Saturday, February 7, 2015

DareDevil (2003) (Movie Review)

     It’s no secret that the 2000-teens have become a great golden age for comic book movies. At least four come out every year, and for every terrible one, there are at least six superhero classics waiting to be discovered. Now superhero movies and comic book movies have obviously been around for years, but they didn’t really gain ground until the early 2000’s. This is when superhero movies like “X-Men” and “Spider-Man” left their mark on cinema, and launched the modern age comic book sub-genera. However, many films at this time were still struggling to find an identity of their own, and emulated what past films had succeeded at. Case in point the 2003 super hero movie “DareDevil” failed to create an identity of its own and was clearly capitalizing on the success of previous hits like “Batman”, “Spider-Man”, “Blade”, “The Sopranos”, and especially “The Matrix”. The best way to describe a movie of this sort is “paint by number”, nothing that original, just an average painting that doesn’t look that different from the one next to it. Now for me personally, “DareDevil” was one of the very first superhero movies I had ever seen, in fact I saw this before I had seen any of the previously mentioned films like “The Matrix”, “Spider-Man” and so forth. So for a time, “DareDevil” was a special event that got the ball rolling for me. Also, I’ve only seen the theatrical version once, I grew up watching the extended directors cut, and because of this, I’ll probably be giving this film a little more credit than it dissevers. Never the less, lets swing back to 2003 to see if one of Marvels earliest superhero movies has any merits, or if it dissevers the shaft.  

     Now before I had seen this movie, DareDevil was already one of my favorite superhero’s, and one that I found to be very underappreciated. Just about every comic book character becomes a superhero by gaining something, whether it be super strength of Spider-powers, but DareDevil is a rare case in which someone becomes a hero after he loses something. For those of you unfamiliar with the character, DareDevil is a man who lost his sight at a young age, and has to rely on his heightened senses to see things better than he did before. In his own exaggerated way, DareDevil is an example of taking a disadvantage and turning into your greatest strength, which makes him feel more like a good role model more than other comic book characters. The movie begins with your basic origin story, a boy gets into an accident, has a fall out with his father just before said parent tragically dies, and our hero takes on a dual life of attorney by day and vigilante by night. Over the course of his present day crime fighting, he finds himself falling in love with a woman who’s family is stuck right in the middle of a crime ring ruled by a might tyrant only known as the Kingpin. It’s the basic principles of the character, and the story is intriguing enough in spades, while the rest of the movie looses itself in spectacle and clichés.     

     There’s a lot that could have been done with DareDevil on a smaller scale, but instead of doing something awesome in a grounded way, the movie makes this character leap from unbelievable heights, and swinging through the city like Spider-Man, and it’s all for the sake of spectacle that’s not needed. Now the effects and stunt work for DareDevil’s jumping around is mostly good, and I think even better than the previous Spider-Man movie, because it feels like there’s more weight to the character. But with that said, it’s still ridicules to see what DareDevil can pull off in this film. He’s so good, that I find myself forgetting he’s blind, with the exception of some select moments. There’s a great little scene in which DareDevil tries to catch a sharp object, but a nearby explosion keeps him from sensing where it is. The movie needed more little touches like that. Our hero is played by Ben Affleck, and he’s perfectly serviceable in the role. I think he’s a better director then he is an actor, but this really wasn’t an awful performance.

     Now let’s talk about the villains, who are without a doubt the most entertaining characters in the movie. The late Michael Clarke Duncan was casted perfectly as the mighty Kingpin of crime. Now this character was originally a Spider-Man villain, in fact he was the main reoccurring antagonist in the classic 90’s Spider-Man cartoon, which subsequently introduced me to the character DareDevil in the first place. Over time he’s become DareDevil’s most recognizable foe, and personally one of my favorite comic book villains in general. Michael Clarke Duncan of course was a great talent and shined in just about every one of his roles. His portrayal of the Kingpin is no exception, and arguably one of his more memorable parts. He has the perfect look, and presence of the character, but he also adds his own charisma to the role. My only complaint is that the Kingpin keeps getting side lined in favor of the films secondary villain, who ... is a mixed blessing to say the least.

