After the massively successful big screen releases of “X-Men” and “Spider-Man”, the comic book movie craze began its resurgence in popularity at the hands of Marvel Comics, after suffering from several years of dormancy at the hands of DC Comics. It’s no doubt that most eyes were on Marvel for which of their famous superheroes would the next summer blockbuster take its inspiration from? The answer would come in the form of Marvel’s crimson-clad hero of New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, none other than Daredevil.
Known as “The Man without Fear”, Daredevil (Ben Affleck) patrols the area known as “The Kitchen” with superhuman abilities granted to him during a tragic accident in his youth that left him blinded. As Daredevil works diligently to clean up the streets, his alter-ego Matt Murdock is finding love for the first time in a mysterious woman named Elektra (Jennifer Garner), while still trying to put as many criminals behind bars in his daily life as a lawyer alongside his long-time friend, Franklin “Foggy” Nelson (Jon Favreau). However, as hard as Matt/Daredevil tries to protect his city, it seems he is fighting a never-ending battle as more and more criminals are being loosed onto the streets. The more villains’ Daredevil encounters, the more he begins to come to the realization that someone else may be orchestrating his city’s descent into darkness… a man known as The Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan).
When “Daredevil” was released to theaters I was instantly excited to see it after waiting for so long for comic books to once again have their time to shine on the silver screen. With the excellence found in the “Spider-Man” and “X-Men” series of films, I had very high expectations that Marvel would not let me down with their next heroic film. In my opinion, after seeing both the theatrical release and the Director’s Cut, released later on DVD and Blu-ray, I have to say that Marvel has once again successfully made another of their famous heroes come to life for comic book fans the world over to enjoy.
Writer and director Mark Steven Johnson (“Ghost Rider”) found himself in a rather unenviable position in my estimation, having to write the screenplay for Daredevil, and also helm the film as well. I’m surprised that Mark chose to tackle both jobs, after all here’s a man who by all accounts was an experienced screenwriter with such hits as “Grumpy Old Men” and “Grumpier Old Men”, but as a director he was mostly untested. Not to mention when it came to the realm of superheroes, the films he had previously written and/or directed don’t exactly scream “Experience!” Even though he was lacking experience (in my opinion), I would have to say Mark Steven Johnson did a surprisingly good job of crafting a semi-realistic version of a blind superhero, not the easiest task as I said a moment ago. I enjoyed that Mark chose to make this a darker superhero film, not going for the light and family-friendly feel of “Spider-Man”. Daredevil is a hero that is much more violent, and at times willing to come awfully close to crossing the line between hero and villain, more so than many of the other heroes in Marvel’s comic books. So, I appreciated that when all was said and done, Mark chose to have “Daredevil” remain reasonably loyal to the source material, something that many others before him had failed to do, which is why so many other comic book movies of the eighties and nineties never worked out as well as they could have.
As much as I enjoyed “Daredevil”, I must admit that it is far from being a perfect movie. Although the problems that I have with the movie are not the biggest, or come close to ruining the experience, I feel they do merit at least a mention. For starters in the early portion of the movie, it seems as if Mark wasn’t sure exactly how he wanted to handle the movie, whether he wanted it to be a serious, dark exploration of a more tortured hero (similar to “Batman Begins”) or if he wanted to play up the humor and more comic book-like feel of superhero movies of the early nineties (in the vein of “Batman Forever” or “Batman & Robin”). Also a few times it seemed as if Mark couldn’t resist the use of cheesy feeling close-ups during pivotal line readings, for instance when Matt tells Foggy that he can’t go out and drink because, in his own words, “I have work to do.” With those words you just imagine the director saying, and “Cue close-up on Ben… perfect!” As I said earlier, these moments are nothing but pure cheese and prove to be ultimately unnecessary to drive home the point that Matt’s a hero with a mission. Thankfully, these annoying close-ups disappeared after the first thirty minutes; however, there were a few other gripes I had sprinkled throughout the movie’s duration.
