Daredevil (2003)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #22

Take the dare

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 103 minutes | 133 minutes (director’s cut)
BBFC: 15
MPAA: PG-13 (theatrical cut) | R (director’s cut)

Original Release: 14th February 2003 (USA, UK & others)
First Seen: cinema, February 2003

Stars
Ben Affleck (Pearl Harbor, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice)
Jennifer Garner (13 Going on 30, The Invention of Lying)
Michael Clarke Duncan (The Green Mile, Sin City)
Colin Farrell (Minority Report, Alexander)

Director
Mark Steven Johnson (Ghost Rider, When in Rome)

Screenwriter
Mark Steven Johnson (Grumpy Old Men, Ghost Rider)

Based on
Daredevil, a Marvel Comics superhero created by Stan Lee and Bill Everett.

The Story
Blind New York lawyer Matt Murdock defends the innocent by day, and by night uses his special abilities to bring the guilty to justice as costumed vigilante Daredevil. When crime boss Wilson Fisk, aka Kingpin, hires Bullseye to take out a business associate, the assassin frames Daredevil for the crime, which brings him into conflict with the businessman’s combat-trained daughter, Elektra.

Our Hero
Blinded as a child, Matt Murdock found his other senses heightened. Following the murder of his father, he trained in the law. Now by day he’s a defender of the innocent, and by night hunts the guilty as superhero Daredevil. Even though the film mixes in his origin story, it doesn’t take a “Year One” approach to his crimefighting, which makes a change of pace even now. (In recent years a lot of the blame for the film’s failure has been laid at Ben Affleck’s door, because it’s popular to bash ’00s-era Affleck. Rotten Tomatoes’ short summary of contemporary reviews tells a different story, stating “Ben Affleck fits the role” as one of the film’s key qualities.)

Our Villains
Coming off the back of The Green Mile, Michael Clarke Duncan was the obvious chap to step into the giant shoes of Hell’s Kitchen’s crime lord, Wilson Fisk, aka Kingpin. The real fun comes courtesy of Colin Farrell’s crazy, campy killer, Bullseye, who enlivens the film any time he’s on screen.

Best Supporting Character
Jennifer Garner is terribly miscast as Elektra, really, but she makes a fair fist of it nonetheless, and the film doesn’t shy away from the outcome of that storyline.

Memorable Quote
“Hey, that light, at the end of the tunnel? Guess what? That’s not heaven… that’s the C train.” — Daredevil

Memorable Scene
Matt and Elektra spar in a children’s playground. It’s a scene some people despise, probably because of what it thinks passes for dialogue, but you can’t say it doesn’t stick in the mind.

Memorable Music
If you were of the right age and disposition back in the early ’00s, the Daredevil soundtrack was more influential than the film itself. It was partly responsible for launching gothy rock group Evanescence, who you may remember for Bring Me to Life, which was on the film’s soundtrack and was their biggest hit (it was #1 here for four weeks). I think they’re still going, despite numerous changes of line-up, though they release albums once in a blue moon.

Letting the Side Down
“All of it!” Oh, hush, you.

Making of
Originally greenlit as a relatively low-budget film, at roughly $50 million, during shooting Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man was released and became a huge hit (it was the first film to gross over $100 million in one weekend). Consequently, Fox upped Daredevil’s budget to $80 million, specifically to “enhance the film’s visuals”. I guess that’s where all the Spider-Man-esque CGI tumbling came from, then.

Previously on…
Although this is the first full-blown adaptation of Daredevil to actually make it to the screen, he’s turned up in other characters’ series down the years, including both live-acton (1989 TV movie The Trial of the Incredible Hulk, which starred John Rhys-Davies as Kingpin) and animation (episodes of the ’90s Spider-Man and Fantastic Four series).

Next time…
Although no sequel was forthcoming, Jennifer Garner starred in spin-off Elektra. Whatever you think of the 2003 Daredevil, Elektra is much, much worse. Numerous attempts at a reboot movie faltered, until the rights reverted to Marvel Studios, who used the property to kick off the Netflix arm of the MCU. As much as I like the movie, the TV series is much better. Season two is released this Friday, so if you’ve not seen any then you’ll soon have 26 episodes to catch up on, you lucky thing you.

