Daredevil Director's Cut Review
More than 2 years after Daredevil debuted in theatres it has finally made its way onto DVD in the UK in this, its original form. Whilst many director’s cuts seem like little more than marketing ploys with a mere handful of minor changes, Daredevil got some press for the reaction it gained from screening audiences, which led to re-shoots to add elements to the story, ironic for a film that was already shorter than the director wanted it to be. So this DVD restores the movie to its original, previously unseen, state, but after the less than fantastic reception the theatrical cut received many would think it wasn’t worth the effort, how drastically can a director’s cut change a movie?
Matt Murdoch (Ben Affleck) has been blind since he was 12 years old, but the loss of his sight wasn’t entirely tragic, as the rather unusual chemical mixture that robbed him of one sense managed to exponentially improve his remaining four. As he learned to develop those senses the world became his oyster, his hearing became like sonar allowing him to see the world around him in a whole new way, and his strength and sense of balance improved until he was jumping across rooftops in a way that would make even the most accomplished parkour practitioner incredibly jealous. Now this once bullied kid is stronger, faster and more agile than his former tormentors, as well as being more aware of the world around him than they’ll ever be, now he has nothing to fear. Now all grown up Matt uses his fearless attitude to protect those who still have reason to fear, by day he’s a lawyer, fighting pro bono cases only for those he believes are innocent, but at night he rights the wrongs that the courts can’t - as Daredevil. His alter-ego has been striking fear into criminals for years, but now it looks like the new girl in his life - Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner) - is going to lead him into a confrontation with the biggest criminal in New York, the Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan).
There were a number of the reasons that the original version didn’t work particularly well, although it was a reasonably entertaining action flick, Daredevil is one of the more interesting characters in Marvel’s stable, but so many of the interesting parts of the character were barely touched in the theatrical cut. The studio wanted Daredevil to be a fast paced action movie, cutting character moments that slowed the pace, they also needed the film to be a PG-13 in America, which also led to cuts. Both of these areas are effectively addressed in the director’s cut, as a huge amount of footage has been added to the movie, completely changing its focus. Daredevil came to theatres as a revenge movie, with Daredevil out to take down those responsible for killing the only two people he’s ever cared about, all we saw of Matt Murdoch was his love story with Elektra, the director’s cut brings us Murdoch’s everyday life. An entire plot line has been added that sees Matt defending a guy (played by rapper Coolio) accused of murder, not only does this allow us to see how he tries to fight the good fight outside the suit, something he really tries to do before carrying out his own justice, but it also ends up taking the plot in an entirely different direction - taking us to the same conclusion, but in a vastly different way. These scenes also provide many more opportunities for Jon Favreau to shine, there are some really funny double act moments with Affleck, as well as a great scene where he’s stranded in the courtroom with Coolio on the stand, making it very clear who the brains of his and Matt’s partnership is. The extended fight scenes are also much more entertaining, without the restriction of the rating to worry about things get much more brutal, both the opening bar fight and the final confrontation with the Kingpin are much longer scenes and the choreography is far more impressive, making them far more satisfying.
There were a number of other things about the movie that were less than perfect though, and many of them have not been so well addressed. There were two sections of the original film that particularly grated, the first being the extensive opening of Matt Murdoch as a child, explaining how he lost his sight and the complicated relationship with his father (David Kieth) that explains both the origin of his name but also how he became so driven to defend the little guy. The other was the playground fight between Elektra and Matt, which - while meant to be light hearted and flirtatious - was badly choreographed and edited, making it seem far too silly. Both of these sections have been changed, but sadly none of what made them so poor is really possible to remove. The problem with the flashback was the kid chosen to play Murdoch, not only was he a really bad actor - the scene where he wakes up after being blinded and is flailing around the hospital room is painful to watch - but he’s also far too poorly trained for the acrobatic and martial arts scenes he’s in. Now obviously it’s going to be tough to find a kid that can pull off any kind of martial arts and looks close enough to a baby Affleck, but this kid is nowhere near on either count. The extra scenes that are added to this section are actually good, well, on paper, and help the plot, but there’s no way more of that awful performance can be a good thing. According to the commentary track the choreographers wanted 27 days to shoot the playground fight, and the studio only wanted to pay for 5. Whilst it does sound rather like hyperbole, there was obviously a problem with the time they had available and while a compromise was reached, it obviously wasn’t long enough, and both Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner could clearly have done with some more rehearsal time. The fight itself isn’t altered, but there are some nice extra moments afterwards, whilst they do make the scene better, you still have to sit uncomfortably through the movie’s worst fight scene as it was before.
