This film has already been reviewed rather more favourably by Kevin O'Reilly here during its theatrical release earlier this year.
The more superhero films there are, the more it looks like Richard Donner got it so right with Superman in 1978. In Charles Shaar Murray's Shots From The Hip, a collection of the music writer's articles, which included a small number of film reviews, he writes of the feeling he had on watching the movie, "Superman's blend of technology and innocence, imagination and naivety, sophistication and honesty carries a genuinely enchanting power." Donner's ability to put exactly what was worth capturing about a superhero on the screen - all those attributes listed by Murray and more - should have made his adaptation of the origins of Superman and his first encounter with Lex Luthor the blueprint for many more superhero films to come. Donner's Superman, with the title role played effectively, if no better, by Christopher Reeve, practically sparkled from the screen, burning that image of the single chest-borne 'S' into the minds of a generation who waited breathlessly for a slew of DC and Marvel characters to make it to the screen.
Yet, that didn't happen. Instead, inspired more by Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno's Incredible Hulk and Nicholas Hammond's scrawny Spider-Man, superheroes lost out to spacemen as the former were dragged into angst-ridden analyses of their purpose whilst the latter fell back onto solid ground through the eighties and nineties, both literally in the Challenger disaster and budget cuts and figuratively in the release of the underwhelming The Phantom Menace. Recently, however, the superhero film is experiencing a commercial rebirth, thanks largely to Sam Raimi's Spider-Man and Bryan Singer's X-Men but the sense is ever present that it only takes one Howard The Duck to send the whole thing back into the pages of four-colour pulp from where it originated.
Daredevil stars Ben Affleck as Matt Murdock, the son of a failed boxer, who was taught by his father that taking action through violence would not solve his life's problems. Despite being taunted by teenage gangs in his neighbourhood of New York's Hell's Kitchen, Matt Murdock's belief in his father's teachings held firm until the day he watched his father beat an old man for money in New York's harbour to pay off a local gangster. Ashamed of his father, Murdock escaped but, in avoiding a forklift truck, his eyes were splashed with toxic waste and were irreparably damaged. In waking up in hospital, Murdock was initially shocked by his handicap but as he realised that his accident had also radically improved his remaining senses, most notably his hearing, he realised that he was still able to perceive the world, only now it would be without his eyes. After the death of his father, caused by the same gangster for whom he once worked, Murdock trains to protect those in society less able to defend themselves, both as a lawyer and as a hooded vigilante named Daredevil.
As the lawyer and the vigilante within Murdock work through day and night to bring an end to crime in Hell's Kitchen, Murdock finds little to bring him out of his relentless protection of his hometown neighbourhood. Until, that is, he meets Elektra Natchios, the daughter of a Greek billionaire, who brings out a willingness to begin to leave Daredevil behind. What Murdock doesn't know is that Natchios' father is in the employ of the Kingpin, New York's king of crime, and when the Kingpin hires Bullseye, an Irish assassin to kill Natchios and his family, Daredevil finds that he must don his red leather costume to strike at the heart of the Kingpin's empire...
Although this reviewer is no fan of the comics, having only a little knowledge of Daredevil prior to this film gained through the reading of Marvel's Spider-Man comics, the film generally manages to capture the necessary feel of having been sourced from a comic book. Indeed, the world in which Daredevil is set is almost the flip side of Spider-Man's - where the latter is a teenager living in a reasonable suburban environment who spends his spare time dispatching criminals with an upper-cut and a ready quip, Daredevil is a morose and troubled individual, intent on serving justice to criminals when the courtrooms failed the victims of crime and, as a result, is significantly closer to Burton's and Miller's brooding Batman than any of Marvel's other, more day-glo creations. Once again, that similarity persists for, as with Batman, Daredevil seems rather ordinary when compared to The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man or Superman. Admittedly, Daredevil has superior strength, reflexes and hearing when up against stock thugs from the Kingpin's organisation but Affleck works hard to convince us that he is not equipped with other-worldly powers, either to hide his physical shortcomings - as well as becoming breathless after running for too long, Daredevil is unarmed and beaten all too suddenly and has his weaknesses exploited too often without taking appropriate measures to prevent it. Then again, in common with Batman, Daredevil is clearly seen to take pleasure from serving justice outside of the courtroom but is frustrated at the way in which his emotions confuse what he believes to be his purpose.
