HCF GUILTY PLEASURES: DAREDEVIL [US 1993]
AVAILABLE ON DVD AND BLU-RAY
RUNNING TIME: 103 min/ 127 min [director’s cut]
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer who lives in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen and runs a firm with his best friend Franklin “Foggy” Nelson, who only defends innocent people and does not require monetary payment. As a child, Matt was blinded after toxic waste was spilled over his eyes, but the accident enhanced his other senses. Matt now uses his abilities to become a crime-fighter known as “Daredevil’, going after the criminals that escape the conventional means of justice, and forever hoping to find the mysterious assassin who killed his father, but is up against the Kingpin, the biggest crime lord in New York…
I’m often saying how I’m getting a bit bored of all these superhero movies that seem to be dominating cinema screens these days, and am really starting to dislike Marvel, who seem to be trying to take over not just cinema but TV, with no less than six TV series’ just announced. Frankly I think it’s a bit much, and Thor: The Dark World seemed especially to show a shortage of ideas. One of the forthcoming series’ announced is Daredevil, though a film reboot has been considered for some time. The 2003 Daredevil, though it certainly has its fans, is generally considered a misfire, and Marvel obviously thought so too. This happened with Hulk, which came out the same year as Daredevil. Though it did okay financially, the mixed reception led Marvel to make The Incredible Hulk five years later and guess what – it wasn’t anywhere near as good as Ang Lee’s film. Marvel seem to want a samey-ness in their pictures, which somewhat holds back things like creativity. I’m not going to make a case for Daredevil as a lost classic, because it does have a lot of problems and never gets really good, but I think it’s a better film than the majority think and I’m surprised it’s not given enough credit for paving the way for Chris Nolan’s Batman films with its serious, gritty approach, considering the popularity of those films. Me….well, I’ve made my feelings clear on those pictures elsewhere, so all I’ll say here is that I’d always rather watch Daredevil.
20th Century-Fox first acquired the rights to Daredevil from Marvel in 1997, and Chris Columbus was attached to direct, but Marvel was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, so Fox let the option slide. Disney then expressed an interest in the character, but that didn’t pan out [thank goodness]. Mark Steven Johnson, a huge Daredevil fan, realized his life’s ambition in 1999 when Marvel assigned the rights to Sony and he was hired to write the screenplay, but Sony put the project in turnaround. It was picked up by New Regency with Fox distributing, and Johnson found himself having to [successfully] re-pitch himself for the writing/directing gig. Although the characters Daredevil and Spider-Man co-exist in the Marvel comics, it was decided that all references to the latter character had to be removed since the licenses were given to separate film companies. This included the decision that The Kingpin, formerly a Spider-Man enemy, would never appear in the Spider-Man film franchise, and Ben Urich, a reporter who is a colleague and occasional professional partner of Peter Parker in the comic, would not work for the Daily Bugle. Ben Affleck beat out Matt Damon, Edward Norton and Guy Pearce for the title role and would you believe it Vin Diesel almost played Bullseye, the character superbly played by the somewhat better actor Colin Farrell. Affleck was virtually blind as he had to wear heavy-duty contact lenses which blocked out most of his vision. The film did fairly well but wasn’t much liked. Affleck, though he met his wife Jennifer Garner during filming, said he would never play a superhero again. He obviously changed his mind eventually.
Now Daredevil’s reputation increased somewhat when a Director’s Cut was released on DVD. I’m a big fan of Director’s Cuts, because I prefer to see the original vision of a film [which is usually better] though I will admit that of late they increasingly seem more like an attempt by the studio to make more money by releasing footage they possibly held back for this very purpose. Daredevil, though, was originally planned as an ‘R’ rated film until the suits changed their mind at the very last minute. Johnson had to cut huge chunks out of his film and was even asked to add a couple of scenes to give the movie a ‘nicer’, more upbeat, and supposedly more commercial, feel. Therefore, much like Payback, the version that went into cinemas was in no way shape or form the version that the director either intended or wanted, and when he was given the opportunity to fix it, lo and behold, the result was a much better film. The main character is more complex – for a start he becomes a Catholic in the course of the story rather than already being one, the action is longer and more brutal as befits this particular film, the order of scenes in some sections results in a much smoother experience, and some of the weaker bits, most notably an out-of-place post coital scene which was one of the two scenes asked to be added to the theatrical cut, are removed.
Now this version still isn’t a great movie and in fact what is perhaps the most notable addition – a subplot with Coolio as a guy accused of murder – I could probably do without, because it contributes greatly to stretching out what should have been a tight affair to a looser 127 minutes, though it does show how various characters bring down the Kingpin not only through the Daredevil’s actions, but also collect solid evidence with the help of investigatory work. Thereby the film’s supposed celebration of vigilante justice is reduced and the bond among the characters strengthened. Daredevil also spends an awful long time with what is basically an extended flashback, nearly half an hour showing him as a kid and how he became Daredevil, and it’s therefore half an hour before we get a first major action scene. In fact, the film holds back on the action until the last half an hour, and I could have done with a bit more of Daredevil doing what he does best. In fact, the film is quite odd in that it takes its time building things up, yet seems to rush through certain aspects. The romance between Matt and Elektra barely registers, meaning that SPOILER when Elektra is killed SPOILER END the sense of tragedy isn’t strong enough. In fact, there should probably have been more of Elektra in her vengeance mode, perhaps doing some investigation of her own.
Perhaps the most criticised scene in Daredevil is when Matt and Elektra have a play fight in a playground, but it’s not supposed to be a proper fight, it’s just two characters, who perhaps have difficulty doing it in a more ‘normal’ way, flirting for goodness sake. Ok, it’s not Zorro, but it’s a fun little scene nonetheless. Is it out of place in a supposedly darker movie? Maybe, especially when you get moments which border on the horrific like when Matt has a vision of the murder victim in a case he is involved in, but then most of the scenes with Matt and his friend and work partner Franklyn have quite a light tone too. Daredevil’s several fight scenes are mostly done Hong Kong-style, with much jumping around on wires. The early sequence where he bests everyone else in a nightclub is well-staged, the cutting quick but not too quick, with the lighting going on and off, and, while I would have liked to have seen more actual martial arts techniques on display, the battle between Daredevil and Bullseye has some cool moments, like when they demolish an organ! The violence is not Blade-level, but it’s still nice to see a film like this not feeling like is has to hold back [I still want to see Darren Aronovsky’s Batman film!].
Johnson maybe overdoes the ‘ghost vision’ where, even though he’s blind, Matt can still partially see everything because his other senses are really strong, but he has made a good looking film with strong use of colour for different environments….and loads of reflection shots. He also chooses and places pop songs well, especially two Evanescence tracks which really add to the emotion of a funeral and a ‘getting ready for vengeance’ scene. Now I often find myself slagging Affleck off because I think he’s generally an appalling actor, but he’s a bit better than normal here. He certainly communicates quite well the fact his character is blind. Of course he’s overshadowed by Farrell who, despite the restoration of a funny scene where he arrogantly goes through customs for the Director’s Cut, should really have been in the film more [though I suppose we may then have had a Batman  – style affair where the villain totally dominates not just the hero but the whole film]. Farrell looks wasted, and perhaps he was, but this is one of those off-the-wall, yet scary, performances that is such fun to watch because you don’t have a clue what the actor’s going to do next. There’s a lot to like in Daredevil. Perhaps, in the end, it’s still is a misfire. It still seems to almost ‘chicken out’ at times, such as the bits where it starts to explore Daredevil’s psychology and then backs away. But Marvel have no real reason be ashamed of it. It’s better, and certainly more interesting, than over half of their other mostly identikit films.