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Daredevil (Director's Cut)

Fox // PG-13 // September 30, 2008
List Price: $39.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted October 17, 2008 | E-mail the Author
I'd heard
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mixed things about Daredevil for several years now, but I had no idea I'd dislike the movie this much. Brian Michael Bendis' hardboiled, noirish take on the character made for one of my favorite runs on any comic in recent memory, seizing the torch Frank Miller had left years earlier with his legendary grim, gritty take on the Man without Fear. This adaptation by Mark Steven Johnson (Ghost Rider), though...? It's a cartoon. It's the sort of campy, skewed, deliriously over-the-top view that people who don't read comics have of superhero books. How this movie can be littered with so many homages to the comic and nick so many panels and lines of dialogue verbatim but miss the mark this much...? I don't know. I don't care that this expanded director's cut shores up the complete incoherence of the theatrical release and better fleshes out Matt Murdock as a character. The shades of gray don't matter; a less awful version of Daredevil is still awful.

You know the backstory already: blinded as a child by some sort of radioactive waste, Matt Murdock (Ben Affleck) may have lost his sight but found his other four senses heightened to superhuman levels, sharpened to such a razor's edge that he even gained a sort of radar sense. Still tortured by the murder of his father by mob thugs after he refused to throw a fight, Matt seeks out justice both in the courtroom as a lawyer as well as on the streets as a masked vigilante. It's a life that leaves Matt beaten, battered, and exhausted, both physically and spiritually. Matt does stumble upon some glimmer of happiness, though: Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner), who's not only an allegedly-beautiful woman but the only person he's met who can match him in hand-to-hand combat. Elektra is the daughter of a billionaire looking to sever his ties with Wilson Fisk (Michael Clark Duncan), New York's reigning kingpin of crime. Fisk responds to this insult by bringing in Bullseye (Colin Farrell), an Irish assassin who can make even the tiniest, most unassumingly mundane object a deadly weapon in his hands. There's kind of a story from there, but it pretty much boils down to everyone squaring off to the death against everyone else.

I hated borderline-everything about Daredevil: the clumsy dialogue, the masturbatory overreliance on distracting visual effects and gimmicky camerawork, the botched
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casting, and an overbearing goofiness that seems like something out of a Charlie's Angels sequel. Ben Affleck is okay as Matt Murdock and Daredevil; it's kind of a bland performance, and the overwrought internal monologues never really ring true. Jennifer Garner fails to capture Elektra's exotic allure, instead coming across like any other twentysomething L.A. gal, strutting cheerfully around The Big Apple in skinny jeans. Her shift to vengeful badass mode sputters and dies, but I'll give Garner credit for sincerely looking as if she could do some serious damage with those sais. Michael Clark Duncan is sorely miscast as the Kingpin, and it has nothing to do with their very different appearances. Duncan fails at exuding any sense of menace, and he's unconvincing as a respected and feared gangster or even a competent businessman. He's a cigar-chomping cariacture, but at least Clark is barely in it. Colin Farrell, on the other hand, is a disaster as Bullseye, horrifically overacting and gnawing on the scenery every time the camera's aimed his way. I mean, he kills some schlub in a bar by flinging fragments of a paper clip into his throat, he pulls down his glasses and stares a guard dog at the airport into meekly laying down, and he offs a chatty old woman on the plane to Laguardia with a salted nut. The hell? Bullseye doesn't once come off as a deranged assassin or even a credible threat, butchering everything that's great about one of Marvel's most cacklingly twisted villains. Matt gets into a kinda-sorta fight with Elektra on a playground see-saw that made me recoil in horror, and one of the big brawls with Bullseye is set on a church pipe organ as streams of bats fly out. This expanded director's cut also makes the unforgivable mistake of giving Coolio a kinda-sorta prominent supporting role.

I don't know. I don't even want to venture a guess what Mark Steven Johnson was aiming for in this movie. Whatever it is, I don't want to suffer through it again.

Video: Culled directly from the digital intermediate, this Blu-ray disc of Daredevil ought to
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be about as perfect as the movie will ever look on home video.

Its visuals have a very distinctive style. Despite the thin veil of grain visible throughout, Daredevil's texture isn't all that film-like; there's a sort of distinctively digital look to the movie in motion. The image looks like it's been polished to an almost glossy sheen, and it boasts a stylized palette and robust black levels. While Daredevil isn't as astonishingly crisp and clear as more recent comic book adaptations, the scope image is still sharper and more detailed than average, and it's an enormous step up over anything I could ever expect to see on DVD. Clarity can be uneven, though, especially the further the camera eases back. This couldn't have been an easy movie to compress -- the climax in Fisk's stronghold in particular must have been a nightmare to work on -- but I was unable to spot any hiccups in the authoring of this disc. This very impressive effort from Fox is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1, and its release on Blu-ray has been encoded with AVC.

Audio: Daredevil sounds even better than it looks, backed by an exceptionally aggressive 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. It's probably not surprising that a movie about a superhero who relies intensely on his hearing would be bolstered by such remarkable sound design, beginning with Matt waking up as a child immediately after the accident...his disorientation as the sounds of the hospital overwhelm him from every direction. The action sequences sound outstanding, with Bullseye's seemingly mundane weapons screaming from one speaker to the next, bones cracking, and spent shells clinking to the ground. Detail and clarity both impress as well, as does the titanic, foundation-rattling low-end. The only real stumbling block is how poorly the faux-metal soundtrack has aged over the past few years, but that's a gripe for another time. Daredevil sounds phenomenal on Blu-ray, and the brawl in Josie's Bar is on my shortlist of demo sequences to show off my home theater rig.

Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are also offered in English, French, and Spanish. The selection of subtitles includes streams in English, Spanish, Cantonese, and Mandarin.