As directed by Mark Steven Johnson from his own script, the Daredevil story is competently told but fails to become a wonderful piece of filmmaking in line with better comic book adaptations. The main problem with the film is that rarely is there the feeling that Johnson truly got to grips with the principal character in the film nor of presenting a truly believable world in which to capture the complete attention of the audience, very different to the manner in which Stephen Norrington really seemed to grasp the concept of Blade. I cannot say for certain what the loyal Daredevil fanbase thought of the film, but there are too many instances where Daredevil's actions seem wholly inconsistent with one another, appearing to have been included to make a cinematic point rather than in keeping with the feel of the comic books, something Norrington and Richard Donner knew better than to do.
The best example occurs early on the film in which Daredevil tracks down a criminal cleared on a rape charge. Despite successfully battling an entire bar full of armed goons, Daredevil allows the man he's after to limp away from the fight and into an operational subway station as our hero takes his time to stroll after him. By rights, you would expect that Daredevil would have realised by this time that when a subway enters the station, the noise will be such that he would be effectively 'blinded' but yet, given the opportunity, he fails to prevent the criminal entering the station although it would have been within his powers to do so. Such a example of Daredevil's limitations would have been better served earlier in the film when Murdock was a teenager and as yet unaware of his weaknesses but, when placed where it is, it looks to have been inserted only to provide the opportunity for a snappy one-liner. In essence, this is Daredevil's one big fault for unlike Donner, Burton or Raimi, director Johnson doesn't even seem to believe in the world that he is presenting and if he isn't convinced, why should the rest of us? This is simply one of too many inconsistencies in the film for this to hold true to Charles Shaar Murray's idea of, "imagination and naivety, sophistication and honesty" for this to be a great superhero film
Regarding the casting, Affleck is his usual irritatingly smug self and brings the same lack of charm and grace to Matt Murdock that he has demonstrated elsewhere. Jennifer Garner is a competent leading actress but there is little real spark between the two of them. It is, therefore, left up to the supporting actors to bring sparkle to the film and none is bettered by Jon Favreau as Murdock's partner in his law firm, who contrasts Affleck's earnest turn with a funny and likeable portrayal of his partner's 'plus-one'. Otherwise, despite much being made of Colin Farrell's work as Bullseye, which is rather too affected to really enjoy despite one or two good moments, it is Michael Clarke Duncan's Kingpin that works best, offering a performance that moves seamlessly between being charming and violent that there can be do doubt that if Kingpin were ever to be pitched against Spider-Man, he really ought to be offered the role once again, if not actually given his own film.
Transferred anamorphically in 2.35:1, the DVD is well able to handle the urban nighttime environment in which much of Daredevil is set, allowing for a good reproduction of the blacks and dark reds that dominate the film. Whilst the DVD does everything possible to show the film in a flattering light, it is the direction by Johnson of the source material that is the problem, being a film that generally appears flat and lifeless with but a few token scenes using strong primary colours, as in Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy, and deliberately angled shots to indicate the origins of the Daredevil character in comic books. This lack of dynamism is most present in the shots where Daredevil leaps up or across buildings, which contrast badly with Raimi's direction in Spider-Man. In Raimi's film, the camera accompanies the superhero as he dives along the avenues and streets of New York but in Daredevil, however, the camera generally remains static throughout, watching at an increasing distance as the hero of the piece disappears across New York rooftops. The effect is one of being kept at a distance from the action, both physically and emotionally rather than being amongst it.
One of the better effects in the film is the radar-sense that Daredevil possesses, being able to 'see' through hearing how sound waves travel around and reflect off objects. The visual design is imaginative throughout with this effect but none more so than in the rooftop scene with Elektra Natchios as the rain starts to fall.
The film has been provided with both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS surround soundtracks and whilst the former is good, albeit much as you would expect, the latter is simply that little bit better. In comparing DTS with Dolby Digital 5.1, it's simply not the volume that matters but that DTS soundtracks are that much more immediate such that the viewer has a greater feel over the impact of the sound design than would otherwise be the case. An example here is in the hospital room where the young Matt Murdock hears the IV drip - on the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, it's good but lacking in depth whereas on the DTS soundtrack, the sound it makes has shape and substance. However, in both cases, the soundtrack falls that bit short of being great simply due to the fact that whilst the visual effects to explain how Matt Murdock's hearing as improved, what's noticeable is that the audio effects have not quite kept pace. When the audience sees what Daredevil hears, it should be an experience that fills the room with noise but the soundtrack fails to have the necessary impact.
