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Daredevil (Director's Cut) Print E-mail
Friday, 03 October 2008
ImageMarvel Comics is having a run of good to terrific movies, and "Daredevil" is no exception. It's not up to the high levels of "Spider-Man" or "X-Men," but that's no failing. Just as the character Daredevil himself is an effective but second-string character, so too is the movie: effective and second string. Despite post-production reshoots to make the film more spectacular, "Daredevil" tells a smaller, more intimate story than the other Marvel movies. This time, the hero doesn't have to save the world, but instead works at bringing down the crime lord of New York city.

The story is told briskly and efficiently by writer-director Mark Steven Johnson ("Simon Birch"), with few interludes and asides. The movie opens as costumed superhero Daredevil (Ben Affleck) crashes to the floor of a large Catholic church. As the camera comes in for a closeup of his blue-pearl-like irises, Daredevil narrates his own story. As a boy Matt Murdock (Scott Terra) lived with his nearly has-been boxer father Jack "The Devil" Murdock (the mother is never seen nor mentioned), whom he idolizes. One day an accident splashes Matt's eyes with liquid radioactive waste (well, it IS a superhero story). This blinds him, but enhances his other four senses, particularly hearing, so much that he still can perceive the world around him in shadowy, colorless forms. He's fearless, and soon learns to do amazing acrobatic feats.

But then his father is murdered by an unseen villain, and Matt is left alone with a burning need for vengeance and justice. As an adult, he's a lawyer, partnered with "Foggy" Nelson (Jon Favreau, of "Swingers" fame), and takes on cases from people so poor they sometimes pay him in fish and other goods. Foggy shrugs and carries on.

And so does Matt. He's invented his costume (dark red leather) and adopted the nom-de-guerre of Daredevil, and has become famous in New York as a vigilante. There's a fight scene early on, shot in low light, with Daredevil cleaning out a pool hall of undesirables while chasing down a rapist he was unable to convict. (There's a strange shot of Daredevil silhouetted against several burning pool tables.) Unlike most movie superheroes, he's ruthless enough to stand by watching as the rapist is cut in two by a subway train. Honest, tough reporter Ben Urich (Joe Pantoliano, always welcome) is suspicious both about Daredevil and about the secret overlord of New York crime, whom he's dubbed "The Kingpin." We soon realize this is mountainous Wilson Fisk (Michael Clarke Duncan), who orders around underlings from his skyscraper-top office.

Matt encounters Elektra (Jennifer Garner), an attractive woman -- surprisingly, he's something of a womanizer (maybe the only superhero ever to be one) and wants to get her name. She evades him, but is amazed at his abilities and quick way with his (all-purpose) cane. She's also a martial arts expert, like him, and they have a funny getting-to-know-you battle in a playground, egged on by cheering kids. At the end, they're clearly going to be An Item.

Elektra's rich father Natchios (Erick Avari) is one of the Kingpin's associates; when he tries to leave, Fisk sends for deadly assassin Bullseye (Colin Farrell), who can take out anybody WITH anything, such as a straightened paperclip, peanuts and what have you. His aim, and his personality, are deadly. But as he attacks Natchios, Daredevil intervenes, and infuriates Bullseye by causing him to -- gasp choke -- MISS! Since Bullseye takes out Natchios with Daredevil's (collapsed) cane/baton, Elektra thinks Daredevil is the killer. Bullseye wants to kill Daredevil, and is intent on killing Elektra as well.

All in all, an efficient setup with well-drawn allegiances and battle lines, all inhabited by colorful characters. Johnson handles things deftly, and there's hardly a dull moment.

It's also true that there are no transcendent moments, as in the first couple of "Batman" movies, "X-Men" or "Spider-Man." "Daredevil" is much more prosaic, a working-class (at least that's how he grew up) superhero for a working-class world. Although the movie doesn't indicate any class lines, they're sort of built into the warp and woof of Daredevil's world. There's even a vague hint that the Irish Bullseye comes from the, ahem, lower classes.

There's also an odd religious element running through the film, with several scenes in the cathedral, both Daredevil AND Bullseye crossing themselves as they enter, and the only one who knows Daredevil's real identity (though everyone else seems to learn before the end of the movie) being the parish priest, Father Everitt (Derrick O'Connor).

One of the more interesting aspects of the film is Daredevil's brutal sense of justice; things get bad enough he mutters "But I'm not the bad guy...." His personality is darker than those of most other superheroes, and (like others) he works only at night. He rests between nighttime prowls by sleeping in a coffin-shaped sensory-deprivation chamber. In the morning, he showers off the sweat and blood from the night before, and chomps down Percodan like candy. This guy is very serious.

The big action scenes are very well-handled; for once the MTV-like overdone cutting really works, with Daredevil often seen against dark backdrops, moving swiftly through the scene visible only by the reflections glinting from his red leather outfit. The great Hong Kong action choreographer, Cheung Yan Yuen, handled the chores for many of the scenes, including the light-hearted squabble between Elektra and Matt in the playground. Sometimes the actors look like they're hanging on wires (not visible), but usually it's good action stuff.

