye's hand.

Affleck does a solid job as both Matt Murdock and Daredevil. As Daredevil, I noticed on this viewing how he does something similar to Christian Bale's bat voice, except more subtle. Affleck brings a sense of determination to Matt, which is important for the character since as Johnson points out, Matt is a lawyer who will defend the people no one else will. Affleck can also make Matt vulnerable, as in the scene on the rooftop when Matt is able to see Electra when it rains. In this cut, Matt leaves the rooftop when he hears a crime taking place, whereas in the theatrical cut he stays with Electra, leading in to a love scene. This an example of the film not only adding more footage but changing scenes as well. Matt leaving the rooftop is more poignant and in character for him and ultimately more tragic.

The most important element of the director's cut is the added sub plot involving Dante Jackson (Coolio), who Matt and his partner Foggy Nelson (Jon Favreau) decide to defend after Jackson is arrested for murdering a prostitute. It is ultimately revealed that this murder is connected to the Kingpin. The addition of this subplot does two crucial things. First, it makes the arrest of the Kingpin at the end of the film make sense, whereas in the the theatrical cut, it wasn't clear why the Kingpin was being arrested. The addition of this subplot also shows how, as aforementioned, Matt stands up for the underdog, takes the cases no one else will. The subplot also gives the film a stronger sense of story and momentum.

Returning to the performances, Jennifer Garner gives a solid performance as Electra, she has good chemistry with future husband Affleck, and her previous experience as an action heroine in Alias made her a reasonable casting decision. I think Electra could have used more development, and her time as the dagger wielding action heroine still feels cut short. Colin Farrell has the most fun out of the cast as Bullseye. He's really relishing the oppurtunity to be villainious for what I think was the first time in his career. He hates Daredevil because he made Bullseye miss a shot, which never happens. This is a funny motivation for Bullseye's hatred toward but I felt like there needed to be a stronger motivation for Bullseye wanting to kill Daredevil. Michael Clarke Duncan is intimidating as the Kingpin, giving the sense of someone who is extremely powerful both physically as well as metaphorically. Johnson says on the commentary that along with Matt's backstory, he also wrote backstories for Electra, Bullseye and the Kingpin. While I understand why he didn't put them in the film, I think it would have been fascinating to learn more about these characters. I also liked Jon Favreau as Foggy, he's very funny and has a real sense of affection for Matt.

I liked how personal the conflicts were in this film. There is no "taking over the city" plot. It all has to do with personal vendettas and very intense fights. Because of the personal nature of the conflicts, it allows the audience to have a more emotional connection to the plot. Johnson also does a good job of balancing the darkness and the humour of the story as well as making it clear what kind of humour we're too expect at what points in the story. Unfortunately, the playground fight between Matt and Electra doesn't mesh well with the rest of the film.

 Daredevil: The Director's Cut is a superhero noir which in this complete version offers viewers an almost fully realized vision of this character and his world. Dark, funny,tragic, and ultimately hopeful, this film is a very fine entry in the superhero genre.


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