Emily S. Whitten: Marvel Studios, Bring Back The Hero of Hell’s Kitchen!
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for a blast from the past! After years and years of intending to, I finally bought and watched the Director’s Cut of Daredevil (thank you, Black Friday sales! $4 is a reasonable price, eh?). I remember watching the original in the theater when it came out in 2003, and enjoying parts of it despite the overall unbalanced and less-than-cohesive feeling of the whole product. I also remember the cascade of negative reviews, and I can’t say I disagreed with a majority of what they said. I know after the Director’s Cut was released, however, it got more positive reviews, and it turns out those were also deserved.
With the re-watch of the movie in its more fully intended form, I’ve come to the conclusion that the most egregious error made was the inclusion of Elektra, or at least Elektra as we get her in this movie. There are two problems with the Elektra storyline. The first is that it gave the director an opportunity for one more cheesy fight scene than would otherwise have made it in, that being the horrendously cheesy and overlong almost dance-like fight scene when Matt meets Elektra. That thing is so ridiculously choreographed that when it starts, you feel like you’ve hopped movies into West Side Story and they’re about to run up and down the playground see-saws singing or something. I can almost see Matt Murdock balanced on the end of a park bench, arms flung wide as he delivers a little solo. It’s cringe-inducing, and pulls me out of the story.
I actually like most of the fight scenes in this movie, but there are snippets of others that are cheesy, too, namely when first Daredevil and then Elektra whirl their weapons around the first time we see them suited up. I could have enjoyed those bits if they were shot a little differently, to show Daredevil, say, routinely checking his weapons to make sure they’re functioning before he goes out, or to show Elektra warming up for her little sandbag-vendetta practice. But as shot, they just look like they’re posing for nobody, and are hilariously too comic book for an otherwise fairly serious and dark movie. Added to that first fight scene, those bits also pull me out of the story.
The second issue I have with the Elektra story is that it’s just too much story to be trying to fit into one movie with all the rest. Granted I understand it’s part of the larger storyline here, but if the entire Elektra thing was lifted out, almost nothing except a tiny bit of Daredevil tragic-story-ness would be missing, and the storyline could surely have been reworked in a way to close any gaps caused by her absence.On the other hand, by including it, we get a hurried “romance” that isn’t firmly established enough to make it feel very real or engaging, as well as the too-minimal establishment of Elektra’s father as a character. If the elder Natchios existed just to be eliminated or shown to be part of Kingpin’s empire, his being a mostly stock character would have been fine. But given that we’re supposed to care about him and his connection to Elektra thanks to her larger part in the storyline, his negligible appearance and then disappearance as a character is not the tragedy we’re supposed to feel it is.
As opposed to the whole Elektra storyline (and despite the fact that I’ve loved Jennifer Garner in action roles ever since my addiction to Alias), I think the movie would have been much better served to have used the established story of Elektra as an ex if she needed to be there at all; or to have found another Kingpin patsy than the Natchios family for this particular story. Also, in my imaginary world, cutting out the Elektra storyline would have eliminated Fox’s ability to introduce the Elektra movie, which, let’s face it, could not have been made better by any amount of cutting or tweaking, despite Jennifer Garner’s ass-kicking ways and dimpled smile. Man that thing was terrible, boring, and disjointed to the point of complete incoherence.
However, I will say that there was one thing I loved in the romance storyline: the bit about Matt being able to “see” Elektra via the rain. It was beautifully done, and was later used to great effect in the funeral scene with the umbrella.
Despite Elektra and the bits of cheese, there’s actually a lot to love about this movie. The main storyline is pretty good when the additional scenes of the Director’s Cut are added. With those, we actually get a cohesive story, rather than the chopped version we saw in theaters. The cast is mostly super-enjoyable, too. I know Affleck got flak for his portrayal of Daredevil, but honestly, I think he’s very good, particularly as Matt and when Jon Favreau is around to add a little warmth and comedy as Foggy Nelson (I liked Favreau as Happy Hogan in the Iron Man movies, too. He should be in more movies). For some reason Affleck looks a little weird in the mask (he has a strong chin and jawline and yet it makes him look slightly chubby-cheeked) but I blame the costume department, rather than Affleck, for that (and I liked the rest of the costume).
The late Michael Clarke Duncan is wicked menacing and convincing as the Kingpin – you get the sense of both his business smarts and his street smarts from his scenes, plus the feeling that you really, really just do not want to be in the same room as him, ever, because you never know what he might do next. Joe Pantoliano is perfect as reporter Ben Urich (Urich’s always been a favorite of mine in the comics, and being a journalist, I loved the way they have him popping up everywhere as he diligently goes after the story, and when they show him writing at the end). And I got a kick out of Kevin Smith’s cameo, as well as all of the shoutouts to Daredevil writers and artists.