     Colin Farrel plays the Kingpins personal assassin named Bullseye, and he’s about as generic as they get. This is a villain whose super ability is throwing sharp objects that never miss the target, which is kind of silly, but it works for one reason, and that’s Colin Farrell himself. I swear, he is having the time of his life in the role, and his performance is so over the top goofy that can’t help but enjoy him every time he’s on screen. It’s just like when Willem Dafoe played the Green Goblin in “Spider-Man”, which was an equally stupid villain, but the performance was just so enjoyably cartoony that it just fit the films comic book setting. This is also a rare case in which the villain offsets the films dark brooding tone, and in this regard it does make his presence all the more welcome. 

     Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the girl friend character Electra played by Jennifer Garner. This character should have just been a love interest, because her superhero form sucks. A lot of the marketing for this movie shows Electra at our hero’s side, like their an awesome team, but they never actually “team up”. Electra doesn’t even go into warrior mode until the third act in which she just fights Daredevil for a little, and then dies. Yeah, it’s a complete waist, and really she had very little to contribute to the film. To her credit, the performance is fine, she looks firkin amazing whenever she’s on screen, and she even has some chemistry with the hero, but that mostly comes from the actors, not the writing. Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner would obviously become an item after this film, and while their relationship on screen makes no sense, I can at least feel something between them. But seriously, on paper, there’s no reason why these two should fall in love as quickly as they did. I will say that they share one really good romantic scene in the rain, which honestly puts Spider-Man’s popular upside down kiss to absolute shame. Daredevil is a blind superhero, but the vibrating sounds of all the falling rain allow him to see his girl friend Electra in a unique and beautiful way. It’s really cool because we rarely see superhero’s utilize their powers in a romantic setting like this. The pacing, build up and execution of this rooftop scene was also handled very well, with a soothing musical melody adding to the moment. 

     Let’s address the overall direction and look which characterizes this movie. “DareDevil” is clearly aiming for a dark, gritty look and feel, but it’s so dead seat on brooding that is creates this joyless atmosphere. Let’s compare the dark visual style of this movie to Tim Burtons “Batman” for a second. That movie also had a dark makeover, and film noir style, but the setting had its own personality, and felt like it was one with the character. “DareDevil” at times feels needlessly dark just for the sake of it, and not to enhance the story or characters. I will say that from an esthetic point of view the movie dose look very good. The gothic visuals are captivating at times, and there are some select elements that stick with me. For example, the special effect of DareDevils “blind vision” holds up especially well, and is one of the precious phew original qualities the film has to offer. I also think this could have been a potentially cool comic book world to explore in other films, and I do like all the smaller characters that make this setting feel more alive. I really like Jon Favreau as our hero's best friend Foggy Nelson, and it's cool to see him in this role before he directed and acted in the "Iron Man" movies.  

     One thing that really dates this movie is the soundtrack, which is comprised of some of the 2000’s worst Nu- Metal bands. Back in the early 2000’s, most action movies, particularly superhero movies all had the same Nickelback, Creed, boy band kind of sound. “DareDevil” was the movie that probably exploited this cliché the most, but I have to admit it’s kind of amusing, in a dated, corny sort of way. There was I time I loved this style of music, and there are even select songs from this track that I still enjoy out of pure nostalgia. It’s embarrassing to admit but back in the early 2000’s I was a big fan of Evanescence. I listened to their tracks all the time, and their 2003 album “Fallen” was my favorite by far. Two of their more memorable songs from the album, “My Immortal” and “Bring me to Life” were also from the “DareDevil” soundtrack. Dated or not, I just can’t bring myself to say I dislike there music. Other slightly memorable songs from this track include “For You” by The Calling, and even “Won’t Back Down” performed by Fuel is memorable just for how obvious a cliché it is. Every other song on this track is either generic or ridiculous.     

