Daredevil (2003) is a film, which I didn’t really care about although after the smoke cleared, I had rented it on DVD a year later, and I wound up liking it a bit more. I eventually wound up buying the SE two disc set, which had a ton of nice supportive features, specifically the enhanced viewing mode which allows the viewer to see behind the scenes stunts, effects and things like that. Boring stuff to average casual viewers, gold to film geeks. It does not really matter how good the quality of a film might be; if the video release has behind the scenes non- fluff pieces, I’m there. Daredevil is no different. When a number of viewings have been taken in, I realize that it wasn’t a horrible film. There was a lot to like, in fact. A touching love story between Matt Murdock (Ben Affleck) and Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner, who would later marry Affleck); future Iron Man director Jon Faverau as Foggy Nelson, the over the insane Bullseye, played by Colin Farrell, the Kevin Smith cameo, scenes that come right out of the comics and the music, including the Graeme Revell. score. Also, narrative wise, the “turned corner” doesn’t happen until an hour and a half into the film. It is that moment, and what happens after it, that single handedly uproots what had come before it. It answers one question that many consider to be a plot hole (how the hero can keep fighting after being seriously wounded) but unwittingly creates another question and then a much bigger plot hole. Then another. Then the entire film falls like a domino effect. One scene in particular stands out among all others, and becomes universally hated, at least on a subconscious level, because of the last ten to fifteen minutes of the film. Likewise, three other scenes stand out as being emotionally and visually outstanding- which adds to the bigger disappointment, for whenever one sees a movie which has stellar moments or when an actor or actress is really good in the part, if the rest of the film is not up to par…? That’s a huge problem.
Enter the ‘director’s cut’ which boasts ‘an additional thirty minutes not shown in theaters’. It took me a long, long time before I bought it on DVD and watched it (the cut was not for rental at the time) and the film and comic book geeks who claimed this ‘was the better movie’? I am not one of them. But there is a subplot, which should have been, inserted a bit more into the theatrical cut. It answers a few more questions. It covered up several problems with the plot. It is a different movie in tone and character. It is nice to have alongside the theatrical version for purposes of compare and contrast. Let me stress that neither version is better than the other, and neither version is worse. In Mark Steven Johnson’s Director’s Cut, some of the basic same story problems from the theatrical still remain, some scenes are altered for better and for worse. It is also fairly easy to see why the subplot which actually deals with Matt Murdock’s non-superhero job was taken out. Coolio is not an actor. He’s a good musician and rapper. He’s not an actor. He is dead weight in the film. There is a scene in the courtroom where Foggy Nelson has to stall the judge while defending Dante Jackson (Coolio) because Murdock isn’t there. It’s lightly amusing, but it slows the film down. The reasonable reaction to all of this is to snip it out of the theatrical. That was a wise choice. However, in doing so, the entire subplot itself sadly has to be removed. I believe if it was anyone else than Coolio that some of that subplot would have made it in the theatrical cut. The director’s cut also has an alternate scene of Murdock and Natchios in the rooftop in the rain. In the theatrical –which everyone loved because it was less predictable- instead of going away to don the reds to beat up some thug, Murdock stays with the woman of his heart. This basic change in the director cut puts a whole new spin on the narrative, not for the better. Now at the memorial service, Elektra’s cold shoulder is even colder, and Matt Murdock gets a taste of his own karma. Sure, he feels remorse over an incident as Daredevil, where he unwittingly beat up a thug almost to death in front of the man’s young son. That scene still remains in the theatrical cut, and the mirror to his own early childhood is clearly understood. However, now in the DC it is the thug that breaks apart the moment between Matt and Elektra on the rainy rooftop; the pacing feels off. It actually makes more sense that Matt (as Daredevil) would visit the same thug later.

