(This is dedicated to Chud Board regular Mike’s Pants. If you like what follows, you have him to thank. If not… Take it up with him. HE MADE ME DO IT!)
The Film: Daredevil: The Director’s Cut – A BOLD NEW VISION (2004)
The Principals: Mark Steven Johnson (Director). Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Michael Clarke Duncan, Colin Farrell, Jon Favreau, Joe Pantoliano, Leland Orser, Coolio.
The Premise: At the age of twelve, young Matt Murdock is struck in the face with radioactive poison. This doesn’t give him cancer or kill him instantly. What it does do is blind him, but it also augments his remaining senses to a superhuman level, so that he can grow up to become Daredevil – The Costumed Guardian of Hell’s Kitchen. And, by day, he’s a pro bono lawyer who makes it his specialty to defend lost causes… Especially if they stem from THE KITCHEN.
Is it Good: It’s okay. Long hailed as a vast improvement by those two or three people out there who give a shit; it really is only slightly better than the theatrical version of a movie that seldom makes people’s Top Ten Comic Book Movies list, despite being better than Jonathan Hensleigh’s The Punisher.
The truth is that even the theatrical cut of Daredevil is far from being an awful movie. It’s just squarely mediocre and uninteresting. Particularly when you consider that the source material has plenty to mine for the purposes of an engaging potboiler. If you wanted to do a solid origin story, you could have adapted Frank Miller’s very good Man Without Fear graphic novel (from which this borrows elements). If you wanted to just do a good, dark action thriller, you could have adapted Kevin Smith’s excellent Guardian Devil story arc from 2000 (from which this borrows elements). Want to do a kind of Gothic romance? Adapt Miller’s Daredevil & Elektra arc from the 80s. (from which this borrows elements – most half-assedly). The wrong approach is to take all of those things, and try to cram them into one lean movie. Bingo. That’s the approach they took, leaving no space for any of these elements to really stand out and ending up with a half-baked revenge thriller in the process.
The director’s cut is really not different in that sense. The only real difference is the addition of an excised subplot involving Coolio and a murdered prostitute. This subplot was praised because it actually delved into Matt Murdock’s life as a lawyer – a facet many felt was lacking from the theatrical cut. But that wasn’t really the problem. What the theatrical cut lacked is something the movie still lacks – a sense of real momentum. Mark Steven Johnson (who also wrote the film) seems more concerned with ticking off important story beats from a checklist, rather than telling a compelling story. My big problem with it was always how it basically rushed through arguably the most important story arc from the comics, superficially, with no sense of weight or nuance.
A running time expanded by nearly half an hour does nothing to fix this essential problem. There is the illusion of breathing room. But most of that extra running time is devoted to the new subplot, giving Elektra even less screen time in the grand scheme of things and making the central story arc feel even more short-changed.
Ultimately, the subplot feels shoehorned in from a different movie and serves to bloat the film unnecessarily.
And if you’re going to delve into Murdock’s life as a lawyer, you could have come up with something a little better than this. Coolio tries, I guess. But he’s not the problem. The problem is that the drama at the center of it (Coolio is framed for the murder of a prostitute that actually has ties to The Kingpin) is just too bland and hokey. It’s reminiscent, in fact, of a cringingly bad story arc from the early 00’s run of the comic – penned by Bob Gale. I remember they made a big deal about the fact Gale had written it. But the 4-issue story read like the script for an aborted series pilot. I remember they even changed the artwork (I forget who did the art, but it wasn’t Joe Quezada) and the comic all of a sudden resembled some silly Corn Flakes mail-order “gift” from the 80s.
So the Coolio’s Dead Hooker subplot feels the same way. Like you’re watching an episode of DAREDEVIL: THE SERIES (Developed for television by David E. Kelley).
When you get right down to it, the director’s cut basically has all the same virtues and flaws of the theatrical cut, complete with the same annoying NU METAL soundtrack.
Ben Affleck is still not a good fit for the character. We love him now because he turned out to be a crackerjack director (yes, I actually typed that) but, back in the day, you have to remember the guy was a very bland actor. Not bad. Just… bland. You needed someone with more intensity to play Matt Murdock. Affleck doesn’t have that intensity. He tries hard but just comes off like a frat boy in a cheesy Halloween costume most of the time. And his attempts at delivering the overwrought narration or occasional DARK WITH A CAPITAL D dialog is pretty unconvincing.
Those hoping for more depth and nuance in the Daredevil/Elektra relationship will be disappointed. The “let’s please the horny teenagers and make some money” PG13 love scene has been excised. But they still have a meet cute by imitating Jackie Chan in a playground. I was so hoping that awful, awful scene had been a Tom Rothman Special insisted on by the studio. It turns out Johnson liked that fucking scene.
On the other hand, the good stuff is still good. Michael Clarke Duncan is great as Wilson Fisk. People cried foul at miscasting. But Duncan has the physicality and gravitas needed to sell the character convincingly and he pulls it off. Colin Farrell has a blast (and you will too, watching him) as Bullseye. His take on the character as an Irish hooligan is original and dynamic. After years of understanding that he was a good actor, but seeing him struggle while Hollywood bigwigs desperately tried to make him THE NEXT BIG THING, it was refreshing to see him cut loose like this.
The movie gives her nothing to do, but Jennifer Garner was a good choice for Elektra. Again, it’s about physicality and grace – which she brings to the character in spades. She deserved her own movie. Too bad she got the movie that she got when the time came.
And, finally, Jon Favreau is the movie’s biggest treat as Murdock’s sidekick – Foggy Nelson. Aside from Farrell’s inspired turn as Bullseye, the movie is basically humorless – which can be dangerous for a comic book. But it lights up when Favreau is on the screen, providing a nice dose of wit and charm to the proceedings. The one real shame that there was no sequel is that we didn’t get to see more of Favreau’s Foggy and his impending relationship with Karen Page (and it would have been doubly interesting, had they taken that storyline to its original conclusion). One really positive thing I can say about the director’s cut is that more screen time is given to Favreau.
So… The director’s cut is not an improvement, really. And it doesn’t necessarily feel like a different movie. Despite being grandly trumpeted as such.
Is it worth a look: I dunno… Probably not. Unless you’re a huge fan of the character, in which case you’ve probably seen this. But the movie, while a perfectly watchable time-waster, has nothing in it that sticks with you. And there are more worthwhile, interesting comic book movies out there.
Random Anecdotes: When the film was still in development, Edward Norton was in serious talks for the role. He was keen on doing it, but not at all willing to wear “that silly costume.” So, we almost had a Daredevil movie where the titular hero ran around in a trench coat and ski mask.
I wonder what the rabid fanboys would have made of that?
Cinematc Soulmates: The Punisher (1989), The Punisher (2004), The Punisher War Zone, Batman