Sound is especially important here, in several contexts. Soon after they meet, Matt and Elektra are on his favorite rooftop; he knows rain is coming, and tells her that he can hear each drop's first impact. (Then we see her face with his radar vision, outlined in the falling rain, a romantic, beautiful vision.) But loud sounds are also Daredevil's Kryptonite; his radar sense is shut down, and he claps his hands over his ears in agony.

Affleck, who's an unpredictable actor (good in Kevin Smith's movies, lousy in "Pearl Harbor") brings off the role of Matt Murdock/Daredevil quite well, though he tends to overemphasize -- while Murdock -- the character's blindness, holding his neck rather stiffly. Jennifer Garner is really hot stuff as Elektra, sexy, skillful and smart. (Kevin Smith himself has a brief, funny cameo here.)

The most interesting characters, though, are Michael Clarke Duncan as the Kingpin and the exuberant Colin Farrell as Bullseye. In the comic books, the Kingpin was white, but the stories never depended on that; furthermore, Clarke is a colorful, likeable actor, and very large, so he makes the Kingpin a rich, sardonic character. Ferrell, recently in "Minority Report" and "The Recruit" is clearly insane as Bullseye, and clearly embraces his insanity. He has no hesitation in murdering a harmless old lady, for example. And he's carved a bull's-eye into his forehead.

The Panavision photography by Ericson Core is low-key, handsome and at times, very striking. The low light, the frequent rain and the bright lights of the city at night are part of the texture of the film.

"Daredevil" was created by the late Bill Everett and the still living Stan Lee (who has a brief cameo with young Matt Murdock); the character was later given terrific treatment by Frank Miller (who created Elektra), one of the most interesting of comic book writers. I think they should be satisfied with the finished film.

[Written by AVRev] [START]
"Daredevil: The Director's Cut" is a real director's cut, presenting almost 30 minutes of more footage than the theatrical release.

The video is presented in an AVC at 20 Mbps encode on a BD-50 disc.  Video quality is a worthwhile improvement over the DVD releases.  However, it still has some issues.  The visual presentation takes after the graphic novel concept, with the majority of the film taking place in the shadows.  The colors are accurate but subdued.  Daredevil's red suit is never really red, but it is well represented.  When visible, details are great.  Even in some of the dark sequences, Daredevil's suit is well textured.  While there is plenty of film grain from the original print, it is not imposing on the viewing experience.  In fact, it adds a nice texture.  The major problem with the transfer lies in shadow delineation and black levels.  The blacks are deep, but they are often crushed.  The shadows are either viewable or black spots.  Some of the times this is intentional, and at other times it is the transfer.  Luckily, there are no annoying digital noise reducing, edge enhancement or banding issues.

The audio is absolutely superb.  Without a doubt it is much better than today's major blockbusters.  The audio is presented in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio, and the bit-for-bit representation of the master audio track makes bit of every part of your speakers' sonic reconstruction abilities.  The LFE channel is quite interesting.  It is not overbearing by any means.  The volume is actually fairly low, but the fidelity of the bass is so deep that it spreads throughout the room, filling it with warmth.  The dialogue is crisp and clear with no complaints there.  The star of the soundtrack however would have to be the use of the surround channels.  Surround panning is incredible.  Discrete effects are bouncing all over the place throughout the film, and with accuracy.  Ambiences fill the surrounds during the absence of discrete effects.  You will truly feel immersed in this film due to the sound.  The dynamic range is very good, yielding proper level changes between emotional scenes and fight sequences.  This is definitely demo-worthy.

The Blu-ray disc contains a wealth of bonus features.  Unfortunately, they are all presented in standard definition.  The amount of information to be gained from the featurettes is while worth the more than 6 hours it takes to get through them.

First there is an audio commentary with writer/director Mark Steven Johnson and Producer Avi Arad.  This commentary is best I have heard in a long time.  It is engaging and informative.  If you are a Daredevil fan you will definitely want to check out this commentary.  Next, there is an Enhanced Viewing Mode.  This feature allows you to access parts of a larger documentary during film playback.  "Beyond Hell's Kitchen: Making of 'Daredevil'" is about an hour long documentary that will give you enormous insight into the filming process.

"Men Without Fear: Creating 'Daredevil'" is a documentary covering the conversion of the comic book character to the screen.  "'Daredevil:' HBO First Look" is the originally aired documentary.  There are some Jennifer Garner Screen Tests and a Kingpin featurette.  "Moving Through Space" is a featurette that shows Tom Sullivan's involvement with the film.  "Giving the Devil his Due" examines the editing process.  Lastly, there are a few music videos, still galleries, trailers, and a trivia track.

"Daredevil" is not the greatest film adaptation of a comic book hero, however, it does have its moments.  It is action packed and even can be considered the prequel to "Elektra."  The video quality is improved, but still not up to Blu-ray standards.  The audio quality however, is terrific.  Use this disc to show off your home theater speaker system.  This Blu-ray gets a must-own recommendation.[END]

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