Johnson mentions in both the commentaries of both the theatrical and the director’s cut regarding one of the film’s most notorious film flubs. No film is going to be perfect, and there always will be an occasional movie mistake. The fake trans light-backdrop stands out all too clearly and is easy to spot. Pressed for time, it is logical that a filmmaker must use the cards he or she is dealt and make the most of it. That may have been true in the 80s, maybe even in the early 90’s. Not in the early years of the previous decade. True, maybe there wasn’t time to fix this error with CGI. But since it also happens to be in The Director’s Cut, why not fix it there? Better yet, why this angle at all? Johnson does his best to hide it through tight shots and a few close ups. But if the background is that bad (it is), then if there is nothing to be done (or will be done) about it, then even if you love it and it is on a must have list, the best solution is to drop it. Shoot it at the reverse angle. Johnson states in his commentary that, as a director, watching his own film, it is an error he still thinks about. I am curious as to why nobody suggested moving the props and set dressing to another room (without a view) or put up blinds to hide the fake backdrop more efficiently. I can understand if there was a time crunch and the filmmakers have to hope that nobody notices too much. If there is such as thing as a director’s cut to give a more complete version, however, shouldn’t at least this be corrected? This remaining error takes the viewer out of the picture, and, if nothing else, screams that the filmmakers either didn’t care or were careless. It may not be necessarily so, but that’s how it comes across. There is, however, another reason why it was left and nobody seemed to care at first. That has to deal with that ‘turn point’ I keep referring to. To understand what I’m talking about, it’s best if we start at the beginning of the film…in both versions.

I want to make it clear that I have come to appreciate the film itself, and both versions have strengths and weaknesses. I don’t like either version better than the other, nor do I hate one more than another. But it does fascinate me overall to see and compare both versions time and time again. Film is also subjective, but when films invite discussion on a psychological level, intentional or not, it opens the door to more critique, good or bad. Daredevil wound up having mixed reviews for the most part, and comics fans are split down the middle as well. There is a good reason for this, and while I don’t know the specific cause, I can sure point out a major symptom.
The purpose of my mini-review and analysis site here is to dissect a film in concepts of film theory. So I’m going to stick to the basic things found in both versions and explain why the film works to a given point, and why that turn winds up undermining what came before it. When the film begins, the following is clearly established: Matt Murdock, the crime fighter hero called Daredevil, is wounded. He appears to be near his death, in a church he frequents as Murdock. One of the priests comes to his aid, gives him a drink of water. Moments before this, in the opening credit sequence, there were bits of quick flashes of what had led up to this event. Once the priest unmasks Daredevil to reveal Matt Murdock, we, the audience, are given the following information:

    1. What we are about to see a story told in flashback, at least until this point

    2. With Murdock narrating through (in both cuts) the childhood-accident flashback, it establishes that we will see the movie through his point of view and/or how he interprets those events.