Awards
1 Razzie (Worst Actor (Ben Affleck, also for Gigli and Paycheck))
1 Razzie nomination (Worst Actor of the Decade (Ben Affleck, also for everything else he did in the ’00s))
1 Kids’ Choice Award nomination (Best Female Butt Kicker)
2 MTV Movie Awards Mexico nominations (including Best Colin Farrell in a Movie (it lost to S.W.A.T.))

What the Critics Said
“This is the Unforgiven of superhero films. Conventions are turned on their head, twisted, questioned. […] In almost every superhero film, there’s another conventional scene where the villain has the hero cornered and helpless. Yet the villain never unmasks the hero. That scene drove me nuts in Spider-Man. […] In Daredevil, no one ever hesitates to unmask DD. That’s what I mean by this being a film grounded in reality. People act real, do real things. Even if they are wearing silly costumes.” — “Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr”, Ain’t It Cool News

Score: 44%

What the Public Say
“Colin Farrell is deliciously hammy and steals every scene he’s in, showing he’s having a total blast (and to be honest, the hamminess suits Bullseye). Michael Clarke Duncan is PERFECT casting for Kingpin, for his size, stature, overall menacing feel. And honestly, I like Ben Affleck in this, too. He makes me believe he’s blind. He makes me believe that he’s a broken, tortured character who tries to put on a brave face in front of his friends.” — Nick Piers

Verdict

The runt of the litter when it comes to the (first) modern explosion of superhero movies, Daredevil has, believe it or not, always had its fans. The darker tone than contemporary X-Men or Spider-Man films works in its favour in that respect, though I know not everyone feels that way. Ben Affleck actually does a solid job as the titular hero, while Michael Clarke Duncan was perfectly cast as hulking villain Kingpin. Most enjoyable, though, is Colin Farrell’s finely-judged camp craziness as henchman Bullseye. Okay, the Netflix series has now easily surpassed it, but the Daredevil movie is still a moderately underrated film for its era. (The Director’s Cut is apparently much better, too, though I’ve still not made the time for it.)

Season two of Marvel’s Daredevil is available on Netflix from Friday.

#20 will be next… with character actors planning genocide.

Sin City: Recut & Extended (2005)

aka Sin City: Recut ∙ Extended ∙ Unrated

2014 #126
Robert Rodriguez & Frank Miller
with Quentin Tarantino | 142 mins | Blu-ray | 1.85:1 | USA / English | 18

Sin CityAdapted from a series of graphic novels by Frank Miller, Sin City is a noir homage, replete with high-contrast black-and-white cinematography, dialogue so hard boiled you couldn’t crack it with a sledgehammer, and all the requisite downtrodden heroes, corrupt authority figures, dangerous dames, etc. There’s also the very modern inclusion of shocking ultra-violence and nudity, but I guess a fair degree of that would’ve crept into classic noir if the mores of the time allowed — pretty much the point of the genre is the dark grubbiness of the world, after all.

Anyway, Sin City: The Film is probably best known for its slavish faithfulness to Miller’s original comics; or rather the way that manifested itself: the film was shot digitally (when that was still remarkable rather than the norm, as it has become since) and almost entirely on green screen, with cast members who share scenes sometimes not even meeting, and whole roles being recorded in a day or two rather than the usual couple of weeks. It helps that the movie is a collection of short stories, meaning no one person is in it for more than about 40 minutes. The point of this was to then emulate the comic’s visuals: black-and-white with minimal grey in between, but occasional splashes of colour and other striking effects — blood is sometimes stark white, sometimes red; one character has blue eyes, another golden hair; plasters or necklaces are sometimes rendered as flat white blocks; and so on.

Hartigan got a gunThe DVD-premiering extended version, dubbed Recut & Extended (or, in the US, “Recut, Extended, Unrated”) is even more faithful to the comics than the theatrical version. Some of the books’ scenes that were excised are now included, and the structure has been rejigged to present each of the four stories one by one in their entirety (whereas the original version had a small amount of intercutting). The total running time is 17 minutes and 40 seconds longer, an increase of some 14.2%… which is a thoroughly misleading figure. As a presentational choice, each of the four stories is offered for individual viewing, plus option to “play all”. However, rather than that showing them as a single film, they play as four shorts back to back, with a full set of section-specific end credits rolling each time. The actual amount of new material in the film itself is reported to be 6 minutes and 55 seconds, or only a 5.6% increase from the theatrical cut. I’m sure the extensions are great for die-hard fans, but for most the additions are all but unnoticeable — look at that Movie-Censorship.com list and you’ll see there are only three or four new bits that could reasonably be described as “scenes” (ranging from under 30 seconds to about two minutes), and then just a bunch of extended ‘moments’.

