When Daredevil first hit cinemas in 2003 I was a huge fan of it, it seemed to take off where the likes of Spiderman had begun and add a darker edge to things, much like the comic book version of the character had become known for doing.
A couple of years later the Director’s Cut came to DVD and I enjoyed that too and its that version I have decided to take a look at tonight, as I am also currently reading my way through the first volume of Frank Miller and Klaus Janson’s work on the comic book which inspired quite a lot of the film.
So then, a good 5 or 6 years after last watching Daredevil I will admit I still really enjoyed it, but I can also see its flaws – which are many.
The film takes it’s cues from the aforementioned Miller and Janson run on the comics as well as Kevin Smith’s (who cameos in the movie) and creates a sense of the style and the world, visually speaking, very well as we spend our time in the more run down and out-of-the-way areas of New York than Spiderman usually seems to deal with and it is certainly darker in tone than any of Raimi’s movies.
The story also takes the Miller run as its starting off point as, once the origin of Daredevil is told, we are thrown into probably the biggest saga of the comics involving love interest Elektra, psychotic assassin Bullseye and crime overlord Kingpin – and this is where the films problems begin.
While in the comics this a good story, three of the characters involved would be ones we already know leaving only Elektra to be introduced. In the movie world however, all four characters are new to us and building enough backstory for each is, frankly, impossible and the film never really succeeds beyond Daredevil’s tale so we are left with three characters about whom we know little which leaves them feeling much more 2D than even their four colour, actually 2D, counterparts.
This leads to the problem that I think is something all comic book movies can face but most, these days at least, admirably avoid – that being that this film is clearly made by fanboys, they may be people who work within Hollywood now, but they clearly love the characters but seem to assume that everyone else shares this love and already knows who everyone in Marvel’s version of Hell’s Kitchen is, which means, as viewers we are left somewhat in character limbo.
This character problem is only amplified by actors who seem to all be coming from different angles on their characterisation. Ben Affleck paints Matt Murdock/Daredevil as a kind of Batman like figure, complete with gruff voice and many scars and injuries built up over the years. Opposing him is Colin Farrell at his most over the top crazy as Bullseye who comes across like a comedy psycho with physical ticks and obsessions that don’t sit well in the more realist approach set by the Daredevil character.
Elektra meanwhile is virtually characterless and, while Jennifer Garner gets the physicality to a tee, there is little else to her which means we never really feel the emotions that are supposedly leading to her actions.
While all three of these are problematic Michael Clarke Duncan’s Kingpin is the most balanced of all of the characters spanning the realist and comic book approaches and actually being as believable as comic book movie bad guys ever are but, because of there being so many other characters on-screen (including even more supporting characters), we don’t get to see enough of him for Kingpin to be really effective.
The director’s cut adds a whole extra storyline to proceedings that, while designed to develop the Matt Murdock side of Daredevil and show how the two are linked, feels totally superfluous to the main story arc and brings yet more characters into the mix where we already have too many for the film to cope with.
In the end Daredevil is a deeply flawed film and I would hate to come to it cold with no knowledge of who these people are, but, I have to admit it remains something of a guilty pleasure, much like The Punisher movies, as it brings a different, ‘darker’, view of the Marvel universe to the screen and a character who is one I really like in the comics.
Also it has some great visual flourishes, especially in Daredevil’s ‘radar sense’, though there are points where, like the film as a whole, you get the impression that the film makers think this is much cleverer than it actually is.
With the Daredevil ‘property’ having recently returned to Marvel I would like to see him return to the screen in the new post-Avengers comic book movie world, as there remains much potential for good stories out of him which are hinted at here, but generally fail to materialise – and let’s just all forget about the Elektra sequel to this shall we.