That last part is important. By using that understood guideline, even if Murdock does not narrate after the childhood events and the murder of his father, it is still assumed that the events that lead up to the church battle between him and Bullseye are based upon Murdock’s perception of such events. Murdock does not have to be there specifically to witness all of the events. He can show us the story from his point of view. I cannot stress that enough. Because of this point of view, it allows certain freedoms for the filmmakers to get away with some details. Consider it a license for an exaggerated truth. Think I’m kidding? Let’s have a look. The first time we see lawyer Murdock it is a bit out of place given the character’s origins. Is this a civil trial or a criminal one? Murdock’s character, as defined in the comics (and again. later on in The Director Cut) is that of a defense attorney. The filmmakers love for Japanese anime is present in the opening court room scenes, with Matt’s hair being slightly spiked. There are also tilted camera angles and an interesting green paint job on the walls. Take this all in, you will forgive the dream like state. It is a point of view from a (blind) character who has a gift of ‘radar sense’. On the surface, it never quite gels with the rest of the film, but because of the POV aspect, the audience is willing to overlook the surreal ness of the scene. That also includes a nice little Daredevil ‘warm up’ scene, as the hero gets ready to do his thing around Hell’s Kitchen. It has been pointed out that during the biker club brawl scene and the confrontation with Quasada in the subway, Daredevil has a black costume and not a dark red one. The audience, for the most part (and even some comics geeks) is fine with this. In the studio cut, we did not get a good look at Daredevil’s costume, and either assumed it was either a dark, blood color red or black. The studio, Fox, Johnson says in his commentaries, was unsure if the costume should be red or black. One costume even had tassels (it is also briefly seen in one holding shot). In the subway, it is clearly black, the audience noticed but they didn’t have a problem with it overall. Following this scene, Murdock is back at his place. It is revealed that he has spare outfits and canes. He’s also blind, so color correction isn’t that big of a huge deal.
The next major oddity is the infamous flirt fight between Murdock (sans DD costume) and Elektra. At first, it is fun. The evidence that we are still in Murdock POV is the moment where he tosses his cane away to take off his jacket, then the cane comes back to him. It’s a lighthearted joke that sort of works. In addition, this is a mild treat because in comics, it is not uncommon for some heroes to spar with one another to feel each other out, or having a case of misunderstanding. The dance goes on, and we have a bunch of schoolkids rushing up to witness a blind man and a very hot lady doing all these amazing acrobatics and kung fu. Given the POV and ‘unreality’ of the scene, by itself at this time, is fine. It wears out a welcome early on, but we can forgive it. This is Murdock’s tale, he likes Elektra. It could very well be first love at Radar sense. The problem is that there are witnesses. One or two kids are one thing. A whole schoolyard is another. Come on, think about it. If you saw a couple (one being blind) giving off that sort of foreplay, wouldn’t you be captivated by it? Would these kids have the same story “Mom! Dad! I just saw the most incredible thing at school today!” You know where I’m going with that. Yet, we can forgive the silliness of the scene and the cute context. This event is clearly an exaggerated account as Murdock (subconsciously) gives it to us. When we see the Kingpin, we see Wilson Fisk as Matt Murdock might see him. Big. Lavish. Mad. Given the backdrop in the meeting room, a phony as well. Bullseye is over the top. When Elektra goes after Daredevil, she seems to GLIDE over rooftops without having to crouch low to support the landing. The action on the rooftops and streets are over top and crazy, but that’s alright. This is all seen from the point of view from Murdock. Two great scenes from Daredevil involve the music of Evanescence, and provides a nice accent on both scenes. The second of which, is near perfect for Jennifer Garner’s Elektra. Both scenes are surreal and dreamlike. The film gets away with it, for it is generally a constant.
To play by these rules, we should clearly excuse the scene where Elektra jams one of her sai into Daredevil/Murdock’s shoulder. Some folks consider it a plot hole ten minutes later when Daredevil fights Bullseye in the church and that wound has either vanished , the wound wasn’t as bad as we thought or the priest gave him holy water and a miracle happened. However, this is ‘the turn’ scene I keep talking about. Once Daredevil/Murdock wakes up in the church, his point of view ends. Thus, getting stabbed by Elektra was actually more symbolic than ‘real’ by movie terms. In addition, perhaps her wounds were not as fatal as we thought. That’s the way it should be.

Right?

Wrong.
Wrong.
Wrong.
What happens next defines not only the rest of the film, but pulls the rug out from under everything we have seen to that point. What happens is this: the church battle, where Daredevil and Bullseye fight among organ pipes and other settings in the church. The film even dives into CGI for some of it (and again, not bothering to correct the board room blunder earlier on) and the more the fight becomes over the top, the more the rule is broken. If we are out of Murdock’s POV, why then, does the rule still seem to apply? Either everything we seen in the flashbacks was from a character’s view or it wasn’t. When Daredevil goes off to fight the Kingpin, the injury Elektra gave him is still there. Because of this, the implication is that nothing was exaggerated in the flashbacks leading to the church battle. The indirect statement to the audience is that you just been played. The Director’s Cut gives us more of the Daredevil-Kingpin fight was sadly re-enforces this. It is actually better to have a fight short and sweet in the theatrical cut. It is even better story wise, not to bother. (“Hear the sirens? They are coming for you Kingpin”) There’s another problem in it, as Wesley (Leland Orser) isn’t part of the action. The question of why the character was around Fisk in the first place was a loose thread in the theatrical cut. In the director cut, he is revealed to be his own enforcer who cleans up his own mess. Still, it makes no sense whatsoever for the character to be present if he is only a lackey (“This is something you wouldn’t understand”) and in the Director’s Cut, it makes some sense for the character to turn on his boss for being treated poorly. I would actually think it would be anyone, or could be anyone, within the Fisk organization, seeing how, at least in The Director Cut, he kills his own bodyguards. Is it a sense of fear that keeps Wesley in line? He’s never seen cooking the books, if you will, so his alliance with Fisk is still a mystery…unless he is a quiet sociopath-enforcer who is underused. In both cuts, the timing of Wesley’s giving up his boss does not meld well with the time frame of the Daredevil-Kingpin fight; but in the theatrical cut it is better excused for it could be anyone. An audience can buy it. Indeed, earlier in the film, Kingpin says “everyone talks”. Since he says that, what do we, the audience take at face value? Subconsciously, we are inclined as movie fans (and perhaps even comics fans) to take the film going experience in. When a “movie rule” is challenged, it throws off our perspective. This is the result:

