Saturday, June 25, 2011

"Daredevil: Director's Cut" (2004)

Starring Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner and Jon Favreau
Written and directed by Mark Steven Johnson
Rated R - Violence, language
Running Time: 124 Minutes

Daredevil - The Director's Cut [Blu-ray]2003's "Daredevil" was something of a misfire for the now-booming industry of comic book superhero adaptations.  Starring Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, the film was notoriously cut to pieces in post-production and though it was financially successful, the film was disliked by critics and savaged by fans.  Not long after, however, the director's cut of the film was announced for DVD, a version that would restore some thirty minutes worth of footage to the movie.

Matt Murdock (Ben Affleck) is a lawyer in New York's notorious Hell's Kitchen neighborhood.  But Murdock is no ordinary lawyer: he's also blind.  An accident as a child led to Murdock being splashed in the face with a radioactive chemical.  The chemical took his sight, but his other senses increased to superhuman levels.  He can hear, smell, and feel far more than any other human can... and those senses also combine to give him a kind of "radar" sense that allows him to "see" the world around him.  Murdock uses his superhuman senses to fight crime at night as the vigilante Daredevil.

Murdock and his law partner, Franklin "Foggy" Nelson (Jon Favrea) take on the case of one Dante Jackson (Coolio) who is suspected of murdering a prostitute.  Investigating the case further, Murdock and Nelson begin to unravel a vast criminal conspiracy that leads toward Wilson Fisk (Michael Clarke Duncan), the notorious Kingpin of Crime.

Meanwhile, Murdock also meets and begins to fall for Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner), daughter of billionaire Nikolas Natchios (Erick Avari).  But when the Kingpin orders Nikolas' death, Elektra blames Daredevil and vows revenge.  The Kingpin has hired the vicious assassin Bullseye (Colin Farrell) to kill Natchios and then Elektra, but Bullseye wants a piece of Daredevil, too.

"Daredevil," even in its director's cut form, is a bit over-plotted.  One of the film's major problems is that there's simply too much going on for its own good.  All the stuff I wrote above, and there's still more subplots and characters that I didn't mention.  So while the original version of the film is confusing and far too slight, the director's cut is almost the opposite - stuffed too full.  Still, the director's cut is a vast improvement over the original.

That's not to say that "Daredevil" is suddenly a great film, but it is a solid one.  It gets more right than it does wrong, including having, well, a plot.  The case involving Coolio actually exists to tie all the disparate threads of the film together, and removing it rendered the original version of the film almost nonsensical, a string of action sequences interspersed with an awkward love story and only some vague notions that there was some kind of point to things.  The director's cut feels more cohesive, even if there are still some problems with pacing and some problems with logic.

The cast generally does pretty well, though Jennifer Garner feels miscast as Elektra.  She can certainly handle the action sequences required of the character, and she even has chemistry with Affleck (which one would hope for, since the two actors are now married with children).  But she never seems to quite settle into the role properly.  Likewise, Affleck does a great job as Murdock in civilian life but can't quite seem to cut it as the vigilante Daredevil.

Probably the best of the bunch is Colin Farrell as Bullseye, who's clearly having a great time playing such an unhinged nutjob.  Whenever he's on screen, he grabs the film by the balls and doesn't let go.  He gets a lot of the film's best moments, especially the short bits of his travels from the UK to the US and getting through customs and dealing with obnoxious airplane passengers.

"Daredevil" is a dark film, literally.  Much of the film takes place either at night, or in interior locations bathed in darkness, which gives the film an almost oppressively dark atmosphere.  One of the problems "Daredevil" suffers from is that it seems to fall apart on a technical level as things go on.  The first half hour or forty minutes of the film feel almost entirely different, like there were directed by different people.  An early fight sequence in a biker bar is fast, brutal and awesome, and none of the other action sequences in the film really live up to it.  In fact, most of the rest of the fights are stuffed with cartoonish CGI that deflates the proceedings some.  While they're not bad, none of them are nearly as cool as that bar fight, nor do they really utilize Daredevil's powers in such cool ways.

If you thought the original version of "Daredevil" was crap, you should really check out the director's cut.  You probably won't love it, but it does a pretty good job redeeming this particular comic book adaptation.