The other set of gripes I had with “Daredevil” centers around the overuse of wirework for many of the action sequences. I know that wirework is commonplace on movie sets for action set pieces; however, when the work is either too obvious or too exaggerated it tends to take away from the scenes. This occurs numerous times in the film, first when Matt and Elektra have their confrontation/conversation in the park. While the scene is a lot of fun, the wirework was obvious during several moments within the scene. Later on in the film when Daredevil confronts Bullseye in the church both men make impossibly large leaps throughout the entire fight. Now, I understand that this is a film based upon a comic book series, and yes, Daredevil does have superhuman abilities which may allow for him to be able to jump higher (which is kind of discussed early on in the film). However, Bullseye, as far as I can tell, is nothing more than an experienced marksman, and doesn’t have any kind of superhuman agility or anything of that nature, so for him to make the same size of leaps as Daredevil causes a problem for me, and draws attention to the far too exaggerated wirework being employed.
With my gripes out of the way, I will now move onto the actors performances within the film. Ben Affleck has never been one to be considered one of the finer actors of his generation; however, in this film he does surprisingly well with every facet of the character. Not to mention the fact that he’s playing a blind person, which cannot be easy for an actor, because no longer are they allowed to use their eyes to assist them in communicating what they may be feeling internally or just to connect with the other actor(s) within the scene. Personally, I still find it surprising that so many people chide Ben for his performance here; I think it’s a good performance, and for him it’s one of the better ones in his career. Alongside Ben, actress Jennifer Garner (“13 Going on 30”) was an excellent choice for Daredevil’s significant other, Elektra. Elektra’s arc was similar to that of her comic book counterpart’s, and without going into any detail (for those that haven’t seen the movie), the sort of “transformation”, as it were, that her character goes through over the course of the film was very well done, and Jennifer handled the two different aspects of her character perfectly.
In the supporting cast we have Jon Favreau (“The Replacements” and director of “Iron Man”) as Franklin “Foggy” Nelson, Matt Murdock’s partner at his law firm. Jon was hilarious as Foggy (as he’s commonly known in the comics), providing the lion’s share of the humor within this otherwise gritty, dark superhero film. Thankfully, the Director’s Cut of “Daredevil” featured even more of Jon as Foggy, which made him a more rounded out character, rather than someone that just pops up every once in a while to provide a little comic relief. Academy Award nominated actor Michael Clarke Duncan portrays the film’s primary villain, The Kingpin. Although in the comics Kingpin is generally a Caucasian male, for the film the decision was made to go with Michael due to a couple of factors. One, the sheer size of Michael was a good match for Kingpin’s, and secondly, because Michael had the acting chops to be able to convincingly make such a large, somewhat heavy set man appear even more menacing than some other actors may be capable. Kingpin’s role was another one that benefited greatly from the Director’s Cut, as several portions of his storyline were cut for time and rating constraints. After watching his additional scenes that were added back in, Kingpin’s story works so much better in the grand scheme of the film, and doesn’t feel nearly as tacked on as it once did. Lastly, Colin Farrell as Bullseye was absolutely perfect. Colin played Bullseye the only way he could be, as nothing more than a cold-blooded killer with a semi-obsessive compulsive approach to murder. You could tell when watching the movie that Colin was relishing every moment he had onscreen, and while Bullseye isn’t exactly heavily featured in the film, his scenes definitely stand out as favorites for me within the movie. I would have liked for Bullseye to have been the primary villain for either this movie or a sequel, as he has carried many issues within the comic books easily as the lead villain. Basically, a little more detail on both Bullseye and Kingpin in this movie or a sequel, would have been nice.
All complaints aside, and for the record my complaints didn’t really take away too much from my enjoyment of this film, “Daredevil” is still among my favorites for superhero movies. While it’s not a perfect film, “Daredevil” makes a very strong effort at bringing one of the more difficult comic book characters to life on the big screen.
“Daredevil” is rated PG-13 for violence, brief language, and sensuality.
“Daredevil: The Director’s Cut” is rated R for violence and language.