One cannot help but feel that Fox looked very carefully at Columbia Tristar's 2xDisc edition of Spider-Man when developing the content of this DVD but just lacks the sense that this is a truly special package:
Special Features Disc 1
Audio Commentary (English Subtitles): Having director Mark Steven Johnson and producer Gary Foster provide a commentary allows for a fair amount of good information to be provided on the film, including nit-picking, trivia and technical information, without having the actors slow things down. Johnson, despite being quite obviously keen on his film, is honest enough to admit a few mistakes but, overall, the commentary fails to be an essential listen.
Pop up Text Commentary (English only): This feature, which can be switched on at the same time as the Audio Commentary, provides lots of trivia on the making of the film. This includes cameos by Kevin Smith and Stan Lee amongst others and in-jokes, such as the use of Marvel artist John Romita on the theatre sign before one of Matt Murdock's father's fights.
Enhanced Viewing Mode (English Subtitles): This features eight multi-angle behind-the-scenes featurettes that branch off the main film once this has been selected. Unlike in Snatch or Spider-Man, no symbol highlights when the featurette can be selected but once enabled, the film simply runs as normal but plays the featurettes at the relevant time. Unfortunately, these featurettes would be better as a standalone extra divided into eight chapters or at least accessible off the main menu.
Special Features Disc 2
With the exception of the Theatrical Trailers and Music Videos all bonus features on disc two are presented in Anamorphic Widescreen with English DD2.0 Stereo sound and a range of subtitle options: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Dutch.
The first screen you see upon playing the disc allows you to choose between extra features relating to The Film or The Comic Book...
"Beyond Hell's Kitchen": Making Daredevil with branching segments (58:50mins + 20:18mins) - Specifically made for DVD this documentary offers just about everything you could want as it takes us through each step of the filmmaking process. From conception to cinema it utilises specially shot interview footage, EPK interviews, behind-the-scenes video diary material and more as it gives us an in-depth look at the costume design phase, action and choreography, photography, editing, special effects work and scoring. The only negative aspect is the often-congratulatory manner certain interviewees have, patting themselves or a colleague on the back with the Visual FX Supervisor Rich Thorne being particularly guilty as he brags about the photorealistic world they created, or rather failed to create. Still, the footage from the set manages to bring things back into balance with the action choreography section proving to be my favourite as we get to see the actors at work with Master Yuen's team, while Jennifer Garner shows just how proficient with the Sai she really is.
This feature can also be played with the Enhanced Viewing Mode on. If chosen the documentary will branch off at six different points to more focused mini-documentaries that cover specific areas with the most interesting being the look at how Shadow World was created and the original blocking tapes Master Yuen's team created for the initial Elektra/Daredevil fight. These segments equal the quality of the main documentary, though I found the branching points to be quite poorly chosen which led to a break in the overall flow. Fortunately they can also be accessed individually via the menu system and combine for a total running time of just over 20-minutes.
Jennifer Garner screen test (2:30mins) - This is exactly what you might expect as we see Jennifer Garner test out for the role by acting two scenes from the script.
Multi-Angles Dailies - Using raw dailies of two action sequences you can switch between the cameras filming the action with your Angle button, or watch a composite of both cameras on the same screen enabling you to see where the footage comes from to create the final edit. The sequences in question are the final Daredevil/Kingpin fight (37seconds) that has two separate takes available for your scrutiny, while the second sequence, Elektra/Bullseye (26seconds) has four separate takes available to view. Personally I find these short multi-angle sequences to be quite pointless as the Angle change on DVD is far too slow but as they have provided an angle that contains all of the camera shots placed on top of each other you can actually get some use out of this feature, even if it is something most (including myself) will merely gloss over.
Featured villain Kingpin (2:21mins) - A short featurette with Michael Clarke Duncan discussing his characters strengths and giving some general insight into why he took the role results in a segment you are likely to never return to.
Daredevil: HBO First Look Special (24:48mins) - Hosted by Jennifer Garner the first thing you might notice is how terribly out of synch her dialogue is! Moving past the fact that HBO need to hire some better ADR technicians you will find this is your typical promotional featurette that includes the stars describing the basic story outline while repeatedly telling us how much fun it was to make the film and how great the crew was. You may find it relatively interesting for about 10-minutes but I guarantee it will soon bore you, while the "Beyond Hell's Kitchen" documentary makes it even more redundant than usual.