On top of all of that there are lots of minor additions, sometimes just a shot or two in a montage, sometimes whole scenes, a great one involves the Kingpin - whose character was terribly underdeveloped in the theatrical cut - callously killing his bodyguards, just to make a point. It adds a huge amount of menace to his character, giving him a reason to make everyone fearful apart from his incredible size. There are also a few elements taken out of the film, the love scene between Murdoch and Elektra has been excised (with the preceeding scene going in a completely different direction now) which isn’t surprising, as it was only added after test audiences demanded it - though it is surprising to hear writer/director Mark Steven Johnson say he really liked the scene as it wasn’t at all his idea. The confessional scenes have also been removed, giving Murdoch’s relationship with the priest a completely different angle, as well as making him a much lonelier character - he doesn’t get the girl or have a confidant about his double life - so it’s a good thing Jon Favreau gets the extra screen time or poor Matty would have nobody to talk to at all. Not all the additions work, the original introduction of Bullseye (Colin Farrell) is included - though not as his introduction, it now happens a short while after the bar scene - and it’s way too over the top. Johnson seems to think it’s hilarious, but it seems out of place, even though Bullseye is an over the top character, especially at the juncture in the movie it’s placed at.
Overall Daredevil is a much better film in this form, many of the original version’s failings have been addressed, giving the film a much more well-rounded feel. Without showing Murdoch’s life outside the suit enough - particularly as a lawyer - it was like having a Superman movie without Clark Kent working for the Daily Planet, it was a huge part of the story that was under-developed, and that has now been rectified. However, although Daredevil now seems much better written, there are still problems even a new edit can’t fix, the poor choice of the young Matt, along with the overlong flashback, makes the beginning of the film far too slow and not nearly involving enough, and some of the fights suffer from an under-rehearsed feel. But even though Daredevil is still imperfect, it is at least now a pretty good film, even if it can’t compete with the super-hero A-listers.
The Picture and Sound
Matt Murdoch lives in a world of darkness, but the movie doesn’t pin itself in to the gloomy gothic pigeonhole - though maybe it should have. The image varies from the moody darkness to bright city streets in summertime, which seem rather out of place, but at least the light hides the problems with the image. The dark scenes don’t demonstrate the strongest black levels, and there is often a lack of sharpness, the film just doesn’t look as slick as it should with grain creeping in further the darker it gets. There were also a couple of occasions where it was obvious where the film changed form the theatrical to director’s cut, and even those who haven’t seen the movie before will probably pick up on the slight difference in the look of the film. One obvious scene sees Ben Affleck and Jon Favreau walking down a corridor at the courthouse - just before Coolio is introduced. The scene goes from theatrical to director’s cut mid shot, and you can see the image jump slightly as if the two sections weren’t framed quite the same, and the image becomes slightly darker. It’s not the end of the world, but it makes a good case for completely digital editing, I’d guess that this had to be assembled from the original elements and they’d been physically cut there. The audio, provided with a choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 is another matter, as the sound design has had a huge amount of effort put into it - Daredevil’s amazing hearing abilities are demonstrated constantly with the soundtrack - and the track here more than does it justice. being incredibly active and clear, as well as containing some great sound steering and strong bass levels.
Giving the Devil His Due: The Making of Daredevil Director’s Cut
In this 15 minute featurette the director and producers talk about the new cut of the movie, and why they thought it was necessary - though in Producer Gary Foster’s case you can only assume it was money he was after because he seems to think the theatrical version was far superior. After explaining that this cut didn’t make it onto the original release because there wasn’t enough space on the disc to do a branching option (pretty hard to believe) we get taken through some of the major changes and Mark Steven Johnson tells us why he made the cuts, as well as why he was so happy to be able to be given a chance to put the scenes back in. It’s a reasonable feature, but somewhat redundant as - if you have the time - the commentary contains all this and more.
Commentary from Director Mark Steven Johnson and Producer Avi Arad
This is where the real info is stashed away, as Johnson and Arad talk in depth about the movie - from where plot inspirations came from to alternate versions of the script that were never shot - as well as pointing out all the changes in the movie. They both have much more time - obviously - to talk about each change and their real reasons get talked about extensively. Johnson is somewhat less afraid to talk about things that are wrong with the movie - he does admit he still considers it imperfect, even in this revised version - and seems much more aware of the public’s reaction to the film. You get the idea he’s really been pouring over message boards and listening to fans of the comic book, whereas Arad didn’t do much more than stare at the box office receipts to get his idea of the public reaction. Johnson points out the playground scene as one that really split popular opinion on the movie, he seems to be pretty proud of it, and certainly enjoys it, but admits there was a lot of criticism whilst doing his best to defend it. Arad on the other hand won’t hear a bad word said against it, or the rest of the film for that matter, you’d think he would be able to slip out of being the money man for just a minute.
This is the version of Daredevil now, whilst a couple of the changes aren't improvements, the vast majority make the movie much more enjoyable, and while it still isn’t a classic it has been saved from being remembered as a complete disappointment. The picture is a little less impressive than I expected, though not bad, it certainly isn’t as good as I’ve come to expect from either a new blockbuster or a Fox release, but the well designed soundtrack makes up for the failings of the image. It’s a shame that the extras from the original version haven’t been included with this release, i would have liked to see it released in two versions, as it is for those with the original release - basically making it a 3 disc set - and another including the original extras, for those that (sensibly) don’t want anything to do with the theatrical version but still want to know a little more about the making of the movie. As it stands if this is your first trip into Daredevil’s world, you’ll be forced to spend money on a film you’re probably never going to watch, though at least the original release is regularly finding its way into sales these days.