     Of course no super hero movie is complete without its big action sequences, and in this regard I actually think the film has aged better then it’s been given credit for. The battles in the film are done in a style clearly inspired by “The Matrix”, and to be honest, it’s so much nicer then the over the top “Jason Born” style action we get today. There’s a battle in a bar, which is very chaotic and busy, but its shot and edited in a way that’s mostly easy to follow. It never becomes too over the top that we can’t tell what we’re looking at. While there’s obviously effects and spectacle on display, a lot of the fighting is still mostly in camera, with real sets, props and stunts. The set designs are also utilized very with the fighting choreography, which I’ll always love over the big CGI superhero battles we get all the time today. There’s a stand out scene in which DareDevil and Bullseye dual on a giant church organ, which is a great set piece, and it’s awesome to see these guys climb all over it. Now while the action is perfectly serviceable, I don’t think it was spread out enough. The first two act of the movie have very little fighting, and then when we get to the third act it's nothing but fight sequence after fight sequence. There really needed to be more of a balance between the plot and the action because too much of the same thing can get dull. The climactic final dual between Daredevil and Kingpin is mostly good. It’s very simplistic but it’s also intense, making the resolution perfectly satisfying.      

     When all the action is said and done, Kingpin is put in prison vowing vengeance against our hero, and we also see that his assassin Bullseye survived. So there was a lot left open for a possible sequel, but unfortunately for this film it never had a follow-up of any kind. This is a rare case in which a superhero movie is completely stand alone with no sequel, as opposed to both the X-Men and Spider-Man who’s franchises are still going strong to this day. Jennifer Garner did reprise her role in an “Electra” spin-off movie, but it had no direct continuity with this film, at least not explicit. That movie was also a complete disaster and silenced any further “DareDevil” related plans. Michael Clarke Duncan at least continued to be the voice of the Kingpin in “The New Spider-Man animated series”. Of course there’s the new live action “DareDevil” series on Netflix, which is firkin amazing and puts the movie to absolute shame. This show has its own continuity, is a near flawless adaption of the character, and just a solid series in its own right.

    Now let’s talk in a little more detail about the extended directors cut, which is far superior to its theatrical counterpart. If you have any interest in seeing “DareDevil” at all, make sure it’s the director’s cut, which fixes many of the films problems. Now this doesn’t make the movie a sudden masterpiece mind you, but it’s at least a better alternative. Many of the films key scenes are organized much better in the director’s cut, and we get to see more of what our hero is like when he’s not in costume. There’s an important subplot revolving around a man (played by Coolio) falsely accused of murder added back into the film, which leads into the discovery of who Kingpin’s identity is. This subplot also highlights our hero as both a lawyer and a detective. Plus, it gives John Favreau’s character of Foggy Nelson more to do in the plot, rather than just being a comedic relief. This cut also has an R rating, and gives fans a pinch more gritty material. Best of all, the battle scenes are so much more satisfying without any moments cut, unlike the theatrical version which really took their scissors to the action content. To be honest, “DareDevils” director cut is one of the best I’ve seen and adds far more to the movie as opposed to other films, in which case a director’s cut diminishes what was already perfect.     

    In the end, dose “DareDevil”, extended cut or not work as a good stand alone superhero movie? Well, I’d honestly say yes, it works fine, but in a very average way. While the criticisms aimed at the movie are perfectly fair and justified, I don’t think this is a terrible movie by any means, I don’t even think it’s that bad. It just doesn’t bring anything new to the table, utilizing a basic origin story plot, and action scenes that while fine on their own were already done better in “The Matrix”. That’s where my personal feelings for the film differ from the general public. Like I said in the opening, “DareDevil” was one of the very first superhero movie’s I’d ever seen, and introduced me to several of the clichés and familiar story telling that has become classic for me. So the film will always be a little special to me, but the common audience would see this as just another “origin story” that’s even more tired and been done now with the abundance of comic book movies that we get every year. Personally, I find that the film holds up for simple derivative viewing pleasure, but for anyone else, there are obviously better super hero movies out there to watch instead. Heck, I’d really just recommend the DareDevil TV show.

                                       I give the 2003 movie “DareDevil” 3 stars out of 5.