Moving through space: A day with Tom Sullivan (8:28mins) - Tom Sullivan was the sight impaired consultant on Daredevil, and as this featurette informs us he has been blind since birth. What this featurette does is show us just how capable Tom is in spite of his disability, but then shows him saying how all his life he has simply wanted people to look past his disability and see him for who he is. So as you can imagine it does not quite work and comes out as if trying to make us feel sorry for someone who is not looking for pity.
Theatrical Trailers (Non-Anamorphic Widescreen, DD2.0 Stereo) - All three trailers are provided here for you to enjoy, though the fact they are presented in non-anamorphic widescreen is something of a disappointment as they make far more use of the widescreen format than most of the other (anamorphic enhanced) extra features.
Music Videos (Non-Anamorphic Widescreen, DD2.0 Stereo) - Another section that I would have much preferred to have seen in Anamorphic Widescreen is again neglected, but at least all three music videos related to the film are present and accounted for. They are: Fuel: "Won't Back Down", The Calling: "For You", and Evanescence: "Bring Me To Life". None are particularly special, neither as music videos nor as songs, though I am quite partial to the Fuel and Evanescence tracks.
Still Gallery - Within this section you will find a thoroughly impressive array of artwork related to the movie, all of which is drawn with a level of detail, colour and style that is typical for Graphic Novels but not for what is practically the entire movie in complete Storyboard form. Equally impressive in number and quality are the Costume Designs, while the Set Design, Production Stills and Props maintain the visual allure though are not quite as heavy in quantity available.
The Comic Book
Men Without Fear: Creating Daredevil (59:15mins) - Complimenting the fine movie based documentary is an equally good comic book documentary that chronicles the growth of the franchise from its beginnings with Stan Lee right through to its current day incarnations involving Kevin Smith. There is no voice over, no host, and no movie clips - this documentary consists purely of interviews with those people directly involved with the comic over its near forty year history and makes for a thoroughly interesting watch - even for someone who is not a fan of this or any other American comics. Of particular note are the detailed interviews with several characters from the industry including the contagious Stan Lee, a man who is rapidly becoming an everyday figure to movie fans due to his frequent appearances and down to earth nature that endears him to all. Then we have Frank Miller, a man recognised as the true genius behind the development of Daredevil who is almost frightening as he speaks with a passion that practically reaches a sexual nature, and is surely the reason why comic book fans often get a bad rep, but it makes for great, if slightly perverse entertainment. And finally, for a fan of Kevin Smith movies it was great to see him put in an appearance at the tail end of this documentary and discuss the work he has been doing to help revive the franchise in recent years.
Shadow World Tour (6:15mins) - This short featurette guides you through Daredevil's hyper senses by comparing scenes found in the original comic books to the visualisations featured in the movie. Pretty dull stuff really unless you are particularly keen on seeing the original comic book ideas.
Modeling Sheets - No that is not a typo, just purposely spelt as it is on the DVD which is most likely a result of the American developed features. What you will find here are five static screens giving you comic book statistics on the main characters featured in the film along with the original comic book artwork (including Bullseye in costume and Kingpin as a white man).
As I was only able to access Disc 1 of this 2xDisc set, Dave Foster's review of the bonus features on this DVD release are much appreciated.
I can't help but feel that adaptations of superhero comic books are getting steadily worse and it is mainly due to the studios, writers and directors who cannot accept that there could be a world where men and women dress up in lycra to fight crime on the rooftops above Gotham City, New York and Metropolis. What Burton, Raimi and Donner understood so well is that either you give in to what makes a superhero work in the comic book when bringing to the screen and you try to make it work or you fail and the film fails with you.
Unfortunately, what Bryan Singer started with X-Men and the assumption that the lycra outfits wouldn't work with a modern audience, complete with snappy, post-modern line from Wolverine, is continued here with a lack of conviction that extends throughout the film. Sure it is occasionally clever, often exciting, but it fails to capture how utterly magical being a superhero might be. There are no moments to match the sight of Superman running alongside a train or flying through Metropolis at night, nothing to compare to Spider-Man swooping through New York and little to stand alongside Batman's shadow falling on the wall behind a gang of criminals. Had Johnson abandoned showing the audience how clearly he knows this is all make-believe, Daredevil might have been better but, instead, it's alright but doubtful that it will still be fondly remembered in twenty-five years in the way that Donner's Superman is. Maybe it's overexposure to amazing effects but one wonders if this generation will remember Daredevil in the way that mine does Superman.