    1. Ben Affleck comes across like a buffoon in some scenes, and as a serious character in others. There is an imbalance. As a result, some people blame the actor. This has in fact, happened.

    2. The opening courtroom scene is now out of sync with the rest of the film on a palette and dramatic level. In the theatrical cut, it is also the only courtroom scene and also takes away some of the essence of the main character.

    3. The flirt fight-playground fight takes some viewers out of the film. It is critical that this scene should be, beyond reasonable doubt, Matt Murdock’s point of view. Expel that point of view, or challenge it, and what this becomes is an annoying and useless distraction. Not to mention the fact that there are several witnesses to the playground fight. So when later in the film, Murdock tells Kingpin that nobody will believe that he got beat by a blind man let alone that the blind lawyer is Daredevil, it may not be exactly so. Somebody always talks. Besides, what difference does it make? Kingpin can simply put out a hit on the Blind Lawyer from Hell’s Kitchen and/or those around him, can’t he?

    4. We all think Colin Farrell stole the movie. He did.

    5. The music video like scenes with Evanescence at the Memorial and Elektra’s warm up practice still hold up, but lose a slight bit of the intentional dreamlike quality.

    6. Taking out Murdock’s POV also takes away the symbolic stabbing Elektra gives him which is why it is considered a plot hole.

    7. Elektra clearly died. But her body is missing. If it had remained a POV, it could be suggested that she didn’t die but rather left for dead.

Of course, we all know that she was dead, but brought back to life in the spin off film bearing her name. That film was bogged down in mystical mumbo jumbo, and retconned much of the theatrical cut of Daredevil. I wondered if it would have been better if Daredevil were a supporting character and give Elektra a hand with The Hand, but the folks wanted to underplay the real life romance between Affleck and Garner. I don’t think it was a wise choice. For all the faults 2003’s Daredevil had, the chemistry between the two actors wasn’t one of them. The Director’s Cut, cut back on the sex scene between the two characters, which didn’t take away a whole lot and didn’t really add up to much. But I don’t blame Fox executives for wanting the theatrical movie to focus more on the relationship between Murdock and Nachios. It was a reasonable thing to do, if only enough TLC was taken with the rest of the picture to begin with.


The Future
I have always held the opinion that the ending of the 2003 film left a door wide open for a Born Again storyline, if not elements of it. That graphic novel, which features Daredevil, has The Kingpin wage war against Murdock by going after those around him. Murdock has a breakdown, his secretary has a drug problem, and the Kingpin has no mercy. I also believed that Wesley could come back, revealing to be a Kyser Soze type among Kingpin’s crew. If he’s not a cold blooded killer, what was he doing in the movie for anyway? Alas, while it is still possible that Fox might do something along the lines of Frank Miller’s story, the studio has chosen to reboot the short lived franchise. I’m personally getting a bit tired over the trendy buzzword myself. Recasting is one thing, but what works for a franchise that absolutely needs a fresh start like James Bond, Star Trek or Batman (all of which were successful) does not work with everything. I still won’t rule out a ‘Born Again’ storyline. If nothing else, it’ll make a great subtitle.

Advertisements