The lack of notable new material isn’t the issue, though. The real problem is the re-structure. Let’s not beat around the bush: it scuttles the film. Individually, each of the three longer narratives is fine, but when watched back-to-back as if it were still one film, the structure is unbalanced. Then there’s the shorter story, The Customer is Always Right, starring Josh Hartnett as The Man. In the original cut, his character features in a standalone pre-titles style-establisher (both for the visuals and the kind of tough tales we’re about to be told), and then a neat coda bookend before the end credits. These two scenes have been placed together in this version, and it sucks.

They've got a bigger gunFor one, the second scene belongs more truly to The Big Fat Kill (the final story, starring Clive Owen’s Dwight and the whores of Old Town led by Rosaria Dawson). For another, because this recut purports to be in chronological order, The Customer is Always Right plays second. So we get 47 minutes of Bruce Willis protecting Jessica Alba from a paedophile in That Yellow Bastard, then we get a one-scene story that rightly belongs at the beginning (complete with title card, now 50 minutes into the ‘film’), then we get a scene that, actually, belongs in a completely different place. The next full story is The Hard Goodbye (the one with Mickey Rourke under a slab of prosthetics as Marv), followed by The Big Fat Kill — and it’s after this that the second scene with The Man belongs. Divorced of that context, the scene is robbed of almost all its meaning.

I guess Sin City: Recut & Extended isn’t really meant to be viewed as a single film — hence why there are four sets of end credits, and why the cool opening titles featuring Miller’s original art is nowhere to be seen. Even allowing for that, though, I think the second scene with The Man has been badly placed. A chronological cut of a non-chronological film is an interesting idea, but this doesn’t even get that right. And even if it weren’t for the regular interruption by lengthy credits sequences, the re-order makes for a very stop-start viewing experience, something the theatrical version avoided by divvying up one story and having characters make brief cameos in each other’s tales.

Tits 'n' effectsIn the end, I enjoyed Sin City considerably less than I did nine years ago in the cinema. This is partly down to the restructure, but I’m not sure wholly so. I don’t think it’s aged particularly well, as things produced at the forefront of emerging technology are wont to do: some of the CGI looks dirt cheap, the shot compositions are often unimaginatively flat, and there’s an occasional internet-video style to the picture quality. It’s not just the visuals, sadly, with amateurish performances from reliable actors, possibly a result of the hurried filming schedule. Just because you can capture an entire part in a single day doesn’t mean you should. Then there’s Jessica Alba, who’s just awful here.

For all that, there are shots that are striking, when the elements come together to make something that still looks fresh and creative even after nearly a decade of the film’s visual tricks being emulated by lesser movies or integrated into general cinematic language. One thing that struck me was that the most memorable moments were all from the trailer — Sin City did have one helluva trailer. The stories and characters aren’t bad, thanks to the hyper-noir style being a deliberate choice, though perhaps it sometimes goes too far with the voiceover narration. Maybe, again, this is the fault of watching the longer cut; maybe there’s just a little too much of it in any version.

Quite often an extended cut will become the definitive version of a film — these days, it’s often a way to get the originally-intended cut past a studio who insist on a shorter running time or PG-13 certificate; or it’s a chance to revisit and improve a project that hadn’t quite worked. Not so with Sin City. This is a version for fans of the books who want to see every last drop included… but even then it falls short, because apparently a few moments are still nowhere to be found. That yellow so-and-soNone of the present additions are game-changing, and though some are good in their own way, there’s nothing noteworthy enough to compensate for the destruction of the original cut’s well-balanced structure. For the average punter — and certainly for the first-time viewer — the theatrical cut is unquestionably the way to go.

4 out of 5

This year’s sequel, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, will be reviewed tomorrow.

Both reviews are part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2014. Read more here.

Sin City: Recut & Extended received a “dishonourable mention” on my list of The Five Worst Films I Saw in 2014, which can be read in full here.