I have to say Colin Farrell as Bullseye might be my favorite casting in this movie. That may seem surprising, given that every single second he’s on screen he chews scenery like it’s the most important meal of the day; but given the character he’s playing, that’s actually perfect. Pardon my French, but Bullseye in the comics is bug-fuck nuts, as well as being crazy arrogant and not giving shit one about the lives of others, and Farrell pulls that personality onto the screen with every swagger and look of madness-laced annoyance at everyday occurrences. I love the little scene where he chokes the chatty old woman with a carefully aimed peanut, as well as when the Kingpin walks in and Bullseye’s just casually hanging out in his office waiting for him, boots up on the desk, sharpening a pencil like the ones he just killed the guard with. The scene where he goes through the airport, while completely over the top, is priceless too. I also love how he asks for a costume (but happily, doesn’t get one) and the fact that they let Farrell keep his Irish accent for the movie, even though it doesn’t fit with the comics origin. I like the idea of Bullseye as a crazy Irishman (who gets mad when people call him a crazy Irishman).
Some of my absolute favorite parts of the movie have to do with both the look of the movie – with all the night scenes, the blue-tinged lighting, and the gritty streets, we really get the feel of this being Hell’s Kitchen NYC and Daredevil’s NYC, not the tourist variety – and the fight scenes. Despite the high leaps in those scenes looking weirdly fake to me (something about the way they were shot, I think), I absolutely adore everything else about the way they portray Daredevil’s unique and fluid fighting style, including the way he uses his white cane/weapon (although his is red and white) and the way he uses the city as basically one giant jungle gym from which to move and fight. More than anything, though, I love the way they portray both his enhanced sonar senses and how he lives as a blind man. Even years later, I remember my original viewing of the scene that shows him moving through his apartment, choosing his suit by the Braille tag labels and folding his money, stored in separate Braille-marked boxes, into different shapes to differentiate the denomination. Less well-remembered but equally cool are the parts of fight scenes that show, from his viewpoint, how he uses sound to fight, as well as how sound can be used to overpower him. And, as mentioned, the effect of water on his “sight,” used both in the Elektra scenes and in the Kingpin fight scene, is brilliantly done.
Oddly, in looking back at this movie, which appeared two years before Batman Begins, I can see how with some adjustments this could have been, if not as great (Batman Begins being just one of those pretty-much-perfect movies to me), something a bit closer to that; and how it actually was in much the same vein as that movie in mood and tone. I think that realization was lost to me (and probably a lot of other people) on first viewing by the lack of the Director’s Cut scenes and the inclusion of the cheesier story elements. However, with the darkness (both visually and in the story) and the noir feel of the movie that stems from the Frank Miller stories by which it was inspired, as well as the modern sense of a gritty NYC, the full version of the movie actually holds up pretty well nine years after it was made.
But, fun as this retrospective may be (for me, at least; your mileage may vary), why am I writing about all of this nine years after the movie’s release? Well, mainly because in October of this year, the film rights reverted back to Marvel Studios; and I’d really, really love to see a new Daredevil movie from Marvel. There is a lot I love about the character and his surrounds, including his stance as a crusading lawyer and helper of other superheroes and his unique fighting style. I also like his devotion to and the stories’ focus on Hell’s Kitchen, which infuses the area itself with its own unique comic-book character and makes it one of the more “real”-feeling settings in comics, since it’s both a strong presence in the stories and based on a real and not-too-overwhelmingly-large area. And, cheesy as it may be, I love the fact that in the Daredevil stories, justice is literally blind. What can I say: I’m a sucker for a good double-meaning.
As of a few days ago, Marvel has not announced any plans for a new Daredevil movie, but I hope to see that change sometime soon. I’m not sure what storyline I’d want them to follow – but a reboot could be a lot of fun if they kept the basic origin and some of the great elements from this one but did a different introductory storyline. With Daredevil, I think that would be entirely possible, since his origin itself doesn’t need to take up too much of the movie (they established it pretty efficiently here and I didn’t feel anything was lacking) and his job as a lawyer gives plenty of opportunities for crime-fighting stories that encompass both halves of his life. What do you think a good focus for a new movie would be? Tell me in the comments!
And until next time, Servo Lectio!
TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis
WEDNESDAY MORNING: Mike Gold