Extras: When this director's cut of Daredevil was first released on DVD, the extras from the loaded two-disc theatrical set were tossed aside. Fox didn't make that same mistake this time around, though: the extras from both DVD releases -- many, many hours of material -- have been carried over to this Blu-ray disc. I admittedly could barely stomach the movie, but these extras are impressively thorough and extremely entertaining. Not surprisingly, considering that this material predates Blu-ray by so many years, all of this footage is presented in standard definition.

The first of the set's extras is one of its weakest, though. The disc's audio commentary with writer/director Mark Steven Johnson and producer Avi Arad is surprisingly subdued, and the conversation primarily consists of the two of them highlighting the differences between the theatrical release and Johnson's preferred director's cut. There are a handful of interesting comments, such as a debate about whether or not Daredevil should've essentially murdered one badnik and laughing about how Elektra's 'good luck' necklace hasn't done her a whole hell of a lot of good. Scenes there were never filmed or completed are also a frequent talking point, and some of them sound like a trainwreck; at one point, every character was going to have a childhood flashback...yikes. For the most part, though,
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it's just the two of 'em pointing out footage exclusive to the director's cut and gushing over how wonderful it is. Not recommended, especially since the featurette "Giving the Devil His Due" covers much of that same ground and in just fifteen minutes to boot.

Several other of the disc's extras run throughout the movie as well, including a trivia track that points out some of the nods to the comics and spells out more of Daredevil's four-color history to the uninitiated. There's also an enhanced viewing mode that infrequently branches off to show some of Daredevil's visual effects throughout every stage of the process, and this footage is accompanied by commentary by effects supervisor John Kilkenny.

The highlights of this sprawling special edition for me are a pair of hour-long featurettes. As a lifelong comic geek, I especially loved "Men without Fear: Creating Daredevil", which is anchored around interviews with Stan Lee, Gene Colan, Frank Miller, Joe Quesada, David Mack, Brian Michael Bendis, Kevin Smith, and both John Romita Sr. and Jr. While comic book retrospectives are a mainstay on these sorts of DVDs and Blu-ray discs, "Men without Fear" takes a completely different approach than usual. It's not a narrative about Daredevil's history in comics so much as how these nine men approached the character and brought him to life. The chance to see so many of these artists' studios is a geeky thrill, and they're remarkably candid about certain controversies and fanboy bickering that crept into their runs on the book. I especially enjoyed Miller's insight, and his comments are the deepest and most substantial of the lot. This is a remarkably thoughtful look into the mindsets of some of comics' most amazing talents, and it's essential viewing for fans of any of their work.

The other hour-long featurette is "Beyond Hell's Kitchen", and it covers an enormous amount of ground: the years and many studios it took to get the movie into production, the fairly inexperienced Johnson's struggles to land such a daunting gig as a writer/director, the enormous headaches in designing and fabricating a suitable costume, squaring off against an impossibly tight schedule, trying to deal with the enormous amount of troublesome wire work, fight training and action choreography, production design, editing, visual effects, recording the orchestral score... It's driven by a real sense of personality, and I couldn't help but smirk at seeing what a badass Jennifer Garner really is with those sais and hearing how the 300 lb. Michael Clark Duncan was asked to gain weight for the role of the Kingpin. It's a lot of fun, and I don't normally have that reaction when sitting through an hour-long making-of for a movie I actively disliked. "Beyond Hell's Kitchen" also has an enhanced viewing mode that expands on some of the featurette's points in greater detail.

Two and a half minutes of screentests
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with Jennifer Garner -- shot on extremely low-quality video -- include dialogue from one scene that never made it into the movie about her martial arts training. Tom Sullivan contributed his perspective to Daredevil as a man accustomed to life without the gift of sight, and the featurette "Moving Through Space" (8 min.) follows Sullivan through a day in his life. It primarily focuses on the physical aspects, such as Sullivan teeing off on a golf course and touching on his grueling workouts at the gym.

"Featured Villain: Kingpin" (2 min.) is a pointless talking head piece with Michael Clark Duncan chatting about the Kingpin's unexpected speed and agility, how well Duncan could relate to the character of Matt Murdock, and snickering at the idea of Affleck squeezed into those leather tights. There's nothing all that great in there, and I didn't think much of the HBO First Look special (25 min.) either. It's more thorough than usual, but it still has a heavily promotional bent that's not really meant for anyone who's already seen Daredevil, alternating between a barrage of excerpts from the movie, a little bit of behind-the-scenes footage, and interviews with the key cast and crew.

"Multiangle Dailies" lets viewers cycle through every angle of raw footage during a couple of key sequences. It's extremely short but intriguing, and I'm kind of surprised this sort of extra isn't more common. Also included are an extensive set of still galleries, one of which reproduces virtually the entire movie in storyboard form. Intriguingly, the boards are drawn as several hundred comic book pages rather than the usual fixed panels. "Modeling Sheets" runs through some very brief overview bios on each of the main characters in the film, and "Shadow World Tour" (6 min.) mixes panels from the comics and excerpts from the movie to describe how Matt perceives the world around him, although I thought that Daredevil made that pretty clear on its own. Music videos have been tacked on for Fuel's "Won't Back Down", The Calling's "For You", and Evanescence's "Bring Me Back to Life" along with a general plug for the soundtrack. A set of trailers and teasers rounds out the extras.

Conclusion: This director's cut of Daredevil may be closer to writer/director Mark Steven Johnson's original vision, but that doesn't mean this campy, aggressively awful take on the Man without Fear is actually worth watching. This is a terrible, terrible movie, but it is nice to see that Fox has gone to the effort of assembling a hell of a release for it on Blu-ray, packing on hours upon hours of extras along with glossy high-def visuals and a first-rate lossless soundtrack.
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